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

In the 21st century … We are colorblind

Freddie Gray

In the 21st century, the color of your skin can determine the numbness one feels to racial profiling, micro aggression, and cop sirens. In the 21st century, expecting to be pulled over in a car because of your skin color is a reoccurring lived experience. In the poem “Stop-and-Frisk” attributed to the collection Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses recurring patterns and rhythm to illuminate the deep roots of systematic racism within the criminal justice system which black Americans have been forcefully grown accustomed to.

“Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same. Flashes, a siren, the stretched-out roar—” (Rankine, 107).

The patterns of wording in Rankine’s poem potentially mirror the repetitive nature of the systems of which she and black identifying Americans are oppressed by. Despite the changing narratives previous to, or following, “same,” the ending remains unchanged. Rankine’s use of repetition challenges her audience to consider the inevitability of this racialized injustice. Rankine’s use of repetition positions her audience to glimpse into the perpetual racialized experience which the protagonist is subject to, despite change in narrative.

“And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description” (Rankine, 108).

In the second quote, Rankine’s repetition of “the guy fitting the description,” places similar emphasis on the inevitability of “the guy” being subjected to racial profiling. Rankine’s deliberate identification of the offender under the vague title of “the guy” further exaggerates the ambiguous nature of racial profiling common within the criminal justice system. The confidence which Rankine positions her audience to anticipate the racial oppression of the maybe, maybe-not offender in her poem provokes her audience to reevaluate the passive acknowledgment of America’s racialized criminal justice system.

Trayvon Martin

Work Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “Stop-and-Frisk.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B2

A Place You Don’t Know

Can you survive a conversation about race and politics with a person of an opposing race? Many would answer this question with a yes why not? But in reality, many would explode in emotions and scream. Many of this conversations are indeed difficult due to not being able to articulate one’s ideas thoroughly and effectively, and yes containing one’s anger and frustration regarding this failure is even harder. This topic is also introduced in the second poem of Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems, Citizen: An American Lyric(2014). Rankine adequately develops the idea of racial conversations and the negative outcome of them in modern day societal terms.

Rankine develops the idea of racial uncomfortable conversations by the use of authorial intrusion, a figurative language tool that is unusually spoken of but well reaches the readers connection to the text. This literary device is the usage of the second person point of view instead of the more common first and third person by the author. Rankine uses this tool specially in the opening of her second poem as well as throughout the rest of the poem, she sets the stage with this tool and forms the platform to the rest of her poem in which the ideas flow cohesively and understandably in the readers point of view. This can be shown in the quote,

 “A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college…” (Rankine 13)

 The usage of authorial intrusion proves to be effective in captivating the essence of the scene and portraying it in a way that readers can clearly and easily create an image in their minds. When an author uses second person, it becomes easier for the reader to imagine themselves in the scene, when readers can imagine themselves in the scene, they can create a better connection with the author. This better connection then leads to better understanding of the meaning behind the poem. In regard to Rankine poem the readers are able to set the uncomfortable setting in their minds for the conversation that occurs within the first line “A women you do not know wants to join you for lunch”. The idea of the not knowing who one is having lunch with creates an unsettling feeling that is deeply generated throughout the poem. In addition, given that a close relationship is depend by the second person perspective between the author and the reader the author doesn’t waste much time explaining in between the line ideas. Rankine lists actions that in the second person context pertain to the reader, the reader understands what the author means because the reader feels like a part of the story. For instance, when the author says “You are not sure if you are meant to apologize” the reader knows a sense of anger is supposed to be felt.

Overall this literary device truly expands the significance of taking part in uncomfortable conversations regarding race because it shows that discriminationagainst an applicant’s race and his ability to get into a school or not based on his persona and academics is not ok. This poem is honest and informative about how to react to a racist comment in a conversation, because yes walking away is always better then yelling at “a woman you do not know”.

