The Meaning of America Is Different for Everyone

One of the most interesting readings in this class was one I only got the chance to read after I transferred in: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. In this poem, Hughes reminds us that not everyone is free and until everyone is, America is not the land of the free, per se. Thus, America cannot be considered as such until it fulfills the same promise for all of its citizens. This leads into an interesting discussion of time and how different people can have very different conceptions of it.

For one, I found Hughes’ point of view on this subject to be fascinating, considering that he was one of the first popular African-American poets our country has ever had. I also wanted to focus this post on the important discussion of what time means to those who are enslaved. To me, this is similar to the discussion we had with Natalie Reynoso about what time means to those who are incarcerated. These are somewhat similar ideas, even though the scope of slavery was far more drastic, severe and damaging. However, for those who were slaves, time was a very different idea – being owned by someone else meant that you were either waiting for each day to end or waiting for your first opportunity to flee or to try to become free via other means. Significant life events – graduations, marriage, the birth of children – either could not be celebrated like others celebrated them or, worse, could not take place at all.

Worst of all, enslaved African-Americans couldn’t live “normal” life spans, with different phases of life like the ones we talked about in later classes. There were no periods of angst, happiness or restlessness; while these periods occurred internally, they were sadly marked by the ownership of others. I believe that it is very difficult to experience time if someone else owns it for you, and like the institution of slavery, slave masters unfortunately owned the time of their servants. Sadly, like everything else in their lives, their time, both in the micro and macro senses, was owned by someone else with more fortune and privilege. This is America’s ultimate sin, and the stealing of slaves’ time is perhaps America’s ultimate sin.