Unwritten Rules Essay, Research Paper
“Just five decades ago, most black Americans could not work, live, shop, eat, seek
entertainment or travel as they chose (Jaynes and Williams 3).” This statement reflects the plight of African Americans during the time period described in ” Incident” by Countee Cullen and “Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka. These two poems show how black people were treated during a particular era in American history. In these two poems one can see how black people were segregated, excluded, and intimidated by the white majority during a particular time period. In both of these poems one can see all of the prejudices faced by black people and the struggle of white people to stay separated from black people. One can see in ” Incident” by Countee Cullen and “Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka, similarities that demonstrate the historical and sociological impact of this era on African Americans.
“Incident” and “Telephone Conversation” both reflect a historical period in America that deprived African Americans of basic freedoms. These poems show in simplistic situations that many prejudices held against African Americans during that time period. Historically, the 1930s was a time period when black Americans were made to feel as if they were subordinate to the majority. Cullen and Soyinka both reveal how black people were put down during this time period.
In this time period during which “Incidents and Telephone Conversation” occur, segregation of black people and white people was the social norm. In the majority of public places black and white people were forced to use separate facilities, among other things. Segregation was common in restaurants, schools, and businesses. “Segregation was the rule in public accommodations, health care, housing, schooling, work, the legal system, and interpersonal relations (Jaynes and Williams 58). In “Incident”, a white child sticks his tongue out at a black child reflecting his feelings that he should not have to socialize with a black child. By this child’s behavior, one can see how the ideas of this era were ingrained into society. Even a young child felt he should not socialize with a black child. This child felt that segregation was justified because he did not like black people. However, one cannot expect a white child to know how to socially interact with black children all his life. “Telephone Conversation” shows a woman who does not want to rent to a ” very dark” man. This woman would like to separate herself from the obvious members of a minority group. This type of segregation was so common during this time period that the man placing the call felt he needed to disclose his color ahead of time in order to avoid ” a wasted journey.” The poems reflect a time period dominated by segregation of blacks and whites.
During the time of “Incident” and “Telephone Conversation” the exclusion of blacks was common place. This is most often noted in the inability of blacks to participate in the electoral process. Along with voting, blacks were denied many of the other basic rights given to whites. Also, blacks were not allowed to hold certain jobs or participate in certain social activities that were predominantly white. “Exclusion of black people was common in government, business, communiyt association, and in most unions (Jaynes and Williams 60).” “Incident” portrays a child who is obviously familiar with and accepting of the exclusion of black people from social situations. By openly demonstrating his dislike for a black child, the white child is excluding the black child from social interaction. ” And so I smile, but he poked out/ His tongue, and called me,’Nigger.”’ By his actions, the white child demonstrates his preference to only socialize with other white people and to exclude black people from his social circle. “Telephone Conversation” portrays a woman who would like to exclude “very dark” people from renting her property. This woman grew up in a time period where it was legal and ethical to discriminate against blacks. The African American trying to rent the property faced being excluded from any property whose owner does not wish to rent to African Americans. In the time period of these poems the exclusion of black people was usual activity. “Incident” and “Telephone Conversation” both show an attempt by white people to control the black community. During this time period, many blacks felt that whites were controlling them by the unfair regulations. By not allowing blacks to vote, the white population stayed in power over government. African Americans had no political involvement due to their lack of votes. “With its potential violence and basic inequality, segregation was a potent system of white control over the black population (Jaynes and Williams 59).” This quotation displays how white people use segregation as a tool to increase their control over the black people. In ” Incident” the white child wanted to exercise control over the black child by making him feel unwelcome and segregated from the majority white race. This technique turned out to be somewhat effective in that the white child controlled the black child’s entire experience in Baltimore. The only thing the black child could remember of his time in Baltimore was a single act of hate. In “Telephone Conversation” the woman looking to rent her property is trying to control where blacks live by not renting to “very dark” people. It was not
Uncommon for the white population to attempt to control the black population during the time period of “Incident” and ” Telephone Conversation.”
In the era of the two poems most whit people used intimidation to influence black people. By blatantly showing their distaste for blacks, a large majority of the white population attempted to show their power over black people who attempted to show their power over black people. “There was a widespread attempt to intimidate black people who attempted to vote and engage in other political and social activities (Jaynes and Williams 65). In the poem “Incident”, one can see where the white child uses his hatred as an intimidation technique to make the black child feel uncomfortable when interacting socially with white people. The white child’s behavior is certain to make the black child wary of ever even smiling at white people again. In “Telephone Conversation” the woman uses her position as a white businesswoman to intimidate a potential black customer. The woman questions the man on the exact color of his skin, attempting to make the man feel that if he is not very black, she may rent to him. In both poems, one can see how the white population attempted to control the black population.
“Incident” and “Telephone Conversation both demonstrate the sociological aspects of being African American. These poems show how unfairly black people were treated by society. The prejudices of white people influenced even the daily lives of black people. The black population was mistreated and put down by society as a whole for a very long time and Cullen and Wole capture that feeling in their poems.
Both poems show how different races usually stay separate. For many years Americans have opted to socialize and interact more often with their own race. ” The initial fact, therefore is that human groups tend to stay apart (Allport 19). However, this staying separated eventually made the black race feel like an inferior minority to a superior whit majority. These two poems demonstrate how race groups tend to stay apart in two particular situations. In ” Incident ” the white child felt he was of an entirely different group than the black child. This whit child uses hateful actions as a means of keeping himself away from the black community. In “Telephone Conversation” the woman uses the method of selecting whom she does business with to keep herself apart from people of a different skin color. By being choosy about whom she will allow to rent from her, this woman is staying separate from a group unlike her own. This woman is merely a reflection of the social norms of her time. Both the poems reflect how society struggled to keep the black and white populations apart.
In ” Incident” and ” Telephone Conversation” one can see the many prejudices society held against blacks. “Prejudice is a pattern of hostility in interpersonal relations which is directed against an entire group, or against its individual members; it fulfills a specific irrational function for its bearer (Allport 12).” This definition of prejudice describes the attitudes of many white Americans towards black Americans. These attitudes are depicted in both poems. The white child in “Incident” demonstrates his prejudice through name-calling and sticking out his tongue. The woman in “Telephone Conversation” shows her prejudice in her reluctance to rent property to a black person. These two poems demonstrate two acts of prejudice that were common in this time period. The situations in these poems show how prejudice constantly plagued African Americans. Both “Incident” and “Telephone Conversation” portray the prejudices faced by black people.