Throughout American history, African Americans have been inferior in society. During the 1900’s, African Americans didn’t have a voice in anything and whites didn’t see a problem with their ways of treating blacks. Countee Cullen shows the Marxist ideas of social inequality through his works: “Any Human to Another”, “The Shroud of Color” and “Saturday’s Child.” His works were a great representation how African Americans felt about society and their place in the social structure. Countee Cullen was one of many blacks who weren’t satisfied with the way African Americans were treated, yet he was brave enough to express his thoughts through his poems to prove the social inequality of African Americans in the United States.
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Countee Cullen had most of his poems published during the Harlem Renaissance, which was when Caucasians were the dominant race. During the 1900’s, “the white man is convinced that the Negro is a beast” (Sanchez-Pardo). This was a great time for blacks to put their foot down and stand up for what they believed in. Cullen was one of many important people during period that fought for social equality. There was Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and Claude McKay. They and Cullen all fought for egalitarianism for blacks. “A protestor against violations of black dignity and rights, Cullen manifested the yearning and frustrations that pervaded the Harlem Renaissance in general” (Shucard). Cullen’s poems reflect a lot about his life and other black’s lives. Cullen “found relief from these hurts in writing” (Lomax). Cullen’s poems weren’t to be read as having sympathy for blacks; they were to be read to have empathy for anyone who faced discrimination in their life. Yes, Cullen wanted parity for blacks, but he strived to make anyone who read his poem realize the pain that anyone would have if one went through what blacks went through. “His ambition was to be read not as a Negro but as an American one” (Wasley). More evidence is that: “Cullen’s real importance was not merely as a black poet, but as a poet expressing the universal human experience” (Lomax). The Marxist ideas are shown evidently during this time and in Cullen’s poems. A black man can be more successful than a white man can, yet the black man will still be lower than the poor white man will. More blacks were impoverished than whites because they were given less job opportunities and had no money to pay for education. This widened the gap between blacks and whites economically. Black’s wanted to subvert the way society was, wanted to make everyone equal. Cullen faced his hard times with alcohol which lead to his anxiety that is shown in many of his poems. Cullen’s background and the experiences he and other blacks faced have a huge impact on the language and attitude he uses in his poems.
Cullen’s poem, “Any Human to Another” is utterly about what bonds everyone together is the shared experience of the pain everyone faces in life. It doesn’t matter what race, gender, class, or age; everyone is the same on the inside. According to Aidan Wasley, “the poem enacts a delicate balance between awareness of the injustices done to blacks by whites, and desire to move beyond those antagonistic relationships toward one of peaceful, colorblind equality.” The lines in this poem are very powerful showing how one’s sorrow is everyone’s sorrow: “your grief and mine must intertwine” (7). This line means that the relationships between blacks and whites are the same. The degrading remarks whites make toward blacks only hurt the whites as well in the end. The whites gain nothing being cruel to blacks. Why waste their energy and time to make sure blacks are segregated? This poem also shows that the ones who give sorrow for blacks just makes it worse: “Your every grief, like a blade. Muse strike me down” (Cullen). Even people who shows sorrow just makes blacks feel below everyone else. Showing grief for blacks and not doing anything to help is like feeling bad for a wounded dog but not helping it. The dog doesn’t care if the person feels bad or not, the dog just wants help. Blacks don’t want pity, they want equality.
Another poem Cullen wrote to prove Marxist ideas is “The Shroud of Color.” Throughout this poem, Cullen references to confined spaces connecting to imprisonment and that’s what it’s like to be black in the time period. The lines in this poem are very deep in showing that life was horrible being colored. “My color shrouds me in, I am as dirt” (4); this shows how even the color of his skin is like dirt in that it is nothing and inferior. But, what he doesn’t realize is that one needs dirt to have a flower bloom. And, without dirt there would be no flower. So, without him and all the other blacks fighting for equality they would never succeed. He also states in the poem, “how being dark, and living through pain/ of it, is courage more than angels have” (170-173). He is saying that the abuse blacks receive is so brutal that the courage they have is greater than that of angels would have. Cullen also uses language that shows he wants to die; “the burden of color and unable to stand pressure of living in the world as a black man, expresses his wish to die” (Sanchez-Pardo). This poem genuinely shows how tenacious blacks have to be in order to live with the dominant race, whites.
“Saturday’s Child” is the writings that have been interpreted as Cullen’s real birth experience, and read as an autobiographical poem. The lines in this poem are very brutal and about the harsh reality of black families. “Some are teeth on silver spoon; I cut my teeth as a black raccoon” (1). Cullen is saying, white babies are taken care of properly and more than they actually need to be. While he was teethed and treated like a wild baby animal would be. “The child was later objected to the excessive emphasis placed on the external danger rather than on inner psychic mechanisms” (Sanchez-Pardo). Another line in the poem that is bitter: “was all my father had to say and, one more mouth to feed” (15). The father was not happy the baby was born because they don’t have enough money to feed another person. In addition Sanchez-Pardo points out, “the figure of the mother is thus suspended, and this generates a specific sense of anxiety, affected by a traumatic separation.” To white people during this time, having a child is considered a blessing. However, being colored they do not have the luxury to have a child because they can’t afford necessities for themselves, let alone a child. People of color were bleak. They didn’t want to raise a child in the forbidding world they lived in. No parent would want to watch his/her child be abused mentally, socially, or even physically just because of their color. This poem truly shows how scarring it was to be brought up during this time.
Countee Cullen was one of many dissatisfied blacks, yet he was brave enough to express his thoughts through his poems to prove the social inequality of African Americans in the United States. Cullen shows the Marxist ideas of social and economic inequality for blacks through his works: “Any Human To Another,” which shows how everyone is bound together; “The Shroud of Color,” proves that one’s color can determine their entire life and how hard it is to be that color; and “Saturday’s Child,” which shows how growing up being black is like being an animal that is not wanted. Even today, there are still economic struggles of blacks because their past generations didn’t get an education thereby causing them to follow the footsteps of their past blood lines. There are many blacks more successful than the whites are today. Color doesn’t matter anymore. Marxist ideas of inequality succeeded in the society today. Everyone is equal.
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