Hegemony Is A House

Eyeball by Kiyoshi Inoue
Last night (Sun, July 19), I did a keynote for the unofficial AP slow conference, "Mosaic 2020" (#Mosaic2020). My talk's title was: "What Does It Mean To Be An Antiracist Literacy Teacher." There was just shy of 1,000 attendees, and some wonderful questions and engagement afterwords. I was honored to be asked to speak to so many hard working and dedicated secondary teachers. It was a wonderful event with truly wonderful people. 

In my talk, I paused to offer a poem I wrote as a way to understand the hegemony in schools, how difficult it is to escape it, and a way to consider it in our antiracist efforts. After the talk, several wanted to know where they might find this poem. Of course, I just wrote it last week, have been mulling its details over for about seven or eight days now, so it wasn't anywhere. I promised to post it here. And so I offer it now. I hope you enjoy it, and it offers more questions for you to consider your own antiracist work in your classrooms. I give it the title, "Hegemony Is A House." 


is a house built on personal contradictions.

It means that the critically conscious 

are critically guilty, 

and seemingly hypocritical. 

It means limits and boundaries

that feel like freewill,

but are really 

predetermined preferences

that feel like ourselves

and feel good in our bones.

It all works better

when the system doesn’t have to point a gun

or order people to do or think things. 

It lets people

point guns at themselves,

do and think things 

it wants them to do and think. 

Hegemony convinces people

that their oppression isn’t oppression at all. 

It’s Sunday afternoon football games, 

and going out to eat after church, 

or watching the latest action film, 

or playing an innocent video game

made of killing and collecting

electronic representations 

of real-life people and things

that aren’t real, but feel like it. 

It’s conspicuously choosing 

the choices given to you. 

Hegemony is a system 

that makes you feel bad

and inadequate for what it doesn’t provide. 

It’s like blaming the tennis player for where the baseline is located, 

or that you only get two chances at serving for each point. 

Only the hegemonic sets up its rules 

in order to benefit those who make rules.

In such places, 

a few make rules and systems

to perpetuate the things, conditions, and world they want 

to keep and pass on to their kids.

This is all called fairness: 


hard work, 

and always-receding delayed gratification, 

or should we say, deleted gratification, 

gratification never meant to be realized, 

only dangled in front of so many, 

a rhetorical ponzi scheme, 

played by those who only give

the oppressed words,

and try to convince them 

that they are not oppressed

but free, free to be poor, 

free to do whatever they want. 

There is much oppression in the freedom

that only words make.

These are our values

that devalue. 

Putting aside 

the abstraction of “the middle class,” 

what I think is left in the world, 

the real, material world, 

is our languages, 

our stories, 

and the common senses 

we tell ourselves. 

But be careful. 

Everything is paradoxical 

when you drill down. 

A word is hegemony made personal. 

And our stories help us 

consent to an unfair and racist world 

by offering us, 

teachers and intellectuals, 

a slice of really nice pie. 

Sure, the pie can do things,

and it’s awfully -- terribly -- beautiful, 

but language is paradoxical. 

How is access to the middle class, 

whether abstract or real, 

not also becoming an agent of 

White supremacy, 

becoming the beautiful agent of racist systems 

made syrupy sweet? 

Are we not merely offering future opportunities and success

in inopportune and anti-successful systems

in our classrooms? 


is a house built on personal contradictions. 

It’s the sweet taste of almost there. 

Once we’ve bitten into 

the delicious and comforting pie, 

we can’t help but eat it all, 

gobbling it down, 

and asking for more from the system 

and those who made it. 

But how exactly are the systems made

that make our hunger for more pieces of pie? 

And in our classrooms, we try to help our students, 

especially those coming from places 

and groups who have not 

had a taste of the pie yet, 

get their tastes. 

But it’s all just the same old pie. 

And the result?  

Rotten teeth and diabetes. 

And it’s all our fault, 

and their fault, 

and the system’s fault. 

And it’s all we can do,

even as we resist. 

You gotta live, right? 

You gotta pay the bills 

and be happy, right? 


is a story built on personal contradictions. 

It’s metonymy and synecdoche. 

It’s White supremacy made in us all.


  1. Thanks for sharing it. It was a pleasure to hear you last night!

  2. Thank you for sharing your insights (and poem) with us! I appreciate you taking the time to challenge my thinking and nudge me outside of my comfort zone. I look forward to sharing your poem with my colleagues and students as we engage in important conversations in the coming school year (and beyond).

  3. I was truly inspired by your presentation. Was it recorded? I want to share it with colleagues.

    1. No, it was not recorded. I usually don't let institutions and schools record my talks. Because of the nature of the material, when taken out of context, I start to get hate-tweets and mean emails, in part because of things like recordings. I already getting a few from that presentation, like folks that don't agree, and that's okay, but I try to keep those things to a minimum. It's not productive for anyone. I do appreciate your interest and thank you for the kind words.

    2. I was sincerely impressed by your presentation. Many of my students are seniors and heading off to college. We have a weird dynamic at our school: one wealthy area in Almaden Valley and the other poor apartments living on top of each other. More and more, I agree with you. We have built this system and it's time for it to be toppled. Thank you.


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