Through his use of colloquialism and allusions, Flint poet Jonah Mixon-Webster ruminates on Black societal confines with “Stereo(TYPE).” Originally released in 2018, the second edition of his debut poetry collection, available through Penguin Random House UK, includes expanded works that discuss cultural norms and the nuances of growing up gay in a Black environment. In the book, Mixon-Webster breaks down the meaning of these stereotypes within the community with his use of space, illustrations and word.
“I wanted to show how they’re included in society,” Mixon-Webster tells Pride Source. “I wanted to find language that would deconstruct [stereotypes]. I wanted to slow down the stereotyping processes because we’re too good at it and it’s too automatic.”
In addition to spotlighting “the perspective of people’s gaze on Black bodies,” the collection reflects heavily on Mixon-Webster’s queer identity. While growing up in Flint, he says that he felt different after discovering his sexuality at an early age. After being outed at age 9, “I was kind of [made to feel] outcast. [I] didn’t have any friends or anyone to talk to, so I would read and write all the time,” he says.
Through writing during his childhood years, Mixon-Webster found catharsis.
“I started to turn to ‘Def Poetry Jam,’” he explains, referencing the popular HBO series created by Russell Simmons. The show offered a platform to many well-known artists such as Kanye West, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Yasin Bey, formally known as Mos Def, hosted each segment and was influential in bringing the spoken word into the mainstream in the early 2000s.
“That’s what really inspired me to process my emotions.” Feeling like a pariah “kind of drove me to the craft,” he says.
Mixon-Webster says “Def Poetry Jam” introduced him to some of his favorite poets, such as Saul Williams, who he believes is a spoken-word powerhouse. While reflecting on Williams, Mixon-Webster admirably calls him an “alien.”
Like Williams, Mixon-Webster created his own powerful style. Through the written word and spoken word, available on Soundcloud, hr pushes a traditional poetry boundary. Masterfully, he creates a visceral image in the reader and listeners’ minds while also speaking on Black stereotypes.
He says the book “was a way for me to catalog some of the performances of Blackness,” adding that, “Whether I was struggling with trying to assume a type of Black identity or a Black performance as a means of survival or whether I [was] grappling with them conceptually…, I was trying to thread what I was seeing in myself. And I was mimicking the ways other Black people act where I grew up — Black people on TV, too.”
His poem “The Ghost of Richard Pryor Made Me Do It” touches on some of these concepts.
For example, when he writes in the poem, “like any other night a white man sees me seeing him seeing me, I am again dead awake to the modes of awareness…” he highlights the hypervigilance of being Black in white America. “A black hoodie with a black v-neck under it, a black snap back, black jeans, and black shoes and seeing me and seeing me in all of this meant he knew I was black…,” he continues in the poem, commenting further on the perceptions and stereotypes of Black people.
As for technique, Webster wants you to absorb every last word of what he writes. For instance, his poem “In the Figurative, I Respond — This shit be killing me!” reads like a maze. In that particular piece, his lines zigzag across the page, forcing the reader to slow their reading pattern down to infer the poem’s message that Black people must continually move through obstacles to exist in a world that doesn’t recognize their identity. His audio uses music, screams and silence to offer another window into how passionately he feels about this theme.
Through its various forms, “Stereo(TYPE)” is a piece of art that reflects the complexities of Black existence. Mixon-Webster captures it best when he says, “It’s the beauty and pain of being Black.”