1926 or 2019? The Fight for Equality in “I, Too” foreshadows The Black Lives Movement

History frequently repeats itself, oftentimes foreshadowing the future through works of literature such as poems. The issues that poets write about decades ago reform into present day issues, connecting the past and modern issues. Langston Hughes, an African-American author and poet fits this framework by being a top Black literary figure whose upbringing and scholarly works composes of the African American struggles and experiences in America, parallel to today’s Black Lives Matter Movement: a fight for African American’s lives and equality. Hughes’ poem, “I, Too” was originally featured in the collection The Weary Blues in 1926, and has since been included in top magazines and newspapers such as New York Times and the Smithsonian (Knopf 1926).

                

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri but would grow up to be a big part of the Harlem Renaissance (African American Artistic movement) in 1920s New York City, shaping, “American literature and politics,” through celebrating and promoting black pride (Britannica 1-2). Hughes attended Columbia University before attending and graduating from Lincoln University in 1929 (Britannica 1). In congruence with Hughes’s personal history and identity, acknowledging it attests to the emotions and prideful tones for Black identity and equality showcased in the poem.

Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too,” is a rather short, free verse poem of five stanzas, opening and closing with similar one-line sentence, and using simple language throughout. The poem is only five sentences in total, but covers two events (today and tomorrow), and two places, (kitchen and table). The poem depicts the relationship between a presumed but not named authority figure and the narrator. The narrator alludes to racism towards blacks within the oppressive dominant white culture of America through their own experience of getting excluded (Hughes, “I am the darker brother/They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes”) while the company eats together at the table (2-4). More powerfully, the events of the poem derive from and captivate the rancorous history of slavery and oppression that created everlasting systems of racial inequality and denied blacks their right. This history is recounted in both The African AmericanGreat Migration and Beyond (2003) and Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2001). As a Black male growing up America in the 1900s, Hughes’ writing reflects the racial divide and discrimination, particularly to minorities, that has cycled through generations. When the poem emerged in 1926, the Great Migration was ongoing, it was “the (high rate relocation of African-Americans from Southern states to the North” (Stewart 209-232). The Chicago race riots (the lynching of blacks) was also occurring, along with Jim Crow (state and local laws that legally separated the South), that painted the racially divided climate of the US (Emerson and Smith 42).            

In the poem, the speaker metaphorically tells his desire to be included at the “table” also represents his desire to be included in American patriotism as represented by the words, “I, Too.” The poem uses an exemplary event of the unfair treatment of a person because of their darker skin complexion to comment on the racial divide then transitions to an optimistic perspective where he demands equality and acceptance. Hughes’ uses figurative language, commas, tone shift, and vagueness in setting to articulate black inequality and provides a prideful and positive future perspective of their place in America by appealing to pathos and unification.

Hughes’ poem frames what I have referenced as the 21st century representation or reforming of his poem, the Black Lives Matter Movement which generates a similar articulation of black inequality and argues for unification of America. “I, Too” shows the complexities in the changing of times but the continuance of racial inequalities and tensions for blacks in America. The poem in conjunction to what I am talking about reveals the change in times in America but the continuing racial inequalities and need for the BLM. Hughes uses the speaker of the poem to reveal the unfair treatment and exclusion of a person based on skin color like seen in the mass killings of blacks by police leading to the creation of the BLM to stand against that. Hughes’ poem in combination with the BLM is important in analyzing the history of discrimination and unfair treatment of blacks, as well as establishing a black prideful forward-looking perspective that I will address.

