Shuyler’s account on the relationship between African American artists and their community and particularly their social responsibility for it, proceeds from the point that recently anticipated revolution of African art was in fact not so much effective in representing general African identity, but instead was limited to American culture: “But these are contributions of a caste in a certain section of the country. They are foreign to Northern Negroes, West Indian Negroes, and African Negroes” (Schuyler, 1926).
Shuyler argues that such inability of Afro Americans to produce their distinct and what is more important universal Afro culture is because they are Americans in the first place and Afro-Americans in the second. They are embedded in American social, cultural and economic context, which includes speaking the same language, going to the same churches, having similar jobs and sharing the same social and economic problems with white population. The themes, used by Afro American in literature, drama etc.
are, according to Shuyler are much the same of those used by White Americans. In short, according to Shuyler, Afro Americans tend more to express their nationality, rather than their race. In these conditions, the main responsibility of genuine Afro-American artists is to avoid articulating racial differences between them and White Americans. There is no denying the importance of the fact, that Shuyler’s position has both strengths and weaknesses.
General strength of this position is that it tries to avoid racial differences between Afro Americans and White Americans by arguing that they belong to the same culture, nation and society and have much to share, which is in fact is evident in their art, literature and music. However, such conclusion in fact, being good in intent avoids essential social and cultural questions, which create divisions within American society, resulting in the polarization of Afro American and White American communities.
Shuyler avoids explaining social roots of such Afro American forms of art as blues, spirituals, jazz, arguing that they bear on mild influence on African culture in general. However, this thesis contradicts his point that cultural products are essentially national in their character, but not racial. Taking this position as a starting point, it becomes evident that Afro Americans created their own culture within general American culture and it has its distinct features, which can not be reduced to White American culture.
Afro American music, as much research suggests, is a product of social inequality and racism, which were suffered predominantly by Afro-American population. Unlike Shuyler’s Langston Hughes’ positions focuses on the genuine and close relationship of Afro-American artist to his black community. To be a distinguished artist, an Afro American should not avoid his own identity, or as Hughes puts it, ‘run away spiritually from his race’ (Hughes, 1926). According to Hughes, the higher is social status of Afro American family, less its members are prone to understand their own culture and become distinguish artists.
Richness in Afro American family is synonymous to ‘whiteness’ of their culture. In contrast, low social status often is the source of interest to one’s own community music, dances and social codes. However, even in such conditions, Afro American artist to be genuine, should break ties with his/her own culture and social status to look at it from the neutral position. The latter makes him/her the object of criticism coming both from his own community and White community. There is no denying the importance of the fact, that Hughes’ position has both strengths and weaknesses.
The major advantage of this position is that it sees the influence of social and racial roots on the formation of Afro-American art and understands that assimilation of Afro-Americans through social welfare, economic status results in the loosing of their intrinsic ties with Afro-American community and culture. However, unlike Shuyler, Hughes loses the significance of general American culture and society on the formation of Afro-American art and appeals to the particularization of Afro-American culture.
In this way, Hughes fails to dialectically assess the interrelationship between social inequality and social homogeneity in the formation of Afro-American culture in the American society. 3. Booker T. Washington, being a major leader of Afro-American community during 20 years (1895-1915) had a strong voice in promoting his own approach to the integration of Afro American community in American society as its full-fledged part, endowed with equal rights. Booker T. Washington amidst of segregation and racial discrimination in the U. S.
focused on economic progress of Afro Americans, based on Protestant morality of hard work, thrift, personal ethics, industrial education etc. He argued that political and social activism, aimed at gaining equal civil, social and political rights is not effective means in achieving equality. In contrast, economic development and advancement would, according to Booker T. Washington, provide Afro Americans with respect and equal participation in the life of American society. According to Washington, proper education and development of Afro Americans in the South would make them look friendlier in the eyes of White Americans.
The latter would guarantee Afro Americans’ abide to American laws, because they would have much to lose. Moreover, economic and social development would promote cooperation between White and Afro American population. Washington’s approach has both weaknesses and strengths. Its major strength lies in understanding the fact that Afro American Enlightenment, including effective education and economic development is effective in promoting integration of black people in American society and their cooperation with other races.
The latter position may be described as modernist, because it sees in moral, economic and educational progress the source of freedom and equality. However, together with it is evident that Washington fails to understand that the absence of social, civil and political rights and continuous racial discrimination are the basic factors, preventing genuine development of Afro American’s economic, social and educational welfare. Civil and political equality are central to democracy and representation of Afro American position in American society.
If they are absent, economic and educational development becomes a heaven for several dozens representatives of Afro American elite, not to the majority of black population. Du Bois, unlike Washington, focuses on the importance of breading Afro American leadership – Talented Tenth, as he calls it, which would lead black population to their moral development and freedom. Du Bois criticizes Washington for abandoning the agenda of struggle for civil and political rights, arguing that Washington’s position is detrimental to Afro American movement for liberation.
Du Bois argues that Afro American manhood, rather than industrial and specialized skills should be developed in order to avoid the dependent position within American society. The role of Afro American leadership was central in raising the masses and providing them with liberationist ideology. All talented abolitionists focused on the struggle against racial discrimination, rightly seeing in it the main preventive mechanism of black community’s development.
To bring Afro-American leadership the best of black youth should be educated in the best schools and universities. However, as Du Bois points out, ‘all men can not go to college, but some men must’ (DuBois, 164). Du Bois’ position has many advantages in comparison to that of Washington. First, it proceeds from the right supposition that the development of black American community is premised on its liberation from racial segregation, discrimination and persecution.
The latter requires intensive struggle for political, civil and social rights. Du Bois’ understanding of education as the formation of personality, rather than gaining separate skills is also very interesting and humanistic. However, it should be noted that his approach to black community activism is rather elitist in essence. Du Bois’ concept of Talented Tenth ignores the fact that the divisions within black community, both power and educational may result in inner tensions within Afro American community.
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