African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

J.W. Work, "It's Great to Be a Problem" (1920)



It’s great to be a problem,
A problem just like me;
To have the world inquiring
And asking what you be.
You must be this,
You can’t be that,
Examined through and through;
So different from all other men,
The world is studying you.

My grandfather cursed my father,
For Noah cursed Ham, you know;
Therefore, my father’s children,
The rocky road must go.
We can’t turn here,
We can’t turn there,
Because the world’s in doubt,
What we would do,
Where we would go,
What we would be about.

I’m sullen if I speak not,
I’m insolent if I speak;
Must curb my aspirations,
I must be lowly, meek.
I can’t eat here,
I can’t sleep there,
Must “Jim-Crow” on full fare;
The world can’t know
What I would do,
If I were treated square.

It’s great to be a problem,
A problem just like me;
To have the world inquiring
And asking what you be.

Published in The Crisis, November 1920

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