Hughes utilizes commas to showcase the changing narrative of the speaker and to separate his changing experiences and emotions. Hughes Writes, ““I am the darker brother. /They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes, /But I laugh, /And eat well, /And grow strong” (I, Too” 2-7). The use of commas in this quote forces the reader to slow down and take in the actions of the narrator. The commas show the continuation of the unfair treatment because the commas combined with the word “grow strong” shows the longevity and multiplicity of times he had to eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” The commas also allow for the tone shift through the lines as well as stanzas of the poem. The tone shifts from one of anger to one of strength using the commas because the commas allows for the poem to be read like blues music, filled with sorrow and anger, but finding the beauty by finding its worth like the narrator does connecting back to Hughes’ use of blues and jazz club settings to write during the Harlem Renaissance. Commas produce this effect because it showcases the narrator’s growth and emotions. The commas allow us to get a whole picture view of the changes the narrator goes through after being banished to the kitchen such as the, “But I laugh,” that is followed by the, “And eat well,” then him saying, “And grow strong.” He is not allowing for his banishment to the kitchen to keep him down, but rather laughs and thinks of the future when he is stronger and can escape the segregation that has been forced on him.

 

The commas also produce a contrast between not being able to eat at the table juxtaposed to his claim of his, “tomorrow(‘s)” right to eat at that table. His perseverance and resilience in self authorizing that he will be at the table comes through because of the use of commas showing that he is not accepting his current situation. Agency, not accepting one’s unfair current situation, a message that Hughes promotes as black pride clashes, the picturistic America (land of freedom and opportunity), with the unmatched reality when we look further in. Through sources of literature, this unmatched dream of a racially equal America is exposed and investigated. This shows through the authority to speaker power dynamic as seen in the poem. One source that adds to the conversation is an NPR tribute by Neal Conan to Langston Hughes titled, “Celebrating the Legacy of Langston Hughes.” Published in February of 2012, Conan praises Hughes and his work as being a significant impact by giving a voice to blacks and black bodies in the 20th century that have historically been dehumanized. Conan’s promotes Hughes as a figure to be respected and praised because he created a foundation for black voices to be recognized and identified, as is done by the “I, Too” poem.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges the present-day ongoing racism on a micro and macro level, posing the question, “what should we teach about Langston Hughs in schools today?” (4). Conan amplifies the need for the presence of Hughes’ works in schools today, stating that, “it is a gateway in understanding black suffrage and black’s fight for equality” (5). Conan also recognizes the significance of Hughes as setting the stage for comprehending black identity and developing black pride in his works which allows for the canon of what is taught in schools to be expanded. Conan marks Hughes as setting a general framework for, “the importance and lasting foundational structure of black identity and black’s wanting freedom in a land where they were held captive and still are” (14). The Black Lives Movement acts as another agent and framework for understanding why there is a critical need for present-day foundations and organizations that protect and uphold black equality and freedom in a country who history has opposed it.

Through the Smithsonian Article titled, “Why Langston Hughes Still Reigns as a Poet for the Unchampioned,” published in May of 2017, author David Ward continues the praise of Langston Hughes by recognizing his contributions and achievements both in academia and society, painting Hughes as a “canonical figure in American culture” (1). Ward says that, “Hughes bridges the gap between cultures through his poems that connects to today’s multicultural society that lacks those bridges of culture and still uses Hughes’ work as a voice for continuing the building of cultural bridges” (8). This is done through first recognizing Hughes as inspirational and groundbreaking African-American author and figure for American culture and the American dream from a realistic viewpoint of blacks (2). Ward identifies the governments creation of systemic racism and its structures as a way of creating the unmatched dream of a racially equal society. Hughes growing up in the 1900s aligns with that even closer because the racial divide and legal separation of people was occurring which highly influenced his work. This correlates with the dreams of inclusion and equality of the speaker in the poem juxtapose with his “today.” His “tomorrow” and positive forward-looking dream by Hughes contrasts with the reality of racial systems put in place to keep him excluded.

