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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Student Union presents: SLAM

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Just a few minutes after 9 p.m., Chums was packed for the Social Justice and Diversity Committee’s Poetry Slam. Crowd Control, one of Brandeis’ improv groups, had already begun their act, though it was difficult to hear them. Chums was so crowded that I could barely shove my way into the coffee house. However, what I did hear made me wonder if they were attempting to be ironic or were acting racist. Seeing that the event was a poetry slam event to raise awareness about the impact of social justice and diversity on campus, I assumed that Crowd Control was being ironic.

Some of things the members of Crowd Control improvised made me think otherwise. One thing is for sure: Many of the Asians were not amused by Crowd Control’s poor improv decisions. I don’t know about anyone else, but on-the-spot decisions such as choosing to name a white student “Ching Wah” and speaking Japanese-sounding gibberish was not funny. And just for giggles, they even threw in something about Mexicans. Now I don’t know if Crowd Control was being borderline racist in order to display the irony of stereotypes, but I know for a fact that if I, and other Asian students in the room, felt offended, there was something wrong with the performance. Even if Crowd Control was trying to convey a message related to social justice and diversity, they were highly inconsiderate about it.

Crowd Control needs think carefully and choose to perform things that don’t require their non-Asian members yelling words in Chinese accents.

Despite a rather rough start to the night, the poets who came on stage to perform were mind-blowing. I had tears in my eyes by the time the last poet walked back into the audience.

One of the many standouts was Shannon Simpson ’17. She wrote about her dad, sexism and being Jamaican-Irish: “I grew up in a sexist house, born to be in the kitchen, pregnant and barefoot,” she said to the audience before she began her performance. Simpson spoke with such feeling and sincerity that it was hard not to love her poem. Directing some of the lines to her father was the best thing about her poem. She described that he “waited 18 years to pop open that door for me, to meet the real me instead of dividing me up and loving the part of me you liked better.” She was so overcome with emotion that she had to pause twice, but began again each time after hearing the audience snap their fingers in support.

The highlight of the night was Aalia Abdulahi ’17, who consequently won first place. In a dreamy but strong voice, she spoke about the love song of women, who have held the world in their arms despite the hardships of not only themselves, but also society.

Abdulahi’s poem was full of colorful and spectacular imagery: “I asked her, ‘What song did you sing when the Civil War came? The day your country set itself on fire, the day your henna turned into war paint, the sky cracked open and swallowed your nation whole?’ She said, ‘That was the day the Earth took refuge in my throat and created a lump too big to swallow. The day no melodies escaped from my tongue.’ She said, ‘When women stop singing is when you know you’ve lost the war.’”

I don’t know Abdulahi personally, but for some reason I was proud of her.

The night was a slamming success both socially and intellectually. I cannot recall the last time Chums was so crowded. Furthermore, the poets were so captivating that the sad snack table was left forgotten. Midyears got their first taste of the social justice awareness Brandeis is rightfully known for, while older students were wowed by yet another eye-opening campus event.