Harryette Mullen is the author of several poetry collections, winner of a PEN Beyond Margins Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and a finalist for a National Book Award. She teaches American Poetry, African American Literature, and Creative Writing at UCLA. Harryette Mullen writes “We Are not Responsible” in the language used by corporations, authority officials, lawyers etc. She especially writes in the legal slang used to provide disclaimers and limit responsibilities. She reveals how the language that is designed to be kind can and in fact, sound very cold and false.
Since every single day the world is becoming an even more dangerous place, now you can find warning labels everywhere for our safety.And this poem uses the same format,repetition and underlying meanings to make fun of all these rules society has now-a-days.Every line in this verse begins with the phrase ‘We’ and is then followed up by authoritative restrictions.If you take the first three words from every line of the poem,you will get some negativity such as “We can not” , “We are not” , “We do not”.
And after these three words,it mentions something that the authority is forbidening us to do and have access to.This poem writes the basic disclaimer several times but it ends with a twist.For example in the first line it states “We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives.” Normally,you would expect it to say something about a lost item,but it actually talks about relatives.This unexpected factor makes the reader think and see beyond the surface. And just from this sentence,we can already tell that the whole poem is going to be about how emotionless and cold these authorities are.
You can see through the lines that “they” are willing to help only those people that are similar or exactly like them. “We are not responsible“ shows some instances of racism and judgment based on looks. This is shown in the line:”It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color.” And by this,the author want to show that even today people of color get treated differently and like they are a lower class than white people.
In the lines 18-21,we can read that the author wanted to show us how the police or someone with more power than the population can treat people. They give them the normal basic human rights. But if he is not calm enough or is disturbing them, they will take away his rights. And in the end,they don’t care what happens to that person,as long he is silent and doesn’t cause more problems.
So,after i have analysed this poem and looked under the surface, I can tell that this poem is written to point out all the wrong things with the government today. They lack respect for other people excluding their own. So basically immigrants,people of color. Besides lacking respect ,they also don’t have the same rights and life conditions their own people have. And the only way you can have a decent life,is if you stay quiet and obey the government.