Throughout the poem, Hughes employs the vagueness of setting to note the deep-rooted effects of slavery and the continuing holds it has on black equality. The vagueness in the setting acts as a metaphor for the ongoing oppression of blacks. The speaker uses the words “tomorrow” in the poem to contrast his current situation with his desired future. He says, “Tomorrow/I’ll be at the table/When company comes. /Nobody’ll dare/Say to me, / “Eat in the kitchen,”/Then” (I, Too” 8-14). Here Hughes’ using the word “tomorrow” is vague because it means the day after today, but it can also allude to the future in the sense of days, months, or even years. The word also acts as a metaphor for the oppression of blacks and the unfair treatment they face because it puts an uncertain time clock on their suffering. “Tomorrow,” acts a sense of hope for better days but is not marked with an exact date. Rather, it is the endless hope that things will get better than they are presently, even if that day isn’t certain.This is important because it showcases how whether it takes place during slavery or post-slavery, the remaining effects of oppression and unequal treatment of blacks is still present and draining in the American society. Paralleling with the vagueness in time, the events we see such as the killings of unarmed black males in the 21st century as covered in CNN’s article Family of Stephon Clark, unarmed black man killed by police, files wrongful death lawsuit published 2019 by Sonya Hamasaki and Dan Simon shows the continual effects of racial inequality systems from slavery. It shows how the African-American experience is still one of unfairness and inequality prior or post slavery and why the BLM is critically important in the fight against it.

    

Moving on, the narrator claims his liberation and argues for unification at the table through his hope of “tomorrow” as a brighter future juxtapose with the present. Hughes writes, “Besides, /They’ll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed—/I, too, am America” (I, Too” 15-18). He is claiming his right to feel included and equal as a citizen in America. He is disapproving the idea that equality is based on race, or more specifically that you must be white or of a lighter skin complexion to be fairly treated. This topic is important to me because America is often seen as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures, nationalities, and races, yet the country is racially fragmented, unequal in income and opportunity, and the viral killings of minorities at an unproportioned rate to whites shows that the ‘melting pot’ image is juxtaposed with the reality of oppressed identities in America. However, the black identity has always been present and is still fighting to be acknowledged in America’s multicultural society ran by white privilege.

 

This situation in the poem aligns with the oppressive history of domination from the white culture onto the black culture. Furthermore, it speaks in a hopeful tone despite the vagueness of setting to promise a brighter or equal “tomorrow.” This is congruent to the message that is delivered by Hughes in his speech at UCLA in 1967. The YouTube video from the UCLA Communication Studies Archives is of Langston Hughes’ speech at UCLA on the 2nd of February in 1967, a few months before he passed which presents and support the arguments of both Conan and Ward that will come up latter correlating with Hughes own words. However, it diverges by speaking more intensely on the social implications of identities and races and function of education as a tool for growth and change in America. The speaker approaches the history of discrimination through his motto, “dig and be dug in return,” as a framework for displaying the need for 20th century graduates to be aware of different identities as well as how they are represented and treated in society (Archives 45). Hughes acknowledges and praises the abilities of the Negros capabilities to achieve equal to other races and be even greater.  Hughes notes college and education as tools for growth in awareness levels and social consciousness of American students, stating it will be a catalyst for the understanding of identities and races in America which diverges from our abusive and discriminatory history towards minorities (58). This claim that he makes is highly important in explaining the development of the Black Lives Matter Movement which was established by highly educated black members and organizations in the African-American community which parallels with Hughes claim that education is a tool for social consciousness and awareness in America that this movement is trying to activate.

Just as the vagueness of the setting of time was established by the word “tomorrow” in the poem, the tomorrow that was being referred to is now enlightened by Hughes’ speech at UCLA. The near future but uncertain timeline of the “tomorrow” that the speaker of the poem hinges on to upkeep a hopeful tone and outlook on the future is like the hopeful tone and outlook that Hughes desires for America. Hughes looks at college or more generally education as a tool for establishing a brighter future for African-Americans that will bring them from the exclusion of the kitchen to the table. The tomorrow spoken about in the poem is played out in forty-two years after the poem is published at Hughes speech in 1967. This connects back to the vagueness of setting that the poem elicits because despite how hopeful and strong the speaker of the poem is in his declaration of an equal tomorrow where he says, “tomorrow I’ll be at the table when company comes,” the timeline of exactly when it actually happens is uncertain. Furthermore, the speaker goes on to say, “Besides, /they’ll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed—/ I, too, am America.” This is critically important because it connects back to the rising of awareness and consciousness of America that Hughes speaks on in his speech through using education as a tool.

