Little Black Boy….really?
To start this blog off on an entertaining note, I will begin with a personal anecdote:
My family originates from South India, where majority of the population is dark-skinned. This is a huge contrast from North Indians, who are usually pale in comparison to us, since they have traces of British-Anglo blood in most of their ancestries. That being said, my family is pretty dark-skinned. However, I am the “darkest” member out of my immediate family. Of course, I’ve been the butt of many family jokes and ridicule because of my dark skin and features. But the joke is on the rest of my family in the summer days, when the sun is unmerciful to any sort of light skin exposed to the blistering heat. So, while many of my family members cower in the sun, get blistered/burnt skin and have to be extra careful and slather on sunscreen, I can walk out in broad daylight for hours and walk back inside without any harm being done. Dark skin enables many people extra protection from the sun without the risk of sunburning. A superb biological advantage in my opinion. (This may not be true for everyone, but this is my own personal experience). And of course, I rub this in my family’s face playfully.
That being said, the thought never crossed my mind that “Huh. I was put on this Earth to absorb sunlight, and that’s exactly what I will do with my dark skin!”
“Little Black Boy” by William Blake puzzles me. It’s a short, sweet poem about an African American boy listening to his mother’s praise and reassurement about the joys of having dark skin after he laments his black appearance.
Halfway through the poem, the mother says “And we are put on earth in this little space…[we] Are but a cloud, a shady grove” (l.16-20). Towards the end of the poem, the little boy says he will proudly play the role of the “shady tree” and shade those (I assume he’s talking of his white master/ people but I’m not sure) around him.
This poem can be taken two ways. Either the importance African Americans played and how they can “protect” and one day follow God into heaven….or the poem can be seen as emphasizing the objectifying roles of African Americans in the past. I just thought that it was somehwhat ludicrous for a mother to tell her son that she should “shade” people since that’s what his skin color is only allowing him to do.
This is just one of the theories I summarized from reading from this poem. I’m sure it can also be a sweet children’s story of how a boy finds solace in his race.