Racism in American Culture
One could say race has a poor relationship with America; that there is a strong connection between the two; or that they simply do not coincide with each other. Alain Locke, who is an American writer, educator, philosopher, patron of the arts, and “Father” of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote several works of literature which went against the oppression of African American men, women, and children. Another famous Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes, touches on the American Dream in his work . Both writers are trying to better societal views. Alain Lockes “The New Negro” and Langston Hughes’ “Let America be America Again ” both reveal the backwards and intolerable ways of this country.
Alain Lockes “The New Negro” is a term and work that was used during the Harlem Renaissance which implied outspoken advocacy of dignity and the complete refusal to submit to the practices of and laws of Jim Crow. These laws represented a formal, codified system of racial apartheid that dominated the American South for three quarters of a century beginning in the 1890s. The laws of Jim Crow consisted of the segregation of schools, public places, transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains.
During all of this absurdity, The Great Migration was in full effect. African Americans were taking a stand and boycotting the laws of Jim Crow which gave them power to escape the oppression they were facing. Most of them left their homes in the south and headed north in search of employment and a new beginning. This migration expressed the extent of their voice and gained power . Alain Locke said “..the mind of the Negro seems suddenly to have slipped from under the tyranny of social intimidation and to be shaking off the psychology of imitation and implies inferiority. By shedding the old chrysalis of the Negro problem were are achieving something like a spiritual emancipation.” By shedding this “chrysalis”, Alain is showing how the attitude and mindset of the negro is no longer shaken by inferiority and is now receiving spiritual freedoms.
Racism in America seems to be a universally known concept and Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” demonstrates his thoughts of the American dream. This poem also contrasts Hughes’ hopes for America with the reality of life for those outside of the socially and economically dominant racial, religious, and social groups. In the poem he says, “American was never America to me.” What he means is America was supposed to be where freedom reigns, where opportunities are available, and where equality was important. By saying “Let America be America again” Langston Hughes is trying to bring back the idea and desire to live in a place where everyones dreams could come true but unfortunately he is seeing that this entire concept is flipped upside down and inside out. This gimmick that was created fooled everyone especially African Americans looking for a new life with freedom.
These two works of literature show both sides of America through the lens of racism. In “The New Negro”, Locke shows that America has dug itself a hole and rid itself of its name “land of the free.” The African American people that were being oppressed by the white people of this country fought back because they realized that they had a voice and stood up for themselves and rejected that oppression which in a way shows the kinds of things America promised but tried to take away from a certain group of people because they were of another race. Langston Hughes essentially mirrors Locke with his poem “Let America Be America Again.” In his poem he shares what he thought America is about and how it lacks the aspect of the American dream it is so well known for; things like a better life, when they suck you dry, things like equal opportunities, and then discriminate. What both authors show is that America contradicted itself with so many things that people lost respect for the country and fought back.
Fortunately, in todays society, there are not a lot of oppressed people that need to fight back. Today people are more sensitive and accepting when it comes to anyone and as a democracy, we have the power to voice our opinion. One of the greatest leaders our nation had and was influenced by was Martin Luther King Jr. He fought for change and love and equality. In 1963, he wrote a letter called “The Letter from Birmingham” and in it he says “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affect one directly affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther is trying to convey the unity between us and how one injustice affects all of us even if it is indirect.
His letter was used to demonstrate how to fight back against racism in a nonviolent manner. Langston Hughes had a rather larger influence on Martin Luther King Jr. especially in his speeches. He would refer to Hughes’ poems in his speeches but would never utter the poets name to prevent havoc.
Langston Hughes and Alain Locke both influenced power of the people and that changed history. Both of these texts revealed how conceptions of race and its relationship to American culture have changed over time.