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By Harryette Mullen

We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. 

We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. 

We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. 

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 


Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations. 

In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. 

Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments. 


If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. 

In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. 

Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle

your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we

are unable to find the key to your legal case. 


You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. 

You are not presumed to be innocent if the police 

have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. 

It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. 

It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. 


Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. 

You have no rights we are bound to respect. 

Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible 

for what happens to you. 


Harryette Mullen, "We Are Not Responsible" from Sleeping With The Dictionary.  Copyright © 2002 by Harryette Mullen.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Harryette Mullen
Harryette Mullen is a poet and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing and African American literature. Mullen was born in Florence, Alabama, but spent most of her childhood in Fort Worth, Texas. After earning her BA from the University of Texas in Austin, she earned a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she wrote her dissertation on slave narratives. Even when writing essays and fiction, though, poetry continued to be important to her. Her poetry has been hailed by critics as unique, powerful, and challenging. See More By This Poet

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