Langston Hughes essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”
In 1926, Langston Hughes wrote an essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. In his essay, Hughes presents a situation where the African Americans felt inferior in their state black people and their culture and strove to embrace the culture of the whites. He did this by use of the African American poet who saw it good to be a white poet. During this time, the White people despised and looked down on the black people. Therefore, the blacks understood that it was better to be a white man or a white writer.
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The Negro poet suggested that he liked to be a white writer, meaning that he desired to be a white man (Hughes, Para. 1). According to Hughes, this was “the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America-this urge within the race towards whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be a little Negro and as much American as possible.” (Hughes, Para. 1).
Hughes also examines the state of the African American families of that time. The blacks made their children believe that the whites were superior. They forced their children to emulate the whites and try to be like them in all aspects. Any child who tried to behave like a black man received a severe punishment for that. The blacks were determined through all means to keep away their culture from their own children (Amada, para.2). The parents made their children see white as a symbol of virtue and success. This upbringing affected the lives of the children up to their adulthood because their parents made them to believe that in order to be part of the bigger society and be successful they had to behave as whites.
The essay also talks about the difference between the upper class and middle class African Americans. Hughes states that the way the two groups acted made them different, rather than their financial differences. They believed that they would climb higher in society according to the level they acted as white people in society.
Hughes wrote in criticism of the Negro poet who, in his writing desired to be a white man (Kelley, 126). He showed how the middle class and upper class African Americans tried to imitate the lifestyle and culture of the white men. The black Americans did this by shunning their Negro theatres, avoiding the Negro spiritual music, reading magazines of the whites and marrying light colored women in order for them to look like the whites. These classes of the blacks also tried to limit the Negro poets and writers on what they were supposed to write. These high class African Americans had started alienating themselves from the other black community. This class struggles to have respect in society even at the expense of losing their racial identity. These people were ashamed of their color as black people and did not want to see their own beauty. This is why they emulated the white people in physical appearance, in dressing in action and in the way they conducted their worship services.
Hughes also speaks about those African American artists who were true to their culture. They held faithfully to their culture, a thing that made the rest of the people to alienate them. This community of those who held to their culture survived well and their work is one of the most celebrated today.
The aim of Hughes’ essay was to elevate the beauty of the African Americans’ language and lifestyles to the national literary stage. He encouraged the Negro Artists to accept their own race and not to turn away from it. Hughes also suggested that any writer who wanted his artwork to look like or have some aspect of “whiteness” was not being true to himself or herself (Floyd-Miller, Para 4). The African Americans had set for themselves standards and strove to meet these standards in order to look like or live like the white Americans. Hughes’ goal, therefore, was to encourage the black artists to create obstacles to these standards by use of their relevant, significant and original work in order to change the belief the blacks had that whites were superior. This artwork was to serve the purpose of changing the black’s desire of wanting to be white to that of accepting that they were Negros and Beautiful. Hughes writes that to his mind, “it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘why should I want to be white? I am a Negro–and beautiful!” (Hughes, Para. 12)
Up to the 1960s, the American white community still despised the American black community. They never appreciated the work of most African Americans like poets and writers. However, this changed as the whites started taking interest in the black people’s artwork. The whites visited the black people’s community to enjoy their performances. Currently, this issue of discrimination of literary work has ceased and many of the black Americans’ literary work is celebrated today.
Hughes indicates that he has confidence in lower classes of the African Americans. He saw them as being free from the problems of self-esteem and that they were confident and satisfied in their nature as blacks. He saw this class of blacks as a source of inspiration using their artistic talents. Their struggle was not to appear respectable to the white readers thus resisted the pressure and wrote on the themes they felt were relevant in expressing themselves against what the whites wanted. This portrays the powerful artistic tool or weapon the lower class black Africans have.
According to Amada (Para. 3), although much has changed in the way the white Americans view the African Americans, the black community is still not fully accepted. There is still some racial discrimination in some towns of the United States of America. However, the black Americans have made substantial improvements socially, politically and economically.
In conclusion, Hughes’ essay can help us to know the way the African Americans related with themselves and with the whites in their society. It shows us how the white Americans looked down on the black Americans. We learn how the middle class and upper class African Americans yearned to de like the whites and their struggle to achieve this. It also shows how the lower class black people faced discrimination from the whites as well as the well off African Americans. The essay further shows how the black poets and writers managed to overcome the white’s pressure to write on the themes that they wanted while ignoring others. This brought about positive changes in the United States of America. The determination of the Negros helped the blacks to receive some level of acceptance in the American community. The whites finally accepted the literary work of the blacks including their poems, songs and books. With the turn of things, there is hope that things will be getting better until we get a united community at the end.
Floyd-Miller, Cherryl, African-American authors: Langston Hughes, putting the spotlight on the black experience, n.d, Web. October 31, 2010 http://www.helium.com/items/875493-african-american-authors-langston-hughes-putting-the-spotlight-on-the-black
Hughes, Langston, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. The Nation, 23 June 1926, March 15 2000. Web. October 31,2010. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/360.html
Kelly, B. James and Bloom, Harold, Bloom’s How to Write about Langston Hughes. Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.
Ligi, Amada, An Examination of the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain: A Story by Langston Hughes. February 21, 2009. Web. October 31, 2010. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1452600/an_examination_ofthe_negro_artist_and.html?cat=37
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