This is again played out in 1925 in his poem and also in 2019 because the multitude of endorsing organizations for the BLM such as such as the Center for Social Inclusion, Southeast Asian Freedom Network, Jewish Voice of Peace, articulate the rising awareness and consciousness of America and more show the diversity and inclusion of all as equal Americans. It shows the removing of exclusions that the speaker faces in the poems transitioned to an enlightened state where diverse groups are willing to join for a movement to stand for equal citizenship in America redirecting from its racially oppressive and shameful history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited 

Knopf. “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes & The Weary Blues.” Knopf Doubleday, 1926, knopfdoubleday.com/2015/02/03/the-selected-letters-of-langstonhughes-and-the-weary-blues/. 

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1926, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too. 

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Langston Hughes.” Encyclopædia BritannicaEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Langston-Hughes. 

Tolnay, Stewart (2003). “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond“. Annual Review of Sociology29: 209–232. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100009JSTOR 30036966. 

Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith (2001). “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America“. p. 42. Oxford University Press. 

Pilgrim, David. “Slavery in America.” Slavery in America – Timeline – Jim Crow Museum – Ferris State University, 2012, www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/timeline/slavery.htm. 

Conan, Neal. “Celebrating The Legacy Of Langston Hughes.” NPR, NPR, 2 Feb. 2012, www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=146297228. Accessed 10 Mar. 2019. 

Ward, David C. “Why Langston Hughes Still Reigns as a Poet for the Unchampioned.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 22 May 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/why-langston-hughes-still-reigns-poet-unchampioned-180963405/. Accessed 10 Mar. 2019. 

UCLACommStudies. “Langston Hughes Speaking at UCLA 2/16/1967.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Dec. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px5hwNCs9ss. Accessed 10 Mar. 2019. 

Hamasaki, Sonya, and Dan Simon. “Family of Stephon Clark Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Jan. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/01/29/us/stephon-clark-wrongful-death-lawsuit/index.html. 

“Malcolm X Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 19 April 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/malcolm_x_387554 

Black Identity in I, Too

The poem, I, Too by Langston Hughes was published in 1926 but first seen in his book, “The Weary Blues” in 1925. It is a rather short, free verse poem of five stanzas, opening and closing with similar one line sentence, and using simple language throughout. The poem is only five sentences in total, but covers two events, today and tomorrow, and two places, the kitchen and the table. The narrator of the poem creates black narrative and exposes the African-American identity within the oppressive dominant white culture of America. More powerfully, it captivates the history of slavery and oppression that creates systems of racial inequality and denied blacks their rights. The poem uses an exemplary event of the unfair treatment of a person because of their darker skin complexion to comment on the racism that plagues our nation. When the poem emerged in 1926, the Great Migration (high rate relocation of African-Americans from Southern states to the North), The Chicago race riots (the lynching of blacks), and Jim Crow (state and local laws that legally separated the South), painted the racially divided climate of the US.

In the Poem, I, Too, the narrator is sent to the kitchen to eat his food alone by an authority figure when people come to visit who all eat together at the table. The narrator does as told but claims that he will not be in the kitchen in the future. Through the use of commas, Hughes expressed his feelings towards racism and comments on the racially discriminating state of our nation.

Hughes writes,

                                                                    “I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.”           

