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The Role of Black Artists in African American Culture

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  1. Introduction
  2. African American intellectuals opinions on the role of the black artists
  3. Richard Wright's reflection on the Harlem Renaissance
  4. 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' and 'Home to Harlem'
  5. Conclusion

Throughout the Harlem Renaissance, blacks were creating new ways to identify themselves both individually and as a part of a new, developing culture within America. While some black writers used their work to identify their race as a separate entity, others used their writing to expose the social injustices concerning this very topic and others, like capitalism and the limitations that are placed on blacks and lower classes. Though all African Americans were championing for more rights and a stronger sense of self, intellectuals and writers all had their own means by which to accomplish an identity.

African American intellectuals emerged throughout the Harlem Renaissance to reveal their opinions on the role of the black artists in social movements and a racial uplift. Alain Locke, author of ?The New Negro,? clearly advocated for the emergence of a new consciousness of the African American race, as they exist in modern day, while at the same time advocating for recognition of past injustices and their hindrance upon the race, as a whole. In Locke's essay, there was a strong focus on the idea of the Old Negro in literature and the consciousness that it had created within society. Early in the 20th century, black writers often portrayed their characters as following the formula of the Old Negro?showing individuals that were either strictly adhering to stereotypes or that exuded white values past the point of reality. In literature and society's consciousness, the Old Negro was ?more of a myth than a man? more of a formula than a human being? (Locke 47). Yet, as Locke points out, this character has been out of society for quite some time and, thus, should be rid of in literature, as well.

[...] Like the individuals in Harlem, black literature should be a collection of black individuals, all coming together through group expression to celebrate their culture and newfound humanity. Furthermore, with the New Negro comes a sense of self-determination and accurate self-perception that black artists should have as they project these characteristics into their work. Through black literature, Locke ultimately suggests that artists bring into focus the emergence of the new spirit within the race as it transforming what has been a perennial problem into the progressive phases of contemporary Negro life? (Locke 47). [...]

[...] Furthermore, as both Hughes and Locke agree, Wright believes that in order to truly write of black culture and the consciousness that comes with it, one must have a deep and complex understanding of ?Negro life in all of its manifold and intricate relationships? (Wright 398). However, while Hughes basically calls for black propaganda through art, Wright recognizes that the struggles and hopes of the black community will naturally emerge from writings through the individual perspectives of black artists and need not be forced. [...]

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