What ties do you observe between life and the art: race in America in Hughes’s “Harlem,” Luis Valdez’s “Los Vendidos,” and the Film “Crash”

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Define Literature in Your Introduction

Literature has varied meanings including that in the Renaissance and the antiquity, encompassing all quality works of writing that laid a claim to permanence. Literature refers to the works of language that a community uses to define itself in a historical period (Meyer 4). In that capacity, literature includes those works that are primarily artistic and those works that have aesthetic qualities as secondary. The prototypical works of literature are written texts, works characterized by the careful use of language including creative metaphors, elegant syntax, alliteration, or well-turned phrases (Meyer 4). Furthermore, prototypical works of literature belong to a literary genre, they are read aesthetically, the author intends for the works to be read aesthetically, and they have many weak implicatures (Meyer 4).

An Issue or Aspect of Life that is the Focus of the Paper

The author is interested in exploring issues of race in America through reference to Langston Hughes’s “Harlem,” Luis Valdez’s “Los Vendidos,” and the movie “Crash.” Racism refers to the ability to combine prejudice accompanied with the power for individuals and community to enforce such prejudices on other people based on their race.  The definition of racism is that it based on beliefs and it reflects through such behaviors that accept race is a biological entity, and it maintains that the other racial groups except one owns are intellectually, or psychologically inferior (Zhang). The issue is essential to the overall human experience because whereas the scientific grounds for racism have been dispelled, the political reality of racism remains.

Zhang indicates that racism is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety because racism leads to stress. She links racism to poor outcomes in health ranging from cardiovascular disease to depression and even low-birth weight. The more racism a person experiences in their life, the worse is a person’s health outcomes. Zhang highlights that racism, whether it is explicit or subtle, makes a person’s life more difficult. That is the case because experiencing leads to stress, which translates into an “allostatic load” disrupting the normal body functions. Increased stress increases the level of cortisol in one’s body, indicating likely increase in cardiovascular disease. In a study about the influence of racism on performance, Zhang noted that that subtle racism had a considerable effect on performance compared to experiences of blatant racism. Still, another study found that witnessing acts of racism increased the signs of posttraumatic stress in an individual. The finding is significantly relevant because it explains the effect on communities that are exposed to police killings and other acts of racism. The studies seemed to suggest that eliminating racism could have significant public health benefits for many who experience the health impacts of subtle or blatant racism.

Discuss the Works of Literature you have Selected

Langston Hughes was an African American poet in the 20th century, considered among the pioneers of Harlem Renaissance. In Harlem, a work of literature belonging to the genre of poetry, Langston Hughes delves into the question of the effect of ignored or deferred dreams, which provokes readers to contemplate the meaning of postponing their dreams. “Harlem” is Hughes statement of discontent with the stark inequality of the United States. He uses the dream in the poem to symbolize the American Dream far out of reach for African Americans because of poverty and racism (Gates and Appiah 19). In the poem, “Harlem” Hughes goes as far as to suggest that the postponement of the American Dream for African Americans can lead to an explosion of violence or protests in protest of the inequality of the white American society.

Hughes outlines that a dream deferred suffers any adverse outcomes including drying, festering, stinking crusting, sagging, or exploding. He contends that it is impossible that a dream would sit patiently or wait without damage for its time to be actualized. Hughes’ description shows that dreams when deferred die because of many reasons. A dream can fade away slowly from the dreamer, it can collapse, it can become unattainable because of time constraints, and the dreamer can explode out of the despair that one carries in his or her heart (Gates and Appiah 21). In essence, the poet is distressed and frightened at the possibility of never realizing his dreams because he knows that by deferring his dream, it will ultimately die.

The poem is relevant to the topic of racism because of its context. The context of the verse is that Hughes wrote it to reflect the limitations that made it difficult for many African Americans to achieve their dreams. Therefore, they had to ignore or postpone their desire to enjoy equally “The American Dream” because of segregation and discrimination that denied many black people the opportunities and rights they needed to improve their lot in life. African Americans in the United States had nursed the dream of “emancipation” from slavery, both legally and economically, but the future developments led them to defer their dream, after the United States abolished slavery and later replaced the institution with a doctrine of legal segregation (Gates and Appiah 21). Langston Hughes in his poetry tries to protest the subjugation of African Americans to racism and tyranny, and in doing so, he wanted to regain the sense of identity and self-pride that they had lost. The poem does not speak to the idea that the dream is deferred, but the act of dreaming itself is deferred because of hopeless and misery. In comparing the dream to a raisin dying up upon exposure to the sun, the poet shows the effect that circumstances have had toward weathering the dream, causing it to disintegrate.

