The Black Fist

Negritude for long had been the essence of many writers with African lineage all over the world. Aimé Césaire and L-S. Senghor who coined the term in the 1930s encouraged French-speaking intellectuals in Africa and the Caribbean to embrace a certain pride about being Negro and to revolt against colonial values. The nostalgia for a lost culture and the glory of African heritage were responsible for a newfound pride among otherwise downtrodden blacks who were spoon fed white morals and attitudes.

Though these terms may sound crass and weird today, the journey of the blacks to what they are today has been riddled with violence and atrocities against them, revolutions and a common thread called black pride. However, many blacks themselves criticized negritude as an idea, for it seemed not to acknowledge contemporary political and economic issues of their adopted countries.

Existentialists like Sartre did much to encourage black writers to express themselves and criticize western civilization, which hides behind the persona of civility. Sartre’s Orphée Noir was an attempt to analyze negritude movement from an existentialist point of view. This was of great significance for hundreds of years black thinkers sought to make sense of their existence and the reason for their suffering.

David Mandessi Diop, who was born in France to African parents, was a standing symbol of the Negritude movement and rejected colonialism as being essentially evil. He celebrated African people and culture, and wrote poems filled with angst and dismay. In spite of the dark nature of his poems, Diop exuded a sense of optimism and hope for the African people.

Diop expressed his wish to return to his ancestral land in most of his poems, which sometimes is expressed in the most articulate terms. “Let these words of anguish keep time with your / restless step- / Oh I am lonely so lonely here”. In an effort to rebel against the language of the time, he adopted a colloquial style of writing and asserted hope and optimism, which can, for instance be found in ‘The Vultures’. “In spite of your songs and pride / In spite of the desolate villages of torn Africa / Hope was preserved in us as in a fortress / And from the mines of Swaziland to the factories of Europe / Spring will reborn under our bright steps.”

The Catholic Church and the White man’s false promises of friendship are symbolically suggested in his poems using words that suggest agony, metallic sounds, machine guns and torture. “Civilization kicked us in the face” and “holy water slapped our cringing brows” are examples that reflect his attitude towards European oppression. In ‘Nigger Tramp’ Diop declares, “I have never known you/But my face is filled with your blood” and dedicates that to his mother, Africa.

We can see a similar hope in “To a Black Dancer’ where the dancing black dame symbolizes Africa’s earnest desire to regenerate herself. She is a symbol for Africans who need to unchain themselves and their beloved continent from subtle oppression, though overt torture and oppression of the continent is long over.

While Diop had his share of contribution to the negritude movement, Harlem Renaissance was an equally powerful black movement that encouraged the African Americans to channelize their angst in a creative way. Perhaps Langston Hughes is a shining example of this movement, which found supporters all across the world, right from the West Indies to the back alleys of Parisian suburbs.

The white paternalism and superiority was challenged and ridiculed, and the creativity that resulted was rich, lush, and throbbing. The Harlem Renaissance celebrated the culture resulting from the inhuman slave ships that brought millions to the new world and a culture that could only faintly remember a continent long forgotten. Langston Hughes sought to be the ‘people’s poet’ suggesting a affinity towards communist values.

Literature has had a tremendous effect on the way blacks have come to view themselves, their heritage, and the world around them. Writers like Langston Hughes and David Diop have had different backgrounds and were part of different movements, but what connected them was the angst and distress at the thought of being removed from their mother, Africa. This removal was so tragic, it changed the way humans view themselves and their capacity for harming their own kind.

The resulting culture has been a colourful mosaic of text, movies, music, dance, painting, and rhetoric that has not only influenced future generations of black people, but also the way whites, Asians and others have come to view blacks. The creativity that resulted from a troubled past did not only channelize black angst but enriched cultures were previously alien to African heritage. The influences of negritude, Harlem Renaissance and other parallel movements have helped us to not only understand human capacity for violence and destruction, but also our capacity for resilience.

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  • Madhuri Katti

    True, parallel movements and culture which rose from historic angst and distress shows human capacity for resilience and also creativity in the face of extreme violence.

    • Jaiyant Cavale

      I think creative movements in response to violence and oppression is not limited to only the blacks. In fact, I would like to cite the example of Sufi music which was in a way a response to radicalism.