Thoughts on Langston Hughes’s Poems

A Dream Deferred and Let America be America are two poems I recently rediscovered that my classes analyzed for themes of figurative language and elements of poetry for a class project. 

Written both by Langston Hughes, who was truly the vangaurd of the Harlem Renaissance, open the mind of what it’s like to be Black in America in the early 20th century. Both selections express the sentiment of reality for Blacks that were marginalized during that time period. In addition, Hughes helps bring to attention the plight of other marginalized groups such as Native Americans and immigrants.

To me both poems are intertwined. They are inseparable. The American Dream of liberty, prosperity,  and freedom were largely all unattainable for Blacks during that time. Although Blacks had personal aspirations , the land of the free denied them this privilege and subserviently reduced them to lifestyles of slave like conditions though share cropping,  harassment by Knight Riders/KKK,  and overall Jim Crow experience.

This irony is striking because the ideal of “freedom” is really bondage. As a result,  dreams are postponed. They become unrealized. Into the lake of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” they are thrown.

To read these selections as just great works about Black life undermines the importance of our role in America.  We have shed blood in American conflicts, pioneered education in historically black college universities, pioneered inventions,  and literally built the nation. Yes, our achievements are important,  but our human rights are fundamental. Our dignity and worth should come before all.

Even with all of the progress post Brown v. Board of Edu , far too long have our dreams been deferred. A lot of the time its self inflicted, but still there are events that are clearly discriminatory and racist. That is why a many Black Americans can say as Langston Hughes said “It never was America to me.” Far too long there has been 2 different aspects of the American Dream. One that has been realized by a few,  but unachievable for many.

There can’t be freedom for Blacks when:

The neighborhood is a warzone from gang violence.
The schools are underperforming.
Children grow up without 2-parent mother and father families.
Poverty rates are staggering.
Abortion is prevalent.
Black rates of unemployment are high.
Police harassment.
Food deserts that destroy our longevity.
Black local church failures (which was once the pillar of the community)
Black on Black homicide.
Blacks are left out of the national conversation on issues of social and economic justice.

These failures all keep us in bondage from grasping true freedom. When we break down our own barriers to success and also rebuild the social institutions that perpetuate our inability to achieve then this dream is possible.

Our full potential awaits in a dream actualized,  not deferred.

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