8.

There is little social protest in the blues. There is often a note of anger and frustration; sometimes the poverty and the rootlessness in which the singer has lived his life is evident in a word or a phrase, but there is little open protest at the social conditions under which a Negro in the United States is forced to live. There is complaint, but protest has been stifled. Slavery, and the period of semi-slavery that followed the Civil War, was a period of helpless bewilderment for the Negroes who found themselves swept into it. Their tribal beliefs were useless, and they were deprived of the education that might have given them some understanding of the social situation around them. When education finally did come they found that there was still almost no encouragement for them to enter fully into American life. The young Negro, whatever his ambitions or social attitudes, is driven into an unwilling acceptance of what is little more than a semi-citizenship. If he is unable to accept it he has little choice except to either leave the country or to become a social rebel and express his frustrations in a brief burst of violence. Much of the fear that the southerner has for the Negro is his awareness of the brutality of his treatment of the Negro and the realization that in a moment the smouldering animosities could flare up into an open rage.

It is almost impossible for the white American to realize how tightly he has united against his colored fellow citizens. The oppressive weight of prejudice is so constricting that it is not surprising to find little protest in the blues. It is surprising to find even an indirect protest. The white Americans who think of themselves as liberals are often impatient with what they feel to be the failure of the colored men and women that they meet to either be more militant in their demands for equality or to respond to a lessening of the pressure. They have, to some extent overcome much of their own prejudice but they forget that the Negro still faces a hostile wall of hate and distrust. If a colored man or woman is able to get an adequate education there is still little chance that there will be any kind of employment opportunity. If there is a job that pays well there is still the difficulty of finding a home. Even if a Negro has achieved some

-98-

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The Poetry of the Blues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Introduction 5
  • 1 7
  • 2 11
  • 3 27
  • 4 35
  • 5 43
  • 6 67
  • 7 80
  • 8 98
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