What is it to be black? What is it to be white? Why are so many people looking to fit under a color s stereotype? To be born black is no longer the only factor or standard of blackness. Langston Hughes is a highly celebrated and commended author of the Harlem Renaissance. In his essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, he addresses the mental state of one Negro artist wishing to be known as a poet, but not as a black one. Hughes takes this as saying that this man is trying to be and subconsciously wants to be white. In this I can agree. Langston tells of the subconscious effect on blacks, the different standards of blackness versus whiteness, and what is perceived to be a Negro artist in America.
In America we have this idea of black being something negative, while people with white skin are deemed to be better. In the essay, Hughes speaks of a middle class household of a young poet. The poet s mother would say things like, don t be like niggers, when all the children were not behaving properly. The father saying, look at how well a white man does things, cementing this subconscious attitude of white is right and black is bad into the minds of his offspring; thus, creating a cycle. They are subconsciously telling themselves that it is better to be Nordic than ethnic.
There are said differences within the conflict of standards between blackness and whiteness. Whites are seen to be landowners, politicians, and attorneys, while blacks are expected to be less than. When blacks obtain this status of whiteness, they tend to look down upon the distinct identity of their own people. Langston Hughes illustrates this with his example of the fashionable church where upper class Negroes would rather worship correctly and quietly [like dull Nordics,] than shout and sing old Negro hymns.
The outline for the Negro artist in America was to use broken language, jazz rhythms, and urban stories. Anything more was perceived to be white. Black readers wanted to hear about topics other than those that referred to their culture. Whites preferred black poets to focus solely on the dealings of their own personal backgrounds. Stereotypes were what whites wanted blacks to portray; on the other hand, blacks only wanted respectable description.
I do not agree with the idea of the young poet wanting to be white. I believe he just wanted to be a poet without stereotype. I agree with Mr. Hughes in pointing out the problems with what is perceived to be black, the standards of blackness, and the subconscious effect on blacks. Evidence of The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain still holds truth in present-day America. Fortunately for today, blackness is something that is definitely more accepted by whites. Black art, in all its many facets, has become a part of American society.