Too Black helps Winona State understand inequality


Nicole Girgen

Academic advisor and recruitment and retention specialist Tyler Treptow-Bowman spoke after the spoken word poet Too Black ran his “Prisoner’s Dilemma: Clarity in the Age of Chaos” workshop and poetry performance. Too Black also gave a professional development workshop designed to help faculty with students of color in the classroom and improve teaching techniques.

Erin Jones, News Reporter

Winona State University recently hosted Too Black, a spoken word poet, for his “Prisoner’s Dilemma: Clarity in the Age of Chaos” workshop and poetry performance.

Too Black, who in addition to being a poet is also a speaker, activist and educator, combines his personal experiences with historical and current issues related to race and racism to write poetry.

During Too Black’s visit, students, faculty and Winona community members had the opportunity to hear him speak and hear his unique style of poetry.

At his poetry performance, Too Black used his poems to analyze “clarity in the age of chaos.”

“The idea is that my poems are the chaos and everything that I say in between is the clarity,” Too Black said.

By this, Too Black meant that his poems are descriptive of chaos in society, not in the way that they are written.

“Clarity in the age of chaos is really just dealing with the moment we’re in politically, culturally and the whole Donald Trump thing,” the poet said.

In this specific performance, which was geared towards students, Too Black focused on education and the challenges of being a student of color in a classroom setting.

In one of his poems, Too Black explained his experience as an African American student in a predominantly white classroom with a professor who talked exclusively about the white pioneers and white history.

Alexis Salem, who is a senior psychology major with minors in women’s and gender studies and philosophy, commented on the poem.

“What was really important was giving us a second perspective and letting us know as students of color who contribute to class that we are valuable,” Salem said.

Salem added that many classrooms are Eurocentric, focusing on only European history and culture and excluding a broader, more diverse view of the world.

She elaborated by saying that even though course curriculum is not necessarily inclusive to students of color, the perspective that these students have is important to the classroom.

“Not necessarily everything we learn in class is going to be for us,” Salem said. “But we have something that is valuable.”

Tyler Treptow-Bowman, a recruitment and retention specialist in the inclusion and diversity office, also commented on Too Black’s poem.

“I think that one resonated because I’ve been part of the population that dominates classroom,” Treptow-Bowman said. “It makes me think about how I’ve contributed to and how I’ve not responded to situations that could have been helpful to those students.”

Treptow-Bowman added that it is not just students that are predominately white on our campus.

“It’s not just the classrooms,” Treptow-Bowman said. “When you look at Winona State, it’s the faculty and staff that’s overwhelmingly white.”

Of the many concepts he talked about in his workshop, he focused on the ideas of the prisoner’s dilemma and game theory, defined as the study of strategic decision making.

The prisoner’s dilemma explains the idea of why two rational individuals choose not to cooperate, even if it is in their best interests to do so.

The purpose of this is to show that an individual who is self-interested will betray another individual because betraying them results in a better outcome than cooperating with them, which means that the most likely outcome is that both individuals will betray each other because both are self-interested.

Though the prisoner’s dilemma is a prime example of game theory’s meaning, it also applies to other situations, especially in areas of study including economics, politics, and sociology, where the issue of racial inequality and other race-related issues are a heated topic of discussion.

According to Too Black, in situations like the prisoner’s dilemma, society pits us against each other which promotes competition, which in turn results in capitalism.

Among the many things Too Black talked about during his workshop, there were several things that stuck out to the students and faculty who attended.

Salem stated that not only did Too Black provide an interesting learning opportunity for students, but also for Winona State faculty and staff.

“I felt like his theory and his design and talking about game theory is something that is very important for professional development,” Salem said.

Too Black himself also shed some light on the race-related issues he discussed in his workshop and poetry performance.

“We create a lot of methodology around shit to explain it away so we don’t have to deal with the emotions of it,” Too Black said. “I think that that’s one of the biggest problems.”

He stated that, especially in his poetry, avoiding that methodology is a key part of the message he tries to convey to people.

“I’m usually just trying to get to the bullshit,” the poet said.

In addition, the poet stated that his name, “Too Black”, also has an underlying meaning related to his message.

To explain this meaning, Too Black used an analogy that Malcolm X used in his “Message to the Grass Roots” speech.

“He used the analogy of when you just drink straight black coffee that shit just punches, so you put other substances in there so you can take it a little bit easier,” Too Black said. “So ‘Too Black’ means that there’s just no filter on it, we don’t water it down, we don’t make it easier to digest, you just take it as is.”

By keeping things unfiltered, people will finally have to face the racial inequality rooted in all aspects of life.

“Once we get to the bullshit and challenge ourselves to deal with it, then we might come up with something on the other side,” Too Black said. “But if we can’t address it then we’re really wasting our time, which is why I don’t like to water anything down.”