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.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
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.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison
- “They’ll see how beautiful I am – And be ashamed” (mangosalute.com)
- The Negro Poet and The Harlem Renaissance (badcursive.wordpress.com)
- Langston Hughes’ “How to be a Bad Writer (In Ten Easy Lessons)” (thepoetryquestion.com)
- Langston Hughes: Soldier of The Harlem Renaissance (Finished Draft) (themusingsofaflashw.wordpress.com)