The Black Arts Movement in American introduced an assortment of new ideas into American culture of the time. One of these new concepts was that being black is beautiful and black people should not try to hide their ancestry or bodily characteristics. This notion played out in many different types of fads including but not limited to afros and African dress. The afro signaling the Blackman’s untamed natural and beautiful hair and the African dress connected them with their African ancestry. Many of the fads were often set up as opposed to the white cultural influence such as style of dress or straight hair. In her poem, “Beautiful Black Men,” Nikki Giovanni addresses and supplements examples for this understanding. The poem “Beautiful Black Men” sets up an atmosphere where the good or bad, natural characteristics of Blackness or Black people appear to be beautiful regardless.
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One of the ways that Giovanni introduces the idea that the natural Blackman is beautiful is by the fact that these cool Afro-Americans were a sure sign of beauty regardless of what activity they were engaging in at the time. They are beautiful when they are doing good; they are beautiful when they are up to no good. The author states, “sitting on stoops, in bars, going to offices, running numbers, watching for their whores, preaching in churches, driving their hogs, walking their dogs, winking at me” (Giovanni 8). Giovanni is not saying that because a person is colored they are good or that because they are colored they are bad, but that either way they are still beautiful. They could be doing anything from gambling to preaching in church or going to work. Giovanni shows Blackness to be cool regardless of the present occupation. In much the same way, Giovanni as illustrates that the natural black is beautiful when they allow themselves to be just the way they are without hiding.
To some extent, dirt and grime are all parts of the world, but for much of the Western cultures people try to rid themselves of as much dirt as they can. Even with the best cleaner and the strongest soaps dirt is just a way of life, it is natural. Giovanni demonstrate who natural is a good thing by talking about the dirty toes. The author states, “…that smile at the sandals where dirty toes peek out and I scream and stamp and shout for more beautiful beautiful beautiful black men with outasight afros” (Giovanni 23). Instead of being disgusted or appalled by dirty feet, Giovanni responds to the sight with a want for more. This illustrates that the natural, the bad, the good, the ugly, the dirt does not make a person unattractive, but instead makes the appeal even stronger. There is something about knowing a person so well that they do not try to hide their farts anymore. In the same way, there is something beautiful in all the griminess that is the human experience. The Blackman according to Giovanni does not need to try and antiseptic his environment the same way the white people would do. He is beautiful just the way he is, even with dirty toes. The words and images that Giovanni uses to show beauty are emphasize even more clearly by how she choose to say them.
The structure of this poem is quite unlike the typical poem. It does not rhyme. The number of syllables in each line varies with each line. The rhythm of the poem is non-reparative. It in its own way characterizes beautiful ugly and it seems that Giovanni wishes it that way. The poem from the beginning refuses to acknowledge common literary structures. One example of this is when the author states, bout those beautiful beautiful beautiful outasight black men with they afros walking down the street (Giovanni 2)
It is easy to see from above that none of these lines rhyme or even share a slightly similar length. Unlike the customary white poetry, this poem is beautiful in itself without following all the unwritten rules of poetry. The structure of the poem creates the greatest statement for the beauty of black people by the way to refuses to bind itself by white characteristics of poetry but is beautiful itself. If this poem can be beautiful than so can every Blackman good or bad.
Nikki Giovanni has effectively created an argument for beauty in the chaos and the dirty through this poem. She shows Blackness in all that it is and it is not beautiful for just that reason. The conventions of the culture around do not determine the beauty of a person. Everyone is a little bit dirty. Everyone is a little bit flawed. Everyone is a little bit messed up. Everyone is beautiful nonetheless.