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People

People

“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 (December 26th 1894 – March 30th 1967) was an American poet and novelist and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s that was known at the time as the “New Negro Movement”, – a flowering of Negro literature – named after the 1925 anthology by the African American writer, philosopher, educator and patron of the arts, Alain Leroy Locke.

Born in Washington, of both African-American and white heritage , Toomer attended both all-white and all-black schools and resisted racial classification from an early age, preferring instead to just call himself an American. After investigating various different areas of study, he became more and more interested in literature, working with many great writers, artists and reformers of the time in Harlem.  Toomer not only influenced the cultural revolution through his poetry, he also preached Unitism, a set of doctrines founded by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff which taught unity and mastry of one’s self through yoga which especially appealed to Toomer due to his previous efforts to not let the rigid racal restrictions of society hold him back.

Denny Bradbury, in her second collection of poetry, entitled ‘De:versify” also takes a look at the varying restrictions that exist in society through politics, class and general ignorance in part IV of her poems, called “Human Inspiration.” In her poem “Realisation” she writes:

“…. How soon will politicians fight
Each other in their rage?
How soon will we, as caring types,
Forget the distant poor
And concentrate once more on things
That batter down our door?”…

Just as Toomer ends his poem “People” by declaiming:

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

Denny concludes her poem “Realisation” with the harsh reality that:

“Mass destruction on a scale
Can only be our winter’s tale
Of ignornace and blind-eye-turning,
While desperate folk die in yearning –
Twisting, agonising,
Hopeless, helpless, gut-wrenching longing.”

Toomer’s poem “People” looks at how people tend to focus on appearance:

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

These lines speak out to describe the social attitude of people towards the differences in race and the last lines of his poem hint at a change in perpective that is needed in order for people to learn to see others for who they really are, rather than as who they appear to be.

Denny Bradbury, in her poem “Man at Bus Stop” also highlights how often we as human beings do not really take true notice of the other people around us:

“Man tying his shoelace:
Precision is all.
Oblivious to others,
He ties bow so small.
Pulling his sock up,
He pats into shape.
Dressed all in denim –
From ankle to nape –
Woman right by him,
Sits staring in space.
She’s also too busy
To notice his face –
A face full of tensiom
That must have regard
For the tiny minutiae
That forms his facade…”

Both poets, using different formats and messages, illustrate the way human beings often only see what they want to see, with their ‘blindness’ making them oblivious to what is around them.

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