Maureen Honey: On "White Things"

The connection between male domination, white supremacy, and the destruction of nature is evident in Anne Spencer's "White Things." She begins with a statement that most things on this earth are "colorful" but that the single race without color is the one that dominates: "Most things are colorful things--the sky, earth, and sea. / Black men are most men; but the white are free!" In a sophisticated analysis of power lust, Spencer likens the colonization process to a draining of nature's vitality when she says that white men "blanched with their wand of power" all with which they came in contact. . . .

Abruptly, Spencer shifts her focus to terrorism against Blacks in the second stanza, ending with a chilllng image of one member of a lynch mob laughingly swinging a skull "in the face of God," enjoining his deity to turn the world white. . . .

While the poem mentions neither Native Americans nor women, it concerns both. Spencer wrote these lines after reading about a woman, pregnant at the time, tortured by a lynch mob in 1918. She had been trying to protect her husband, who had killed his employer, a farmer known for his vicious treatment of Black laborers. The reference to colonization of Native Americans can be found in the first stanza where the arrival of Europeans is described in line four: "They stole from out a silvered world--somewhere," The poet then metaphorically places the original inhabitants of these "earth-plains" in the landscape by referring to "hills all red" which the colonizer paradoxically turned white

with his bloody attack. The metaphor is extended in lines ten and eleven where, we are told, whites "turned the blood in a ruby rose / To a poor white poppy-flower." Spencer identified strongly with Native Americans (her father was half Seminole and she frequently wore her long, straight hair in braids). Here, she makes a connection between their defeat and terrorism against Afro-Americans, linking both to the mad desire of a minority race to destroy everything unlike itself.


Title Maureen Honey: On "White Things" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Maureen Honey Criticism Target Anne Spencer
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance
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