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Annie Waters 10/26/20

Langston Hughes’s “Theme for English B” highlights the great complexity of racial identities in a country that enforces racial hierarchies. As he mimics his thought process in writing an English paper that the professor has requested to “come out of [him],” he questions the individuality of his own identity and whether anything he produces can truly originate from only him. He expresses that he is not just himself, but also a voice for his community as he says ” … But I guess I’m what/I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.” Through Hughes’s connections to Harlem, his writing is inherently influenced by Harlem, and thus his words, in essence, are Harlem, characterizing them by the experiences of this overexploited black community. Hughes goes further to describe the social interconnection between races in America, challenging society’s hierarchal view on race. He expresses he and his professor influence one another. Thus, Hughes’s works are influenced by the expertise of a white man and are therefore partially “white” while his professor is influenced by the scholarship of a black student and therefore has an identity partially molded by the positions of black individuals in society. Hughes asserts that though black and white individuals may want to hold completely separate identities, their social connections make this impossible. This rejects the idea that white people have any sense in viewing themselves as above black people or in ignoring the fight for black liberation on the grounds that they have directly benefited from the work of black people and for the sake of unity owe to them a fight for equality.

In “Will V-Day be Me-Day Too?” Hughes illustrates the exploitation of black men in combat. He develops this theme into the question as to whether the US is as concerned with its domestic issues (i.e. the oppression of black citizens) as it is with its foreign issues and international dominance. He writes “When we see Victory’s glow,/Will you still let old Jim Crow/Hold me back?”. In this, he questions whether the narrator’s contributions to the country’s military success will allow him to be deemed deserving of equality in his civilian life. He questions whether the United States’ concern for national defense will be paralleled by a national concern for the defense of the rights of black citizens. As someone contributing to the prosperity of the country, the black soldier narrating should undeniably be able to benefit from a national victory, but his references to Jim Crow reveal that the country is apathetic toward the idea of extending its success to the national black population.

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3 Comments

  1. Henry Groves Henry Groves

    I found “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?” to possess much emotion and to give the reader insight that black combat warriors, who fought in the same war as whites, did not get to come back to praise and glory, like their white counterparts, but just to more racial inequality.

  2. Michael Stein Michael Stein

    I also really like the poem “Theme for English B” because it grapples with trying to find pride in blackness in a world that pushes whiteness as the preferred way to act, dress, and talk. I still think our society doesn’t do enough to encourage young African Americans to embrace their blackness. Yes, rap music is popular and movies such as Black Panther have been huge box office successes; however, our society still encourages white fashion in the workplace and the white vernacular in schools, teaching kids from a young age that whiteness in appropriate behavior. I think this can have a detrimental affect on how African American kids view themselves and more must be done to undo this destructive system.

  3. Pierce Kaliner Pierce Kaliner

    I thought it was interesting to see how Hughes writes about identity, but it seems he is still struggling with his own. And, it is shown between the student and the professor, because I think Hughes’ two different lifestyles are pulling at him. The one that studied at Columbia, and the one in Harlem.

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