Luis Valdez’s one-act play translates into “The Sell Outs.” “Los Vendidos” is a satirical play filled with comedy but also addressing critical social issues ranging from exploitation to racism. The author employs common stereotypes about Mexicans with the goal of emphasizing various points about personal and structural racism. In the play, the author set each stereotypical label against Mexicans as a character in the play (Elam 47). The secretary in rejecting each of the representatives demonstrated that Mexicans felt wrong about the treatment they were receiving from the society. The play aims to push individuals to analyze and understand the prejudices that they may have against Latino people (Elam 47). For instance, it shows the stereotype of the seasonal immigrant through the farm worker who is devoted to his masters, often leaves for Mexico and only returns next spring, and he does not speak English. The play captures the stereotype of the Mexican playboy through the character of Johnny who is not only tailored to the city life, he also has speed, and he is a low-rider. Furthermore, to round off his skills, Johnny is adept at knife fighting. At the end of the play, the play strips all the characters of their stereotypical features and shows them as one people working communally and speaking their common language of Spanish. In doing so, the play illustrates that the society fabricates the labels it imposes on people.

The theme of racism is apparent in the movie “Crash,” and it ties with the paper because it shows how racism, prejudice, and negative stereotypes manifest in the society. The film makes the point that some minorities remain backward because members of the dominant race do not make an effort to learn or understand the cultures of those who are different from them (Nunley 336). In the scene where the District Attorney seeks an African American person to reward and bolster his image among African Americans, he settles for a firefighter who turns out to be Iraqi, who seems black to him at first. The scene shows that racial categories are social constructs that say little about people’s cultural or national heritage. First, the film shows all the minority characters as destitute, financially struggling, or socially powerless (Nunley 336). It does not show any white character undergoing any financial struggles. The premise of the movie is that all people carry prejudice with them be they Asian, white, Iranian, or black people. Such stereotypes arise from the racial and ethnic upbringing and orientation that has provided each race and ethnicity with a baggage of unfair and negative stereotypes, grievances that have stewed for long, anger, and fears.

The film is powerful because it makes the argument that every person has traces of intolerance in them that even they do not recognize. The film does not suggest to provide answers to the evils of racism, but it makes the racist actions of characters so clear and unambiguous that the audience cannot fail to see themselves in the characters (Nunley 339). For instance, in the film, characters hurl racial epithets at each other, and he uses that to show that the most corrosive aspect of discrimination is not shouts but the whispers that perpetuate racial prejudice. However, the film came under criticism despite the defense of liberals that it aims to advance an honest discussion about race in the country (Nunley 339). Critics contend that the film sets back the efforts made to help white Americans engage themselves with the realities of racism, white privilege, and white supremacy in the United States.

Consider the Themes of the Works

The three works explored above are important in the discussion of racism because they indicate that when people think human beings have advanced, they end up caught in the complex webs of racial limitations and oppression that seems difficult or even impossible for one to untangle oneself from. The works, notably Crash have made something clear: racism continues to thrive because white people benefit from it and they perceive racism as a tool to maintain their power. From “Harlem” I have discovered that the danger of racism is not just the individual prejudice, but also the institutional and systemic views of racism that lead minorities to defer their dreams until an indefinite period where conditions would allow them to pursue their dreams. From “Los Vendidos,” I have learned that confronting white supremacy must extend beyond an emphasis on individual prejudice and focus on the attitudes and practices in the society that help to perpetuate racism and that allows individuals of the dominant race to escape collective responsibility.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Zhang, Sara. “The Physical Damage Racism Inflicts on Your Brain and Body.” Wired, 2016. https://www.wired.com/2016/07/physical-damage-racism-inflicts-brain-body/.
  2. Gates, Henry Louis, and Anthony Appiah. Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Amistad Pr, 1993.
  3. Nunley, Vorris L. “Crash”: Rhetorically Wrecking Discourses of Race, Tolerance, and White Privilege.” College English 69.4 (2007): 335-346.
  4. Elam, Harry Justin. Taking it to the streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka. University of Michigan Press, 2001.
  5. Meyer, Jim. “What Is Literature? A Definition Based on Prototypes.” (1997).
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