Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Within the Veil” calls for social justice for blacks throughout the African diaspora. Cliff reveals how all black people, regardless of whether they live in the United States, in the Caribbean, or on the African continent, are connected by oppression and should therefore, as a group, be committed to a singular freedom. The poet states the importance of black people not allowing themselves to be divided by sexual orientation (“Your best friend’s a bulldagger”) or ethnic makeup (“Some of us part Indian/ And some of us part white”). Cliff suggests that ultimately it does not matter what an individual black person’s orientation or ethnic background is; in the final analysis, all blacks are subject to the same treatment.

The poem, not unlike the protest poems of the 1960’s by Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka, is a call to action. By playing on the sentiments and victimization of blacks, Cliff seeks to motivate black people to act on their own behalf. However, “Within the Veil” does not have a seditious or violent tone that pits blacks against whites as opposing groups. The focus is wider, and the poem’s political agenda is to end social, racial, and sexual imbalances. Cliff makes it clear than she is not calling for upheaval: “If we say Third World Revolution/ The white folks say World War III.” She states her desire for freedom rather than Armageddon. This biblical reference to the end of the world as a result of the final battle...

(The entire section is 430 words.)