Identity and labels: a discussion inspired by langston hughes

Read the following poem that was written by Langston Hughes (American) in 1951. The poem is about a college student who is probably around your age, and it is ostensibly about one of his writing assignments. As you will see, it is about much more.


Theme for English B

By Langston Hughes (date: 1951).

The instructor said,

 Go home and write

      a page tonight.

      And let that page come out of you—

      Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.   

I went to school there, then Durham, then here   

to this college on the hill above Harlem.   

I am the only colored student in my class.   

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,   

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me   

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.   

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.   

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.



  1. Read and consider the poem.
  2. Now, read the poem again and consider the questions that are listed below. 
  3. Write your initial post, using college level writing. In your post, be sure to answer each of the questions listed below.  Be sure to evaluate, reflect, and articulate your own ideas and observations. Initial posts must be at least 400 words, which I will count.
  4. Read and respond to at least one classmate’s post. Responses must to be at least 150 words. Responses must be SUBSTANTIVE, and directly discuss points made in your classmates’ initial posts.
    • Unacceptable responses: “That’s cool.” “I agree.” “I never thought of that.” “I like what you wrote.” These are not substantive or specific. You may say these things, but then you must back it up and explain your response with substance that directly refers to and discusses points made in your classmates’ initial posts.
    • These topics may be sensitive, which is the exact reason they warrant discussion. Remember, however,  to always be respectful to your classmates in all responses.

Here are the questions you will answer and discuss:

  • Hughes mentions many places in his poem about “who” he is. What places does he mention? How do “places” help to shape our definitions of ourselves?
  • Reread the last fifteen lines of Hughes’ essay. What does he mean when he writes that his essay “will be a part of you, instructor.”? What does he mean when he states “You are white – yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American.” What does Hughes mean? Do you agree with him? Why or Why not?
  •  Choose one of these categories with which you identify, and describe yourself by: race, gender, religion, country or origin, sexual orientation, disability, age, regional identity (Southerner, Midwesterner, East Coast, etc). Be sure to choose one that you do not mind sharing with classmates, and please do not choose more than one. Explain, with specific details, what that identity means to you.
  • Using the identifier you chose in the previous question, what would you like others who are not this identity to know about you? For example, if you are a woman, what do you want men to know about women? If you are a man, what do you want women to know about men? If you are Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, etc. what do you want people who do not practice those religions to know about you? Etc. Be sure you are respectful of all people when you do this.

Note: you must create your initial discussion before viewing others’ posts.

TIPS: Please create one coherent post. Be sure to use paragraphs. When the subject changes, begin a new paragraph. Please do not number and answer each question separately. 

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