 

 

 

The use of commas in this quote forces the reader to slow down and take in the actions of the narrator. The commas show the continuation of the unfair treatment because the commas combined with the word “grow strong” shows the longevity and multiplicity of times he was had to eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” The commas also allow for the tone shift through the lines as well as stanzas of the poem. The tone shift from one of anger to one of strength through the use of the commas because the commas allows for the poem to be read like blues music, filled with sorrow and anger, but finding the beauty by finding its worth like the narrator does. Commas produce this effect because it showcases the narrator’s growth and emotions. The commas allow us to get a whole picture view of the changes the narrator goes through after being banished to the kitchen such as the, “But I laugh,” that is followed by the, “And eat well,” then him saying, “And grow strong.” He is not allowing for his banishment to the kitchen to keep him down, but rather laughs and thinks of the future when he is stronger and can escape the segregation that has been forced on him. The commas also produces a contrast between not being able to eat at the table juxtaposed to his claim of his, “tomorrow(‘s)” right to eat at that table. His perseverance and resilience in self authorizing that he will be at the table comes through because of the use of commas showing that he is not accepting his current situation.

  The vagueness in the setting of time in the poem (today and tomorrow), showcases how whether or not it takes place during slavery or post-slavery, the remaining effects of oppression and unequal treatment of blacks is still present and draining in the American society. Moving on, the narrator claims his liberation and argues for unification at the table. He is claiming his right to feel included and equal as a citizen in America. He is disapproving the idea that equality is based on race, or more specifically that you have to be white or of a lighter skin complexion to be fairly treated.

Through his poem, Hughes makes a declaration of freedom for blacks and stands against the oppression and cruel treatment of slaves as if they aren’t equal human beings. The narrator’s fight still remains true and ongoing in American society today because we still see ongoing movements and suffrage for racial equality and freedom. The Black Lives Movement is a 21st century visual representation of the poem and the theme of Freedom that it demands. This theme of freedom rings through in Hughes other works of poetry such as, “Let America be America Again” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” Malcolm X said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Parallel with Hughes message, Blacks are demanding their freedom in all pursuits, but more than just demanding it, they are taking it  peacefully or via force.

B6.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1926, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too.

Tolnay, Stewart (2003). “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond”. Annual Review of Sociology. 29: 209–232. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100009. JSTOR 30036966.

Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith (2001). “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”. p. 42. Oxford University Press.

“Malcolm X Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 19 April 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/malcolm_x_387554

New Racism in Malaysia and Singapore

Historian often say history repeats itself until we learn the lesson that is meant to be learned, and we make the necessary changes to become a more globally accepting, equal, and interconnected society and world. One way history has been repeating itself for centuries is with the way in which we categorize people.Daniel Goh and Philip Holden show the continuance of racial structures that promote “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) which turns into a different form or “new racism” (2) in our society decades after a country established its freedom from their colonizers in their book, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009).Goh and Holden also acknowledge the damaging effects of this continuance and of the “new racism” it forms.

  To start of, Goh and Holden states that these two countries government are, “shaped by a racial governmentality” (1). Racial govermentiality first started when British assigned labor systems in the countries that they colonized such as Malaysia and Singapore. The British recognized any progress socially, economically, or culturally as being tied to your race. Therefore, racial structures were created that positioned a person’s race and ethnic identity ahead of their Singaporean or Malaysian identity. This created “institutionalized colonial identities’ (3), because years after these colonized countries such as Malaysia and Singapore fought for their freedom, the effects and racial structures stemming from a racial governmentality that the British practiced in these countries remained. Goh and Holden essentially make the argument that race and multiculturalism function as a continuance of “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) that creates “new racism” (2) in countries like Malaysia and Singapore whom were colonized and later established their freedom.This means that the act of freedom from colonizers is not enough, there has to be more actions taken to rectify the structures they left. Malaysia and Singapore are examples that a colonized country still relies on the established government by British colonizers even in a postcolonial and multicultural state.