B2

Works Cited:

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. (Book)

The Power of Declaration

Speech is not easy in the face of tragedy. Words can’t capture the depths of grief, but they can circle slowly at its edges and, in their circling, evoke the empty center. In “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” published in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses short, declarative sentences to evoke and validate Black Americans’ grief in the face of racist violence.

In her poem, Rankine uses declarative sentences to develop an informative or factual tone. The poem begins with a paragraph composed almost entirely of declarative sentences, and this form of syntax repeats throughout the poem. In the first paragraph she writes, “My brothers are notorious. They have not been to prison. They have been imprisoned. The prison is not a place you enter. It is no place. My brothers are notorious” (Rankine 89). Here, Rankine asserts that the criminal justice system and white America at large criminalize Black men and limit their opportunities. She explains that her “brothers” have not physically been to jail, but are still “imprisoned” by their notoriety and their inability to perform simple (non)activities like “waiting” unmolested. Rankine’s syntax breaks the various parts of these assertions into deceptively straightforward statements. Declarative introduce a subject, describe its action, and end with a period, creating the appearance of simplicity and factuality by drawing an apparently uncomplicated connection between a subject and an action. Rankine expresses sentiments of great political and figurative complexity as matters of what simply “is” or “is not.” This gives her statements the feel of common (and unremarkable) knowledge.

Image result for black lives matter protest

Rendering her ideas as common sense both evokes the numbing effects of continual tragedy and challenges the racist strategy of denying the validity of Black people’s experiences and knowledge. The accumulation of declarative sentences on the topics of imprisonment, racism, and the inability to exist creates a contrast between tone and subject. The factual tone combined with the sorrowful subject matter mirrors the detached manner of a person who is experiencing shock, or who has become numb to grief through the proliferation of tragedy. When dehumanization is part of the fabric of a person’s everyday life, pain must, at times, go underground for the sake of survival. Rankine’s detached tone adds to the power of her poem by underscoring the constant nature of racist violence. Furthermore, her tone is an implicit valorization of the knowledge Black people gather through their daily experiences— knowledge that white people devalue in order to maintain our power. By stating these appearances in a factual tone, Rankine asserts their truth.

 

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B 2

Is It Still History If It Reoccurs?

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman would forever remain in history as the momentous incident that would spark the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its conversation about racism and systemic violence towards black people in America. Claudia Rankine’s poem “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin” in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), portrays the emotion of a black individual detailing the position black Americans stand in, both historically and in modern day society.

In her poem, “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin”, Rankine structures her sentence about the history of the black American as a continuous list, using multiple commas, to depict both the consistent history of violence towards black people and its ongoing presence in modern society. This is evident in the sentence,

“Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, […]” (Rankine 90).

In incorporating a long and continuous sentence with multiple commas, it portrays to the reader just how long and the multiple discriminatory acts black people have had to deal with. The beginning part of the sentence, “[…] the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities […]”, reads like an ongoing list of the historical racism black people faced beginning with slavery and the racist aftermath. Additionally, this excerpt draws our attention to how this racism towards black people is not just one point in time, but it repeats over history. The list begins with “passage” and “plantation”, which signifies the start of unacceptable treatment towards black people, and continues with “Jim Crow segregation”, “poverty”, and “inner cities” to further exemplify that even after slavery, there was still poor treatment towards black people and it continues as evident through socio-economic status and affected neighborhood.

In reference of the Trayvon Martin poem, this excerpt that reads like a passage is significant because it is exemplifying that there is a long history of prejudice and racism towards black people, and yet society is still trying to portray them as the enemy. This poem allows reader to feel the continuity of unfortunate treatment black people have had to deal with and continue to deal with every day. Trayvon’s death is the crux of this poem because he was just a young black boy living his life, when George Zimmerman decided to implement his own prejudiced views and take his life away.

B2.

Works 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.

