Please explain the theme, message, and literary devices in the poem "White Comedy" by Benjamin Zephaniah. 

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The theme or message of this poem is to show, humorously, the many ways the word black has been attached to other words to create negative connotations. Zephaniah's poem highlights these negative connotations by changing common words or phrases that use the word black to use the word white instead: such as white-mailed instead of black-mailed. The poem shows that the language we use matters and that there are many negative meanings attached to the word black, so that this is no longer a neutral term.

A main literary device Zephaniah uses, which springs naturally from his subject, is imagery. Imagery is description using any of the five sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Leaning heavily into visual imagery, the poem's speaker nudges us to imagine normally black objects and concepts as white: what mental picture does being "whitelisted" rather than blacklisted, for example, conjure? Is it purer, more positive? Conversely, what kind of image is conveyed when we picture the White House as the Black House?

Zephaniah uses dialect and repetition to make his point. He also uses the literary device of a first-person narrative in which he tells a light hearted story of how, in the second stanza, he is radicalized by what he is subjected to in the first stanza.

The poem encourages us to stop and think more concretely about words we are often quick to brush over.

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A black comedy is a text that addresses a sad or upsetting subject in a funny way.

In naming this poem "White Comedy," Benjamin Zephaniah parodies this type of literature. His text certainly does address a tragic and upsetting subject—the racism that is an inextricable part of not only American culture but also the English language—and it might even strike the reader as somewhat amusing.

However, the comedy is very pointed and harsh and much more wry that humorous (in the typical laugh-out-loud sense). His continued substitution of the word "white" in phrases or idioms that typically include the word "black" draws attention to the myriad ways in which we demonize blackness. To be a "black sheep" is to be the family disgrace; to be "blacklisted" is to be deemed unacceptable or untrustworthy and thus excluded; to see a "black spot" is to identify something as a flaw or mistake; to be a "blackguard" is to behave dishonorably or contemptibly. All of these words and phrases are idioms which have developed meaning that cannot be deduced from the individual words. In using them all, and many more, Zephaniah points out how blackness is associated with things that are flawed, bad, or even evil.

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The theme of "White Comedy" centers around the inherent prejudices that are embedded within language.

The message is developed from a black perspective, noting how conventionally-used terminology, used by most whites without a second thought, has a degrading and dehumanizing effect on the black population when added cumulatively. Black Death. Black magic. Blackmail. A black spot. Over and over, we hear his message: black is associated in our language with negative thinking. Thus, to be black is to be inextricably linked to the connotations found within language.

This message is further amplified in the final line as the speaker says that he will take his complaints to the Black House, shifting the color to black for the first time in this poem, to reflect the color which represents the ultimate source of authority in our country. By switching the colors black and white throughout the poem, the author also hopes to shift the perspective of white readers, forcing them to consider the implications of race which they typically do not encounter in American phrasing.

The speaker employs colloquialism in phrasing such as "I waz" to reflect his natural dialect and to further emphasize the differences in languages that can present as barriers between ethnic groups.

The substitutions the speaker uses throughout the poem create an ironically bitter tone, urging the reader to self-examine his own use of language and how it reflects inherent prejudices.

Repetition of the word white is used throughout the poem and in numerous examples to illustrate just how commonly the word black is linked to negative imagery or feelings in our language.

Thus, the inherent symbolism of the ways white is used in our language to connote goodness, innocence, and authority is ultimately contrasted with the inherent symbolism of the word black, which connotes evil, death, and wrongdoing.

The contrasts between the inversion of the two colors shows how our language reflects deeper societal values and begs for a reexamination.

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In this poem, Zephaniah draws attention to the negative connotations which are attached to the word "black" in our language by deliberately subverting a succession of words and phrases in which it features. These inverted words, coinages of the author, are juxtaposed with the phrase "White House" at the end, the only example of a phrase in which the word "White," rather than black, is actually the common usage.

This technique, combined with the dialect features of Zephaniah's non-standard English ("I waz in de white book") force the reader to re-examine the way "black" is used and what it actually means. Some of the phrases substitute "white" for "black" where the color is meant literally—such as "blacksmith," which has become "whitesmith," or "white sheep" instead of "black sheep." In most instances, though, it is clear that the word "black" is used to mean "bad"—black magic; black arts; black death. Why, Zephaniah asks, is this? And what impact does it have upon black people, whose dialect features are suggested by the poet's language?

For white readers, the poem serves as a shocking indictment of how it might feel to be described using a term whose primary meaning in our language is something negative, less-than, or immoral.

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