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Joshua Freeman
Ms. Jacobs
Comp 132
I, Too am America

Langston Hughes, poem I, Too looks at a black servant in the 1950s as he is being

restricted to eat at the kitchen table instead of with the whole family. Using African American

criticism helps put the spotlight on how like the speaker African American are looked at as

second class citizens and how the struggle for black equality is still evolving.

One way to analyze this poem is by using the African American ethnic critical approach.

This approach sought to trace common elements in fiction or poetry to the condition of slavery

and segregation (1375). African American criticism has a common practice that a critic will

address questions about class, race, and gender to place a text, its source, and its reception in

historical and ideological context (1376). Because of this in order to fully analyze I, Too

readers cannot look past the impact of race/ racism in America. Throughout history, African

Americans have been treated unfairly from slavery to segregation. Several key events are

important to understanding this poem in early 1800s, America considered a slave to be 3/5 of a

person to neutralize the slave population for voting. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th

Amendment in 1868, which recognized African Americans as a citizen and granted African

American civil rights. Same the right to sue in court and participate in civil affairs on equal

terms. All impacted the black experience in America. Plessy vs Ferguson, a legal agreement to

the U.S. to discriminate based on race in public places and jobs. In the poem I, Too the speaker

is dealing with the legacy by being segregated to the kitchen away from everyone else which he

is seen as less than a person. (Lines 9-17) Ill sit at the table when company comes /nobodyll
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dare sat to me /Eat in the kitchen/ then. Besides theyll see how beautiful I am / and be

ashamed. This is an example of how the speaker is a part of slaverys legacy. The servant is

seen as an invisible person because the family does not yet see how beautiful he is until he comes

out to eat in the kitchen. They also cant see him because they have historically refused to see

African Americans as whole people. Just like the 3/5ths compromise, the family hasnt fully

accepted their servant, butler. Cook, or whatever role the speaker plays, as an equal. And like the

Plessy case the speaker is being looked down upon because of the color of his skin, which is seen

as freedom of expression in the eyes of America. Referring to segregation, the speaker has also

been sent to a separate room to eat like those who were sent to separate water fountains, waiting

rooms, bathrooms and many other places these are situations where African Americans are seen

less than a person to America.

In 1942, in Montgomery, Alabama Bayard Rustin was one of the many bus boycotters

that would go on to include Parks in 1955. Their situations are similar to the servant in the poem

because Rustin and Park both knew the consequence of what they were going to do. Regardless

of what was going to happen, they refused to be treated as a second class citizens. This real life

issue relates to the poem because even as the speaker in the poem had not been seen as a whole,

he pays no mind and will continue to thrive so when the day comes the others will be ashamed.

This is similar to Rosa Parks bus boycott where the NAACP handpicked Parks to set a standard

bar on segregation for African Americans to be treated as an equal whole. She and Rustin were

willing to wait and come back strong to where they could not be denied although the servant is

being treated unequally, he is fully aware that his time will come and he will be seen as someone

different in the eyes of America. As he notes Theyll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed- I,

too am America. (Lines 16-17).

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In the poem I, Too the speaker expresses his belief that African Americans are valuable

part of the countrys population. The speaker is seeking to see equality in the near future for

African American. As a whole, and using the African American critical approach, the reader can

see that the speaker not only represents himself but Africans Americans everywhere.