Negro-Art Hokum by George Schuyler and the Perspective of Langston Hughes in the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain: a Conception Essay

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George Schuyler was a conservative, social commentator most active during the mid 1900s. In 1926, he published a piece called “The Negro-Art Hokum” objecting to the perceived black difference in art and literature that the Harlem and Negro Renaissance exemplified. Langston Hughes responded to this piece with his piece “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” fundamentally disagreeing with this argument, expressing his beliefs that for a black person to produce work that was not authentic to their race was tantamount to wanting to be white. Schuyler’s logic is problematic, not only because much of his writing was able to be published and gained recognition because of the momentum of the Harlem and Negro Renaissance, but also because it neglects the importance of the beginnings of a black presence within literary and art communities that was lacking previously.

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Schuyler is wary of a difference in standards for black literature and art. He defends his beliefs that the literature should be held as excellent because of its quality and not because of the race of the author. He explains this, also noting that “the amount, however, is very small, but such as it is, it is meritorious because it is literature and not Negro literature. It is judged by literary and not by racial standards, which is as it should be.” The race of the author is not irrelevant because it has influenced a great deal of their experiences and therefore, most likely, impacted what and how they write. Furthermore, it is relevant that black Americans are writing; after years of being silenced, they are receiving recognition and attention for their voices and stories. I do not believe that this implies a different standard of quality, rather a recognition of another set of voices who struggled to come out of the framework and be heard.

Black difference is unfathomable to Schuyler. As long as a black and a white American speak the same language, make and ride in the same cars and read the same newspapers, it will not exist. He explains that when the black man, “responds to the same political, social, moral, and economic stimuli in precisely the same manner as his white neighbor, it is sheer nonsense to talk about ‘racial differences’ as between the American black man and the American white man.” Years of unrelenting, dehumanizing oppression under slavery, Jim Crow, hate crimes and other racially motivated forms of discrimination would argue that very different political, social, moral and economic stimuli impact black Americans. Racial differences do not exist in terms of capability, intelligence or biological factors, but the discrimination deeply embedded from generations of socialization creates circumstances that are not present in a white American’s life, but dominate the social, economic, political and moral mobility and perception of black Americans.

Schuyler holds strong to his belief that a white artist could produce anything a black artist did because of cultural, educational, economic and political factors and experiences. While Hughes argues against this as a perspective that discourages one to embrace their race and express it with pride, I believe it is additionally flawed in that it neglects to address very real and present adversity directed only towards American citizens who are black. His perspective does not want there to be a lesser or different standards for the work of black creatives, which I agree with, but I do believe that it is not negative or wrong for race to have a presence in the work.

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