Relationship between Black and White Americans

Document Type:Essay

Subject Area:History

Document 1

One white scholar who described the interdependence between whites and blacks was Carl Van Vechten because he acted as a link between white and black people. White Americans considered African American art as primitive and this forced black intellectuals and artists to try and prove that their work was comparable to or even better than the whites’. However, this resulted in blacks having to live up to the expectations of white people as whites were in control of the publishing and other production facilities. Black artists and intellectuals such as Louise Thompson, Langston Hughes, and Zora Hurston had to strike a balance between their professional aspirations as black artists while still satisfying their white patrons2. As such, Harlem Renaissance involved the interdependence between white and black Americans.

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One of the highlights of the struggles that Negro artists faced was American provincialism. Jazz is an excellent example of American provincialism because it began in New Orleans. Many Negro artists, including Cullen and McKay, considered jazz as anything but high culture. Others, like Hughes, respected jazz and its link to everyday culture and ordinary men. The process of conceptualizing art creates avenues for discussing what its ideals should be. By preaching escapism, he captured the imagination of black people in Harlem. Also, the fact that African American artists and intellectuals struggled to find a balance between pleasing white patrons and to be faithful to their work meant that they did not address the issues facing African Americans with the aggressiveness or candidness it deserved7.

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The black leaders failed to unite in their voting, meaning that they were unable to obtain real political power necessary to create change. The reason why many African Americans relocated to Harlem was that they wanted a place where their talents would touch the most lives and a place where their abilities would grow. Harlem dwellers inspired each other and wanted to be in a position that would appreciate their talents. To illustrate this point, Huggins writes a story about a Park Avenue Matron that once supported Zorn Hurst, Longboats Hughes and Louise Thompson giving them financial assistance and even getting them published. The matron gave Hughes a car and a driver who could take him anywhere he pleased. The result is that Hughes felt privileged as not many African Americans had that kind of privilege10.

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Hughes’ relationship with his matron ended when he wrote a poem that the matron found offensive, forcing Hughes’ to question the authenticity of their relationship. As such, this shows that white patrons and benefactors offered opinions that influenced the work of black artists. Other black artists, however, wanted to separate themselves their art and from racial stereotypes, so that people would first recognize them as artists rather than Negro artists. Huggins’ analysis points to the development of Pan Africanism. In the essay New Negro, for example, Alain Locke conceptualizes what today is known as Pan Africanism. In politics, Du Bois was a big advocate for Pan Africanism, at one point even organizing the Pan African Congress13. McKay, a Jamaican living in Harlem, leveraged his international background in the book Banjo to propose the fundamental idea of Pan Africanism.

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