Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay and the Black Urban Class

The rise of the black urban class has been an issue that has only gotten more serious and notable in the twenty-first century, culminating in civil unrest in urban areas like Baltimore. While police brutality definitely plays a role, allowing this group of working-class people in cities to go unheard of, and who are only heard from when a tragedy occurs, is the bigger problem. I’ve brought together Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay to discuss this rise of the black urban class, and what can be done to combat this.

For those who doubt this is a contemporary issue, I urge to to look below. These protests don’t happen for a lone reason.

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Claude, we have different experiences of being black in America. I can only imagine what

Paul Laurence Dunbar (photo via

your life must have been like as an immigrant. However, you not being from here means you don’t understand that these urban communities need a voice from within their community that understands their struggle. My writing accurately depicted the struggle of my black experience, which spoke to the average Southern black person at the time, including my use of dialect: “Oh dey’s times fu’ bein’ pleasant an’ fu’ goin’ smilin’ roun’, ‘Cause I don’t believe in people allus totin’ roun’ a frown, But it’s easy ‘nough to tittr w’en de stew is smokin’ hot, But hit’s mighty ha’d to giggle w’en dey’s nuffin’ in de pot” (913). There isn’t a voice such as this for the black underclass, a voice that would bring awareness to a community in need.

Claude McKay: Paul, I understand where you’re coming from, especially seeing as how that was your life and your experiences. But I disagree with the fact that you need to be a member of that specific community to make such an impact in it. We must raise each other up as a race, as a class of people looking to improve their lives. We must understand the only difference between us and other classes of people is circumstance: “But the Almighty from the darkness drew My soul and said: Even though shalt be a light Awhile to burn on the benighted earth, Thy dusky face I set among the white to prove thyself of higher worth” (1005). The black underclass must recognize that they are worthy, just as worthy as white folks, even black folks of a different class.

“We Wear the Mask” (photo via

Paul Laurence Dunbar: It is clear that we must raise each other up as a race. However, the plight of this developing black urban class is a scary development for our nation. We have more who are better off, but just as many are worse off. The disparity is higher than it’s ever been before, and it’s the urban communities that are suffering now. Is there even a way to rise up this group of people without turning it into a racial issue? We as black people must always appear happy, like I write in my poem “We Wear the Mask”: “Why should the world be overwise in counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while we wear the mask” (906).  I believe this should be looked at as a class issue, one that is more difficult for those not in the underclass to understand. I’m afraid people will turn it into a racial issue, and the people that truly need help will not get it.

Claude McKay: I definitely understand, the problem we are discussing is about a class of people, not a race of people. But at the same time this is the black underclass we’re talking about, and its possible creation. This is as

much about the Negro race as it would be about any race becoming an underclass of individuals. My experience as an immigrant is different, but that does not diminish my experience as a black man of a certain class. As I wrote in my novel From Home to Harlem, “We educated Negroes are talking a lot about a racial renaissance. And I wonder how we’re going to get it. On one side we’re up against the world’s arrogance-a mighty cold hard white stone thing. On the other the great sweating army-our race” (1007-1029). We as black people are fighting a specific battle, one that is different than the battle other races are fighting.

Paul Laurence Dunbar:  See, I don’t know if that is a different battle. Anyone living in an urban community is susceptible to living in the underclass. The more we ignore people in urban communities, the less we understand their plight and their struggle. I mean, look at my poem, “Not They Who Soar.” It talks about a group of people whose struggle goes unnoticed: “Not they who soar, but they who plod, their rugged way, unhelped, to God are heroes” (904). Why don’t we lift these people up? It seems we only wait until they are already among the urban class before we try to lift them out. Why don’t we look at how they get there in the first place?

Claude McKay (photo via

Claude McKay: But why do you think that is? There isn’t a level for respect for the black man unless he is upper-middle class or higher! They are afraid of us, and that is why they don’t help us! If the underclass is primarily black folk, than those in power can continue to keep us under their control. They know we do not struggle with power if we have it; as I wrote in “To the White Fiends,” “Be no deceived, for every deed you do I could match-out-match: am I not Afric’s son, black of that black land where black deeds are done?” (1005) We are just as capable as those in power, and those people know that, so they must keep us down. The underclass is the result of these actions.

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Claude, I don’t think you understand that all they want is to be heard. It sounds like a simple request, and honestly, I believe it is. But they want to know that their opinions have value, that their words matter. Have you never read my poem, “Worn Out?” It’s about a people who are tired of oppression, tired of being ignored, tired of being treated as second-class citizens based simply on their income and living situation as well as the color of their skin. “So sadly goes my heart, unclothed of hope and peace; it asks not joy again, but only seeks release” (897). The situation in the underclass is so bad that they’d rather just be free of it than having their lives improve. Is that really what it’s come to? That the folks in our urban communities accept their fate? No, we cannot stand for this!

