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‘Mic Check. Can You Hear Me?’ Suheir Hammad and the Politics of Spoken Word Poetry
“Mic check? One-two. One-two. Can you hear me?” asks spoken-word artist and poet Suheir Hammad onstage (Lathan, 2007). Make no mistake about this question; it is not part of the sound check, nor is it part of a rehearsal. This is her poem. The audience can obviously hear her, but the question is not as straightforward as it appears. Here, Hammad blends the art of emcee-ing (one of the four main elements of hip-hop culture), with the typical language of a sound check and her experience of being racially profiled in, presumably, an American airport. In this vein, “mic” is not only short for microphone, but also the name of the United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer, named “Mike”, who searches her bags. The question, “Can you hear me?”, is directed not only at the audience, but also at “Mike”. Hammad’s double speak continues throughout the poem, “Mic Check”, where she mobilizes the language of hip-hop to promulgate a stringent critique of the links between the United States’ historical relationship to imperialism and racial profiling targeted toward Arabs and those who supposedly appear Arab.
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