In William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” innocence is not ignorance.  Rather, Blake’s songs suggest that innocence is a system of institutionalized knowledge taught to children to help them cope with the miseries of experience.  Blake juxtaposes a set of songs about early childhood education, the songs of innocence, with songs about the miseries of human experience, the songs of experience, in order to emphasize the cause-effect nature of this education; the teachings of childhood education define and perpetuate the corrupt social and political systems which make experience so miserable.  In “The Little Black Boy,” a young black child uses the religious stories told to him by his mother to rationalize his existence as an inferior being in a racist world.  The black boy’s explanation of his identity highlights the problematic nature of his mother’s teachings; the black boy unquestioningly accepts his role as a servant to white men as part of God’s unique plan.  According to this plan, which the boy repeats to the English boy at the end of the song, the binaries of black and white that define social roles on Earth will be dissolved in heaven.  Thus, racial disparities on Earth are resolved through a promise of equality in heaven.  Ironically, the black boy’s repetition of his mother’s teachings perpetuates the very belief system that enchains him.  The black boy is enslaved by his corrupt education.

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