I , too, sing America.
So wrote Langston Hughes, the unofficial poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes, whose 65 years spanned the lynch mobs of the early 20th century and the race riots of the mid-1960s, intended a defiant reminder to a nation too often content to include him out, a nation quick to regard him as the eternal Other, separate from and threatening to, what they saw as the “real” America, i.e., the white America.
“I, too, sing America.”
It was his way of letting them know that he, too, belonged to America. And America, to him.
Hughes died 45 years ago this week, but the need for the reminder survives. Consider two headlines from last week about the revitalization of racially-provocative smears against President Obama. One story, originating in The New York Times, concerned a plan floated to — and wisely shot down by — a GOP Super PAC. It sought $10 million for ads tying Obama to incendiary statements by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If that leaves you feeling déjà vu all over again, it’s because that controversy was already litigated — and dismissed — four years ago.
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