The poem “Enslaved,” by Elma Stuckey, is a short but brutally passionate piece. It observes the irony of the “socially conservative” white southerner who, despite facing financial and emotional hardship, still clings to his antiquated notions of racial superiority. Ms. Stuckey, who was raised on the stories of former slaves during a time when African-Americans continued to face great difficulty, imbued this poem with a mixture of understandable contempt and more than a little pity and compassion.
The first noticeable thing about the poem is the title. One does not expect the subject of a piece called “Enslaved” to be a “red-necked cracker.” However, the meaning behind the title becomes clear in the last two lines of the poem: “Don't want your food, out of my sight! / I'm clinging to this – I'm white, I'm white!” The poem's starving, impoverished subject is enslaved to his own outdated delusions and convictions. He refuses charity or aid because he believes that “hunger's for niggers,” and that, as a white American, he is inherently entitled to better things. It is surprising, however, that such a contemptible figure should evoke so much pity in the reader. The man refuses to see the obvious; he looks upon his empty fields and his growing poverty with stubborn disbelief, and pretends not to notice the changing times. He plants his feet and refuses to join society's progression, no matter how much hardship it may cause him, simply because he was raised to believe that he is somehow better and more deserving than this.
Whether the subject of the poem is more deserving of disgust or compassion is a decision best left to individual readers. The poem itself, however, is an excellent example of how African-Americans came to view impoverished whites, particularly those who continued to maintain the archaic prejudices of their fathers and grandfathers.
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