African-Americans have always been treated unfairly in America, and over the past 100 to 200 years, it has gotten better, but there is still a lot of struggle that the Black community, specifically Black men, deal with in 2018. Two well known poets, Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur, focused specifically on the struggle of the Black community. Though Hughes was mainly active from the mid 1900s to the mid 1960s and Shakur more recent, from the 90s, these poets shared the same sentiment. Through their poetry, Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur demonstrate the theme of the struggle of the black community, specifically black men, in America.
For many, understanding the black experience in America is near to impossible unless, of course, you are black. Black people have had to fight and protest for everything that a non person of color was given, mainly freedom, education, and the right to vote. Some examples being the Selma march led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the race riots in the 1960s and the early 90s that came about from police brutality, and more recently the protests/riots and development of Black Lives Matter to fight how blacks are being murdered by mostly white police officers. Blacks have always wanted to be seen as equal and instead are seen as dangerous, scary, unintelligent, and lazy. African-Americans as a community are treated differently, but within recent years it seems as if black men have been more on the chopping block, especially with police brutality. Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur speak out about this unfair treatment through their poetry.
Hughes and Shakur focus on the poverty and oppression on the black community, with Shakur focused more on police brutality. This makes sense based on when the two were born and what they personally experienced at the time. Both poets simply expressed that they want African-Americans to be seen as equals, and even when they are gone, they want their message to live on so that future generations can view themselves as something more than a stereotype.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967), was born in Missouri to his parents, but was raised by his grandmother because his parents were constantly working; his father not even in the states. Hughes' passion for writing started when he was very young. Because he was alone a lot, Hughes read a lot of books and listened to the stories his grandmother would tell him. His grandmother's stories were based on her life, and revolved mainly around race. This inspired Hughes to take his writing from his own life as well, and a lot of this can be seen in some of the first plays Hughes wrote. Hughes and his father viewed race very differently, and this was emulated in Hughes' play Mulatto, which reflects his own relationship with his father (Darwin T. Turner 297). Scholar David Roessel writes that Hughes mentions in his autobiography, The Big Sea, My father hated Negroes. I think he hated himself, too, for being a Negro. Hughes loved his people and this was one of his main reasons for moving to Harlem, to be around more black people, and this is where a lot of his more well known poetry was written.
Langston Hughes' purpose behind his poetry was to bring attention to the state of Blacks (Leon Lewis). This is seen in Hughes' use of imagery and symbolism in his poetry, one of which being Theme for English B (1951). In this poem, a young black student at an all white college is given an assignment by his white professor to write one page about themselves or their truth. Lines 27 and 28 read So will my page be colored that I write?/Being me it will not be white. (l.l. 27-28). These lines show the dilemma of a black student trying to figure out if he will be honest and put his black truth down or write something he knows his instructor wants to see. The student is letting his professor know that if he wants the truth of a black man in America, it will not be white washed [to conceal or cover up]. Then in lines 29-33,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. (l.l. 29-33), the student is telling his professor that he, the student, is just as much a part of America as he, the instructor, is and that they should not be treated or looked at differently. In lines 34-36, 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! (l.l. 34-36), the student is expressing that even though blacks and white should not be seen differently, they are. The whites clearly do not want to be a part of the blacks and with the way blacks are getting treated by whites, they do not want to be apart of the whites either. However, they are still apart of each other, whether they like it or not. Finally in lines 37-40, I guess you learn from me”/although you're older”and white”/and somewhat more free/This is my page for English B. (l.l. 37-40), the student is showing his instructor that even though he is the student, he is teaching the teacher about the black truth. Telling his instructor that white people are more free is his truth. For black men in America, there is not as much freedom as whites. This is where the reader understands that what they read is what the white professor will read. This was the black student's page. Though this poem was written in 1951, the words and message Hughes wanted to convey with this poem still holds true to today. Blacks are treated differently than whites and even though we all live in the same coun try and should still have the same rights, blacks are seen as less than. It makes you wonder if things have actually changed or if we have just gotten better at covering it up. Blacks are mainly treated differently when it comes to the justice system, specifically concerning police brutality. Another poet who made a career out of bringing attention to this topic was Tupac Shakur.
Tupac was passionate about police brutality, and how the police treated black people, and this is evident in his lyrics and imagery. Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) was born in Harlem, New York to his mother Afeni Shakur, who was a Black Panther, and was arrested while pregnant with Tupac. She defended herself in court and beat her own case. Tupac was raised around people with strong convictions about black struggle. Along with his mother, his step father and godfather were not only apart of the Black Panthers, but held high positions of leadership in the organization. Tupac's biological father was not in the Panthers, but respected their message and how they looked out for each other. Even though Tupac was conceived through a one night stand, he believes that because he was formed from black love, his life and legacy should be about the advancement of black people. Tupac's message was for black people to never stop fighting and to not accept the limitations that are being put on them.
