Reception is a poem by June Jordon (1936-2002), an African American poet whose poems depict social and personal concerns. Her poems support feminism, especially black feminism, freedom of choice, and the struggle against racism. In Reception, June Jordon has deliberately avoided the usage of punctuation, which has often led to the formation of dual meanings within the same lines. Moreover, she also uses conversational English which is most commonly spoken by African Americans. The poem addresses two significant problems faced by black women; exploitation by whites, especially white men, and exploitation and subjugation by their own men who are very patriarchal.
The protagonist of the poem is a black woman named Dorothea. Thus, Dorothea’s subjective position is twice marginalised since she is not only black but also a woman. Her patriarchal and dominating boyfriend, William, is often abusive towards her, but she resists. In the poem, the poet argues for black women’s rights and freedom of choice in a patriarchal community.
The poem begins at a party venue where Dorothea, wearing a short dress, is engaged in drinking, dancing and flirting. Seeing, this, her boyfriend, William, comes towards her and asks her to refrain from behaving so, but she resists and taunts him, claiming that she has all the right to freedom of choice and to have a good time at the weekend after toiling very hard throughout the whole week.
From Dorothea’s words, we come to know that she works as a cleaner at the houses of affluent people who are all whites, and not blacks. Here, the poet refers to the economic disparity between whites and blacks, and the fact that the situation of blacks in America has not significantly improved in America, even so long after the abolition of slavery through the American Civil War under the leadership of stalwarts such as Abraham Lincoln. Dorothea says to William that she was busy throughout the week, cleaning “the rich white downtown dirt the greedy garbage money reek”. Thus, the wealth of white people is referred to as garbage that has been produced through the exploitation of blacks, a product of white people’s greed, and therefore, according to the poet, their wealth reeks.