An explanation in its purest form of “What it’s like to be a Black Girl (for those of you who aren’t)” by Patricia Smith, is just that, an explanation. From the first three syllables “First of all,” the author gives a sense of a story being told. She uses jagged sentence structure and strong forceful language to also show the reader the seriousness of her topic. Smiths poem gives the audience an insider’s view into a young black girl’s transition into black woman-hood at a time where both being a black girl and a black woman was not as welcomed.
Puberty is usually defined by the biological changes a young boy or girls body undertakes around the age of 9 up until about 14. “It’s being 9 years old and feeling like you’re not finished,” writes Smith, “like your edges are wild, like there’s something, everything, wrong.” (Smith, 4) These thoughts have run around the minds of almost every puberty stricken youngster. However, Smiths subject seems to also have the added pressures of a racially jagged society. This “black girl” she refers to in her poem is feeling the awkwardness of her newly changing body and the hope of something different and maybe better to come.
The poem tells the story of a young black girl exploring and experiencing what it is to become a black woman in her changing social circle. “it’s dropping food coloring in your eyes to make them blue and suffering their burn in silence. It’s popping a bleached white mophead over the kinks of your hair and primping in front of the mirrors that deny your reflection.” (Smith,9) The food coloring in her eyes, and the bleaching of her hair can only symbolize her need to grow into the more “accepted” form of society, the white skinned, blue eyed, blonde haired men and women of the 1950’s. Where for her, “it’s flame and fists and life according to Motown” (Smith, 17) meaning the sites and sounds of racial slurs and fighting, along with the rhythmic blues of Motown music. Just the transition of going from a girl to a woman is hard enough, without the added pressures of being accepted due to you’re hair, color of skin, and taste in music.
Between “jumping double Dutch until your legs pop” and “growing tall and wearing a lot of white” (Smith, 14) the author also tells us how a young black girl tries to balance her newly formed body, with her still child-like mentality. Part of every young girl’s passage into woman hood includes a great white gown, which she wears on her wedding day. On that day, when she’s joined with a man, a chapter ends and a new one begins. Smith writes about “having a man reach out for you and caving in around his fingers” which gives the reader and inside look at the submissive mentality women were faced with during that era.
Finally, this young black girl is now a woman. Throughout the poem the author has helped us to understand the transition from black girl to black woman. With Smiths’ attention to detail, “feeling like you’re not finished” (Smith, 2) and “growing tall and wearing a lot of white” (Smith, 14) the reader is able to follow the incredible changes, both biological and psychological. How did young black women feel toward the mid-1960’s? What sort of things did young girls think about during that period of change and progression? These, among others, are just some of the answered Smith explained in her poem. The explication or story is simply this: A young black girl’s exploration and experiences while becoming a grown black woman in an era of racial uncertainty.