Harlem is a neighborhood located in the upper side of Manhattan. In the early 20th century it became the hub of African American culture. Here lies a place in New York City that radiated with new ideas, imaginations, and a newfound identity for African Americans. What is recognized as the Harlem Renaissance is a movement that was curated to establish a foundation for social activism and to voice a new spirit for Black culture. During this time period there was a newfound appreciation for culture and art. It was encouraged and welcome for those creatives to work their magic and use their skills to create art that represented the true meaning of black identity.
However, when it comes to African American women, the representation and acknowledgement hasn’t been so easy. It seems as though the way they have been portrayed, viewed, or told to act was always spelled out for them from the basis of a man. For a time period that was meant to expand African American culture, it was still difficult for women to speak their mind without being censored or ridiculed. Thankfully, through the need to progress as a community and through the works of many influential African American women and men, there was actually a huge change in that framework, and it has broken down a lot of stereotypes and boundaries that once seemed impossible to get away from. Essentially, the blog posts focus on countering injustices while highlighting pride and excellence and encouraging feelings of love, freedom, and change. These blogs are an ode to the African American men and women who worked so diligently to carve a path for the brighter future, while at the same time sharing the new ideas that came to the light. The Harlem Renaissance is painted as this Golden Age of art and creativity and it makes you wonder how it influenced African American women and allowed them to finally portray themselves in a way that was their own.
“Crisis Queen” is a blog post meant to call attention to the wonders that publications had on using your voice to establish black identity. The Crisis is a publication that was created with the intent of highlighting real African American culture. A lot of what you see in the magazine is aesthetically pleasing covers. These covers were created to stand out and establish the identity of African Americans by African Americans. It’s a pretty liberating concept to be able to express yourself in your own way instead of being labeled as so and so by a white person. Not only was racial prejudice one of the biggest causes for these publications, but they also invoked a sense of appreciation for African Americans. What you see on those covers and pages is a bunch of beautiful women and educated people and it undoubtedly influenced the people. African American women were being exhibited in a beautiful way and being recognized for their accomplishments. This had women inspired to create on their own accord and in turn also influence the younger generation to do the same. Du Bois founded The Crisis, and image was a big subject for him. According to Harris, “Du Bois wasted no time in putting black women playwrights to work for the racial cause. In 1915, he organized the NAACP’s Drama Committee, and by 1916 his committee sponsored Angelina Weld Grimke’s Rachel, the first drama used “to focus national attention on racial oppression” (Harris, 133). Due to his need for establishing black identity, Du Bois used women to help in his efforts to secure a voice for African Americans. In a way it also gave women a voice and it was a positive thing in terms of working towards depicting themselves in a proper and humanistic way.
“How Fantasy Opens New Ideas for Reality” is a blog post that works to counter the norms and stereotypical portrayals of African American women while encouraging love and freedom. This blog post was formed on the idea that fiction puts a new take on informing and inspiring people when it comes to certain topics. Of course racial prejudice, the New Negro, and black identity were all recognized during the Harlem Renaissance and supported by facts, but fictive works really helped people establish new ideologies for such major topics. Fiction allows for a more personal and in depth reading of such topics and it supports raw emotions and new ideas. What’s referenced in this blog post is the publication Survey Graphic, which includes a numerous amount of poems, stories, personal essays, and visuals. One of the famous young writers during the Harlem Renaissance whose work is included in Survey Graphic is Countee Cullen. Cullen is a poet who encourages self-expression. It’s evident in his work that he supports black feminist ideals and encourages autonomy, which is not agreed on by many. Instead of doing what men would want a Black woman to do, Cullen supports following your own path and living life to the fullest. Apart from Cullen, there were many women Renaissance writers who worked to promote the same thoughts and ideas. According to Hebble, “As they wrote poetry and fiction, the women of the Harlem Renaissance walked the fine line between the conflicting ideals of the feminine and the radical. In doing so, many of these women addressed issues neglected by men but so very relevant to black women” (Hebble, 372). These women were crucial in the steps needed for change because there are some things men cannot address in the same way. Their fictive works were not only a strong basis for positive thinking in African American women, but also to reclaim their voice so that they can freely live and do as they please.
