The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was perhaps one of the most culturally innovative times of African-American culture as it was a burst of artistic, cultural and social introduction of black talent. The credit for this shift in African-American cultural fluency is often given to author and poet Langston Hughes, who used his flair of rhythmic words to integrate his knowledge of the African-American struggle into his poems.
What most likely made Hughes a Harlem Renaissance pioneer was his shameful portrayal of African American pride, struggle and resistance. Hughes was also one of, if not the first, poetic blues writers of this time. Hughes, no doubt, had a love of music and spearheaded what was to be known as jazz poetry.
Hughes’s most notable contribution to this time was his summary of the Harlem Renaissance which he described as, “when the negro was in vogue”. Many African-Americans began to contribute to the Harlem Renaissance through music, art and social standings. Creatives such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Josephine Baker and Alain Locke are among the many who used their flair of poetry, fashion and art to demand racial equality for African-Americans in not only Harlem, but around the world.
I believe the creative culture of our generation today to be a modern-day Renaissance Movement. From rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Nipsey Hussle, and Common to athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams, all the way to political activists/celebrities such as Jesse Williams, Rowan Blanchard, Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, and Wyclef Jean, Black America today is in vogue. The new term today is being “woke” and we are experiencing Black America today to be more woke than ever. Social media has taken over as a means to distribute information to the public and has changed the way art and social activism come together. Public figures are using their platforms to demand racial equality for not only Blacks, but all minorities of the world.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a tremendous circuit of Black art. Directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton produced an array of Black films that spoke loudly messages from African-Americans to the rest of the world what was taking place in our communities. Those decades also saw the African American south through the eyes of authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. African-Americans are no strangers to bringing our stories to fruitition through creative means. Today, it is the time of the Millennials to produce Black content and tell stories of the Black experience our own way.
The recent release of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Black Panther, is a bold depiction of where art meets cinema, specifically the history of the film’s fictional African country of Wakanda. The beauty of Wakanda is that it is the only African country to have not been colonized. For this reason, they moonlight as a third-world country to protect their territory from outsiders as well as their most powerful natural resource, vibranium. The country is rich in ancient rituals and customs and home to technological advancements unseen by the rest of the world. Wakanda is said to be a depiction of what Africa might look like today had the continent not been colonized hundreds of years ago.
What would African-American creative culture look like today had it not been for artists like Langston Hughes and many after him who were bold enough to tell Black stories shamelessly and publicly? We have been given performances, paintings, speeches, songs, dances and movies that depict both the resilience and beauty of the African American struggle, just like in 1920s Harlem. Thank you to Langston Hughes for pioneering the beautiful event that was the Harlem Renaissance, so that we can see what we see today. Today, we too sing America.
“I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.”
– Langston Hughes
By: Chantelle Polite (M-Lifestyle Guest Writer)
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