'Let Me Put On My Sunglasses Here, So I Can See What I'm Doing...' On a Poem Funking Up American 'Whitelessness'


'Let me put on my sunglasses here, so I can see what I’m doing …’ On a Poem Funking Up American Whitelessness  

Written for the Institute for Inquiry and Poetics, University of Arizona Poetry Center

Join us for An Evening with Luis Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, Michael Warr & Peter J. Harris hosted by Literary Director Diana Delgado, on December 10 at 6:00 PM, Arizona Time.

Learn more here. 



                                                     Noun: a geopolitical state of genuflecting asphyxiation 

weaponized innocence
conveniently Human Racial

who me?

mesmerized by myth of aristocracy
failing upwards into incestuous (re)verbe
knock knock    
who’s there?   who’s there?    

fawning over prep school chicken hawks  
brokering religion into damnation for exotic expendables 
co-signing dark money whims on minimum wage  

conscience dehydrated   salvation for the insulated   stitching emperor’s new couture
nibbling hors d’oeuvre while America eats its young  
bingeing on entertainment threaded with ignorance & isolation  

pining for history’s nadirs    
loss of the right to desiccate state-sponsored scapegoats

irreflecting mass murder into odes of self-righteousness 
irrefracting on altars of purification    

boogeyman targeted through telescopic lens of kindergarten rationales   auction block
appraisals authorizing rape   brown water   black lung   imploded mountain tops   seared
ozone   irradiated paranoia   cosmic denials   self serving blarney assigned to random
biology   blustery nostalgia exalting stolen bootstraps   sanctioning massacre in the
name of Magical Exceptionalism 

]so now the immigrant of mayhem is fragile   needs a hug[ 

after writing history with lightning 
partying with your mama at lynchings  
summoning mobs & tanks to Black Wall Street 
gaveling street-lethal policing  
winking from the confirmation dais  
greasing funnel of a gluttonous prison state
digitizing the doomsday clock  

]so now the bringer of mayhem prays on 5G for historical affirmative action[

Shum on love … 

got your names capitalized 
got your off-beat anthem sung in coliseums 
your constitutional folktales 
monolingual god as the price of money 
military at your command 
manifest destiny shouted from bully pulpits 
generational wealth stashed in ivy-spiraled architecture 
500 years of conspiracies hidden in plain sight 
manifestos & exclusion acts   cost plus contracts & white-collar revolving doors
dick & jane thievery written into arcane compacts    
executive summaries   mortgage securities    
cops wearing static on their vests 
storm troopers wearing windbreakers & judicial robes 
bible belt holding up your sagging khakis 
Ciales holding up your adolescence 
you got your walls   fences   drones 
you got your guns lots of guns 

you still scared 
dropping opioids  
suppressing votes  
laundering dope to fund philanthropy

you still choosing
tiki torch songs

] … still … [

Shum on love …

seeking discontented inspirationalists  
to sing Manifest Legacy above this life of mine  
to extoll fathers & framers who consign good to the future

or a really stoked lover who will eternally Ta Ta Me Baby
with dopamine & unfashionable reverence  

Sunday Best with me to fight for our breath of ‘unalienable’ peace  
on this blue dot’s imazing orbit rotation and wobble of implacable benevolence

where is the iridescence for ecstatic individuals  
who bear witness against this myopic Whitelessness?

who bear oxygen into this genuflecting asphyxiation 



‘Let me put on my sunglasses here, so I can see what I’m doing …’

On a Poem Funking Up American Whitelessness  

Whitelessness renews my radical belonging to a conceptual community regenerated by Call & Response, changed on the sidewalks of improvisation, marinated within the tradition of innuendo, and praised by the unseen handclap of time.  

During a year of pandemic, failed national leadership, militarized scapegoating of Latino folks, and medieval consolidation of wealth and power, I opt-in again to my card-carrying membership in the Dozens Institute of Southeast D.C., Richard Pryor Division.  

I am wearing my freshly pressed Griot Clothes. I am dedicated to inspirational individuality. I reflect my bent, my set-point, toward joyous, politically charged, uncensored self expression. I seek the worthiness to find change on the sidewalks of improvisation. I seek worthiness to heroically wield the Flashlight we have for generations kept charged to illuminate American B.S., hypocrisy, and violence.  

As a 21st Century act of language, Whitelessness is energized by Call & Response with two historical social critiques of radically different styles.  

One, from the 18th Century, is a scathing 1791 letter from Benjamin Banneker that calls out Thomas Jefferson’s double standard on the ‘state of slavery’ -- soaring language for colonists revolting against England’s monarchy and medieval consolidation of wealth and power vs. self-serving accommodation justifying bondage of those who labored for Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness.  

At the time, Banneker was a Maryland magician of sorts. Mathematician. Astronomer. Editor of a series of almanacs. Inventor. Surveyor. He wrote Jefferson, OGto OG, in an 18th Century diction that still bumps across the years like Dr. Dre playing the soundtrack for Jesus in mid-Crunk.

And from the 20th Century, I bop to the percussion of a knowing quip in 1975 by George Clinton, a quip marinated within the tradition of innuendo on the recording “Mothership Connection (Star Child).” Even now, 45 years later, I channel his message from the Mothership, whenever I stand within earshot of official Americanese -- the hollow declarations, exclusionary governing myths, overblown red, white, and blue, and star-bangled blah blah blah. 

Here’s part of what Banneker wrote to Jefferson: 

“…Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves ....”

Star Child simply spoke this line uptop a swirling bed of musical percolation:

‘Let me put on my sunglasses here, so I can see what I’m doing …’  

Whitelessness is forged with ecstatic language, invigorated language, that still very bluntly calls out European Americans who choose to be WHITE over being American, or who equate being American with being WHITE.   I am never glib. Dismissive, yes. Witty, yes. But never glib. Every utterance is weighted with dimensional insight, understanding, and recognition of the tectonics at play!  

Whitelessness is about funking up an American state of being that has meant actual and conceptual damage and danger to so many living in the dehumanizing crosshairs and eloquence of Thomas Jefferson’s historical and contemporary gang members.  

Freeing me to claim African American vernacular as Briar Patch, to invent words, to sling intonations that embrace core cultural wisdoms as part of my refusal to let Whitelessness off the hook. I am also investigating how to contribute to the creation and sustenance of community beyond the obvious ideological or cultural or class affinities for radical belonging. 

In fact, in a final chord change, Whitelessness culminates in a sincere call across time, emotions, and borders to a conceptual community of  ‘discontented inspirationalists,’ who will ‘bear oxygen into this genuflecting asphyxiation,’ and with whom Yo-sotros can really become ‘we the people.’

Anticipating our gathering, me, myself, and I will remain enrolled in the enduring syncopation that keeps my eyes on the prize, keeps me hoping for praise by the unseen handclap of time, and keeps me pledging allegiance to One Nation Under a Groove...

Learn more about Peter J. Harris here