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We asked 70 People, Seven Questions
About Race & Ethnicity in American Culture
This is What they Said!

capture2

Presentation Handout

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THEME FOR ENGLISH B

By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.

1951

  • Q1To what extent can you relate to the situation described in “Theme for English B”? Why?
  • Q2 What is your response to the poem’s speaker? Why?
  • Q3 To what extent do you think a middle-aged, white college instructor from the northeastern United States can be an effective teacher for a 20-year-old African-American male raised in the south? Would it be better for the student to have a teacher of his own race, and perhaps one raised in a similar social and cultural context? Explain?

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