Representation Is More Than Skin Color

Representation Is More Than Skin Color

The New York Times

Bianca Vivion Brooks, Host

The Poet, Robert Hayden. Pach Brothers/Corbis, via Getty Images

Is it enough to look like the artist if you do not recognize yourself in the art?

I remember the first time I fell in love with poetry.

I was in 10th grade, and my world literature teacher, Ms. Joe, had assigned us the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. I read the poem and at once found myself engrossed in my own memory. I, too, recalled the coldness of my childhood home and the “austere and lonely offices” of my father’s love.

In his verses, Hayden made me feel seen. The poem provided a kind of relief, to know that my childhood was not a complete anomaly, and that others had grown up in similar spaces where love was convoluted by anger and loneliness. That day Robert Hayden became my favorite poet. I held on to this particular poem for years, memorizing it not only for the comfort it provided, but also as a reminder of what good art could do.

Five years later, I discovered Robert Hayden was black. It was the first day of my African-American Literature seminar at Columbia, and I was skimming the syllabus while deciding whether or not to enroll in the course. There in italics, just beneath James Baldwin’sNotes of a Native Son” read Words in the Mourning Time (1970) by Robert Hayden. I Googled a picture of my favorite poet and laughed aloud. “So he’s black,” I thought to myself…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,