James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s.

His active participation in the African-American fight for civil liberty resonates throughout his writing and can be found in poems like Ku Klux, Still Here, Third Degree and Who But the Lord?

I like reading his works because he speaks plainly, without circumlocution or unnecessary euphemism, about his struggle against racism and societal discrimination. Whenever I read the words of poets like Langston Hughes, I find it easy to understand the pain some people went through due to the colour of their skin or the name they chose for themselves.

Peace happens to be one of my favourites. I went over this poem a number of times before I could relate the title to the words. It may seem pointless at first, but Hughes wants us to reflect on the good we can do when we are still living. I for one, see no point in honouring someone posthumously when it can be done while they are still alive.

PEACE

We passed their graves:

The dead men there,

Winners or losers,

Did not care.

 

In the dark

They could not see

Who had gained

The victory.

 

 


A poem like Peace may appear morbid at first, but it speaks volumes about the unnecessary dichotomy people create to segregate themselves in society. Humanity’s history is filled with slavery, war, apartheid, racial and gender discrimination, ethnocentrism and so on. There are those who will even argue that these things make us human as no one is perfect and we all live in an equally imperfect world. I believe otherwise. The world needs not be perfect before we learn to respect each other’s differences. We need not wait to be perfect before we make earth a peaceful place.

Hughes makes an important statement with this concise poem:

‘We are all equal, but the only place residents agree unanimously on this issue is the cemetery’.

In their graves, the dead do not discriminate. Nobody cares who did what or lived where or spent how much money when they were alive. The only ones who continue to make a fuss about such frivolities are the living. And we sure do waste precious time arguing, debating and discussing such things.

We have even learnt to place a price tag on people, saying how much they are worth in hard currency. There are magazines and TV shows dedicated to the lives of the rich and famous (popularly referred to as celebrities). People compete to be mentioned on air as being worth this or that amount of money because of how much they earn and spend.

But the dead don’t care and neither should we.

Let us not wait till our residential addresses are permanently engraved on tombstones before we realise that dead or alive, we are all human. We all have something to contribute to make this world a better place. We can regard each other as brothers and sisters by looking past race, ethnicity, wealth or poverty, literacy, profession, religion, politics, or any other thing that seeks to divide us. If we learn to treasure each other and treat others as we treat ourselves, the world will be a much better place.

In the words of Michael Jackson et al:

We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start giving.
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
Its true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me

Every single person is precious. No exceptions.