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Themes

Prejudice and discrimination (though not once mentioned) has its big, fat, ugly thumbprint all over "Kitchenette Building." That type of dwelling was the result of discriminatory housing practices that began the unofficial segregation of Chicago in the 1920s and '30s. "Black Row" was made up of kitchenettes: houses and apartment buildings that were chopped up into multiple, tiny one-room apartments in which several different families shared common space, kitchens, and bathrooms. Landlords jacked up the rent whenever they pleased (the jerkfaces) and refused to make necessary repairs to the buildings, even if it compromised the health and safety of the tenants. And this treatment was reserved exclusively for poor black tenants. Just try dreaming under those conditions and see how far you get.

Questions About Prejudice

  1. If the people in the kitchenettes were being discriminated against, why didn't they find somewhere else to live? How would the speaker respond to this question?
  2. Why do you think the speaker never mentions race or prejudice here? 
  3. How would this poem be different if it found someone, or a group of people, to blame for this situation?
  4. Do you think the use of "we" means all people of all races, or just those who are suffering at the hands of discrimination? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Brooks isn't avoiding the issue of prejudice by not mentioning it in the poem, because the title speaks directly to the issue. We're dealing with it throughout the whole poem.

There's no direct mention of prejudice in this poem because, from the speaker's point of view, it's so ingrained in daily life that it's not something he or she even consciously thinks about. Sad, right?

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