Claude McKay: Paul, you don’t understand. These people are on the fringes of our society, and they are only this way because of what they lack. Respect, in our society, is predicated on class, on wealth. These people are outcasts! The black urban class is seen as a group of outcasts from our society! People don’t want to see them, don’t want to hear from them! Understand their struggle, Paul! Look at my poem, “Outcast”: “Something in me is lost, forever, lost, some vital thing has gone out of my heart, and I must walk the way of life a ghost among the sons of earth, a thing apart; for I was born, far from my native clime, under the white man’s menace, out of time” (1007). They’ve lost before they even have a chance to thrive! How do we combat that, Paul? How?

Paul Laurence Dunbar:  Wow, Claude…it seems like an impossible situation. How do we combat this? How do we give our people a chance before they succumb to the lowest rungs of society? But let me tell you one thing: I believe these are the people that are able to handle these circumstances the best, because they who know what it’s like at the bottom will be able to have the strength to get out, and will be a better people for it. I’ll direct you to my poem, “Not They Who Soar,” once again, because I believe that in it I tell you this very thing! “High up there no thorns to pro, nor boulders lurking ‘neath the clod to turn the keenness of the share, for flight is ever free and rare; but heroes they the soil who’ve trod, not they who soar!” (904) We are better for our struggle!

Claude McKay: Paul, I love how passionate you are about this topic, it’s amazing how two men who have such different backgrounds can come together on issues such as this. But the question is, how important is this topic to those in those in the struggle? You and I can figure out how to help combat the issue, but if our brothers and sisters don’t fight for themselves then they will be subjected to the same struggles they’re facing. It’s like I write in my poem “If We Must Die,” they must show their humanity by fighting through the struggle: “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” (1005) Obviously this situation is not the same as the one I was referring to when I originally wrote that poem, but that same fearlessness but be inside the people of this “urban class” if the situation is ever to change.



Conversations with Dead People: How Should Society Organize Its Efforts Against Violence Toward Women?

 This is a project created by Thomas Pless for ENG 238 African American Literature, Pre-1945 at Elon University (Spring 2015), taught by Dr. Crystal Anderson. It is a conversation between two African American writers who discuss a contemporary issue.  This dialogue gives students an opportunity to engage in close reading and relate literary texts to contemporary ideas.

Anna Julia Cooper: Firstly, I would like to thank you, Frances Harper, for conversing with me today on the topic of violent acts directed toward women and how we should go about solving this issue. For, despite different views and beliefs, we wish to accomplish the same goal. That goal being the promotion of the most effective way to eliminate violence toward women and violent behaviors in general. To accomplish this lofty goal we must take an organized approach that garners the power of legislation and politic support to enact sanctions that will truly intimidate those who consider this malicious act of violence against their fellow man. This effort will not only create consequences for perpetrators of this crime, but will also provide a statement to society that this behavior will not be tolerated. Those fearful of persecution and the obstacles in the way of gaining justice will band together to make their voices heard in these laws and will start a societal shift towards a truer peace.

Frances E. W. Harper: And thank you, Anna Julia Cooper, for opting to have this methodical sparring of intellect. The product of this debate will indeed prove beneficial for the efforts to protect women and those that are the targets of abuse. These dangers, the abuses that have provoked this meeting are the very things that must be corrected. For as long as these motivations persist, they will harm those before your method of punishment and correction can land its decisive blow. My method takes a more concentrated focus toward the prevention of these incidents rather than the reactionary tendencies of your method’s nature. I say we must remove these behaviors by attacking where they originate. The quality of the families from which these offenders have been developed in. In my writings, “The Two Offers,” I highlight the impact family has on the citizens it creates, “The influence of old associations was upon him. In early life, home had been to him a place of ceilings and walls, not a true home, built upon goodness, love and truth.” (Gates, 463)

Anna Julia Cooper: While your idea is admirable in perception, how could this goal be achieved? You cannot monitor the families of society and reprimand them when they stray from the path of a righteous upbringing. In my literary work, “Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” I write, “Now this high regard for woman, this germ of a prolific idea… we have said, from two sources, the Christian Church and the Feudal System. For although the Feudal System can in no sense be said to have originated the idea, yet there can be no doubt that the habits of life and modes of thought to which Feudalism gave rise, materially fostered and developed it;” (Gates, 621). The Feudal System helped magnify the image of women in society and must be utilized to further advance their perception and promote behavior society accepts. While your method of family intervention may induce change, it cannot reach the vast masses that this method can.

