More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

Excerpt

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we blacks are wise.
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

—Langston Hughes, “Justice”

In 1932, Langston Hughes published a volume titled Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse. This slim, gorgeously furious book was a work of protest literature. By weighing in on the infamous trial of four Black young men facing capital punishment for the alleged rape of two White women on a train in Alabama (one of whom recanted, the other of whom provided inconsistent testimony), Hughes followed an established tradition within African American arts of providing social and political commentary through creative expression.

His poetry remains illuminating even as we approach fourscore years since the Scottsboro trials. The poem “Justice,” part of this five-piece meditation on Scottsboro, imagines the blindfold worn by the Greek goddess not as a deliberate gesture of fairness but as a bandage hiding wounds inflicted against her principle. Hughes, with this provocative imagery, foreshadowed a powerfully troubling relationship among the concepts of blindness, fairness, and race, several decades before the U.S. Supreme Court would interpret the principle of color blindness to mean that American law should reject any attention to race, even in efforts to address racial subordination, in all but an increasingly narrow class of cases.

In this era in which we proclaim a national ethos of racial egalitarianism and yet find race qua inequality rearing its ugly head in place after place, we see the festering sores of (in)justice in many sectors: housing, poverty, imprisonment, health, education, and on and on. On one hand, the humane person feels a certain urgency about addressing these inequalities. But that emotion exists in the midst of a long legal and policy retreat from remedies . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.