I AM the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Dancer. . .
Softer than fluff of cotton. . .
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves. . .
Foam of teeth. . . breaking crash of laughter. . .
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies. . .
Lazy love of the banjo thrum. . .
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life
of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Carl Sandburg's poem Nigger

57 Comments

  1. Asante’ Lake says:

    This poem published in 1916, the same year 5 men in my family were lynched, hung from the same tree limb. No one was ever convicted of this horrific murder. Years later all the men were exonerated, found innocent.

    When this poem was written racism was a taken-for-granted reality in an America that was built on a solid pillar of racism. To suggest that Carl Sandburg was NOT racist is to suggest he was immune to the pervasive racism he was immersed in as a white man. He would have had to be raised in isolation, in a cave. To recognize the extreme differences in the experiences of black people from his own means he recognized the racial differences. He did not, could not write from his own experiences, otherwise he would have written about the white male privilege that afforded him the advantages he had, and the opportunity to write and publish as a poet in America.

  2. FER says:

    sandburg aint black wtf is he talking about

  3. Lil Genius says:

    Oh wow. People are just…wow. I love this poem, not only because its written amazingly, but because it caught my attention. so EVERYONE needs to chill, its just a poem, dont be stupid about it. its only racist if YOU make it that way. so leave it alone.
    ~Have A Nicce Life!

  4. pepper says:

    oh god this is so funny, i’ve read a few pages of comments and i have to say that i find them quite hilarious. i personally thought it was very genuine and genius of sandburg to write this poem. the title itself is quite striking and i have to say that the word nigger is really why i clicked on the link in the first place. but to skim through and see comments left just about broke my heart

    it seems to me that people really have their heads up their asses. and i agree that most people with negative comments accusing of racism really didnt read the whole thing, and if they did they only took from it what they wished. example: “Lazy love of the banjo thrum” oh looky there, he used the word lazy along with the word nigger, he is most obviously calling niggers lazy right? oh posh, some of you really need to grow up.

    second, in retaliation to the “confounding racism” in this poem i noticed several of you referred to white people in a derogatory way, does this not contradict the point you are trying to prove? your own racism completely outdoes that of sandburg, for he wasnt being racist in the first place. but you my friends are taking it to the very level you are accusing.

    but what do i know? i’m just a “Kraker” after all. yet i’ve always believed racism has existed more in the minds of those that believe they are subject to it…

  5. brad walton says:

    you dumba**es need to get a real job instead of reading poems like do construction and work with big hard throbbing piecies of wood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. tyrone jennings says:

    i love this poem too…because it is amazing i swear i love black people…is this guy black??…i am black

  7. melissa says:

    I love this poem!!

  8. michelle says:

    For all of you stating that Carl Sandburg is “racist,” you yourselves appear to be a bit naive. Broaden your horizons a bit and recognize that the word “nigger” has many different meanings and/or connotations. The world itself was created for a reason…we need to not shy away from it; rather embrace it and perhaps research the history of the word. Take into account when and where “Nigger” was written. It’s connotations then, are certainly not what they are now. In addition to this, it is possible, like many critics have suggested, that Sandburg chose to use the word “nigger” to invoke emotion, to give the poem an element of shock value…to grab the readers attention.

    Give me a break with the “racist” bull. YOU are the ones that appear to be narrow minded…

  9. Rene says:

    Okay, I know that this is very controversial, but think about what Sanburg is really trying to say. The word was used to intrigue the reader. He is not racist. You don’t have to read that far to figure that out. He starts off by saying “I am nigger”

  10. abby says:

    i agree with comment #39 its a bad word used in a very bad way hes so racist

  11. Renisha says:

    some of you all really don’t understand this poem. to you who said “I love niggers i am one myself”. what?!? you have no idea what that word means.
    were you ever shackled and chained?
    did you ever cry tears of dust wishing to go back to your motherland?
    have you ever tried to keep the little of your mind that managed to escape the demons of slavery?
    Where you ever beaten and whipped?
    Did you ever battle between running away from the slaveholder the only life you know of depended on or finally claiming your freedom and humanity?
    Man, you never went through anything like that! Ever! That’s what a real N*GGER is! People were lynched, assainated, repressed for us not go back to being true N*GGERS. And even after slavery ended African Americans still fought for us not to be called that anymore. But here you are throwing all that back in their faces by saying “I AM A N*GGER!”
    It’s like saying to them “what you did was all in vain. i don’t mind being called a ignorant angry animal-like creature. i’ll go as far as calling myself that.”
    IT MAKES NO SENSE.
    But I have to be honest and say the one thing that I find worthy in n*ggers as described in sandburg is the STRENGTH in them that left behind such a timeless resounding legacy. I appreciate that and I know it was the only thing in a n*gger that passed on the majority of the black race we see today.

  12. metaphormet says:

    Not to begin or continue a discussion on appellation or nomenclature, I am impelled to say this.

    I subscribe with alacrity to Sartre’s “if you label me you negate me.” Something about the mind. When the labels go on the analysis goes off. Look at me. Study my manifestations. Watch what I do.

    On the other hand, especially if you are in cahoots with paragraph one this applies. You can call me anything. Just don’t call me late for supper.

    Personally, I like the term nigger. I still see it as a naturally linguistic pattern of slang progression.

    It ain’t what you say, it is how you say it.

    As a child in the south I grew up with black kids. I discuss this in my poem “Nonconnah Yards”. Later on I found I was not really caucasian. I was half cherokee. But, one of my earliest questions about things was this. What is wrong with my family that none of us has any color. This question preceded by many years the normal question children have of “where do babies come from?”

    Some expressions just sound so pleasant. As I grew, I noticed a tremendous respect for mother among black people I knew. I also became aware of a phrase I often heard that was used to address one’s mother. It sounded so pleasant.

    Eventually I got around to wondering what words the phrase I heard contained and what they meant. I couldn’t untangle it. I did not want to embarrass anyone, me or my friends. Also I reckoned that I should be able to figure it out.

    The phrase sounded like “muh deah”. And it was. And it was so simply beautiful I am still many years later enchanted by it. “Mother Dear.” What a beautiful, respectful phrase for mom. And I never heard a black person add mother in any other way in the US.

    Why do I mention it? Well, it could be the only phrase I can think of that cannot be expressed in a negative way. That’s all.

    Thinking back, I would have been pleased to have named my poem, “Nonconnah Yards Nigger” but would I have run into the same kind of kneejerk reactions that Carl Sandburg has? I would not enjoy being hurt that way.

    Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day. May 13, 2007.

  13. The Truth says:

    Are you people idiots? If you think this poem is derogatory in the least you need to take an english class. Put your “40” down and listen. This is a beautiful poem about how Sandburg felt towards the African American people. HE FELT SORRY FOR THE WAY THE WHITES TREATED THEM!!!!!!!!! So “coolio” or “homie g dawg” how about read a poem and understand it before leaving a racist comment about beating up a brilliant poet that’s been dead for years.

  14. reggie bush says:

    I love niggers i am one myself and i am not afraid of wipping this dead old basterds ass.

  15. Lisa says:

    Wow. I can’t tell if you people are joking or you’re just uneducated. If you understand the time period you’ll understand the poem.

  16. Alicia Hubbard says:

    i really like poems because it can relate to us arfrican americans. I has a way of telling how you feel too!!

  17. Brittany says:

    This is a great poem. It is about time that someone has understood the greatness of being a NIGGER. I am pround of my race.

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