Frances E. W. Harper: We accomplish this goal by cultivating the youth while also using the united voice of society to emphasize the importance of this renaissance of the family behavior. And what better place to spark this cultivation in a place where youth are on the brink of adulthood and also dealing with this problem of violence first hand. This very place being the colleges of the United States. Where young adults hunger for knowledge, strive for input in the world around them, and also are confronted with this same problem of violence. By educating college students on morality and equality, we both set the foundation for future families on respect and kindness and also unite the voices of those in college institutions that are too scared to stand up against these injustices. This intervention will create the cause for these influential voices to not only better their niche in society, but also spread this message to those outside the confines of their schools. This action looks to better the future families and promote respect through the wide reaches of universities.

Anna Julia Cooper: All these benefits can also be realized with my method of reaction. By creating legislation in the institution itself, they not only influence the community to adapt and value the morality behind the law, but also show a motivated entity that people can gather behind and believe in. The institution itself is a foundation that already connects its members and garners an influence and voice to those that know of it. These legislation and the sanctions in place for their violation, can influence the mentality of society while also providing a framework for punishing those who detract from its limitations. Why then should these great influences and advantages owned by the institution be forfeited?

Frances E. W. Harper: Unfortunately, your method has already been undermined. We would not be here if it were not for the institutions’ inability to fix this problem already. These institutions have proven to be ineffective in properly deterring violent behavior, or at least have proven to be unable to properly handle the after math of these situations with proper swiftness and unwavering dedication to seeking out justice for the victims involved. We must not trust the protection of women and cultivation of good morality strictly to entities that has shown to have an ineffective reactionary response to this issue. This quote from my writings help exemplify my point, “but it was not the place for the true culture and right development of his soul. His father had been too much engrossed in making money, and his mother in spending it… to give the proper direction to the character of their wayward and impulsive son. His mother put beautiful robes upon his body, but left ugly scars upon his soul; she pampered his appetite, but starved his spirit.” (Gates, 463). We cannot simply react to these incidents because one offence is too many to have to endure. We must prioritize our efforts to the bettering of the families that make up our community so that these ambitions of cruelty cannot infect children through the misguided teachings of the parents.

Anna Julia Cooper: You continue to reinforce your opinion, but, I believe, you have misunderstood my stance with institutions. I have recognized the power that institutions have had in the past and could have with this problem. I do not believe that the institutions are currently setup to handle these problems, but I do believe with a refocusing and prioritizing, institutions can recognize their potential. This quote shows the current needs of institutions, “We need men who can let their interest and gallantry extend outside the circle of their aesthetic appreciation; men who can be a father, a brother, a friend to every weak, struggling unshielded girl. We need women who are so sure of their own social footing that they need not fear leaning to lend a hand to a fallen or falling sister… but earnest, unselfish souls..” (Gates, 628) With the right people leading the institutional charge against violence we can recognize its influence in a way that commands dedication at the risk of alienation and sanction.

Frances E. W. Harper: So it appears that we both, to a degree, question the ability of institutional action to solve this problem. While I understand that you believe that institutions can be reformed to be able to lead, but is it efficient to have to reform an entity to then reform aspects of society?

Anna Julia Cooper: But this option offers a concrete framework to a governing body that when cultivated can create a difference in legislation that encourages people to believe in a message that can be delivered from an organized platform. My main problem with your method is that it lacks the clearly visible and strong foundation that institutions have to promote a message and reach farther than individual relations. Having something visible and something powered by the right kind of people offers an opportunity for anyone to hear about their goals and then contribute.

Frances E. W. Harper: These are valid opinions, but how do you propose to make such a solid foundation when we do not cultivate and promote the very qualities that make them effective in an institutional operation. A quote from yourself, I believe, shows that you have the same concern, “A stream cannot rise higher than its source. The atmosphere of homes is no rarer and purer and sweeter than are the mothers in those homes. A race is but a total of families. The nation is the aggregate of its homes. As the whole is sum of all its parts, so the character of the parts will determine the characteristics of the whole.” (Gates, 627) So I believe you also value the quality of the parts that make up a whole. In this case the people making up your institutional foundation need to be of a high quality. Which again I believe the only way to accomplish this is through the reformation of healthy families and homes.

Anna Julia Cooper: While I still question the degree of efficiency in your methods, you have presented solid arguments. Unfortunately we have run out of time for our discussion. Thank you again for your thoughts.

