essay on african american literature

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Essay on african american literature math homework assignment

Essay on african american literature

The black man who is no longer forced to ride Jim Crow is still, he points out, unlikely to be able to "afford to ride first class in Georgia or in Illinois or in California," and may even be unable "to afford the price of any ticket whatsoever. The most recent unemployment rate for black men is But to understand American inequality in these terms — to argue, in effect, that "current inequalities are simply more subtle attempts to reestablish the terms of racial hierarchy that existed for much of the twentieth century" — is, Warren thinks, to "misunderstand both the nature of the previous regime and the defining elements of the current one.

It is instead that the way we do inequality now including the way we do racial inequality is not the way we did it then, and that acting as if it is constitutes both an intellectual mistake you get the history wrong and a political mistake you end up making things more unequal instead of less.

In other words, he's not denying, that "post-Jim Crow remains a society of dramatic inequalities" or that "black Americans are disproportionately represented among those who lack adequate health care, incomes," etc. On the contrary, as Warren understands very well, post-Jim Crow society is actually even more unequal than Jim Crow society was.

In , the bottom quintile made 4. And blacks are still underrepresented at the top and over-represented on the bottom. Warren's answer, expressed in terms he cites from Adolph Reed, is a "class basis. Instantly, the effort to make enough money to pay private school tuitions is turned into the fight against racism; the desire to have more than everyone else becomes the desire to be as worthy as everyone else; the struggle for wealth becomes the struggle for equality.

There are, however, as Warren insists, limits to the transformative powers of anti-racism. For one thing, it's not at all obvious that racism is the central obstacle to black wealth today, a point he makes by suggesting that what Thomas's narrator "experiences as racial exclusion is also — perhaps even primarily — a matter of economic exclusion. Nonetheless, black students are still under-represented in college because, unlike sociology, reality doesn't net out socioeconomic status, and the reality is that socioeconomic status is by far the largest factor in determining who goes to college and who doesn't.

So black students are still excluded but it's their poverty and not their color that's excluding them. A plausible and entirely accurate response is, of course, that their color continues to play a role because the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is responsible for their disproportionate poverty. Without Jim Crow, black kids today wouldn't be so disproportionately poor and would be going to college in at least the same proportion as white kids. The way race continues to matter, then, is as history, which is why Warren emphasizes what he describes as a kind of structural nostalgia for Jim Crow in African American literature today.

The writing of the Jim Crow period itself was, he says, "prospective" — oriented toward the goal of a future in which Jim Crow would be overcome. African American writing now is "retrospective" — occasionally nostalgic for the racial solidarity achieved during actually enforced by segregation itself, and usually committed to remembering the abuses of the past as the key to understanding and overcoming those of the present.

But insofar as poverty is the problem, Warren argues, history has nothing to do with the solution. After all, from the standpoint of the poor, why does the history of how they became poor matter? For some people, as Warren points out, "the story of their current impoverishment can be narrated as a tale beginning with the capture and enslavement of their ancestors, for others such a tale is not possible," yet, he acidly concludes, "their impoverishment is equally real.

Why should it matter that one kid is too poor to go to college because, say, racism kept his parents out of the union while another kid can't go because his parents' union got busted? What Warren argues, then, is not only that we misunderstand contemporary inequality when we explain it in terms of the ongoing legacy of racism but also that we render ourselves incapable of doing anything about it.

It's not that racism has disappeared; it's that anti-racism can make much less of a contribution to ending poverty than rebuilding the union movement might. After all, the most anti-racism ever promises is to replace disproportionate black poverty with proportionate black poverty, swapping out some upwardly mobile blacks for downwardly mobile whites or Asians. He might have said that not only does their success have less and less to do with alleviating inequality, it has more and more to do with producing it.

Which is, in effect, what he does say when he characterizes "black intellectuals" as pursuing a politics that serves their own interests rather than the interests of "their people," and notes that Jim Crow at least "made such a politics seem plausible as a race-group enterprise.

Or unless we give up the "race," turn the "group" into a "class," and point out that white elites get at least as much out of this politics as black elites do. After all, once social justice is reconfigured as diversifying elites rather than eliminating them, the point of what Warren calls a "class politics" is clear: economic inequality is fine so long as the white people who benefit from it start including an appropriate number of African Americans.

