Essex Hemphill, an American activist and a poet, always tried to protect the rights for the equality of the homosexual men. His works show his views in a very expressive and eloquent way. Hemphill outlined such burning problems as the HIV and AIDS infections among the black community. He mentioned the importance of family many times in his works.
His poem “Conditions XXI” is a great tribute to the women’s sufferings and unequal treatment. Essex Hemphill describes how shallow people are estimating women by their looks, judging them by their social statuses, playing with their feelings, and destroying their happiness without even a slight shadow of regret.
The author reveals a great deal of understanding of female fate. He can even be called a male feminist among the constantly growing feministic movement in the United States of the second part of the 20th century.
“Conditions XXI” are written in a colloquial language. Essex Hemphill allows himself to apply vulgar language in order to show the reader his infected state of mind. The poem is dedicated to all women but the poet accentuates on the bitter life of black women who have to suffer constantly from the sexual abuse and discrimination at working places where they do the hardest and lest-paid jobs: ‘You judge a woman… by the color of her skin… and will call her… ‘Black bitch!’ if she doesn’t answer your ‘Hey baby, whatcha gonna say to a man”. Afro-American people underwent the worst harassment possible but women could not even try to defend themselves, at least due to the fact that they are physically weaker than men.
To strengthen his position, the author applies repetitions at the beginning of the lines enumerating those features by which the women are judged: “By the length of her skirt, by the way she walks…, by the job she holds…, by the number of digits on her check”. Hemphill talks overtly about money, personal affairs, and miseries of life. He is not afraid to describe the way the women are sexually abused: “… Wonder what jive murphy you’ll run on her this time” – using rude slang words of his time.
Hemphill adds some metaphors to intensify his bitterness: “You plunge into her veins, travel wild through her blood” – depicting how the man can easily influence the woman, how he can tell her some sweet words, play with her, and she believes because she loves, because she needs care and tenderness.
The most powerful, in my opinion, is his expression about ‘no need for slaves to have slaves’: The poet tries to show us that even if the man treats the woman in a very bad way, his misdoings will be paid off one day. If the woman is like a slave to him, then he should not forget that he is also a slave – in front of the government and in front of God. There is no need to restrict someone’s freedom if you cannot boast about being free yourself.
However, the author does not forget to mention that despite being the weaker sex, females are very strong. They can suffer through everything but until there is someone they love, until they care for this love and treasure their families, they will overcome any misery, any would will be healed for the sake of this love. He compares women’s wounded family’s blood to a broken creek indicating the gravity of damage.
The poem “Conditions XXI” is finished with the challenge: The challenge to all men and to the whole nation of Americans. He contemplates on behalf of all men ‘why it’s so hard to love our women when we’re about loving them the way America loves us’. This comparison shows his disregard towards the Americans. I think that Hemphill is utterly disappointed by his co-citizens’ biases, discriminating treatment of the black population of the United States. He writes ‘america’ from the small letter only stressing on his disrespect. How can we love our women if we cannot even be respectful with our brothers and sisters, even if their skin color differs?