One way we see this argument shown as accurate is through the use of Robert Hefner’s collection of essays (2001). Hefner’s works showcases the, “investigation of multiculturalism in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in the production and reproduction of precolonial, colonial and postcolonial pluralism”(2). This goes to show how “new racism” stems from the precolonial and colonial decades of history, because the “institutionalized colonial identities” established by the British are still present today in countries that have postcolonial pluralism. I found this to be revealing because often when people think of a postcolonial or multicultural/pluralistic country, they think of it as a melting pot such as with the United States. The terms or view point of multicultural or melting pot often gives of the impression that the country and its citizens are equal, diverse, and legally understanding of everyone. However, that is not true because we see the effects of the race systems from colonial days that still show face in the legal, social, and cultural aspects of our society today. For example, in Malaysia, the “politics of recognition” (3) shows how one must navigate race to have access to resources because it is not evenly distributed among citizens. This is similar to America where the race you are born into already has serious stereotypes accompanied with it. For Blacks, this is often shown through the wealth and economic gap that shows how minorities like blacks are more likely to live in poorer segmented neighbors.

History repeats itself as we learn it, until we understand it enough to change it. The understanding that one has control of their own fate is then seen as only possible if we as a society decide that we want to change our fate and take another route not tied to our colonizers. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden are taking the necessary steps in learning the colonial history of Malaysia and Singapore, and exposing the recurring effects British colonizers have had on the land. They are also arguing for the necessary change in the ways we use “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) because it is creating a system for “new racism” as seen in other countries like America who went from slavery to Jim Crow laws. It is interesting how history has been repeating itself, but it is also revealing because Goh and Holden are revealing to us how to change the continuance of a racially charged and oppressive history.

Blog 5.

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009.

 

 

Visual Pattern of Recurring Trees

America is a multicultural society that composes of many individuals and families with binary identities and races. Sometimes this is through heritage, other times it stems from living within multiple cultures and communities that a person feels tied to, or makes up who they are. In the graphic novel, Vietnamerica (2010) by GB Tran, is a family story of Tran’s journey to reconnect with his Vietnamese identity and family after having fled to America with his parents during the Vietnamese war. The choice of a graphic novel allows Tran to tell his story through comic style writing and visuals. One visual I found compelling was the recurring images of trees, often of dark blue and black coloring that can be seen in the background of many of the scenes in the pages.

     Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novelThe visual representation of the recurring black and dark blue color trees within the graphic novel is started after the images of the Vietnamese war that opens up the novel. The recurring dark color trees is the first image we see when Tran’s family escapes to America. This is then followed by the quote on the next page from his father which says, “A man without history is a tree without roots,-Confucius.” This pattern of recurring trees then produces the effect of having the reader’s constantly remember the quote and question what is Tran’s history. It also makes the reader more aware of the dark trees rather than it just being a normal scenery, it stands out as important to the story and the colors makes us question, is the history of Tran’s family dark as well? The quote causes the trees to be re-imagined as history that has to be rooted in something, and for Tran that is Vietnam. The recurring trees also connects the life he had in America to Vietnam because trees are general parts of nature and are seen and reproduced in the scenes of when he is in both places. It then allows us to connect that Tran has history in both countries, and he is traveling to Vietnam to get in touch with his roots here because he has been gone for so long. The quote combined with the recurring trees shows the pathway or journey that Tran must embark on to find his history, his roots.

Being someone in a binary race or culture identity can make you feel like you’re having to find both your identities. It is often a journey to connect to lost family, history, and your roots. Tran is trying to find his history and roots within his multicultural identity, and the importance of history and remembering it acts as his father’s push to remind him of that.

 

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

Blog 4.

 

Can You be Both Muslim and British?

Ziauddin Yousafzai, an educational activist, stated this remarkable quote, “I have multiple identities. I’m British. I’m Pakistani. I’m a Muslim. I’m a writer. I’m a father. And each identity has rich overtones. So I must be careful to look at your identity, and that of others, in the same way.” The novel, Home Fire (2017), by Kamila Shamsie, also explores the multiple identities of humans.

