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Jean Toomer Jean Toomer was born in 1894 in Washington DC the son of a Georgian farmer Though he passed for a white during certain periods of his life he was raised in a predominantly black community and he went to black high schools In 1914 he went to college at the University of Wisconsin but he transferred to the College of New York City until 1917 He spent the next four years writing and published poetry and prose in Broom The Liberator The Little Review and others He actively participated in literary society and was introduced with such prominent figures as the critic Kenneth Burke the photographer Alfred Steiglitz and the poet Hart Crane In 1921 Toomer took a teaching job in Georgia and remained there four months the trip represented his journey back to his Southern roots His experience inspired his book Cane a book of prose poetry describing the Georgian people and landscape In the early twenties Toomer became interested in Unitism a religion founded by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff The doctrine taught unity transcendence and mastery of self through yoga all of which appealed to Toomer a light-skinned black man preoccupied with establishing an identity in a society of rigid race distinctions Toomer found his position comical especially since his olive complexion made most strangers think he was white American or French or Spanish When he was mistaken for anything other than black he found he was generally treated better than when people knew he had black ancestry yet he was still the same man Why should his thoughts and ideas be more respected when he was thought to be white Why should his behavior be judged more harshly when he was thought to be black Toomer didnt care to reason this blatant racism out Instead he rejected any classification except that of American he tried to convince the rest of America that only by erasing racial prejudices could America be
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