Themes and Meanings
Violence toward and oppression of individual African Americans and countries in southern Africa are the overriding themes of “Poem About My Rights.” This treatment is inflicted by those with power who choose to abuse that power. The misuse of power by those who are now empowered and the need to take a stand by those who are seemingly without power are themes to which Jordan repeatedly returns. The American culture as perceived by Jordan is antifemale, antiblack, and cruelly and unfairly violent. Victimization and oppression are unavoidable in Jordan’s everyday life. This is also true of the victimization of Third World countries by neighboring countries. Both individually and globally, burden of proof is essential. In an essay in I Know What the Red Clay Looks Like (1994), Jordan decries this practice of blaming the victim.
“Poem About My Rights” is a passionate, emotional, and personal poem. Jordan’s view of the world serves as a mandate for change. A bleak and violent society’s condition becomes a vehicle for change both by the individual and by society. “Rights and wrongs” and “right and wrong” are subjects of the poem despite the fact that the words “right” or “rights” are never mentioned except in the title. Jordan is never right and never has rights in the narrative, but, by the poem’s end, at least she is no longer wrong. She is her own person, ready to act. To Jordan, consent is not equivalent to having rights, and she consents to no one: not to family, not to school, and not to the country’s bureaucracy.
“Poem About My Rights” serves as a testament to the belief that the individual can make a difference even though doing so requires an ongoing struggle. Near the end of the poem, Jordan avows, “my name is my own my own my own.” The strength to meet challenges head-on is evident. The ending, however, portends violence: Individual action may cost participants their lives. While people do have the power to alter the course of oppression and correct the loss of rights, they must take action to make a difference. Indeed, this proactive position is the only hope for altering the current scenario.