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Exploring Racism in Poetry

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Kirsta Colonello

on 15 January 2014

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Transcript of Exploring Racism in Poetry

Exploring Racism in Poetry
Historical Context
Simon the Cyrenian Speaks
He never spoke a word to me,
And yet He called my name;
He never gave a sign to me,
And yet I knew and came.

At first I said, "I will not bear
His cross upon my back;
He only seeks to place it there
Because my skin is black."

But He was dying for a dream,
And He was very meek,
And in His eyes there shone a gleam
Men journey far to seek.

It was Himself my pity bought;
I did for Christ alone
What all of Rome could not have wrought
With bruise of lash or stone.

Countee Cullen
Real life experience Countee Cullen faced
he wrote his experience into a poem also called 'Incident'
this poem and his real life experience was the first time Cullen experienced racism first handed
this incident that occurred reflected Cullen's life of thinking and had shown him how people label you from the colour of skin and not physical or personality wise
• After Reverend Frederick Ashbury Cullen adopted Countee, Countee moved from Public School Number 27-Bronx and attended DeWitt Clinton School; where his poetry writing began at.
Born as Countee Leroy Porter ; he was abandoned at the time of his birth. Cullen's grandmother took care of him until she died. Reverend Frederick Ashbury Cullen adopted Countee.
May 1925 - Countee publishes his first poetry book, "Color" during his undergraduate years.
1903-1946 was the time Countee Cullen lived to the day he died
during this time employment was a big issue that took place
Countee Cullen defined himself as just a poet, not as a "Negro poet" despite his numerous poems on racism.
the jobs were white collard or blue collard
many of the jobs given to the black people were labor jobs (e.g building, agriculture, and most importantly building train tracks)
not many black people were given high paying/ high quality jobs (e.g doctor, teacher, writer,lawyer etc.)
Harlem Renaissance (or the New Negro Movement) – racial/cultural movement in the United States of the black race from 1930 to 1945
African-American expression flowered through the production of literature and the arts.
Through intellect and literature/art, it challenged racism and promoted politics.
Attracted national attention.
Harlem Renaissance helped the foundation for the post-WWII phase of the Civil Rights Movement and also inspired many black artists.
Cullen participated through poetry/literature.
the A-A that got the high jobs not always had a successful career for both the racial figures
the white americans would not go to different skin colours work community as a client, student or as a reader
poet Countee Cullen was a A-A writer who supported other witters to write non-racist work.
he had different racial figures read his work which is an
incredible thing for a A-A to have e
Cullen lived from 1903-1946.
During this time, the lynching law was a brutal practice. enforced by the public.
Mostly enforced on African-Americans than Caucasians.
Became the domestic way of asserting white dominance.
Overall Meaning of the Poem
Stanza 2 Meaning
Meaning of Stanza 3

the speaker is a black person hence the
"...my skin is black"
black person who initially refuses to come out and help, saying he was only chosen from the crowd because he was black
racism is shown how this 'black' person was forced to do work or 'bear his cross' just because he is black
That Christ is good; not racist or judging
Simon, despite Christ being white and himself being black, saw him as a good person who had good intentions just by his demeanor.
Christ wasn't like the others/other white people (Romans)
“As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Literary Device(s)
Imagery-> black vs. white skin (slavery)
"I will not bear this cross upon my back;/he only seeks to place it there/Because my skin is black"
"What all Rome could not have wrought/With bruise of lash and stone"
Literary Devise(s)
Black vs White
In his poem "The Black Christ" Cullen connects the lynching of black men to the Crucifixion of Christ.
Christ is predominant in "Simon the Cyrenian Speaks"
Cullen shows relation between the two.
Racism Connection to
A Tale of Two cities
He was born on May 30, 1903
Origin of birth is not certain but is assumed to be either New York City, Baltimore or Louisville, Kentucky.
After his parents' abandonment he was taken in by Reverend Frederick A. Cullen in 1918.
He lived in Harlem for most of his life.
He was the most represented voice in the Harlem Renaissance.
He considered poetry raceless.
Theme Connection to Poetry Unit
"Reach Out & Touch" by Maxine Tynes
Theme of xenophobia development
Similar/interconnected with theme of racism
Poem Connection to Biographical & Historical Context
Superiority of white race (biographical relation to early life experience)
Expresses Cullen view on black slavery (historical context relation to Harlem Renaissance)
white people are shown as to over power the black people like the upper class over power the lower class in the book A Tale of Two Cities
upper white class = Evermond family
lower black class = Madame Defarge. Gaspard
Connection to Historical & Biographical
lynching was shown in the poem on how no matter who you are since you are black skinned you will bear the cross given to you by the white

Stanza 4 Meaning
Cullen explains that although Christ is white, he will continue to serve him without being punished or abused.
Compares Christ to Romans and essentially places Christ above racists implying that Christ is all-loving.
Literary Device
Symbolism Romans
Symbol for racists.
He compares actions of Romans to actions of racists and sees a similarity.
"with bruise of lash or stone."
There's a relation between how Romans treated Christ and how Whites treated blacks.
C0nnection to Historical & Biographical Context
A black man refuses to do the work he is supposed to do because he thinks they are making him do this because he is black.
Through experiences, he essentially comes to his own terms and speaks out for himself.
Racism Connection to Poetry Unit
The overall meaning in the poem that:

In the eyes of Jesus we are all equal no matter what race or gender
God does not judge his children based on the colour of their skin
Meaning of Stanza 1
Jesus does not know the speaker

"He never spoke a word to me,"

Even though Jesus never spoke to the speaker he called the speaker by name. Meaning that Jesus sees us all as individuals
He never gave the speaker any sign that he knew who he was nor knew his name
The speaker even though he is doubtful of Jesus, he still goes to Jesus' side.
Dorothy Livesay
Lynching law was more enforced on African-Americans.
Cullen contradicts himself as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance when speaking about how poetry is raceless.
Follows a white Christ despite knowing whites were considered racist.
Literary Devise(s)
"i did not bear his cross upon my back/ i did it for christ alone"
Cullen was well known throughout the Harlem Renaissance
He seen the art of poetry as being limitless
At the end of the 1920's ended and the 1930's began, Cullen's fame became to dissipate
Cullen ended up taking a french teaching position at a Junior High
In 1932 Cullen published
One Way to Heaven
, Cullen began to expand his horizons
He began to write children's books as well as writing plays
His play
Louis Women
was seen by his fellow Afro-American poets as demeaning to black people
Cullen did not live to see the play as he died on January 9 1946
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a white supremacists organization that was formed after the Natives were set free
While the rest of America was booming from the economic prosperity, the South did not have the same economic boom
This sparked anger and racism in the Southerners
The KKK began to attack and sometimes harm anybody of a different ethnicity
The KKK also performed some of the lynchings of the African-Americans
They tormented African Americans
Connection to Biographical & Historical Context
The speaker follows Jesus despite the fact his doubtfulness of a white Christ
God is seen as a white and pure where as the devil is seen as black and evil
Theme Connection to Othello Unit
Iago uses the term "Moor" in a cruel way
Iago dehumanizes Othello
Iago uses animal imagery when describing Othello
Full transcript