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Chesnutt in the Classroom

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The Perplexed Nigger

I'm "quite an intelligent nigger"
As the words in our section go.--
I live in the land where the rice
And the cane and the cotton grow.--
I'm quite an ambitious nigger,
But, the Democrats now being in,
I'm afraid I can't get elected,
To the Legislature again.

2--
As I have no remarkable fondness,
For handling the plow or the hoe,
Boot-blacking or driving a carriage,
Which we had to do not long ago--
And having no great predilection,
For living on bacon and greens,
I'll adopt a respectable calling,
And write for the magazines.

3--
I know that the country is somewhat
Inclined to be down on the nigger;
For Whittaker of West Point and Flipper,
I confess have cut quite a poor figger
The one seems rather a coward;
The other--well even a good school,
Can't make a brave man of a coward,
Or make a wise man a fool.

4--
And it's right good American logic--
Indeed, it's the general belief,
When a nigger can't prove himself honest,
He certainly must be a thief--
A white man's regarded as honest,
Until his rascality's shown;
But a nigger, you know, is different
As the white folks have always known.

5--
And since Whittaker cut his own ears,
Or at least couldn't prove the contrary,
That all niggers would do just the same,
Is a very safe corollary;
Since Flipper's accused of stealing,
Or was careless in keeping accounts,
Any nigger will steal or be careless--
That's exactly to what it amounts.

6--
Down here, if a crime is committed,
And the criminal cannot be found,
Suspicion will rest on a nigger,
If there's one in a mile around.
And then, if the nigger[']s imprisoned,
Whether guilty they dont' wait to see,
They take him away from the gaoler,
And swing him right up to a tree.

7--
A white man is tried by a jury,
And with plenty of friends and red tape,
And the best friend of all, ready money,
Has at least a fair chance to escape.
But the nigger, perforce, must be guilty,--
Because--any nigger, in fact,
Under similar circumstances,
Would be capable of the act!

8--
And it matters not whether he's guilty
Or nor, it is nothing but right,
If he's likely to do any mischief,
To hang him for fear that he might--
And when white folks see anything clearly,
In this particular light,
They don't hesitate for a moment,
To do what they think to be right.

9--
I'm quite an intelligent nigger,
But such things I can't understand,
When all men are free and equal;
By the highest law of the land!
I'm a very intelligent nigger,
But I cannot exactly see,
Why there's one set of laws for the white folks,
And a different set for me.

10--
Perhaps some wise man of the white folks,
Will make the mystery plain,
Why justice and Christian charity,
Are different for different men;--
Why they set us aside in the churches,
And even in the common schools,
And in the insane asylums,
They separate even the fools!

11--
And some intellects philosophic,
Have taught that even in Heaven,
A sort of kitchen department,
To colored folks will be given.
There's but one place they don't separate us,
And why, I'm sure I can't tell,
But no one has yet thought proper,
To separate us in hell!

--January, 1882