Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Minority Texts


Compare these two texts from Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois and the following two poems from Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. What do they tell you about the situation of Blacks in America and about the response of African American writers to this? What about the form of the poems, which tradition do they belong to?

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, Up from Slavery (1901) Extracts.

To those of my race (…) who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are’— cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all race by whom we are surrounded (…) No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities (…)

To those of the white race (…) you can be sure, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty in the past (…) so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours (…)

W.E.B. DUBOIS, The Souls of Black Folk (1903) Extracts

Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things:

- First, political power,

- Second, insistence on civil rights,

- Third, higher education of Negro youth (…)

Such men feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things:

  1. The right to vote.
  2. Civic equality
  3. The education of youth according to ability (…)

By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal (…)

LANGSTON HUGHES, “I, too” (1932)

I, too, sing America.

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’ll sit at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

COUNTEE CULLEN, “Yet Do I Marvel” (1925)

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,

And did He stoop to quibble could tell why

The little buried mole continues blind,

Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,

Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus

Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare

If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus

To struggle up a never-ending stair.

Inscrutable His ways are, and immune

To catechism by a mind too strewn

With petty cares to slightly understand

What awful brain compels his awful hand.

Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make a poet black and bid him sing.



“Poema en tres idiomas y caló”


Españotli titlán Englishic

Titlán náhuatl, titlán Caló

¡Qué locotl!

Mi mente spirals al mixtli,

buti suave I feel cuatro lenguas in

mi boca.

Coltic sueños temostli

y siento una xóchitl brotar

from four diferentes vidas.

I yotl distinctamentli recuerdote

cuandotl I yotl was a maya,

cuandotl I yotl was a gachupinchi,

when Cortés se cogió a mi

great tatarabuela

cuandotl andaba en Pachuacatlán.



“I am Joaquín” (1967)

I am Joaquín,

Lost in a world of confusion,

Caught up in a whirl of a gringo society,

Confused by the rules,

Scorned by attitudes,

Suppressed by manipulation,

And destroyed by modern society.

My fathers

have lost the economic battle

and won

the struggle of cultural survival.

And now!

I must choose

Between the paradox of

Victory of the spirit,

Despite physical hunger


To exist in the grasp

of American social neurosis,

sterilization of the soul

and a full stomach.


ABELARDO “LALO” DELGADO, “Stupid America” 1969)

Stupid america, see that chicano

with a big knife

on his steady hand

he doesn’t want to knife you

he wants to sit on a bench

and carve christfigures

but you won’t let him.

stupid america, hear that chicano

shouting curses on the street

he is a poet

without paper and pencil

and since he cannot write

he will explode.

stupid America, remember that chicanito

flunking math and english

he is the picasso

of your western states

but he will die

with one thousand masterpieces

hanging only from his mind.

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