McCray cites […] early experience with racism and bullying as part of the reason she began to write, using her poetry as an outlet for her anger. She also wrote a column for her school newspaper, in which she denounced classmates for their racism.
McCray enrolled at Wellesley College in 1972. While studying at Wellesley, McCray became a member of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist lesbian organization, which inspired her to write prose and poetry.
(source: AAE Speakers)
McCray has inspired me to responsively adjust one of her best-known poems:
I used to write
I used to write
I can’t be a poet
because a poem is about race-grievances
speaking with a country drawl
unveiling a cracker-ass flag
or letting the words pound like metal
into the brains of brothers
who will never understand
and vote for Trump.
But, I’ve spent my life as a white boy
a part oriental, straight-haired,
small-boned White boy
and the poem will surely come out right
And, I don’t want everyone misinterpreting.
If I could be a gun-owning patriot
with concealed carry,
someone’s Ken doll and Clint Eastwood,
I’d be poetry in motion
without shooting a round
and wouldn’t have to make sense if I did.
If I were militant, I could be peaceful and mad
instead of an evil, pouting confederate general
a cracker, passed over
crumbled and passed over,
crumbled in the bushes.
My father tells me
I used to run home crying
that I wanted to be black like my sisters.
She shook her head and told me
there was nothing wrong with my skin-lightener.
She didn’t tell me I was racist
(so my face wouldn’t swell up).
White boys cannot afford to
have delusions of Afrocentrism,
not drumming, singing off-key,
dry and rigid White boys.
And even though in Amerikkka
I was mistaken for someone’s professor or landlord
or policeman down south,
even though I swore
never again to walk with my hair straight,
ever to care
that those people who denigrate
the popular brand of diversity
don’t feel me,
it still shatters.
Looking through a window, it shatters.
Standing next to my lover
when someone dark gets that
“he ain’t no NBA star” expression
But it’s not so sad now.
I can cry about it,
Shoot hoops and write poems
about all those lay-ups,
my age and shading.
I’m through waiting for hope and change,
the 80’s didn’t throw me a bone
and as many years as I’ve been
White like Ivory
White like the clouds
I have seen in the water
and the sights of my brothers
that ugly is the man in light
who withers with hating.