Religion : The Black Community, Black Poets And Writers Like Phillis Wheatley And Richard Wright

Religion : The Black Community, Black Poets And Writers Like Phillis Wheatley And Richard Wright

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For centuries religion has played a huge role in the black community. From slavery to freedom, religion has help black folk deal with their anger, pain, oppression, sadness, fear, and dread. Recognizing the said importance of religion in the black community, Black poets and writers like Phillis Wheatley and Richard Wright, use religion as an important motif in their literature. Wheatley uses religion as a way to convince her mostly white audience of how religious conversion validates the humanity of herself and others. Wright on the other hand, uses religion in order to demonstrate how religion, as uplifting as it is can fail the black community. Thinking through, both Wheatley and Wright’s writings it becomes apparent that religion is so complex, that it cannot be seen solely as a solution to the Isms black people face, it must also be acknowledged as an obstacle.
This religious complicatedness is demonstrated through the metaphors, symbols, and ideas of both writers. However, in order to understand why they write about religion in the ways that they do, one must first look at their personal backgrounds and also the time period in which they lived. Phillis Wheatley, was a young girl from West Africa who was purchased by John Wheatley at the Boston Slave Market. Bought to be a domestic slave, Wheatley quickly moves beyond that role, learned English, and became a poet adequate enough to be published (NAAL: Phillis Wheatley 137-38). She wrote poems like “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and “To the University of Cambridge in New-England”, which as stated, both use religion to validate humanity. For example, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” reads:
“Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land;
Taught my benighted ...

... middle of paper ...

...tangible answers to the larger problem- The ethics of Jim Crow segregation.
Finally, as a reader, I realized that religion has a limited amount of ability to create social change within the white order. Instead, religion helps to perpetuate it, locking faithful believers into a cycle constrained by their religious beliefs (Whitted 129). Here we have two writers, Wheatley, who oversimplifies religion, and Wright who shows its complexities.This sheds light on religion and the black experience in ways that I had never seen it before; religion as both a strength and a weakness. In terms of weakness, religion has the ability, through emotionally-charged prayer and song, to distract people from the need for systemic change. However, in strength, religion is a great tool for overcoming the daily experiences of black oppression during slavery, the Jim Crow South, and today.

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