Commentary on “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes

English:

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

 

I, Too, Sing America

by Langston Hughes  

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Commentary on the Poem

In “I, Too, Sing America,” the poet challenges the racist ideology of Whites who don’t recognize the full citizenship of Blacks in America.  Black people have made tremendous contributions to America.  In fact, this nation, from its very inception, was built on Black labor.  Blacks have participated in every war in American history, dating back to the American Revolutionary War.  The patriotism of Blacks, therefore, shouldn’t ever be questioned.  The poet explains his brutal mistreatment simply because of his skin color.  He has trouble coming to terms with the racial oppression he faces.  It’s understandable for one to be baffled by the absurdity of racism and racist ideology.

The speaker of the poem is not ashamed of who he is.  He wishes that Whites wouldn’t be ashamed of him.  They have no reason to be ashamed of him, considering he’s “beautiful.”

When the poet refers to “Tomorrow,” he’s evincing his Utopian imagination: He’s envisioning a day when racist Whites will not have a choice but to grant him full equality and equal citizenship rights.  When this “Tomorrow” arrives, racists will have to acknowledge his beauty and they will experience shame.  The shame they will experience will emerge from how they have alienated themselves from the beauty of Black people without any justifiable reason.  They will see how this self-estrangement from Blacks has caused them to miss numerous possibilities.

As we celebrate Juneteenth today, let’s reflect on not only Black emancipation in America, but also how essential Blacks gaining freedom is to America becoming as great a nation it is today.

 Happy Juneteenth!  

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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12 comments

    1. A powerful poem, indeed. I, too, wish I could write poetry like this. I would even be happy to be half the poet Hughes was. Although this poem was composed in 1945, it has such significance for America today. It’s a poem truly worthy of reflection.

  1. I love L.H. poerty!!! When they featured this poem in the movie “The Great Debaters” it really brought a gem to it, Denzel read it wonderfully. I wish I could’ve heard L.H read this aloud.

    The way you broke this down lets people who don’t understand poetry get it.

    Excellent post!!

      1. Yes you really need to watch it!!! I love that movie…well mostly any Denzel movie. Movies that open up my eyes to history I really enjoy.

        1. I will be sure to check it out and let you know what I think about it. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never viewed a Denzel Washington film that I was disappointed about, so I’m sure I’m in for a good or great viewing experience.

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