Culture and Race in Cane

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Each and everyone of us have our burdens to bear, whether they are race, financial situations, etc. It is very hard for the majority of us to feel like we belong, to be comfortable in our own bodies, and most importantly to be confident in ourselves. To be of a mixed race heritage is very hard for some people, and to have pressure put on you to pick a race makes it extremely difficult. Culture and race itself is already complex enough, all coming from different traditions, values, and social identity.

Race has always been an ongoing issue in America, and a huge source of racism comes from the people who pride their own race. Nobody said it was wrong to have total confidence and pride in your own race, but sadly many people associated with mixed races, they seem to find need in putting aside other ethnic groups.

They are mainly afraid of extreme hatred from other races and discrimination against them, and that carries a huge part.

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As one gets older they start to really understand and realize what their races have to offer and slowly have an understanding of which they would want to identify themself more of. It’s really hard for people to constantly keep focusing on what they want to identify themself as when they are part of a mixed race heritage, and for most they try to avoid it as much as possible until they realize that in this era, there really is no running away from it, and that is what’s so hard about living a mixed race and ethnic lifestyle is in this world.

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It is inevitable that people of mixed race heritage struggle with complex issues regarding identity, Jean Toomer was no different.

Jean Toomer was a man very much similar to a lot of other people, in the sense that he was of mixed race, caucasian and african american. He spent most of his life struggling with which he was most comfortable identifying himself as. Jean Toomer was a writer and philosopher, and conveyed most of his feelings through his writings, whether it was his own writings, or through characters. This is heavily shown in one of his most primarily known collection called “Cane”. The main struggle he shows in the stories written in Cane were that of characters shadowing his struggles of identifying his race, and the hardships that come with that. Writing Cane was a big eye opener for him because it was almost both meaning to send out a message, and his true feelings. Writing this book helped Toomer find his true self and really understand where he came from and the beauty behind it “After the publication of Cane, Toomer began to regard himself as neither white nor black…

Cane was for Toomer a double ‘swan song.’ He meant it to memorialize a culture he thought was dying, whose folk spirit he considered beautiful, but he was also saying goodbye to the ‘Negro’ he felt dying in himself” ( Porter). Toomer’s intentions were never to just forget where he came from and who he is, nor was it to ignore either side of his white and black race, he struggled for almost all his life and for so long he tried so hard to avoid any or all social and ethnic rankings. He wanted to teach the world that it was okay to be lost, and not feel like you belong, because he did not feel that despite the fact that he was so famous, he still felt alone and confused, but instead of coping with it himself, he put it to good use and found a way to help him find himself. You may think that being of mixed race isn’t that big of a deal but for him and most others, it really is a huge factor in who you are, how you want the world to see you as, and most importantly your character.

Most of the time when you aren’t old enough to make your own decisions, they are made for you by your parents. How they choose to live their life very much reflects yours, and sometimes you have to chose to respect that and go with the flow. There must be a point in your life when you chose to stop that and make your own life decisions, because at the end, it is your life. People of course love the idea of being of mixed race and love the cultural differences, but there are some cons to it as well. They struggle with the concept of identity and truth in oneself. Who are you? What makes you the way you are? Why did you choose to be like this? Was it your choice or was this choice made for you? Is it because of who and where you grew up or the way you were raised to live? All of these questions are constantly asked throughout your life, and even you don’t know the right answers to them as you struggle to understand the whole concept of identity along the way.

It is very confusing when you are a of mixed race heritage to identify yourself when you have both sides of your family from different races, and that was what Toomer struggled with the most. ‘For Jean to grow up in a house with a grandfather who had been the only black governor of any state in the Union…In Washington Toomer lived in a white neighborhood but attended the all-black Garnet Elementary School…When his mother remarried in 1906, the family moved to New Rochelle, New York, where they lived in a white neighborhood and he attended an all-white school. Toomer returned to Washington in 1909, following the death of his mother, and attended the all-black Dunbar High School” (Jones). This really shows how much he was conflicted with his race tremendously. Having to have experienced both sides of your mixed race heritage especially in the public, takes a toll and makes you realize what you want and what you don’t want. Going back and forth from all white schools to all black schools, messes with you especially when your young and still trying to find yourself.

Toomer didn’t really like the idea of being a black man at that time. There was so much hate and discrimination and he felt like it just was not for him. He wanted the freedom and he wanted to be treated like the man he really was which was a man of both white and black race. He felt like he was not ever given the chance to be both, rather pressured to pick a race based on society and what they saw him as, and he did not like to be treated that way. Being a person of color at that time was extremely hard and you had to have had tough skin to be able to deal with all of that. He didn’t want to deal with that and be identified as african american, because he didn’t feel like he was not did he look like he was. “We who have Negro blood in our veins, who are culturally and emotionally the most removed from Puritan tradition, are its most tenacious supporters.That would be one of the last times he admitted his own Negro ancestry, either publicly or privately” (Byrd and Gates Jr.).

He wanted to be a voice in the world, but he didn’t know if he wanted to speak upon the blacks, or the whites, or the people just like him confused and conflicted about their race and ethnic backgrounds. As you read most of Toomer’s writings, you can really start to see that he genuinely preferred to be identified as a white man, because that was what he was the most comfortable with. You can’t blame him because during that time there was many more advantages for a white man than a man of color, and Toomer really saw that and saw that if he had the chance to be either since again, he was a man of mixed race, that he would rather identify himself as a white man rather than of a man of color. For the longest time, being white was a privilege. Everyone saw it as that and that made the people of color feel completely worthless.

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Culture and Race in Cane. (2022, Jan 20). Retrieved from

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