For White People: The Dangers and Importance of Saying “I”

Part of the reason I dread holidays so much is I know I will face the same conversations with my extended family as I do every year.  At this point, I’ve got my script in the back of head ready so that I can whip out the usual responses to the usual questions involving my major, my relationships status, and my professional goals.  Two of the texts we analyzed so far in the course, Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 book So You Want to Talk About Race and John Biewen’s 2017 podcast episode “Turning the Lens,” have brought my attention to a whole different area of conversation I haven’t had to come into contact with so much.  These texts help provide strategies for conversations about race, as well as providing information on the structures and concepts that hide underneath the things that people say.

In Oluo’s chapter “What if I talk about race wrong?” she writes various strategies and tips to keep in mind while engaging in conversations about race, which can be difficult but are also important to have.  One of her tips reads: “If you are white, watch how many times you say ‘I’ and ‘me’” (Oluo 47).  A lot of racism extends beyond the individual, manifesting in the larger structures and institutions that we engage in.  When a white person makes a conversation about race too much about their personal feelings, they are diminishing the role that race plays in the lives of others.  Yes, white people experience problems.  But people of color can experience the same problems in addition to having them be impacted by race.

 

John Biewen’s “Turning the Lens” episode is a part of his larger podcast titled Seeing White.  In this text, before discussing how institutional racism is prominent everywhere, Biewen mentions how “…white people ourselves are not very good at seeing whiteness” (Biewen).  It is easy, particularly for those who live in predominantly white areas or schools, to look at people of other ethnicities and backgrounds and the social problems they face as a result of their difference.  What Biewen helps highlight, however, is that the privileges of being white are what needs to be recognized as well.  It is whiteness as a kind of property (as we learn in my American Studies major) that is the code for hundreds of years of racial formations that have been created.

 

And so in connecting both Oluo and Biewen’s ideas, it’s important to recognize that racism has been constructed into many aspect of our lives.  When discussing race, it is important for white people to use personal pronouns carefully as to not try to diminish the significance or extremity of racism but while still recognizing moments when personal privileges are making an impact on individual treatment.

B1

Works Cited

Biewen, John. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White. 2017. Podcast.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018.

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.

B1.

 

Defining Race and the Role of Human Equality in a Multicultural Society

Image credit: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The changing face of racism makes it an elusive concept to address in modern conversations. While outright racism exists, it is the system of institutional racism that is the most insidious. The photo above depicts Irish protesters. Their protest signs demonstrate their disapproval of the Irish police force and its reluctance to address black victims of violence.

Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race frames racial oppression in the context of society and describes conversational tools to address the topic of race. Published in 2018, the book provides instruction for genuine alliance with people of color. Oluo states that racism is rarely an individual attribute, but rather an institutional force that continues to oppress people of color (27). This idea is useful, as, I believe, it diverges from the average white person’s perception of racism. When a white person hears the word “racist,” images of “unabashed racism,” such as swastikas or the Ku Klux Klan, may come to mind (Oluo, 27). Framing race as a societal problem, however, points the finger at institutional support in terms of allowing racism to flourish. This idea also permits the opportunity to fight these oppressive systems (Oluo, 36).

Multiculturalism, written Ali Rattansi and published in 2011, is a short introduction to conversations surrounding multiculturalism. Rattansi outlines the role that the strive for human equality has played in the origins of multiculturalism. Following World War II, Rattansi explains, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sparked societal changes towards the idea of race (15). These changes are significant as they set the stage for the progressive social movements of the 1960’s and beyond. These historical moments illustrate that policy changes and social changes are key in changing racist systems.

Image credit: United Nations

Both Oluo’s definition of race as a societal, rather than an individual, issue and Rattansi’s explanation of post-WWII reversals of racist policies reinforce racism as an institutional system of oppression. Just as racism is a “systemic machine,” policy changes and social movements can function to address the injustices of this institutional problem (Oluo, 28). Oluo and Rattansi’s ideas therefore synergize to explain the societal changes that must take place to address institutional racism. These chances include the recognition of the existence of racist systems by white people and the enactment of policy changes that establish human equality.

Works Cited

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

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

B1