They Clapped

By Nikki Giovanni b. 1943 Nikki Giovanni
they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just an extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack   
color prejudice
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport   
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once   
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole   
of africa
they stopped running when they learned the packages   
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t   
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun   
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good   
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common   
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
they shook their heads when they understood there was no   
difference between the french and the english and the americans
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country   
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family stone
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little boys
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with reverence
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s drums
when they finally realized that they are strangers all over
and love is only and always about the lover not the beloved   
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness   
of the land knowing they could never possess either

they clapped when they took off   
for home despite the dead   
dream they saw a free future

Nikki Giovanni, “They Clapped” from My House. Copyright © 1972 by Nikki Giovanni. Used with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (2003)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Nikki Giovanni b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects War & Conflict, Travels & Journeys, Activities, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Class

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Nikki  Giovanni


Nikki Giovanni is one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences: from child to young woman, from naive college freshman to seasoned civil rights activist, from daughter to mother. Frequently anthologized, Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride and respect for family. Her . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Travels & Journeys, Activities, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Class

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.