The first 183 pages of the novel, Home Fire, takes us through the perspectives of Isma, Aneeka, Eammon, then Parvaiz. The story is set in London where Isma is the older sister of twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Having lost their both their parents, one whom was seen as a terrorist by Britain (the father), we see the different paths these characters life takes them on and the intersection of their Muslim and British identities. Isma takes off to America to further her education while Aneeka is attending Law school in London on a full scholarship, and Parvaiz leaves to Syria under the influence of Farooq, a man who claims he can teach him more about his father but later shows to be false. More Specifically, I will focus on Aneeka who is dating Eamonn, the Secretary of the State’s son, and how her multiple identities, Women, British, and Muslim, oppose each other in existing in Britain.

On page 72, Aneeka is staying over at Eamonn’s apartment where they were previously having sex, and a few hours later, it is time for her to pray according to her Muslim religion. Shamsie writes, “He should have left immediately, but he couldn’t help watching this woman, this stranger, prostrating herself to God in the room where she’d been down on her knees for a very different purpose just hours earlier” (72). Shamise uses imagery to display different perspectives of Aneeka based on her different identities and how they are at odds.

The quote produces effects of imagery because words such as “this woman,this stranger” paints a picture of Aneeka being someone Eamonn doesn’t know despite that being his girlfriend. She is “prostrating herself to God” showing us that she is praying, but that image is contrasted with the earlier actions of her being, “down on her knew for a very different purpose just hours ago.” The words, “This woman, this stranger,” implies that Aneeka is not someone Eammon knows. Painting a picture of someone different then who he has been with a few hours prior. The images brought up by the words, “He should have left immediately,” are one of non-belonging and out of place for Eammon in the room. The reason he feels like this is because the actions of Aneeka currently playing is juxtaposed with the image of her being on her knees earlier for sexual activities.

The imagery produces these effects because it produces a juxtaposition of Aneeka being a woman and having sex to her being Muslim while living in Britain.This juxtaposition implies that these two activities can not be done or is not expected to be done by the same person, especially not in that frame of time.The connotations brought up by his uneasiness is the setting they live in, London where being Muslim is not seen as parallel to being Britain. This reveals the Women identity, Muslim, and British identity of Aneeka. It also reveals how it is not easy for all three of her identities to be seen as inter-sectional in the British society as shown by Eamonn’s surprise by her praying after having sex, calling her, “this woman, this stranger.” This Imagery illuminates the lack of and inability for Aneeka to freely intertwine and express both her gender, being Muslim, and being British.These effects produced by this imagery are important because it shows how hard it is for Aneeka integrate her different identities in everyday situations.

B3.

Works Cited

“Ziauddin Sardar.” AZQuotes.com. Wind and Fly LTD, 2019. 07 March 2019. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1410938

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

The Battle for Citizenship in America

The famous African-American baseball player, Jackie Robinson once said, “The right for every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.” That was in the 20th century, and today in our 21st century, the issue is still crucial. The poet, Claudia Rankine writes on the significance of citizenship and the the struggles faced  by blacks in obtaining first-class citizenship in America in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014).

Let’s specifically focus on the no-title poem on page 14 about the argument the beginning character called “a friend” makes about the two identities, “historical self” and “self self” in lines 2-3. The ‘self self” identity is further broken down as black self and white self which transitions from a friendship with no conflict to one of conflict throughout the poem because their history creates different identities and placement in their shared America.

Rankine symbolism when she writes the words “Americans battle.” Symbolism is the use of an object or word(s) to suggest a larger meaning or idea. To better display the symbol Rankine uses, let’s look at the opening line from the poem which says, “A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” The words ‘Americans battle’ acts as symbols because they produce the effects of historical connotations to slavery and the civil war as an american battle for freedom and equality between blacks and whites. Those two words also imply that it was not peaceful but rather bloody and gruesome because of the word battle. In terms of surrounding text in relation to the symbol, the ‘historical self’ is at battle with the ‘self self’ in the poem.This brings up the association of the civil rights movement and the black lives moment because they are essentially battles between black and whites for freedom and equal citizenship in America.

