The theme of this poem is similar to that of Hurston’s Sweat—that black women are always oppressed. Hurston’s Delia—the black female character in the story—was always oppressed by her husband Sykes. Coleman said that black women regarded black women mostly as the enemy. People always try to oppress their enemy. So did Sykes toward Delia. I have never found a story where someone caresses his/her enemy, except to trap him/her.
Besides enemy, Coleman also mentioned that black men regarded black women as saints. This was also what happened in “Sweat”. The fact that Delia never fought back Sykes physically, that she did not complain, that she just kept quiet no matter how cruelly he treated her can be considered that Delia has a quality to be a saint in her. Once she said calmly, “Ah hates you, Sykes,” but it stopped there. She did not do anything else. Saints never take revenge; they accept whatever happens to them, whatever people do towards them wholeheartedly, they never complain. This is what I concluded when I read “Sweat”. Coleman’s poem really supports the way Hurston described Delia.
Black women are also regarded as mothers. It means that black men regard them as ones to deliver babies, breastfeed them, and then raise them. it is different from the role as a wife. I see it here that black men consider black women “machines” to produce babies, to continue their clan. Because black women are considered as machines only, it means no emotional bond, no love between black men and women. It dates back to the slavery time where black women were used to “produce” babies that would be slaves after the babies grew up. The more slaves to have, the wealthier the slave owners would be.
Black women as sisters here mean that they have to be ready anytime to give help to their brothers. And the last one, as whores, means that black women are just regarded as sexual objects. They have to be ready to give sexual satisfaction whenever and wherever black men want them. And of course the sexual relationship here is done only for lust, not for love.
In facing their ‘fate’—to be regarded as saints, mothers, sisters, whores, and enemy—black women do not do anything real to oppose it. Coleman said “we are victims who have chosen to struggle and stay alive.” Though they feel like they are living in a hell and want to die –“would be better to be dead I sometimes think”—still they choose to struggle and stay alive. They try to endure their bitter life.
In addition, Coleman said that not only do black women mistreat black women, white men think the same way as well. White men find black women exotic; therefore they like them and approach them. However, white men do that not to love them, only to make them sexual objects: “women of my race are regarded by white men mostly as whores”. In need to get sexual satisfaction, white men approach black women. After getting what they want, they will go away.
At the end of her poem, Coleman asked, “will I ever see the sun?” The sun here has a connotative meaning of hope—something that will brighten dark days. I conclude that Coleman asked whether there will be a change for the better in the way black men and white men regard black women, whether black women will have a better future. Coleman put it in the question form because she herself was not sure whether it would really come true or not.
A paper I wrote in America’s Multi-Cultural Literature, March 2003