Poetry Wednesday: “Theme for English B”

There’s been a lot of controversy brewing again, and again it involves race. Is America as free as we’ve always been taught? Is Colin Kaepernick a nuisance or a hero for refusing to stand during the national anthem? Is the hidden stanza of The Star Spangled Banner directly racist after all?

No matter where you stand on the controversy in the States right now, nearly everyone can agree that throughout America’s history minorities have not been given an equal voice. Please, let’s agree that race is still an issue in the U.S. and, I would say, in all our hearts because we fear what is different from us.Thus, I felt as though this Poetry Wednesday would be ideal to highlight a famous minority voice: Langston Hughes.

(February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "the negro was in vogue" which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue":

Langston Hughes, a Harlem, jazz poet in the early 20th century, embodies the difficult reality and identity of a black man. But he also comments on what makes America who she is: “That’s American. / Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that’s true!”

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

[Used from Poetry Foundation]