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The time visitors to the Black belt is written by Langston Hughes an African American poet. The poem was first published in his poetry collection. The “Collected Poems of Langston Hughes” in 1994 poem talks about the lions that African Americans were subjected to and talks about how racial discrimination affected the lives of the black people during that time. The poet focuses on the difference in the perception between the white people and African Americans or other Americans. The lives of black people are whitewashed and are looked through the oppressors lens. The poet, through the poem, shed light on the reality of these lives of his community.
About the poet
Langston Hughes was born in 1902, in Missouri, USA. He was a prominent American poet, social activist, and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance—a cultural and artistic movement that flourished in the 1920s in America. Hughes played a crucial role in depicting the African American experience through his poetry. Some of his notable achievements is the publication of his first poetry collection, “The Weary Blues,” in 1926 and the famous poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”.
The poem is a short lyric poem. It is experimental in nature as it plays with the style and the rhythm of the lines. The poem is written in 18 lines, loosely written in three stanzas. Each stanza varies in length. The last two lines stand alone and separate from the last stanza.
You can talk about Across the railroad tracks— To me it's here On this side of the tracks.
The poem starts by the speaker addressing someone. He calls them directly. He says that “you” talk about the life of his community. They stand on the other side of the railway track and look inwards. They contemplate the lives of the people who live there. To this, the speaker says that they are on the outside, but he actually lives on this side of the tracks. This part is his home where he stays. To them it is a place far away but to the speaker it is his reality and home.
The poet starts the poem by directly addressing someone. He uses apostrophe and directly mentions the white Americans as “you.” He says that the white Americans stand away from the places where the African American communities live. They stand on the outskirts, around the unofficial borders, and look inside. They talk about the lives of the people living there. The poet on the other hand is living the reality. For “them” the place is just a piece of land but for the poet who lives on this part of the tracks, it is his home. The term “Across the railroad tracks” refers to the segregation law that was passed to create segregated spaces for whites and blacks.
You can talk about Up in Harlem— To me it's here In Harlem.
In these lines the speaker talks about how the white people talk about things happening “Up in Harlem”. Harlem was a place in New York in Northern America. The white people conepematle and tall amongst themselves about the things that the black community is doing in Harlem. They are eager to know. The speaker says that he is a part of the Harlem community. For him it is not “up” there but rather right here. He is a part of the region and the community.
The poet talks about how the white Americans discuss about the happenings happening in Harlem. Harlem here stands for the Harlem renaissance that was happening in America. The African American community was taking back the control of their culture and not allowing the whites to appropriate it. During the renaissance, the black artists were actively producing music and literature which helped them gain back their voice and control. The poet in these lines talks about how he is a part of the movement.
You can say Jazz on the South Side— To me it's hell On the South Side: ??Kitchenettes ??With no heat ??And garbage ??In the halls. Who're you, outsider? Ask me who am I.
The speaker says that “they” talk about how there is Jazz and music on the south side. The white peoples imagine and romanticize the culture and music of Harlem artists. But for the speaker, there is no Jazz or music. There is only hell for him. The houses in the south side have small kitchens. These kitchens have no resources, like gas or heat. The halls in front of the houses are filled with overflowing garbage bags that no one takes care of. Saying this, he tells the white people that they are outsiders who he does not recognise. He ends the poem by telling them to ask him about his identity.
The poet talks about the disparities between the imagined romanticized versions created by the white people and the reality of the black lives. The whites look through the lense of arrogance and white wash the experience of the people living in the south, “Black Belt”. They think that Harlem is all about Jazz and nothing else. But the poet says that for him, JHarlem is hell. This is because he recognises the racial discrimination that happens in the region. The place is not only about Jazz but it is about the identity of the African American community and their struggle to raise their voice against the discrimination.
The last lines of the poem bring forth the central theme of the poem. The poet ends by saying that the White person is the outsider. He subverts the ideas of “Us” vs “the other.” He ends on a strong note by ordering them to ask him about his identity. This shows his connection and solidarity with his people.