Continuing through my copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, the next poem up was “The Little Black Boy” (click here to read the poem online). I have to say, although I love Blake’s works, this one rubbed me the wrong way. I found it to be a little racist.
The poem opens with a black boy comparing himself to a white boy and basically saying that he is “bereav’d of light” because he is black, but that the white boy is angelic.
This immediately turned me off and it was hard for me to shake my distaste as I read the rest of the poem. Even having the black boy say “but O! my soul is white” made it seem like, well, since there is some whiteness in there, the black boy is OK too. I personally find things like that to be offensive.
Now, granted, I have to consider the period in which Blake wrote this, and in defense of Blake, he was obviously trying to convey that in the eyes of the Divine, there is no difference between people based upon skin color. It is the spark of divine spirit within each of us that matters. I agree and I applaud him for expressing that at a time when not so many people were enlightened in that area. But still, it’s hard for me to read this poem today without seeing the racist slant, especially when he asserts that the black boy is really white inside. Ugh!