At a glance it may seem that James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The White Witch” (1915) is all about unhappy personal love experience of an author described through a supernatural and seductive image of a female witch who has a magic power over men. However, the poem is much more than just a poetic confession of an Afro-American man in his forbidden affair with a white woman.
The main theme of the poem is in fact suffering of Afro-Americans from racist order in the early 20th century society and interracial relationships taboo.
Author warns his black “brothers” that white females are threatening to the black masculinity and may lead them to misfortune or even death: “O, younger brothers mine, beware! Look not upon her beauty bright; For in her glance there is a snare, And in her smile there is a blight”. Johnson described white woman as a sexually attractive and seductive creature, and stressed out her inner animal nature: “The shadow of the panther lurks, The spirit of the vampire lies”. There is no indication that the woman in the poem has any emotional feelings for her “victims”, such as love and affection. On the contrary, she is described as a predator that only cares about her momentary pleasure.
The poem “White Witch” can also be seen as a call to Afro-Americans to cherish their national identity, culture and traditions, to preserve their unique heritage. It is a warning of potential danger of becoming a spiritual slave as soon as one started imitate people of white society. Author intentionally mentions 3 colors in the appearance of the witch – red, fair (white) and blue, and creates a parallel with the US national flag as a symbol of American nation. Thus, the American society is described as a vampire, craving for a sacrifice – cultural and economic exploitation of Afro-Americans.
Overall, despite quite pessimistic mood, the poem celebrates black distinctiveness and pride of the author for his race.