In Tupac's poem/song Changes (1998), he uses strong imagery to give the reader a peek into the way life is for the blacks in the ghetto. This is first seen in lines 2-5, I see no changes wake up in the morning and I ask myself/Is life worth living should I blast myself?/I'm tired of bein' poor and even worse I'm black/My stomach hurts so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch (l.l. 2-5). Tupac used the imagery of the typical black experience in the ghetto. Waking up in the morning is something we can all relate to, but imagine waking up and the first thought you have is that your life is so horrible that you contemplate suicide. Then in addition to that feeling, you are hungry but there is no food, so in order to have money to eat, you have to resort to robbery. This also relates to line 67, And I ain't never did a crime I ain't have to do (l.l. 67). Tupac is expressing through this line that in the ghetto, most crimes are committed because they have to be. In an interview with Tanya Hart, Tupac made a crucial point that relates to line 67 by saying, How can a white person give the money to the ghetto and they scared to come to the ghetto? (Shakur 10:16). Blacks are not being given any money or opportunity because no one wants to help the ghetto, so blacks in the ghetto have to result to crime to meet their basic needs; food, water, shelter. Blacks being forced into crime obviously leads to police brutality because when you commit a crime, you get caught by the police. Tupac's issue is that the police do not care to know why the crime is being committed, they do not see the criminal as a person. The police just want to arrest the criminal and feel like they are doing something good, when all they are doing is really contributing to the problem. This proven through lines 6-7, Cops give a damn about a negro/Pull the trigger kill a nigga he's a hero (l.l. 6-7).
The police are supposed to be seen as people who are there to help, but when they are just killing off blacks, it pushes blacks to be angry. When you see your people being treated that way, it allows you to see who your enemy really is and makes you want to fight back. With this type of treatment going on, how are black people supposed to view themselves? If you treat someone a certain way, sooner or later they will start to believe that they are who they are being treated as. So if a group of people are being treated like criminals and treated as if they have nothing to offer to the world but that [crime], what do you expect? Tupac understands this because of his personal experiences with police and his family's experience with police. Police are constantly treating blacks unfairly in plain view, and no one cares. This is shown in lines 42 and 43, It ain't a secret don't conceal the fact/The penitentiary's packed, and it's filled with blacks (l.l. 42-43). The imagery in those lines are giving the reader an image of jail and how black men are the most incarcerated. When black men feel constantly under the radar, it lessens their self view and makes them feel like they can never truly rest because they feel like they have to be on their best behavior at all times. Tupac expresses this feeling in lines 77 and 78, And as long as I stay black I gotta stay strapped/And I never get to lay back (l.l. 77-78). This line shows the image of never getting a chance to fully relax and be okay because black people are always worried about themselves or their people. Tupac Shakur simply wanted change for his people and wanted the black experience to be known and used strong imagery in his poems to do that.
Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur were both very similar in their message and how they wanted to convey that message. Both poets wanted more for the black community. They wanted blacks to be equal, and understood the anger behind the protests and the riots. In an interview with Abbie Kearse, Tupac makes a great analogy about why black people are so angry with how we get treated. The interview takes place in a hotel room and Tupac says, If I know that in this hotel room they have food every day, and I'm knocking on the door every day to eat, and they open the door, let me see the party, let me see like them throwing salami all over the..I mean just like throwing food around but they telling me there's no food in there.I'm standing outside trying to sing my way inWe are hungry please let us in, we are hungry please let us in. After about a week, that song is gonna change to We hungry, we need some food. After two, three weeks it's like you know, Give me all the food or we breakin' down the door, After a year it's I'm pickin' the lock comin' through the door blastin. (Shakur 1:58-2:37). This analogy is so good and relates to Hughes' poem Harlem, What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore”/And then run?/Does it stink like rotten meat?/Or crust and sugar over”/like a syrupy sweet?/Maybe it just sags/like a heavy load./Or does it explode? (Hughes 170). The last line of that poem goes hand in hand with Tupac's food analogy. After all these years of trying to do it the right way or the nice way, how else are we supposed to attack the problem? When is enough enough? Both poets understood the anger and hurt of being treated less than and wanted more. Another similarity between Shakur and Hughes was that they wanted blacks to be seen as more than entertainers. Hughes realized this at a young age and noticed that whites were only fond of blacks if they were being entertaining, but as soon as the blacks wanted to speak up or sounded intelligent, they got shut down. Tupac also pushed this idea and wanted more blacks to go to school and demand respect with their intelligence and not be another rich athlete or entertainer. Lastly, the main similarity between Hughes and Shakur is that they wanted to leave a legacy for younger black generations to keep fighting for equality. They both knew that the best way for anything to change was to leave behind an encouraging message for those to come.
In conclusion, because of people like Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur, we have groups today like Black Lives Matter that fight for black people to be seen as equal, and carry on the message that black people are more than criminals and should have the same respect as white people. Shakur and Hughes loved their people and wanted nothing more than to see black people overcome the typical stereotypes. I relate to this message on a personal level. As a black woman, I am constantly thinking about how I come off to people. I have to watch how I react to things that are said to me sometimes because if I go off, then I'm perpetuating the angry black woman stereotype. The few times I have been pulled over by a cop, I have to make sure my hands do not move until the officer tells me to get my I.D., and even then I'm scared that they think I'm reaching for something. I live it every day, and it is hard to not be angry or act like everything is fine because it is not. It is not okay that black people or people of color are blatantly treated differently for the same thing a white person does, and we have no choice but to keep fighting for that equality until something changes. I believe that was what Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur wanted for their people, and they used their poetry to get that message across the best way they knew how. They took their personal struggles and the injustices that they saw, put it in their poetry using strong imagery to allow non-black people to try and understand the black experience in depth, and used that to leave behind a strong legacy to empower the black communities of today to not accept what they are being given, but to fight for more.
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