And the array of intellectuals of all colors standing shoulder to shoulder in their commitment to contesting "the status quo" by reminding us of "the history of racial trauma" testifies to the attractiveness of that politics. Black and white, unite and fight! For rich people! Of course, this isn't exactly the way we intellectuals actually think of ourselves.

Virtually every book and article devoted to denouncing the insidious persistence of racism also has a harsh word or two for the inequities of class. But the problem is not just that more attention is paid to race and gender and sexuality and disability and every possible site of discrimination than to class; it's that our emphasis on anti-discrimination has itself turned into a technology of domination, an effort to ensure that everybody has equality of access to markets so that the inequalities produced by the markets themselves can then be regarded with relative equanimity.

Presenting itself as a relatively modest account of what was , the book is in fact a brilliant and ambitious attack on what is. It consigns African American literature to the past not because it seeks to deny the existence of ongoing racial inequality but because it wants to question the politics of our commitment to overcoming it. And it argues not that we can make the world a better place just by acting as if race doesn't matter but that, by acting as if race is the thing that matters most, we make it worse.

I found it a welcome and relevant question. Wolfe's film celebrating the soulways of a ss black community in New York, the student invited the class to mourn the passing of a time "when we were colored," when "we" had black neighbors, black music, black food, and black literature within reach of our black fingers. I was baffled by how the student's yearning for de jure segregation as the font of black cultural production could follow so closely, so scandalously, on the heels of six weeks of lectures on torture, lynching, captivity, disenfranchisement, sexual violence, and ideological assault; still, her longing for a golden era — for a light at the beginning of the tunnel, before the end of blackness — was, in a sense, a melancholic attachment to the very object of the class.

Indeed, in today's classrooms, African American literature might only exist as a spectre of history provoking, if stubbornly eluding, the troubling questions that Warren's book thoughtfully engages: How do we define "African American" in a post-identity politics university? What counts as "African American literature"? In compact pages, Warren manages to defamiliarize the very notion of national ethnic literatures, unfold provocative readings of texts as diverse as George Schuyler's Black No More and Michael Thomas's Man Gone Down , and rally our deepest fear: that we are obsolete.

Warren's "was" for African American literature depends on a double claim about history: that African American literature was called into being as a response to the specific historical conditions of Jim Crow segregation, and that contemporary conjurings of African American literature as a discrete and identifiable tradition betray an ahistorical longing for a racial solidarity that, after Jim Crow, can no longer be innocently claimed.

The former claim will no doubt find a sympathetic audience among some literary historians, especially since the documents Warren analyzes — W. The latter claim — that any invocation of "African American literature" is based on a misplaced belief in racial unity that is untenable after civil rights — is, of course, more controversial.

Whereas African American literature was at its inception prospective — that is, it saw itself as an inchoate cultural expression of a disenfranchised people that would someday reach maturity and so make itself obsolete — African American writing today is retrospective. When racial identity can no longer be law, it must become either history or memory — that is, it must be either what some people once were but that we no longer are, or the way we were once upon a time, which still informs the way we are.

I agree with Warren that it is a mistake to equate current racial inequalities with Jim Crow realities, that such an equation "misunderstands both the nature of the previous regime and the defining elements of the current one. In making his argument that much American scholarship betrays a nostalgia for racial segregation, and in his attempt to disabuse scholars and writers of their suspect uplift projects he writes against "a belief that the welfare of the race as a whole depends on the success of black writers and those who are depicted in their texts" , Warren ignores many of the theorists who might actually be as invested as he is himself in the project of understanding the relationships between power and cultural production in the present.

Even if, as Warren suggests, racism no longer exists as a function of law, how else are we to understand the relation of race to Death Row, what Ruth Wilson Gilmore, in Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California , calls the "group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death"? How are we to understand the function of race in the late-twentieth century "terror formation" of western warfare — what Achille Mbembe calls the "concatenation of biopower, the state of exception, and the state of siege" "Necropolitics," Public Culture ?