Frances E. W. Harper: Thank you as well, I believe this conversation goes to show the complex nature of this problem as we continue to tirelessly venture to end violence against females and citizens as a whole.


Gates, Henry Louis. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Third ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2014. Print

Kalin, John. “Re-thinking Sexual Assault Prevention in High School and College: John Kalin at TEDxColbyCollege.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 May 2015.

“Sexual Assault Findings On College Campuses In Kentucky.” WBKO RSS., 10 May 2015. Web. 12 May 2015.

University of Michigan. “Dating and Domestic Violence on College Campuses.” Dating and Domestic Violence on College Campuses. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 12 May 2015

Discrimination in the Housing Market


Below is a modern-day conversation between WEB Dubois and Martin Delany on the topic of discrimination in the housing market.

Martin Delany:

Housing equality is something that should be demanded! The right to attain equal housing should not be exclusive to the upper classes, especially the upper class whites. Us hard working, working class black folks deserve the chance to rise above the forsaken housing projects we are perpetually stuck in. We live with a lower quality of life than the rest of the United States. One may ask why this is the case, and the reason is that us lower class African Americans are discriminated against by property owners everywhere. Simply put, because we are working class, we are seen as bad people. There need to be laws put into place, people need to become aware that this is happening. Good people in our free country do not have an opportunity to live where they please, and this is downright outrageous.

WEB Dubois:

Yes, there is clear discrimination in the housing market against African Americans. Yes, this is a huge problem that needs to be fixed, but maybe protesting and demanding reform is the wrong answer. Working class African Americans are usually confined into all black communities, in ‘bad parts of town’, and the places where these working class citizens reside are usually very run down. My idea is that we end the discrimination by example, not with protest. If we could create nicer communities, my view is that the discrimination would simply end. Over time, the discrimination would go away because we would all essentially have the same living situations. As I wrote, “million black youth, some were fitted to know and some to dig; that some had the talent and capacity of university men, and some the talent and capacity of blacksmiths” (713). For some reason it is not known that we have the talent and capacity to live in equal housing, so let us as a people show that we truly have this talent, and have truly earned this talent!

Martin Delany:

Mr. WEB Du Bois, you say that we have to show the white people who are currently discriminating against us that we have the talent to live among them?! Surely you cannot be serious. A war has been fought because people realized that we were equal to white people. There is no reason why us being discriminated in the housing market is something that we have to earn. We have earned it simply by being human beings. Mr. Dubois, you once wrote, “The double life every Negro American must live, as a Negro and as an American, as swept on by the current of the nineteenth while yet struggling in the eddies of the fifteenth century” (731). IS this situation any different than that of slavery? We are being un-rightly discriminated against because of our race. Yes we are free, but we are not free to live in the same quality of housing that white people are. You did not think that African Americans had to earn our way out of slavery, so why do we have to earn our way out of the discriminatory housing market?

WEB Du Bois:

Mr. Martin Delany, I do not believe that your aggressive strategy will be able to change the discrimination that is currently in place in the housing market. I am not arguing that African American working class people do not deserve equal housing; I obviously believe that we do. However, an aggressive strategy full of protest and hatred will not be the one that leads to equal housing rights. Hatred for our discriminators will only make things worse for us all. Our hard work in attaining better quality housing will be enough. Who is to say that the law, which you hope to be passed through protesting, will immediately work? Laws also have a history of loopholes and then your process of protests will have to begin anew. The simplest solution, and most effective one at that, will to be to work towards attaining a better community by ourselves.

Martin Delany:

WEB, I do believe in hard work, and that is just what protesting is. Our protests, and our battle is comprised of hard work. I personally wrote, “How to affect a remedy; this we have endeavored to point out. Our elevation must be the result of our own self-efforts, and work of our own hands. No other human can accomplish it” (211). With our own hands, we will picket government buildings. With our own voices we will shout! Our efforts, our hard work will be what attains equality in the housing market. Hard work does not only apply to your cause, hard work also applies to us, as a people, being forceful for what we deserve. It offends me that you see a forceful manner in a negative light. If anything, you should see it as being positive, we are showing strength, power and perseverance. WEB, you need to have pride in your people, do not succumb to white oppression.

WEB Dubois:

Martin, have you not been watching the news?! Protesting, no matter how righteous the cause, is always seen in a negative light. Just a week ago, the news portrayed the happenings in Baltimore as a riot. A RIOT! You would have to be insane to think that the news would not spin your protest as something negative. We have to learn how to break the system of housing inequality, and acts of forcefulness and violence would only perpetuate this problem. We would be seen as criminals if we followed your plan. We would be seen as violent people, and our cause would be lost. The whole issue of housing equality would be masked in the violence and attention that your so-called ‘protest’ would bring along with it. Your idea would bring negative attention, and this negative attention would eventually overpower the real reason you are protesting. This protesting idea has been tried before, and has failed.

