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THE WHITE HOUSE

 

By Claude McKay

 

Thursday, April 3, 2008.

 

Your door is shut against my tightened face,

And I am sharp as steel with discontent;

But I possess the courage and the grace

To bear my anger proudly and unbent.

The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,

A chafing savage, down the decent street;

And passion rends my vitals as I pass,

Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.

Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,

Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,

And find in it the superhuman power

To hold me to the letter of your law!

Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate

Against the potent poison of your hate.

 

Claude McKay was one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Born and raised in Jamaica, in the West Indies, McKay hailed from a black middle-class family and learnt his socialist radicalism from his eldest brother and mentor, Uriah McKay. Despondent with the rabid racism dark-skinned black people were being subjected to, not only in Jamaica but throughout the Caribbean, McKay left the island in 1912 for America, never to return,but Jamaica retained a passionate grip on him.

 

What McKay encountered in America was no better. This was Jim Crow America, where Black folks were being lynched. Even in liberal New York, people of African descents were not being treated as equals.

 

But McKay also met like-minded radical writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in New York’s Black Harlem. He soon became despondent with the emerging literati’s intellectual parochialism and petit-bourgeois social agenda. He ridiculed the Harlem Renaissance and left in 1922 for the Soviet Union.

 

McKay regarded black people of humble background as the only source worthy of the Black artist and was very dogmatic in his contempt for middle-class aspirations and values. The White House was his response to the racial hypocrisy of liberals at the time.

 

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