By Em Allison, Marvin Hodges, and Saidu Tejan-Thomas

“Da Rules” is a spoken word poem written in collaboratively by Em Allison, Marvin Hodges and Saidu Tejan-Thomas, who are members of “Good Clear Sound,” Virginia Commonwealth University’s poetry slam team. After the authors recited the piece at VCU’s fifteenth annual College Union’s Poetry Slam Invitational, held March 25-28, 2015, a YouTube video of their powerful performance went viral, reaching nearly 30,000 views in under a month. The poem is here reprinted in its entirety with permission of the authors.

Male Voice 1: Be accommodating
Be polite
Slouch a little when they see you.
Confidence scares them.
Be gentle,
Eyes low
No sudden movements
Don’t have objects like squares and rectangles in your

Male Voice 2: Don’t reach for your wallet
Why did you run?
You got something to hide?
Keep that rap music low,
You may be shot for it
Be seen and not heard.
Do not fit the description
Your hair announces your presence
It is loud just like you
keep it tamed and hushed down.

Female Voice: Let them touch it when they ask
Get relaxers
Press down,
shaken together,
running over
You wear your hair straight
So why can’t they get braids, dreads, afros
Do not cry.
Do not break rules,
Do not have accidents
Or get in arguments

M1: Wear bright clothing
Let the other guy have the stronger hand shake
Do not tell white friends you’re on scholarship
Do not watch Roots
Stay away from

ALL: You won’t find what you’re looking for
M2: Be regular

F: Be good

M1 & M2: Cross to the other side of the street so they
don’t have to

F: Do not smoke
Do not drink
Do not have sex,

ALL: We have enough of you

M2: Do not throw up sideways peace signs

M1: it looks too much like a gang sign

ALL: You are a gang sign

M1: Don’t be a statistic

M2: Don’t be a baby daddy

F: Do not date outside your race

M2: Your own people will consider you a sell out

F: “What, you not strong enough to handle a black

M1: Do not build empires
Do not build things exclusively for the betterment of your

F: That’s reverse racism

M2: Do you hear me boy?

M1: Speak when I’m talking to you son

F: Speak when you pass them on the street

M2: Do not pass “Go”

F: Do not collect $200

ALL: Go straight to jail

F: Do not express yourself

ALL: or walk around Wal-Mart with a Wal-Mart gun

M1: Do not wear hoodies

ALL: Or walk in white neighborhoods in
Texas, Arizona, Florida

M2: Bite the bullet

F: Why are you shooting yourself?

M2: Why are you shooting yourself?

ALL: Why are you people always shooting yourselves?

M2: In the chest, while handcuffed.

F: Do not raise your hand in class

M2: You’ll just be another negro without answers

F: Light skins be proud
that you are comfortable black
your ambiguity so interesting

M1: Wait!
But my melanin has meaning
It is profound
Dark skin so greedy
It gobbles up nouns
thoughts so tangled
Look what it did to my hair.
Reaching to the sky at all angles
Praying that you don’t shoot
I’ve always been black.
But I didn’t always know it.
I guess it’s because I didn’t-

F & M2: Have a thinner nose

M2: Have smaller lips

F: Be lighter

M2: Unless you’re Lupita Nyong’o

F & M2: Be Lupita Nyong’o

F: Have narrower hips

M2: Be Wayne Brady
White people love Wayne Brady he makes Bryant Gumbel
look like Malcolm X

F: Do not quote Malcolm X

M1: Do not read for fun

F: Do not own a gun

F & M2: Let your non-black friends say “nigga”

M1: Pretend it doesn’t bother you

F: If their women fear for their lives, that’s great
If their women fear for the lives of their children even

M1: Be small.
Your dark frame casts a very large shadow

M2: Do not be 6’4 292 pounds

F: Kinky follicles curled into grenades

F & M2: Don’t you know that black bodies are

ALL: Don’t you know they have weapons?