Posts Tagged ‘white guilt’

Langston Hughes Month: “Dinner Guest: Me”

June 3, 2010


Girls like a boy who reads. Is that Russian?

I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A.–
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Murmuring gently
Over fraises du bois,
“I’m so ashamed of being white.”


Langston Hughes and Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), 1962.

The lobster is delicious,
The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.

(Langston Hughes, “Dinner Guest: Me.”)


Langston Hughes and small friends at the Children’s Garden in Harlem, 1955.

When I first read that poem while loosely planning Langston Hughes Month, it made me think of the chapter in Invisible Man where Ellison’s narrator encounters the gay son of a man who he thinks will give him a job in the city, but in fact, the man has been instructed to reject the narrator. The man’s son tells the narrator the truth, then attempts to compare his own experiences as an oppressed homosexual with the narrator’s. The comparison comes off cheap and condescending in the man’s son’s delivery, and the narrator does not trust him. I feel like that’s somewhat of the same experience Hughes describes here.