Summary of “Incident” by Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was an American Poet. Apart from poetry he was also a novelist, translator, children’s writer and a play writer. Cullen was an abandoned child and he was bought up by an old lady who is supposed to be his grandmother.

Cullen was excellent in his academics along with it, he also emphasized his talent in poetry. Soon after graduation from high school, in the year 1923, he won the second prize for an undergraduate poetry contest by Witter Bynner. He later on also won many prizes in poetry competitions.

Cullen followed a traditional style in his writing. His poems were mostly elated to racism. His works were very much strongly related to racism, when compared to other poets who portrayed romance. He strongly believed in God, but wondered, why on earth humans had racism? He worked as an Assistant Editor for the Opportunity magazine in which the column he handled, “The Dark Tower” increased his reputation. From the 1930`s till his last, Cullen wrote less and he worked as a French teacher.

The poem, “Incident” is one of Cullen’s good collections of poems, which clearly portrays the racism shown among the blacks, even among the children.


In the poem, he says that while riding through the Baltimore, he was excited and enjoyed every bit of his travel and sight that he had. During his travel he happened to notice a Baltimorean starring at him for now reason. That made him wonders why the stranger was starring at him for long?

He says in the poem in the second stanza that, he was a kid then who was just eight years old and the stranger who was starring was also not anyone older than him, it was just another boy of the same age. Seeing him, the poet just smiled, but he was taken aback when the other boy just stuck his tongue out and called him a ‘Nigger.’ This shows that even children are being taught right from their small age of racism and they keep apart from the blacks from their society, no matter how big they might be.

Lastly the poet says, he had been in Baltimore for a long time (May – Dec) however, no matter what he saw or where he went, the only thing that linger in his mind, is this particular incident of being humiliated and called as a Black.

The poet clearly explains that racism is painful and no matter at what age you may have to face it, it leaves a scar in your mind for a lifetime. It is not anybody’s fault, for being born black, however people just keep them away and that creates a lot of pain and anger among the Blacks. The poet says that even blacks are humans and they too deserve to be equal and have proved that they could make it to the top, in spite of the obstacles they had to face.