Racial discrimination

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 Muhammad Sheraz Khan
Racial discrimination is a global phenomenon. It is such an act of prejudice that has been found present thorough the known history of human social interactions. Therefore, there are historical pieces of evidence that this social issue has been highlighted and negated strongly. Literature is no exception in this regard to negate racial ideologies. Whether it is poetry or any genre of literature social issues can be seen as a dominant theme in literature. In the US, social discrimination is seen as a negative aspect of cultural and social development. Consequently, several poets have chosen ‘racial discrimination’ throughout their writings. Maya Angelou, Cullen Tableau, and Clint Smith beautifully highlighted the issue in their poems. For this paper, the similarity of the theme among the poems of the said poets has been chosen for analysis.“How to Raise a Black Son in America” is a spoken word poem by Clint Smith. It is a situational poem that has been written in a pessimistic mood. The poem highlights the inequality, prejudice, and lack of opportunity in America for the Afro-American community along with the fear among the parents of the black children concerning future problems. Similarly, “Tableau” by Countee Cullen has the same theme in comparison with “How to Raise a Black Son in America” with also a little contrast too. The third poem is by Maya Angelou “Caged Bird” which has also a similarity of theme to the mentioned poems. Each of the three poems reflects their own experiences and past memories. Onward, each of the three poems will be analyzed thematically and semantically on the basis of social, psychological, and realistic lenses.“How to Raise a Black Son in America” is a dialogue against the doctrine of racism. Upon his past experiences, he draws some conclusions and restates the old ideas of his peers with some new logic and authenticity. His past experiences force him to question his own identity and those that are like him—the black-skinned people of the American community. His arguments are strong enough to bear the logic since he supports his arguments with logic and morality. The theme of his dialogue is freedom and equality for all. He questions the world for not accepting the truth of being the same since having all the organs, body structure, and rationality alike. His approach toward the negation of social and racial discrimination has a sound set of moral truths also supported by religions, social philosophies, and humanistic ideas. Therefore, he continues logically by hinting at the events that are proof of the decimation of the black community. He says, “For the past several months, the world has watched as unarmed black men, and women, have had their lives taken at the hands of police and vigilante”. The incidents of the homicide of black people are not a new thing. His saying reminds me of the recent killing of a black man by a police officer in 2020 (Hauser, Derrick, Taylor, Neil Vigdor, 2020). He states the effects of such incidents on the minds that have witnessed or heard about the same incidents in the past. These incidents appear to the world when a strong ethnic group or ideology captures the minds of the community (Feagin & Eckberg, 1980, p. 11). Smith quotes his father “Son, I’m sorry, but you can’t act the same as your white friends. You can’t pretend to shoot guns. You can’t run around in the dark. You can’t hide behind anything other than your own teeth.” The statement of his father serves as a rule for upbringing a black child in America. Although, the attitude of the white community has changed much as studied by the previous researchers yet there is a lot to be changed (Jaynes & Williams, 1989; Schuman, Steeh, & Bobo, 1985). The dialogue by Smith serves as an initiative for the negation of racism. He says, “And I refuse to accept that we can’t build this world into something new, someplace where a child’s name doesn’t have to be written on a t-shirt, or a tombstone, where the value of someone’s life isn’t determined by anything other than the fact that they had lungs, a place where every single one of us can breathe” (Smith).To sum up, it can be perceived through the poem that the feature of racism in the American community is deep-rooted and it needs to eradicate it via positive understanding, moral education, and awareness. Smith gives the message of freedom, equality, humanity, love, and peace.Similarly, “Tableau” by Countee Cullen has been written on freedom and equality versus racial discrimination. The use of imagery makes this poem a live scene that presents the happy view of the intermingling of the two races. The opening stanza of the poem, “Locked arm in arm they cross the way” is a phrase of healthy change (Cullen, 1). In contrast to Angelou’s Caged Bird, and Smith’s poem, this poem is a metaphor for equality and pride but the speaker in this poem cannot ignore the fact that the situation is not prevalent and there had been a reason for detachment. This phenomenon reform is in his mind and he writes, “That lightning brilliant as a sword” (Cullen, 11). He is afraid of the change and is the weak one. His past experiences hunt his mind and he hints to his readers that the situation was much worse before. To emphasize the feature of equality as perpetrated by the nature, Cullen