Hughes - The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926)(1)

Hughes - The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926)(1)...

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June 23, 1926 Issue   The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain Langston Hughes on the real Harlem renaissance. By  Langston Hughes Everett Collection Zora Neale Hurston (1891- 1960) incorporated African American culture and folk ways into her plays, stories, novels. One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet–not a Negro poet,"  meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet"; meaning subconsciously, "I would like to be a white poet"; 
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meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever  been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy  would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America–this urge  within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization,  and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.  ADVERTISING But let us look at the immediate background of this young poet. His family is of what I suppose one would call the  Negro middle class: people who are by no means rich yet never uncomfortable nor hungry–smug, contented,  respectable folk, members of the Baptist church. The father goes to work every morning. He is the chief steward at a large white club. The mother sometimes does fancy sewing or supervises parties for the rich families of the town.  The children go to a mixed school. In the home they read white papers and magazines. And the mother often says,  "Don’t be like niggers" when the children are bad. A frequent phrase from the father is, "Look how well a white  man does things." And so the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all the virtues. It holds for the  children beauty, morality, and money. The whisper of "I want to be white" runs silently through their minds. This  young poet’s home is, I believe, a fairly typical home of the colored middle class. One sees immediately how  difficult it would be for an artist born in such a home to interest himself in interpreting the beauty of his own people. He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns.  For racial culture the home of a self-styled "high-class" Negro has nothing better to offer. Instead there will be  perhaps more aping of things white than in a less cultured or less wealthy home. The father is perhaps a doctor, 
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