“Black Self-Identification during the Times of Anonymity” – RJ Parry

The lack of identity in the time of the “old negro”, during the Harlem Renaissance, has created the narrative to spark the significance of selfhood that made black americans redefine oneself. Instances of self-determination and black pride are created from the birth of the “New Negro” impacting America. These events are expressed through the emergence of black self-identity during times of sentimentalism, power of imagination, and the emergence of the new negro. The Harlem Renaissance created a platform where New Negro leaders and celebrities were centered and the upbringing of black newspapers in the era. I reference University of San Diego Humanities Center youtube channel where the host, Jamall Calloway Ph.D Department of Theology and Religious Studies introduces Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance, and Dr. Corey Barnes PhD, Department of Philosophy at USD. 

A great depiction of how the normalization of racial injustice was met, can be presented in Langston Hughes’ poem I too, “I too sing america, I am the darker brother they send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes but I laugh and I eat well and grow strong, tomorrow I’ll be at the table when company comes, nobody’ll dare say to me go eat in the kitchen, then they’ll see how beautiful we are and they will be ashamed, I too am America.” (Langston Hughes, I Too, 1926). Langston uses descriptive pronouns, they, to depict the plethora of white:  interactions, events, and social stances African Americans have faced. As an black national activist, Langston Hughes uses his platform for the black audience craving black identity, as he challenges the morals of white america while referencing the emergence of the “new negro”. Dr. Corey Barnes depicts what the “new negro” stands for, “The new negro, promoted the psychological deposition of the black person who would come to possess certain drives and abilities.” (Dr. Corey Barnes, Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance). These drives and abilities during the time of racial neglect, creates the stepping stones for the future of the next Black Americans. To first see the impact on how self-identity and self-recovery has on a nation within a nation we first need to understand the origins of the “old negro”. Elaine Locke a figure of the father of the harlem renaissance, with a Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard states, “The Old negro had long become more a myth than a man or woman.” (Dr. Corey Barnes on Elaine Locke, Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance) Dr. Corey Barnes elaborates on the effects on how myths can affect the black community in America, “Being a stock figure perpetuated historical fiction partly an innocent sentimentalism partly in deliberate reactionism…Sentimentalist have produced a imagine as black as a childlike figure who required white sympathy for his or her play, without which he or she could not stand or live, bought out to simianized caricature setup to unjustify the treatment of the negro. The negro should not be allowed to stand or live.” (Dr. Corey Barnes, Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance). The idea of white sympathy correlates to being a controller in American society. An example of white sympathy can be found through the white sentimentalist racial ideology that strays away from where black society thrives, promoting sensitive ideas, emotions, and polices. This bolsters white control over America can be referenced in Freedom on My Mind, “At the turn of the century, white supremacists devised new laws that required segregation in schools and public places, demeaning blacks and circumscribing their participation in the economic, social, and political life of the South.” (Freedom on My Mind by Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin Jr, Chapter 10) 

Jamall Calloway raises the question on Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance episode of the USD Humanities Center Youtube, what connects the parts of philosophy that underlines black commitment? Dr. Corey Barnes references the power of culture through the great migration, “More than half a million black people migrated from the south to the west, the migration put blacks in greater contact with themselves and where more culture products were more easily access, thus more of an emphasis of culture itself, a blending of world views and both a clash and a sharing of culture products and strategies for racial uplift“ This uplift disproves that idea of white sentimentalism is an effective strategy for the American society. As Elaine Locke stated, “the old negro had long become more a myth than a man or women.” This now myth of the old negro can be proven due to black: institutions, culture, letters, and articles because of the new emergence of the New negro. Nathaniel huggins tells us, “by the end of the war in 1919 african-americans notice that the negro of post-war america was going to be much more militant than his pre-war brother“ (Dr. Corey Barnes on Nathaniel Huggins, Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance). These parts connect communities and inspire hope, a large part of the Harlem renaissance movement are the Black newspapers. Floyd G. Snelson a black editor of Churches states, “Don’t think that New York is your home, because you have been here before, and you have friends here– it is not mentioned once in Heaven.. Don’t come here unless you have MONEY to pay your way – your friends and relatives are not able to take care of you – they are hardly able to take care of themselves… because when your money gives out, your welcome is gone… Don’t expose your money, or let anybody know your personal affairs… “(Negro Capital of the Nation, 1939) I picked this quote, as Snelson is promoting that the successful life in Harlem, New York isn’t easy, and once you think you have made it: events, politics, friends, family, and other factors can change your once fortunate situation to fade away. Snelson is blunt and real because when resistance occurs it’s not a joke. Snelson addresses that being comfortable in America can change fast. Government and policies in America lessened black accommodation and increased political agitation. John Hope Franklin, historian specialized in African American history states “That the negro had achieved a level of articulation that made it possible for them to transform their feelings into a variety of literary forms, majority of african americans didn’t have the ability to read to write, not yet understand their power to capture the imagination of others in the world, however in the mid 1900s more african americans on harlem had exposure to letters and literature, one might imagine that these had the impact on imagination terms of inquisitiveness or creativity but also in its use for social and political uplift.”(Dr. Corey Barnes on John Hope Franklin, Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance) Promotion of black voices with powers of imagination can create a much needed push for black education, our lecture states, “The development of institutions committed to the social scientific and historical study of the conditions of Black Lives and communities – and affiliated academic journals, magazines, and publications… aimed to establish universal, cross-regional Black Liberation/emancipation, race pride, and solidarity.” (Week 12, HIST-128 African American History) 

Black ideology, culture, and persistence has achieved greatness during arbitrary America. “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.” – Langston Hughes (Week 12, HIST-128 African American History). As Hughes puts it, the expression of black identity is beautiful and benefits society. Whether white society can create laws, policies, or media prohibiting black expansion black elegance will always bleed through. I’d like to prompt Hughes’ use of “tomorrow” in the poem I too. While Langston makes the point of, “tomorrow I’ll be at the table” tomorrow doesn’t directly correlate with its definition. This term tomorrow alludes to a time in the future in which black and white people are equal. I question when the time where black and white will be equal, but birth of the “new negro” impacts the future black generations to come.


Works Cited

Hughes, L. (n.d.). I, too, by Langston Hughes. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too

Souls of Black Folks – Harlem Renaissance. (2021). YouTube. Retrieved May 2023, from https://youtu.be/VpSpzLRx0YA.  

White, D. G., Bay, M., & Martin, W. E. (2021). Freedom on my mind: A history of African Americans, with documents. Bedford/St. Martins.   

Snelson, F. G. (n.d.). Negro capital of the nation. Churches. Retrieved from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/apps/news/document-view?p=AAHX&t=&sort=_rank_%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=Harlem%20Renaissance&docref=image/v2%3A12ACD7C7734164EC%40AAHX-12C603713395FA78%402429382-12C603714FB7AE80%402-12C60371CCF86F40%40Harlem%2B%2527Negro%2BCapital%2Bof%2Bthe%2BNation%2B%2522 .  

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