Literature, since the historic times, is known to play an imperative role in building up a social and public opinion on the basis of the previously expressed write-ups. Literature has witnessed the social crimes and injustice imposed upon the various sections of the society in the past and continues to do so in the contemporary times. The much essential existence of record is a witness to how the writings of the great and old have proved to make a societal change and gear-up revolutions. Racism has been one such imposed terror which has found its existence in the write-ups of various authors and poets. Herein, we discuss the three very well-known poets, Wole Soyinka, Langston and Maya Angelou, who, time and again, have expressed the one-way injustice played on the innocent lives through racism and other social hierarchies; how they challenge the white order of the day.
‘Racism’ has recently been a word unknown to none for its much prevalence in the world. However, the levels that this social prejudice has surpassed have shocked many, indulging in a ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign that caught its boom after the death of George Floyd in the United States. Howsoever, to state that this conceptual ideology has a recent base would be fatally untrue. Racism, as a concept existing since the colonial era, involves law, practices, attitudes and actions which discriminate against various groups based on their race or ethnicity. This practice involves the ‘Whites’ attaining socially sanctioned privileges denied to the members of other races and minority groups.
The injustice inflicted by the white community upon the Blacks, especially the African Americans and Red Indians, is reflected through the emotionally moving texts of these authors and poets. Herein is a mere outline and a comparison between the three texts by the three poets, namely A Telephone Conversation, Still I rise and Harlem. While comparing all these three poems, we come to see that the messages and values reflected by all the three poems against racism may be the same but the technique of portrayal varies.
A Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka-
In the poem ‘A Telephone Conversation’, the poet Wole Soyinka has brought out the racism that took place on a daily basis in a very intriguing and humorous manner. The poem speaks about how a Black man faces racism on an everyday basis, inflicted on the day by a woman sharp of her words who smoothly denies to sell him her place, clinging to the fact that he is not white. The questions imposed by the woman on the poet unanimously portray the insecurities that have been envisaged and nurtured in the minds of the people. The poem, as Wole Soyinka writes, is not about mere racist intentions of the woman, but the subtleness of its infliction upon the man that has taken a face of normalisation. The poet has very well reflected the intriguing sense of racism that continues to take place at every moment, without going noticed and felt guilty about.
Harlem by Langston Hughes
The poem ‘Harlem’ by Langston Hughes is about a dream, a dream dreamt of freedom; a dream dreamt to live a better life; a dream that has no assurances into a realm of racist discriminations. Through the poem, the poet wishes to reflect the sense of tolerance that these social injustices have built in the hearts and minds of the innocents and how these dreams may someday explode if not given importance today. This poem of Langston Hughes impresses us by its portrayal of the suffering and a hope to be free of such times of hardships and tolerance. It questions the privilege that lie in being born amongst a community who inflicts rather than is the victim. It is only a matter of a few more cries, a little more injustice that may break him inwards and give rise to a fearless explosion of thoughts who fear no one.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou, in her poem ‘Still I rise’, tries to bring out the deep anguish caused due to racism in a confronting and literary violent way. This is a very personal poem wherein the poetess portrays her individual experience in a heart-stammering way. It is the African American people who have an indirect reference in this poem. Through her strong and bold words, Maya Angelou tries to reflect the very dull stature of the society and the injustice inflicted upon the Blacks by the then white society.
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
These words of the poem declare a testament, a bond that wants to rise up from all the injustice. The symbolism reflected through the poem is rendered laudable by many. The poem is known to have had a huge impact in many black revolutions and continues to encourage repellent glories.