Phillis Wheatley: Poems

The Public Consciousness of Phillis Wheatley

"I was a kind of bastard of the West... I might search in them in vain for any reflection of myself... At the time I saw that I had no other heritage which I could possibly hope to use... I would have to appropriate those white centuries, I would have to make them mine... I would have to accept my special attitude, my special place in this scheme - otherwise I would have no place in any scheme... The American Negro has always had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress: I hated and feared white people. This did not mean that I loved black people; on the contrary, I despised them."

James Baldwin, from Autobiographical Notes

Though her legacy remains an open question, both Phillis Wheatley's supporters and detractors agree that her moment of notoriety was achieved under a highly unique set of circumstances. Wheatley's acceptance into public discourse validated her status as a "person of interest" - an honorary title usually conferred upon landowning white men. Her new status stood in direct opposition to the legal and popular classification of enslaved persons as property, and her undeniable intelligence and mastery of high poetic forms (as well as the public's appreciation of it)...

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