Martin Delany:

Mr. Dubois, you are completely and utterly missing my point. I am not calling for violence, that is flat out absurd. A protest, picketing a government building, having a sit in, are not acts of violence! This would not get out of hand; we would not resort to violence. The goal of my protests would be to act peacefully and informatively. As I wrote, “We have but a single object in view, and that is, to inform the minds of colored people at large, upon many things, pertaining to their elevation, that but few among us are acquainted with” (213). We would inform everybody, of every race, the oppression that we face in the housing market. Now, there is no possible way that you can argue against this idea. If there is some option better than peacefully enlightening people about our problems, I would love to hear it.

WEB Dubois:

Martin, I agree with your ideas on being peaceful, and your ideas about informing people. However, history repeats itself, and recently, protests have only been shown in negative light. It is not the idea that is faulty; it is going to be how the idea plays out. Now, I believe that if you listen to me, I have a better plan. We can flat out skip informing the public, and begging for legal help, because we can fix this situation through improving our communities. All that we have to do is improve our communities. If we can make African-American communities more desirable to live in, the problem will be gone, because the discrimination would eventually be integrated away. This would be peaceful; it would bring our communities closer, and would improve our living conditions! There is no downside to putting in hard work as a community, and ending this problem once and for all.

Martin Delany:

To be honest WEB, I feel that my idea is more effective, but I do like the sound of yours. I have been watching the News, and I do not want our cause to have a negative light shined upon it, even though it is a righteous cause. The question I have for you is, how will your idea work? I understand that it will build and reinforce community bonding, but how does it end the housing discrimination? This seems like a good project to improve our communities; it just doesn’t seem like the way to end a systematic problem. My ideas may be a tad brash, but your idea seems way to passive. Your passiveness may not be as effective as you believe it to be. This is not a problem that will magically disappear. Just how do you plan on this plan working out?

WEB Dubois:

Thank you for allowing me to explain myself, Martin. My point is, if we can work together as a community, in the areas where people don’t want live, in the communities we are forced to live in, we can improve them. The safer, cleaner, and more comfortable we can make our living conditions, the more people will want to live there. The more people want to live in these communities, the less discrimination there will be, because our communities will match those of other races, and people will begin to integrate into different communities, because they will all be similar. As I wrote, “The history of the American Negro is the history of strife, this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge himself into a better and truer self” (689). IF we merge ourselves into better selves, society will merge with us. Lets improve ourselves as people, and allow society to improve with us. Hope is not lost, the United States can, and will, improve.

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Should I stay or should I Go?


 Jameria blain for ENG238 African American Literature Pre-1945 at Elon University (spring 2015) taught by Dr. Crystal Anderson. It is a conversation between two African American writers who discuss a contemporary issue.  This dialogue gives students an opportunity to engage in close reading and relate literary texts to contemporary ideas.  

Setting: At Marita Bonner’s house Bonner is sitting at her table knitting a scarf. Truth bursts into Marita’s front door with a picket sign that read “Say No to Domestic Abuse”. She notices what Marita is doing and speaks up.

Sojourner Truth: Marita, why are you still sitting here? We need to head to the rally so we stand up against all the men who think they can just toss us women around like we have no rights, like Ray Rice for instant. “I am women’s rights!!!” (pg.178) I have the right to be treated with respect on all levels of my life including my romantic levels how dare this man just sit here and abuse her like this!! We need to stand up to people like him. Does he honestly believe with treating us like…like we’re some kind of toy for his amusement! I think not we need to stand up to bullies like him and tell the world we are equal to men and deserve to not be treated less than human!! Now come on get dressed so we can to the rally.

Marita Bonner: I’m not going to the rally Sojourner. I see no point. Yes her rights were violated but what point can we as women possibly prove to men by walking down a highway with banners proclaiming to the world we’re victims? “As women we are supposed to go about things gently and quietly” (pg.1268) like the man suggests we should, even more so for us colored women who are always ostracized by society for being different. Nevertheless going out and causing a stir will not change the matters at hand all it will do is create another label and stigma for colored women.