“Inspire the Youth is a blog that evokes the need for being active and speaking out against racial injustices while using the New Negro Movement to influence the youth and create a change. This movement encouraged new beginnings for social activism and a new spirit for black culture. Opportunity Magazine was another publication that was formed during the Harlem Renaissance and its main goals were to expand on literary culture to expose to the younger generation in hopes of sparking a change. Topics like gaining control of black representation and using your voice to promote freedom are ideas publications like Opportunity hoped to call attention to. Countee Cullen was one of these inspirational voices included in the publication and his take on poetry alludes to charming ideas of following your heart and speaking up so that you are able to live the best life for yourself. Angelina W. Grimke was another young writer during this time whose works not only wanted to promote social activism but also promote pride for one’s accomplishments so that the future of Black America had something to look up to and use to help them keep change going. These young men and women of the time are doing the work of leading as role models for the youth, and there’s many others that follow them in this journey. According to Jones, “As a black female writer from the rural South who challenged racial, class, and sexual assumptions in her writing, self-representation, dress, and demeanor, Hurston has become an icon for many African American and women’s studies scholars interested in literary foremothers promoting feminist and black nationalist aesthetics.” Zora Neale Hurston was another influential woman whose work focused on telling the experience of an African American woman as one herself. This is contrary and pretty radical to older mentalities that hoped to only allow black women to be portrayed as to how men saw fit. These writers and creatives were considered the legacies for the youth, and it was crucial to immerse themselves in the New Negro Movement so that topics like black identity and black female representation were explained in an appropriate and revolutionary manner by those who had a right to discuss such topics.
“Quilted Colors” is a blog post that is meant to be a contemporary parallel, in the sense that it discusses revitalized ways that African American women have used their creative force to express themselves and their culture. The woman mentioned in this post is an artist born in Harlem named Faith Ringgold. Like her other respectable creatives Ringgold took inspiration from her life growing up in Harlem and African art. Her culture is reflected beautifully through the help of many vivid quilts. Her work does an amazing job of telling meaningful stories about African American women while combating racial stereotypes. Much like the New Negro Movement ideals, Chapman relates by writing, “McDougald declared that ‘the New Negro woman is courageously standing erect, developing within herself the moral strength to rise above and conquer false attitudes. She is maintaining her natural beauty and charm and improving her mind and opportunity” (Chapman, 114). The vision of a ‘New Negro woman’ is still being recognized today because you have these inspirational African American women who are creating this magic while at the same time making sure to instill progressive ideas about their culture in order to ultimately be at peace and be recognized through their own approach.
The portrayal of an African American woman is something that rightfully belongs to an African American woman. Imagine always being told to act a certain way or being viewed or depicted in such a demeaning and dehumanizing manner. Whether it’s being sexualized from such a young age or being told to follow such and such rules in order to be deemed appropriate, African American women have had such a hard time speaking up for themselves in a way that matters and lets their voice be heard. Revolutionary movements like the Harlem Renaissance paved a way to change such ridiculous notions and encouraged African Americans to use their wit and their skills to create art forms that respectfully identified who they are and changed the way society views and treats them. It’s uplifting reading or looking at language and art that allows a culture to properly represent themselves. It brings the voice back to those that should have it and allows them the right to define themselves without conforming to outdated norms set by those who were intolerant to allow a race to simply just be. It should be applauded that literary and artistic works influenced creative expression and helped make a change. African American women are valuable, heard and can be free to do whatever they please. A huge thanks goes to Harlem Renaissance ideologies that influenced people to be themselves and tell their stories through art, in hopes that in time it leads as a basis and inspires the future generation to continue working towards freedom.