This poem has so much history. I have to wonder how long Countee thought about what happened before it actually kicked in that the boy was being racist. I mean, when I was eight, I was in 3rd grade and I heard blacks using the word, “Nigger” so much that if a white kid called me Nigger, I’m not sure if I would’ve been bothered by it. I think I would’ve been more upset at the fact that he stuck his tongue out at me. I wonder what that means. Do we give names or words too much power? Is this anguish over the use of the name/slur, Nigger, taught? Was I simply just young and didn’t know the weight of this word? I wonder. Well, I didn’t learn the significance of the racial slur, Nigger, until the next year when Alex Haley bought us Roots on Broadcast Television. Anyway, here’s Countee Cullen’s poem, Incident.
“Incident,” by Countee Cullen
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore,
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there,
That’s all that I remember.