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
Slouch a little when they see you.
Confidence scares them.
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
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 ancestry.com
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
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?