18 pages 36 minutes read

Danez Smith

alternate names for black boys

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Symbols & Motifs

Darkness and the Color Black

The color black functions as an extended metaphor for the boys in the poem. As “black” is the only descriptor for the boys in the title, it announces the poem as an account shaped by racial identity. Several items listed are literally black in color. Coal, before it has been burned, is black. Night is black, and black soil is good soil. The idea of the color black melds in with a motif of darkness, but rather than being frightening or mysterious, these images of darkness evoke beauty: a “summer night” (Line 2), “oil heavy starlight” (Line 6).

Blackness and darkness are never negative things in and of themselves; they become somber when inserted into a somber narrative. The black in “black veils” (Line 11) is a neutral term on its own, but the two words together combine with “shovels” (Line 11) and become a burial scene. Violence is what makes black grim; not black itself. The opposite of light and goodness in this poem is notably not darkness, but absence. “[G]one” and “blank” are void even of color, and the loss is more deeply felt for it. Carrying the metaphor through, the loss or erasure of racial identity by ignoring blackness is another form of violence.