The True Import of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro Summary

Nikki Giovanni


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The True Import of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro” challenges black people to reject their middle-class complacency and adopt an angry revolutionary spirit in the quest for liberation of the black community. The title establishes the polarization of opposing attitudes among black people during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s—on one hand, “Black,” or those of a more revolutionary bent and, on the other hand, “Negro,” or those with a more bourgeois mentality. Here Giovanni insists that the revolutionary approach is the only one that will guarantee a meaningful future for black youth, who will be the beneficiaries of their efforts to liberate the black community from domination and possibly annihilation.

How does one adopt a revolutionary stance? By becoming angry enough to kill, according to Giovanni, but while the possibility exists for literally killing someone, what she really means is killing in the sense of rejecting values, habits, and actions that have kept black people enslaved. These include certain religious practices, economic habits, and behavioral characteristics that black people must “kill” if they are to be free from continued oppression by the white majority.

The poem is effective in its badgering repetition of “Can You Kill”; similarly, the harsh, often revolting language underscores the urgency of the poet’s message, which she states succinctly in the last two lines: “Learn to kill niggers/ Learn to be Black men.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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“Nikki Giovanni.” In Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry, edited by Felicia Mitchel. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002.

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