Sojourner Truth:  How about this as a stigma, we as colored women can’t even stick together to help each other in times of need because we are too selfish?!!  We have to be there for one another Marita, it’s the only way that we can progress and strive forward to end such barbaric means of treatment such as domestic abuse! We’ll be proving how women deserve be to be seen and heard, not everything needs to be done in private Bonner. Today is the day we stand together and-

Marita Bonner: -And what Truth? Shall we all rally together for you to proclaim you’re little ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech again? That didn’t solve much before and it won’t solve anything now. Men don’t see us as equals. They will never, they see us, especially us as gross collection of desires, all uncontrolled and they believe it’ their birthright to control us!! I agree the idea of a man believing he has the right to control us is sickening but there are better ways to solve the problem. You claim the problem at hand is to prove how domestic abuse is wrong, well answer this: How do you expect we show people that they shouldn’t abuse women while going out in the world yelling, chanting ,marching and screaming like we need to be subdued they are better ways to solve this matter. Maybe we can go to his house and speak to him personally in a private manner.

Sojourner Truth:  So he can beat us senseless too I don’t think so you, saw that tape that women was out cold and he had to drag her away. I will not put myself in a position to get close to that man like that and neither should you. They don’t see us as equals because we allow them to treat us however they please without argument. Yet the minute we attack them and wildly and belligerent as they choose to attack us the minute they will listen. Who cares if it causes them to speak about us? Marita they will talk about us until the day they die, we might as well give them something worth talking about. If we don’t band together united, this matter will never go away. Only when we band together will Janay realize that she has to leave this awful man behind her, when she sees us, she’ll change her thinking.

Marita Bonner:  Now Sojourner, you know there’s little truth in that. In case you haven’t heard or just simply forgotten during that very moving speech of yours, Janay Rice already stated her position and if you ask me, there’s no need for us to fight on behalf of a woman who doesn’t feel the need to be rescued. Causing an outward cry on behalf of a women who clearly wants to put this moment behind her will not only make us look like fools but redundant fools who feel the need to bring us a history that should have been long buried in the ground.

Sojourner truth: This rally isn’t just about her, but rather the entire world that’s filled with women dealing with abuse with no way to speak out. This rally is for those women so they don’t stand behind men who devalue for the rest of their lives. After listening to Janay, who is obviously still confused and conflicted about her situation, other women will agree to stay with these lowlifes of men who might end up killing them in the long run, all because they believe they can change him like Janay does. Why on earth should we say silent when that’s a possibility in our world? Do you want to be responsible for another women losing her life to a man who viewed her as an object rather than a human being- an equal?

Marita Bonner:  Has it ever occurred to you Sojourner that some women stay because they believe that they really aren’t the victim in these circumstances?  People aren’t as easily influenced as you’re making them out to be just because one women stayed with an abuser doesn’t mean the rest will. If they do- just like Janay there’s nothing a silly rally will do that will change their minds. They are in these situations day and night and if they feel like they can handle the pain then who are we to judge them? There are other ways to getting the message out there though, through social media, self-help books, news programs that speak about such issues, you know any of those could work including friends and family that they could talk to. We don’t have to act every time we hear the word victim you know, some things can get fixed on its own. When a person gets tired of being sick and tired they’ll make the choice to change their life.

Sojourner Truth: Shouldn’t we at least try? You know try and help others who may be too afraid to help themselves. Even if a person is sick and tired of the same old routine if they are unsure of their next move they’ll remain in the same circumstances for their the rest of their lives, that situation could be the very same reasoning as to why they will have died in the first place.  Man is in a tough spot, confused about life and how to appreciate women as their equals it’s much easier to make her less than you by picking on her weakness, like her strength and using that to oppress her. If a woman is in that scenario no self-help book, or friend is going to make her life any better. Only we can do that, by being by her side in spirit as we march on for her cause. Marita the rally start soon and if you are coming we need to leave now otherwise we’ll miss the event.

Marita Bonner: I’m glad you stopped by, enjoy the rally. I won’t be attending it with you. I hear what you’re saying and as always you made a valid argument, expect if a friend can’t be much help to an abused woman who she sees all the time, what help can we be to her? No woman should have to go through such pain, like Janay but pain is a part of life and I don’t excuse it I just don’t want to take part in something so boisterous that can be solved in other ways with other means.  The idea that we should help is obvious but for me. My style would be speaking to Janay personally to see if I can get her to understand the situation better rather than walking down a busy street and making speeches. I hope the event goes well for you but I personally won’t be joining. Just know that while you’re walking and giving your speech I’ll be own you side in the matter

Targeted Police Brutality and Racial Profiling – America Progressing or Rapidly Declining?