The symbol of ‘Americans battle’ produces these associations and connotations because the racial history of America is highly memorable and characterizing in terms of the country. Some of the biggest American battles are ones based of race and for citizenship. The word battle placed in front of the word Americans brings up images of bloody conquest, stripping away native land, and forced labor like on cotton plantations. These effects are significant because the American history is one grounded and founded in racial inequality and discrimination. So, when the words ‘Americans battle’ are in the same line as ‘historical self’ and ‘self self’ (black self and white self) the message created of race relations and unfairness helps to convey Rankine’s message. The symbol of “American battles” helps to convey the fight between black and whites for black equality.

Jackie Robinson and Claudia Rankine both note the need to address the issue of black not feeling like first-class citizens in America because they are not despite it being a vital part of feeling like they belong here. Rankine goes a step further by using the symbol of ‘Americans battle’ to showcase the two types of Americans, black and whites, and how the battle for blacks to feel like first-class citizens is one based of historical discrimination and prejudice. ‘Americans battles’ stand for the inequality in citizenship that blacks face and how that creates a conflict between blacks and whites, even those who are friends.

 

Work Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, [2014], 2014. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?                        direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1363424&site=eds-live&scope=site.

“Jackie Robinson Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. Brainy Media Inc, 2019. 8 February 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jackie_robinson_140158

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Acknowledging Race and Racial Formation in a Multicultural Society

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. memorably said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In the United States where issues of race and racism is prevalent, the injustice Dr. King speaks of is occurring.

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, in their book, Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994), contributes to the discussion with their definition of racial formation. They define it as, “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (Omi and Winant 55). They further this discussion by acknowledging the history behind race and racial projects, as well as linking that to how society has evolved into the power structure that is current. This essentially is the foundational structure for understanding how categories of race came to be and how racism, the side product of these categories was birthed in the United States. The combination of these two is precisely stated as, “to recognize the racial dimension in social structure is to interpret the meaning of race,” (Omi and Winant 57). Race and Racism are not scientific, but the social and political impacts and realness they hold make it undeniably important to understand and speak on in our society. The history of race in America is one of wars, conquest, and categorizing. That has lead to racial formation and race relations creating issues of racism that must be brought into dialogue.

In the book, “So you want to talk about race (Seal Press 2018), Ijeoma Oluo adds to the conversation about race and racial formation through her definition of racism and the steps useful in having these conversations. Oluo defines racism as, “racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power” (26). The important point to note in her definition is systems of power reinforces racially held prejudice. Yes, individuals can be racist and that is a conversation to have, but more importantly, looking at the systems of power that gives them the tools to reinforce racism over generations and in detrimental aspects of other lives is most critical. Secondly, Oluo gives useful advice for when speaking about race. One of the most important advice was “do your research” (46). This means that before entering a conversation on race, read, learn, and gain knowledge to know what you are talking about. With conversations on such a sensitive and real issue, doing the research can be the difference between productive or non effective conversations.

 

Ijeoma Oluo and Omi and Winant arguments and points parallel each other and act as building blocks for the conversation on race, racial formation, and racism. Both definitions of race and racism focus on the history behind the issue as well as acknowledging the systems of power that cause the perpetuation of the oppression. Oluo’s ideas are useful because it gives people the tools needed to have resourceful and progressive conversation about race. Omi and Winant’s ideas are useful in providing the history of racial formation and giving readers the tools to understand how race and racism developed in the United States. The combination of both works creates dialogue on the pressing and important issue or race as well as providing humans foundation blocks for having the uncomfortable conversation about race, racial formation, and racism in our society.

 

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” 16 Apr. 1963.

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 1994.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

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