beautifully uses the metaphor describing the color of the skin as “The golden splendor the day, the sable pride of night” (Cullen, 3-4). Semantically, this means that each of the two is beautiful and attractive in his/her own respective appearance and color.Cullen’s poem is a comparative study of race. His method of measuring the weight, significance, and priority of human beings is based on the blessings of nature. Nature by its virtue of equality does not draw a line between human beings but it confirms that human beings are identical in their nature and status.Considering Angelou’s “Caged Bird”, there would be no overstatement in arguing that the poem possesses the features of similarity of theme with the two poems that have been analyzed earlier in this paper. Predominantly, the theme of “Caged Bird” is ‘Freedom’ yet there is also a contrasting theme of ‘Slavery’ too. Like the other two poems, Angelou has done a role-play in the poem. She is present throughout the poem to introduce herself as a victim of racism and the feminine gender. The claim she makes is that she couldn’t escape from the trappings of the past but critics are of the view that she did run (McMurry, 1976).The “Caged Bird” sings about freedom. The bird was not created to live like a slave, not to hear and bear unpaid attention. Thematic features of the poem can be divided into several levels. Initially, despair and hope can be seen since the bird is tied up in the cage and there is no way to get out to breathe in the open and peaceful environment but the hope is also there so the bird sings, “and his tune is heard/on the distant hill/for the caged bird/sings of freedom” (Angelou). All the despair is then covered up with the ability of ‘singing’. Its voice is heard and it is hopeful that someday it will be listened to and comprehended. On the social level, the poem can also be interpreted for the meanings of power and powerlessness—racial supremacy. The free bird—the controlling race is free to enjoy life to the fullest. They are not ridiculed, caged, and questioned for their chores. Contrarily, the caged bird has a limited number of rights. It has to face poverty, criticism, extensive laws, and much more. It is unable to perceive the true meanings of life and freedom as described and bestowed by the nature. In the end, the poetess suddenly turns toward her past and writes the experiences by using the words ‘grave’, ‘dreams’ and ‘screams’ all hinting toward extortion and sexual harassment. The ‘caged bird’ is humiliated on different levels of social evils. Overview Social issues are such intense situations that can leave disturbing effects on the lives of individuals and groups that their future is darkened by the gravity of the effects. The theme of the poems under analysis is found to be similar as each of them strives for freedom and equality. All the poets have beautifully conveyed the intended meanings through the use of refined words and artistic techniques. The predominant theme in all three poems is racism. However, they have logic and proof, and at last, they all are optimistic about future changes. They are hopeful and asking the world to change this attitude since nature is for all and it also keeps everyone on the equal status of being a human. Additionally, nature does not divide the resources but it has its own excellent structure and criteria of preferences and equilibrium. References Angelou, Maya. “Caged Bird by Maya Angelou. ” Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48989/caged-bird. Cullen, Countee. “Tableau.” Poets.org | Academy of American Poets, poets.org/poem/tableau. Dow, Dawn M. “The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys.” Gender & Society, vol. 30, no. 2, 2016, pp. 161-188. Feagin, Joe R., and Douglas L. Eckberg. “Discrimination: Motivation, Action, Effects, and Context.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 6, no. 1, 1980, pp. 1-20. Hauser, Derrick, Taylor, Neil Vigdor. “‘I Can’t Breathe’: 4 Minneapolis Officers Fired After Black Man Dies in Custody.” The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos, 15 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/us/minneapolis-police-man-died.html. Holmes, Anne. “On the Pulse of Morning: Remembering Maya Angelou.” Library of Congress Blogs, 16 Feb. 2021, blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2021/02/on-the-pulse-of-morning-remembering-maya-angelou/. Joe, J. R., et al. “The Experiences of African American Mothers Raising Sons in the Context of #BlackLivesMatter.” The Professional Counselor, vol. 9, no. 1, 2019, pp. 67-79. Lee, Randy T., et al. “On the prevalence of racial discrimination in the United States.” PLOS ONE, vol. 14, no. 1, 2019, p. e0210698. McMurry, Myra K. “Role-Playing as Art in Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird”.” South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 2, 1976, p. 106. Mitchell, Mary N. Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery. NYU P, 2010. Smith, Clint. “Transcript of “How to Raise a Black Son in America”.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_how_to_raise_a_black_son_in_america/transcript. Williams-Forson, Psyche. “Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery (review).” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 3, no. 3, 2010, pp. 444-445.

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