This is a photo recently sent out by the NAACP.  This image is particularly powerful because it represents the fact that humanity puts too much stock in the differences between people, and so often we forget that we all are human. This picture is important and relevant to my topic especially because it serves as an important reminder that underneath our skin tones, we are all the same.

This is a photo recently sent out by the NAACP. This image is particularly powerful because it represents the fact that humanity puts too much stock in the differences between people, and so often we forget that we all are human. This picture is important and relevant to my topic especially because it serves as an important reminder that underneath our skin tones, we are all the same.

This is an image released during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. This picture is particularly interesting and also relevant to my topic because it depicts almost the exact same idea as the previous photo, with the exception of this photo being from a completely different time. It is interesting to examine these two photos within their respective contexts, because they depict the same or similar ideas, but one of these photos was created a little less than 70 years earlier.

This is an image released during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. This picture is particularly interesting and also relevant to my topic because it depicts almost the exact same idea as the previous photo, with the exception of this photo being from a completely different time. It is interesting to examine these two photos within their respective contexts, because they depict the same or similar ideas, but one of these photos was created a little less than 70 years earlier.

This is a project created by Clare Shaffer for ENG 238 African-American Literature, Pre-1945 at Elon University (Spring 2015), taught by Dr. Crystal Anderson. It is a conversation between two African-American writers who discuss a contemporary issue. travelogue for a fictitious character that reflects the historical and cultural realities of the Atlantic world. This dialogue gives students an opportunity to engage in close reading and relate literary texts to contemporary ideas.  The two authors that I chose to hold this conversation are Martin R. Delany and Zora Neale Hurston. I believe that conversation between these two writers would be interesting because of the different settings and time periods that their writing takes place in. Delany’s The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States is written before the Civil War, and describes the societal problems and the rampant discrimination, dehumanization, and abuse of African-American people in both the North and the South. Zora Neale Hurston was a writer during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Civil War has ended, and now racial discrimination and segregation is a common theme in the US. The Harlem Renaissance, unlike the pre-Civil War era, was a time for the development and celebration of African-American culture.  My contemporary issue that I have chosen is the controversy of targeted brutality and racial profiling that has become a pattern among many, though not all, police forces across the country. I believe that both of these authors would be interested in this topic, but their different backgrounds could provide different perspectives on this issue. 1

This photo depicts the patterns of police brutality, which specifically targets young African American men.

Delany: The patterns of brutality and racial profiling among police forces across this country are further evidence of the hypocrisy and deprivation of equal rights that has been a characteristic of the United States for hundreds of years. In my narrative, I speak of these deprivations,  “Denied an equality not only of political but of natural rights, in common with the rest of our fellow citizens, there is no species of degradation to which we are not subject”(Delany 201). Instead of making progress, black people are still subjected to the same kinds of torment and hate that they experienced hundreds of years ago. What has changed since the time of slavery? Racism and discrimination are still a constant theme of today’s society. The race-based wealth disparity in this country is at a staggering high, and African-American people of all ages are still being targeted in the streets of their own cities based on the color of their skin. Topics of race-based discrimination and white privilege are in the newspapers almost every single day! Why is this still a problem that has not been solved, a conversation that still needs to be had? Hurston: I hear and understand your anger and its source, but we need to examine the facts at hand. Despite your qualms about racism and discrimination in present-day society, we must address the fact that in our time, these themes would not be in newspapers. We would not be having discussions about them on news channels for millions of people to watch, and even if we did, people of our race would not be equally or accurately represented. Today, we have a black President sitting in the White House, doing his best to protect the interests of our people. Every time there has been a national instance of police brutality, he has made a comment deploring such acts, and launching the nation into discussion about how to inspire change. Comparing the status of blacks during our time with present day shows that though racism is far from its complete demise, progress has been undeniably made. 2 Delany: But can this issue ever be resolved? Can we ever move forward instead of this constant dance of moving one step forward and three back? I believe the answer is no. The United States, like so many ancient civilizations that have since risen and fallen, cannot function without the presence of racial oppression because it has been written into our history and founding. I outline this in my narrative, “…there will be little or no sympathy for the oppressed, the oppressor being left to prescribe whatever terms at discretion for their government, suits his own purpose” (Delany 201). Since you were never exposed to slavery, you cannot comprehend the source of this anger. You lived in a time of segregation and hatred, and for me, it is hard to see what progress has been made other than the banishment of “colored” bathrooms. What you must understand is that despite what looks like progress on the surface, the deeper issues of oppression and discrimination remain unsolved.

A quote from Oprah Winfrey, a prominent female black voice that has helped change the way we view both women and race in America.

