The Incident by Countee Cullen: A Reflection


By Countee Cullen 1903–1946

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.

Of all the of the poems and passages that I had to memorize and regurgitate as a child, this is one of the few that have stuck with me over the years. As someone who spent their formative years growing up in Baltimore City and the surrounding area, the town that this poem depicts is a far cry from the one I knew and know. I think that is part of why it continues to mean something to me. It is a constant reminder of how far we have come as a nation of people in out mutual respect of one another regardless of race, creed, or orientation. On the other hand, The Incident reminds me to remain vigilant, as those tounge poking little boys are still out there waiting to undermine the progress that has been made.

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