Racism In Countee Cullen's Incident

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Amara Crook Harmon—L202 Major Paper 3 Clever Title Countee Cullen’s “Incident” explores the concept of unprovoked and unwarranted racism through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy. In his short yet powerful poem, Cullen uses a single incident in which a young boy “riding through old Baltimore” (1) is singled out and called the N-word by another very small child, despite having done or said nothing to offend the boy. Although this incident is clearly hurtful, why is this incident in particular so important? Racism during Cullen’s lifetime was incredibly prevalent, and one can without much doubt infer that the kind of racism depicted in “Incident” would be worth far more than the mere sixty-nine words Cullen grants the poem. One may believe this …show more content…

Racial tensions during the 1920s, in which “Incident” was written, were especially high, with a dramatic increase in membership of the KKK and Klan “manipulation of state and local politics” (3), an uptick in hate crimes, race rioting resulting in imprisonment or death for hundreds of black Americans, and the poor treatment of black soldiers coming home from WWI all contributing to one of the most racially charged time periods in American history. Despite racism being a daily and lifelong experience for the vast majority of African Americans during this time, Cullen depicts racism as solely singular throughout the duration of the poem, extending its singularity even to the title itself—“Incident.” So then, given the prevalence of racism at the time, why did Cullen make the decision to limit the experience to one isolated …show more content…

By using sparse and poignant language throughout the twelve-line poem and particularly in the second stanza in which the racist ‘incident’ occurred, Cullen is able to strongly impact the reader in a very short time, guaranteeing lasting interest and

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