Hurston: Your frustration with prevailing patterns of racism is understandable, but you must address the progress that has been made. As you say, I lived in a time of segregation and hatred, but it was also a time when people were just starting to take pride in their race and create a new identity for  black people  in America through art.Today, black identity is a source of constant pride and the culture of our people persists in a way that enriches not just the black community, but every community in the United States. I state this sentiment (which was rather ahead of my time) in my autobiography, “I am not tragically colored…I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it” (Hurston 104). However, as you so aptly stated, slavery and systemic oppression is written into the founding and history of this entire country. Something so deeply rooted in a nation’s history, however awful it may be, still takes time to completely disappear, but that does not mean that it cannot eventually go away. 3 Delany: Look at the case of Eric Garner! How can it be possible that a black man can be murdered in the streets of one of the most “progressive” cities in the world by a white man, and not receive justice? And what about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, or the countless other black men and women that have been unjustly treated by the very force that is supposed to protect all the people of this nation? I  find it the most troubling that something I wrote in my narrative over one hundred years ago still applies to our society today; “However unfavorable their condition, there is none more so than that of the colored people of the United States” (Delany 202). People wonder why blacks suffer from wealth disparities and high crime rates? Look no further than the prevalence of white privilege in today’s society. There are fewer opportunities, less advantages, more blacks living in lower-income neighborhoods, and lower life expectancy.

This depicts the racial wealth gap. Special attention should be paid to the enormous difference in white and black earnings, as it speaks to a larger issue of race-based disparities across the economic board.

Hurston: I agree with you on the prevalence of white privilege in the context of race-based socioeconomic disparities because the statistics are impossible to deny. However, my point is that though these separate cases are heartbreaking in their respective contexts, the pattern of these instances has launched a larger, more global conversation that could not have and did not exist during either of our times. There now are people like John Stewart (a white man) arguing with another white man (Bill O’Reilly) about whether white privilege exists! In the 1960’s, a white man never would have argued so openly in favor of white privilege without fear of retaliation. Does this not represent forward progress? 4 Delany: The fact that someone is still arguing that the remnants of what people of our time suffered through are not perpetuated throughout society today is ridiculous. The fact that this same person is allowed to speak on television and poison the minds of the next generation is what sickens me. Media bias and the portrayal of African Americans based on stereotypes perpetuate the issues of white privilege just as much as the founding fathers did, except media outlets are a modern invention! Explain to me, Zora, how the passing on of colonial ideologies through modern technology counts as forward progress? To me, it seems that no matter what decade it is, there will continue to be a racial double-standard in this country, as black men are called “thugs” for protesting racism and white men are called “rowdy celebrators” when they commit the same crime. Hurston: Ah, but you have stumbled upon one of the founding principles of this country that I believe to be a positive one: freedom of speech. I do not see the media necessarily as an outlet through which the perpetrators of white privilege may spread their message, but rather as a medium for all to express their opinion. Media bias does exist, but along with the bias of more close-minded men, the clear, loud voice of our people and our community can be heard as well. I believe that though the messages of those racists that still exist in our country can be unpleasant, we must allow them to speak to preserve the right to freedom of speech for all. I believe “that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife” (Hurston 104). 5

Bill O’Reilly discussing his beliefs about white privilege to an audience of millions

Delany: I concede the importance of freedom of speech to you, Zora. I find that police brutality and racism too prevalent for anyone to insinuate that white people are not more privileged than blacks as a result of their skin color. Once again, white privilege rears its ugly head in the face of a complicated issue, giving people who perpetuate the problem a rose-colored lens through which to view the situation and grapple with their moral issues. “This is America,” they’ll tell themselves, “Racism is nonexistent! The Civil War ended hundreds of years ago!” Then they’ll sit on their couches with their children, smiling and nodding as Bill O’Reilly simpers at them from their 40 inch plasma screen that white privilege is not real, racism does not exist, and that anyone who is living in poverty could get out of it if they just worked a little harder. Parents smile as they teach the next generation of privileged white people the colonial values of their ancestors, and meanwhile, black people will continue to be targeted and wrongfully portrayed due to the color of their skin. Hurston: I suppose we will have to agree to disagree then, Martin. As much as it disgusts me, I believe that those like Bill O’Reilly should be allowed to participate in the national discussion around this topic just as anyone else. Though their ideas and moral value system may be wrong, they are not then exempted from their right to freedom of speech as promised by the Constitution. It is perfectly acceptable for you to not share the same beliefs as some of the citizens of the United States today, but the existence of these beliefs is not an indication that no progress was made: “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person. That is natural” (Hurston).