I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.As a child growing up as a minority in an almost all white school, I didnít see race as an important aspect of life. I remember being taught about the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust, while teachers and parents alike repeatedly told me not to be prejudiced and that racism was bad. I recall wondering how people could do hateful things to people they didnít even know. Now as a teenager I have begun to think more about race and am still trying to answer some of those timeless questions. It has become a bigger issue in my life. As a teenager I do understand why people do racist things. I understand why there are ghettos and why people of different races group together. I recognized that some of my friends and I are different, and that difference can divide people. Iíve learned to not let those differences divide my friends and me, but I still occasionally look at myself as an outsider.--Dr. M. L. King
Only rarely have I seen the differences between people escalate to violence. Since I have had to learn how to overlook my differences with people, it is odd for me to hear about people fighting over skin color. When I think of racism, I think about violence because of race. Someone attacking someone else because of skin color. I once remember a dialogue I had with myself, the topic was racial violence. I asked myself a question; "What would I do if someone attacked me because of my skin color?" I decided I would fight back and mimic their actions, claiming I was the victim and it was an act of retaliation and revenge. But this sounded ridiculous; going against every moral my parents taught me. I would be just as bad as the one who first attacked me, so I thought of getting around that "fight fire with fire" idea. I thought of non-violent actions of retaliation. Poetry is a non-violent action that will get a message across and not evoke violent revenge. Poetry is used for expression, and racism is something with a lot of issues to be expressed.
One of the first poems I chose for this anthology was Langston Hughesís poem, "I, Too, Sing America." I liked how the speaker was confident that "They" would "see how beautiful" he was and they would be "ashamed" after doing so. (18-19) What appealed to me was Hughesís tone in this poem; it was as if he were certain of what "tomorrow," would be like. (10) One reason this poem is so strong is because it is clear and direct. It is a proclamation of equality that exemplifies intensity and strength. The speaker could say, "If tomorrow comesÖ" But instead he speaks with assurance, "Tomorrow, Iíll sit at the tableÖ" (10-11)
Another powerful and meaningful poem, not available on the Web, is by Dr. Martin Luther King, "The Unlit Road at Night." This poem gives hope and support to anyone struggling with life or racism. Dr. King compares walking on an "Unlit Road" to the road of life. He lets the reader know that they are not alone, that life contains "struggle and strife," and that they have to have tenacity and perseverance to survive. In the first four stanzas the speaker is depicting the "Unlit Road," characterizing it as, full of "bumps and curves," and as long as an "ocean." Because the road is unlit and it is night, the person walking doesnít know what is next or exactly where the road is headed, all they know is that they must go on. In the last two stanzas the speaker gives hope to the audience by saying that they arenít on the road alone and that God will always be their for them. The final understanding of the road comes in the last stanza, where after surviving all of the hardships, the readers makes the comparison to life. This poem adds a lot to this anthology. It wasnít directly related to racism but it characterizes the road of racism, with the turbulent bumps and the unpredictable curves.
Dr. Kingís choice to use non-violent methods of protest is admirable. It is amazing how he was able to attain such power with just words. His poetry is even more powerful because of its elegance and grace. All poetry has a harmonious flow to it that makes it more potent than plain text. He has had a tremendous impact on 20th century America. The two poems, "We All Have Dreams" and "Donít Hate," were both written by four 9th graders and inspired by Dr. King.
One of my favorite poems is by Claude McKay, "If We Must Die." The speaker in this poem is stating that if "we" must die, it should be with dignity and pride. It is important to the speaker that he maintains honor in death. He tries to unite his "kin" and punish his "foe." (9-10) Since no clear evidence shows it, we can only assume McKay refers to "we" as AfricanĖAmericans, and the "foe" as whites. He isnít going to die willingly; he is going to put up a fight, "Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!" (14)
Another poem about fighting back and displaying tenacity as a strength is Maya Angelouís "Still I Rise." In this poem she addresses her oppressor by asking questions and standing up for herself, and African-Americans:
The speaker talks with much confidence and since she is addressing her oppressor, we can tell she is courageous and without fear. The speaker is defiant and direct, but doing this there is more of a blunt and clear message to the oppressor without ambiguity.You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, Iíll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
ĎCause I walk like Iíve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still Iíll rise.
I tried to gather poems by people in different times in history. For instance, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and James Weldon Johnson were all writers from the Harlem Renaissance. And more modern poets like, Maya Angelou and Margaret Walker. I did this to try and present a diverse range of interpretations of racism.
The whole anthology contains 13 poems. I chose to put "I, Too, Sing America" first because it is a powerful straightforward poem; the reader doesnít need an extensive explication of this to appreciate it. The first three poems are contain general ideas about racism. The next five poems had more passionate emotion behind them. Some authors described their strong feelings about racism, with vivid imagery. The next poem is "Sixties," and it portrays racism in the 1960s. Then I put in "The Unlit Road at Night," followed up by the poems inspired by Dr. King; "We All Have Dreams" and "Donít Hate." Finally I chose to keep, "Still I Rise," for the end. It contains important reoccurring themes found in many of the poems in the anthology. One of them is perseverance; she will continually rise, even if shot down with "words" or "cut" with "eyes." (21-22) Another is the theme of defiance and having the courage to stand up for what is right. This poem tied all of these themes together. I felt that this poem was a good representation of poetry about racism and that it would be a good conclusion.
I hope this anthology will give the reader more of an understanding
of racism and the power of poetry. The message is strong and peaceful.
Try to understand why the authors wrote these and imagine what situation
they might have been in. In conclusion, enjoy these poems but donít forget
the reason they had to be written.
Table of Contents
|"I, too, Sing America"||
|"Lift Every Voice and Sing"||
James Weldon Johnson
|"If We Must Die"||
|"For My People"||
|"The Unlit Road at Night"||
Martin Luther King Jr.
|"We All Have Dreams"||
Nicole B., Erin R., Amanda B., April S.
Nicole B., Erin R., Amanda B., April S.
|"Still I Rise"||