The quote above was said by rapper Andy Mineo in the title track of his sophomore album, Uncomfortable. His argument, throughout the song and album, is that complacency can lead to our downfall without us even knowing it. Thus, we must step outside of our comfort zones and begin to embrace discomfort. In a course like poetry and social justice, we have no choice but to do just that.
One of our first in-class assignments was to pair with a WBS student, write a short biography about them, and present it to the class. In order to do this, we had to do two things: find and interact with a high school student we had never spoken to before and discuss our personal lives with them. For some, it's an easy feat to strike up a conversation with a stranger and talk about themselves, but I am not one of these people. After 16 years of education, I'm used to these occurrences and they've become easier over time but they are no more comfortable. As my partner asked me questions, some I was prepared for, some I was not, I found myself questioning my answers, asking myself "Why?" before she got the chance to. Not because I felt judged, but because I knew that — whether we acknowledge them or not — all of our preferences have reasons.
However, this was not the most uncomfortable moment of the course. That would come a week later. During our writing session with the Breakbeat Poets, we were asked to write about our hometowns or where we were from. I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown and my poem reflected that:
I proudly insist that it's named for an abolitionist Quaker--
Not a racist or act of violence.
Eagerly, I point to it on the map,
"See triangles have centers too"
As much as I complain, I argue, "it's not that bad"
But, my friends still there say "I hate this town"
And sometimes, I do too.
I wrote down everything I could about my hometown, trying to capture the push and pull that I felt. But, when I read over it, I was petrified at the idea of presenting the poem to the class. I didn't want anyone to think I came from some racist, conservative, hick town even though I did. There were thoughts in the poem that weren't from my own experiences, but things I heard from friends. It felt inauthentic to share them. Not only that, but I'm fiercely protective of my hometown, Virginia, and all of the South, so when I share my experience there with others, I'm fully prepared to defend myself. It's like when I make fun of my siblings around other people. I'm allowed to make fun, but if you join in, you'll face my wrath. While I knew and trusted that our class was a safe space, the very thought of sharing my poem made me uncomfortable.
But, when I did, it was the most freeing experience I'd ever had in a writing class. Hearing others bare their souls, some with conflicted emotions just as I had, made me feel less alone. A lot of us had faced experiences and circumstances that we knew would make others uncomfortable and in turn made us uncomfortable, but in embracing that discomfort, we found that we could be on one accord. This idea is further enhanced by the works we've read so far in the course. Some poems, like "Runagate" by Robert Hayden, make us uncomfortable because they're in forms we're not used to seeing and can be difficult to understand. Some poems, like "Crack House" by Quraysh Ali Lansana, make us uncomfortable because we do understand and stepping into that world leaves us haunted. Some poems make us uncomfortable because they remind us of the atrocities that humanity has endured, survived, or been a victim of.
Cesar A. Cruz said that "Art should comfort the disturb and disturb the uncomfortable." I think that the kind of poems we read and write in this course should do just that. Social Justice Poetry should bring to light what's wrong with the world and all of the injustices that people face, and it should make the reader uncomfortable. There's a lot in this world that should make people uncomfortable and, like sitting with your legs crossed or a clothing tag that constantly rubs your back, knowledge of these things should make us uncomfortable enough to act.