Jean Toomer
By, Hailey Thorn

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Jean Toomer was born December 26, 1894 in Washington D.C. to Nathan Toomer and Nina Pinchback. Like his parents, Toomer could easily pass for white, his heritage comprising several European and African bloodlines. Though his name was not legally altered, his grandparents called him Eugene Pinchback; in school he was known as Eugene Pinchback Toomer. Later when he began writing, he shortened his name to Jean Toomer. Jean Toomer was born December 26, 1894 in Washington D.C. to Nathan Toomer and Nina Pinchback. Between 1914 and 1917 Toomer attended six institutions of higher education (the University of Wisconsin, the Massachusetts College of Agriculture, the American College of Physical Training in Chicago, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the City College of New York) studying agriculture, fitness, biology, sociology, and history, but he never completed a degree.

After leaving college, Toomer published some short stories and continued writing in the volatile social period following World War I. Toomer wrote a small amount of fiction and published essays in Quaker publications during this time, but devoted most of his time to serving on Quaker committees and working with high school students. His last literary work published during his lifetime was Blue Meridian, a long poem extolling "the potential of the American race". He stopped writing for publication after 1950, although he wrote for himself, including several autobiographies. Toomer's papers and unpublished manuscripts are held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University. He died in 1967 after several years of poor health. external image cleardot.gif

People

To those fixed on white,

To those fixed on black,

It is the same,

And red is red,

Yellow, yellow-

Surely there are such sights

In the many colored world,

Or in the mind.

The strange thing is that

These people never see themselves

Or you, or me.


Are they not in their minds?

Are we not in the world?

This is a curious blindness

For those that are color blind.

What queer beliefs

That men who believe in sights

Disbelieve in seers.


O people, if you but used

Your other eyes

You would see beings.
Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer wrote a fabulous poem called "People." In it he expresses his loathing and hatred of discrimination based on skin color. But he expresses his words in a calm way that was meant to make people think, to open their eyes, and to realize what has been going on for so long. "Those fixed on white, white is white," in that sentence he shows that people who are segregating white people from darker skinned people are wearing blinders that only let them see white people as normal people. To white people all the dark skinned people are not people, they are objects. To black people though, everyone is a person with a soul and a personality. Everyone deserves to be treated like a person and Jean Toomer shows this in the line "To those fixed on black, it is the same."

Throughout the poem Jean Toomer uses connotative words. Many of the words he uses the connotative meaning of are colors such as "white is white," "And red is red," and "yellow, yellow." These words are used to refer to the color and health of a skin. White and black are skin colors and yellow and red are used to show blood and infection on the skin of the black people. Later in the poem he shows his confusion and curiosity about why people treat blacks with such discrimination and cruelty, "This is a curious blindness for those that are color blind." This also shows that he recognizes that some people in the world don't see eye to eye with what the majority of white people believe, some people don't see people based on skin color, but rather based on actions.

The last three lines of his poem show the frustration he has with the white people. He is frustrated that they won't open their eyes and see blacks for "beings" rather than objects. At the same times though, the way that he states this he shows that he feels sorry for the people that are missing out on the culture, kindness, and friendship that black people are willing to offer those people who do see them as living and breathing "beings." He says "your other eyes" because he realizes that the eyes the white people are using to see the world are eyes that only see in black and white. The eyes thay are using don't see people, just black and white colors. This is all shown in "O people, if you but used your other eyes you would see beings."