Saturday, September 1, 2012

People by Jean Toomer

To those fixed on white,
White is white,
To those fixed on black,
It is the same,
And red is red,
Yellow, yellow-

Surely there are such sights
In the many colored world,
Or in the mind.
The strange thing is that
These people never see themselves
Or you, or me.

Are they not in their minds?
Are we not in the world?
This is a curious blindness
For those that are color blind.
What queer beliefs
That men who believe in sights
Disbelieve in seers.

O people, if you but used
Your other eyes
You would see beings.

— Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer (1894-1967) eschewed labels of being black or white. He preferred to be called American. His poem, People speaks to labels and the people who use them. Born to bi-racial parents, Toomer was educated in the finest all-black schools as well as the finest all-white schools. His first book of poetry, Cane published in 1923 is his best known work and speaks to life in agricultural Georgia, the industrialized North and concludes with the prose piece Kabnis.

Though he was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, Toomer again distanced himself from that label as well. Toomer's last published piece of poetry in his lifetime was Blue Meridian in 1950. A volume of poetry, fiction and autobiographical writings was published posthumously as The Wayward and the Seeking in 1980.

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