To claim that "racism" simply "still exists" is, of course, no discovery at all. But how are we to understand the neoliberal project of making racial hierarchy taboo — a project which depends on the reproduction of social hierarchies that at least loosely correspond to race — except as a form of complicity with contemporary configurations of state, corporate, and academic power? The redeployment of racial particularity in the service of post-civil rights U. If this is, as Roderick Ferguson suggests, "a racial state we have never seen before, one that does not enunciate itself primarily through abstract universalism but that articulates itself through minority difference" "An American Studies Meant for Interruption," , what are the cultural effects of this new age's public racework?

And insofar as a deployment of racial difference throughout the post-civil rights era calls for a "new" African American literature and finds elaboration in recent writing by black Americans such as August Wilson's Radio Golf , Alice Randall's Rebel Yell , and Evie Shockley's The New Black , we might read this literature as self-consciously writing itself into a "tradition" that was, as indeed Warren intimates, always contested, and therefore never contained by any innocent notion of racial unity or essentialist sensibility.

Witness Charles Johnson's citing "the creation of a true black middle class" as evidence of the "end" of African American narrative as a medium of social protest and as the basis for African American literature's reboot; "The End of the Black American Narrative" in The American Scholar. Warren leaves us with several productively troubling conclusions. First, he argues,. African American literature does little more than to summon the past as guarantor of the altruistic interests of the current elites and to express this cadre's proprietary interest in the tastes and habits of the more exploited members of our society under circumstances in which the success of these elites has less and less to do with the type of social change that would make a profound difference in the fortunes of those at the bottom of our socioeconomic order.

This suggestion, that black writers are misguided in their attempts to speak to and for "the race," leads to a second conclusion about African American literature: "Those who write it, and those who write about it, need it to distinguish the personal odysseys they undertake to reach personal success from similar endeavors by their white class peers.

More importantly, he risks pushing the present aside along with history. Another playwright who gained attention was Amiri Baraka , who wrote controversial off-Broadway plays. In more recent years, Baraka became known for his poetry and music criticism. It is also worth noting that a number of important essays and books about human rights were written by the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. One of the leading examples of these is Martin Luther King Jr. Beginning in the s, African American literature reached the mainstream as books by Black writers continually achieved best-selling and award-winning status.

This was also the time when the work of African American writers began to be accepted by academia as a legitimate genre of American literature. As part of the larger Black Arts Movement , which was inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, African American literature began to be defined and analyzed. A number of scholars and writers are generally credited with helping to promote and define African American literature as a genre during this time period, including fiction writers Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and poet James Emanuel.

James Emanuel took a major step toward defining African American literature when he edited with Theodore Gross Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America , a collection of black writings released by a major publisher. Toni Morrison , meanwhile, helped promote Black literature and authors in the s and '70s when she worked as an editor for Random House , where she edited books by such authors as Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones.

Morrison herself would later emerge as one of the most important African American writers of the 20th century. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye , was published in Among her most famous novels is Beloved , which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in This story describes a slave who found freedom but killed her infant daughter to save her from a life of slavery.

Another important Morrison novel is Song of Solomon , a tale about materialism , unrequited love , and brotherhood. In the s novelist and poet Alice Walker wrote a famous essay that brought Zora Neale Hurston and her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God back to the attention of the literary world. An epistolary novel a book written in the form of letters , The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a young woman who is sexually abused by her stepfather and then is forced to marry a man who physically abuses her.

The novel was later made into a film by Steven Spielberg. The s also saw African American books by and about African American life topping the bestseller lists. A fictionalized account of Haley's family history—beginning with the kidnapping of his ancestor Kunta Kinte in Gambia through his life as a slave in the United States— Roots won the Pulitzer Prize and became a popular television miniseries.

Haley also wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X in African American poets have also garnered attention. Cassells is a recipient of the William Carlos Williams Award. Lesser-known poets such as Thylias Moss also have been praised for their innovative work. More recently, Edward P. African American literature has also crossed over to genre fiction. A pioneer in this area is Chester Himes , who in the s and '60s wrote a series of pulp fiction detective novels featuring "Coffin" Ed Johnson and "Gravedigger" Jones, two New York City police detectives.

