• The Magnolia Literacy Project

Erica Barnes "Help Me Understand"

Updated: May 24

In her poem, "Help Me Understand", Erica Barnes, a ninth grader at Lawrence County High School in Monticello, Mississippi, addresses racism and discrimination while posing crucial questions to her audience about distressing emotions felt in many African American communities.

"Help Me Understand"


You’re afraid of my color, so you put me under. You talk about my culture, yet you wear it as a trend. Is that supposed to go unnoticed?

Am I just supposed to pretend?

Smile as if it’s all okay? Am I not supposed to get mad?

Should I not get angry? Am I just supposed to sit and watch as you break me? Help me understand.

My brothers and sisters are killed every day,

For reaching into their pockets and following the rules you force us to obey. Another boy shot, a hairbrush mistaken for a gun, Another mother crying over the casket of her son, A young girl arrested for selling water on the street, Just to make a few dollars so her family could eat. You call the cops on us for simply being united, Because you’d rather see us in shambles,

Because we’re weaker when we’re divided. Help me understand.


A few of us make mistakes, and now the whole race is bad? A few of us get rowdy, and now the whole race is mad? But you don’t get it.

We try to be calm, and you refuse to listen.

We try to be peaceful, but you refuse to pay attention. So we get loud, and we scream,

All for you to see that we’re created by the same God. I’m just like you, and you’re just like me. Help me understand.

Although we’re both God’s creations, and one is no better than the other,

My life is so different; you don’t know what it’s like in my shoes. I have to watch my every move because the fate of my life, you could choose. Everywhere I go, I get strange stares. It’s like there’s a stamp on my forehead that screams, “BEWARE”! She’s black, be careful, at any moment she could attack! You clutch your purse tighter, afraid I might steal, Feeding into the stereotypes, instead of realizing what’s real. But it all dates back to centuries ago, When you enslaved my people, robbing them of all they knew. Please help me understand how I’m the one who should be feared.


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