Chesnutt's Works





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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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