Negritude was an early postcolonial intellectual and cultural movement
developing primarily in French-speaking colonies. Its ideology reacted against
light-dark color codes of superiority and inferiority, good and evil,
civilization and savagery that accompanied colonialism.
The term "negritude" was derived from French neger or "negro," derived
from Latin niger for "black."
Oxford English Dictionary:
The fact or quality of being of black African origin;
the affirmation or
consciousness of the value of black culture, esp. of a collective African
heritage and identity;
the cultural and political
movement based on this.
(The idea grew out of the meeting of
French-speaking African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris in the
1930s, most notably the Martiniquan poet,
Aimé Césaire (1913–2008),
who coined the term, and the Senegalese poet,
(1906–2001), who was president of Senegal from 1960 to 1980 and became the
central figure in the movement.)
noireism (associated with Harlem Renaissance of 1920s?)
negrismo (Spanish-speaking Caribbean)
Black Arts Movement (BAM) 1960s-70s > "The Black Aesthetic" =
"Black is Beautiful"
Effort to redeem blackness from associations with ugliness or
evil and establish its inherent beauty or value.
Stanford Encyclopedia of
review of Negritude Women (2003)
Poems from the Harlem Renaissance depicting
Negritude or Black Aesthetic
Question for each poem: How or where does the poet reverse or
complicate the color code?
Claude McKay (1889-1948), b. Jamaica
Langston Hughes (1902-67)
Countee Cullen (1903-46)
Negritude and its variants may be seen as a movement to subvert or equalize "the
color code" by which Western or European civilization equates positive and
negative values with light and dark:
1d. “The Color Code” (from
LITR 5731 &
4332 American Minority Literature)
Literature represents the extremely sensitive subject of skin
color infrequently or indirectly.
Western civilization transfers values associated with “light and dark”—e. g., good & evil, rational /
irrational—to people of light or dark complexions, with huge implications for
power, validity, sexuality, etc.
This course mostly treats minorities as a historical
phenomenon, but the biological or visual aspect of human identity may be
more immediate and direct than history. People most comfortably interact
with others who look like themselves or their family.
Skin color matters, but how much varies by circumstances.
Voices that have been marginalized revise the color code
to redefine darkness or give it a humanized identity
from Frantz Fanon, The Wretched
of the Earth. 1961. Trans. Richard Philcox. NY: Grove, 2004
150 Colonialism, little troubled by
nuances, has always claimed that the “nigger” was a savage, not an Angolan or a
Nigerian, but a “nigger.” For colonialism, this vast continent was a den of
savages, infested with superstitions and fanaticism, destined to be despised,
cursed by God, a land of cannibals, a land of “niggers.” Colonialism’s
condemnation is continental in scale. Colonialism’s claim that the precolonial
period was akin to a darkness of the human soul refers to the entire continent
The colonized’s endeavors to rehabilitate himself and escape the sting of
colonialism obey the same rules of logic. The colonized intellectual, steeped in
Western culture and set on proving the existence of his own culture, never does
so in the name of
The culture proclaimed is African culture. When the black man, who has never
felt as much a “Negro” as he has under white domination, decides to prove his
culture and act as a cultivated person, he realizes that history imposes on him
a terrain already mapped out, that history sets him along a very precise path
and that he is expected to demonstrate the existence of a “Negro” culture.
And it is all too true that the major
responsibility for this racialization of thought, or at least the way it is
applied, lies with the Europeans who have never stopped placing white culture in
opposition to the other noncultures. Colonialism did not think it worth its
while denying one national culture after the other. Consequently the colonized’s
response was immediately continental in scope. In
literature over the last twenty years has not been a national literature but a
“Negro” literature. The concept of negritude for example was the affective if
not logical antithesis of that insult which the white man had leveled at the
rest of humanity. This negritude, hurled against the contempt of the white man,
has alone proved capable in some sectors of lifting taboos and maledictions.
Because the Kenyan and / 151 Guinean intellectuals were above all confronted
with a generalized ostracism and the syncretic contempt of the colonizer, their
reaction was one of self-regard and celebration. Following the unconditional
affirmation of European culture came the unconditional affirmation of African
culture. Generally speaking the bards of negritude would contrast old Europe
versus young Africa, dull reason versus poetry, and stifling logic versus
exuberant Nature; on the one hand there stood rigidity, ceremony, protocol, and
skepticism, and on the other, naïveté, petulance, freedom, and, indeed,
luxuriance. But also irresponsibility.
The bards of negritude did not hesitate
to reach beyond the borders of the continent. Black voices from America
took up the refrain on a larger scale. The “black world” came into being, and
Busia from Ghana,
Birago Diop from Senegal,
Hampate Ba from Mali
and Saint-Clair Drake from
were quick to claim common ties and identical lines of thought. . . .
153 The African Society for Culture was to become the Cultural
Society for the Black World and was forced to include the black
diaspora, i.e., the dozens of millions of blacks
throughout the Americas.
The blacks who lived in the
United States, Central, and Latin
America in fact needed a cultural matrix to cling to. The problem
they were faced with was not basically any different from that of the Africans.
The whites in America
had not behaved any differently to them than the white colonizers had to the
Africans. We have seen how the whites were used to putting all
“Negroes” in the same basket. During the First Congress of the American Society
for Culture in Paris in 1956 the black
Americans spontaneously considered their problems from the same standpoint as
their fellow Africans. By integrating the former slaves into African
civilization, the African intellectuals accorded them an acceptable civil
status. But gradually the black Americans realized that their existential
problems differed from those faced by the Africans. The only
common denomination between the blacks from Chicago and the Nigerians
or Tanganyikans [present-day
Tanzania] was that they all defined
themselves in relation to the whites. But once the initial comparisons
had been made and subjective feelings had settled down, the black Americans
realized that the objective problems were fundamentally different. . . .
154 Negritude thus came up against its first limitation,
namely, those phenomena that take into account the historicizing of men. “Negro”
or “Negro-African” culture broke up because the men who set out to embody it
realized that every culture is first and foremost a nation, and that the problems
for which Richard Wright or Langston Hughes had to be on the alert were
fundamentally different from those faced by Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. .