Himes paved the way for the later crime novels of Walter Mosley and Hugh Holton. African Americans are also represented in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, with Samuel R. Delany , Octavia E. Saunders , John Ridley , John M. Faucette , Sheree Thomas and Nalo Hopkinson being just a few of the well-known authors. As a matter of fact, the literature industry in the United States including publishing and translation has always been described as predominantly white.

Du Bois that were translated into many languages. However, for each of those literary works, there were dozens of novels, short stories and poems written by white authors that gained the same or even greater recognition. What is more, there were many literary pieces written by non-English speaking white authors that were translated into the English language.

These works are widely known across the United States now. It is proof that there is a considerable gap in the literature that is available for US readers. This issue contributes to the problem of racial discrimination fostering the ignorant awareness of the white community. Finally, African American literature has gained added attention through the work of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey , who repeatedly has leveraged her fame to promote literature through the medium of her Oprah's Book Club.

At times, she has brought African American writers a far broader audience than they otherwise might have received. Hip-hop literature has become popular recently popular in the African American community. In the 21st century, the Internet has facilitated publication of African American literature.

Founded in by Memphis Vaughn, TimBookTu has been a pioneer offering an online audience poetry, fiction, essays and other forms of the written word. While African American literature is well accepted in the United States, there are numerous views on its significance, traditions, and theories.

To the genre's supporters, African American literature arose out of the experience of Blacks in the United States, especially with regards to historic racism and discrimination, and is an attempt to refute the dominant culture's literature and power. In addition, supporters see the literature existing both within and outside American literature and as helping to revitalize the country's writing.

To critics [ who? In addition, there are some within the African American community who do not like how their own literature sometimes showcases Black people. Throughout American history, African Americans have been discriminated against and subject to racist attitudes.

This experience inspired some Black writers, at least during the early years of African American literature, to prove they were the equals of European-American authors. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr, has said, "it is fair to describe the subtext of the history of black letters as this urge to refute the claim that because blacks had no written traditions they were bearers of an inferior culture.

By refuting the claims of the dominant culture, African American writers were also attempting to subvert the literary and power traditions of the United States. Some scholars assert that writing has traditionally been seen as "something defined by the dominant culture as a white male activity. By borrowing from and incorporating the non-written oral traditions and folk life of the African diaspora , African American literature broke "the mystique of connection between literary authority and patriarchal power.

This view of African American literature as a tool in the struggle for Black political and cultural liberation has been stated for decades, perhaps most famously by W. Du Bois. According to Joanne Gabbin, a professor, African American literature exists both inside and outside American literature. Even though African Americans have long claimed an American identity, during most of United States history they were not accepted as full citizens and were actively discriminated against.

As a result, they were part of America while also outside it. Similarly, African American literature is within the framework of a larger American literature, but it also is independent. As a result, new styles of storytelling and unique voices have been created in relative isolation.

The benefit of this is that these new styles and voices can leave their isolation and help revitalize the larger literary world McKay, This artistic pattern has held true with many aspects of African-American culture over the last century, with jazz and hip hop being just two artistic examples that developed in isolation within the Black community before reaching a larger audience and eventually revitalizing American culture.

Since African American literature is already popular with mainstream audiences, its ability to develop new styles and voices—or to remain "authentic," in the words of some critics—may be a thing of the past. Some conservative academics and intellectuals argue that African American literature exists as a separate topic only because of the balkanization of literature over the last few decades, or as an extension of the culture wars into the field of literature.

These critics reject bringing identity politics into literature because this would mean that "only women could write about women for women, and only Blacks about Blacks for Blacks. People opposed to this group-based approach to writing say that it limits the ability of literature to explore the overall human condition. Critics also disagree with classifying writers on the basis of their race, as they believe this is limiting and artists can tackle any subject.

Proponents counter that the exploration of group and ethnic dynamics through writing deepens human understanding and previously, entire groups of people were ignored or neglected by American literature. The general consensus view appears to be that American literature is not breaking apart because of new genres such as African American literature.

Instead, American literature is simply reflecting the increasing diversity of the United States and showing more signs of diversity than before in its history Andrews, ; McKay, Some of the criticism of African American literature over the years has come from within the community; some argue that black literature sometimes does not portray black people in a positive light and that it should. Du Bois wrote in the NAACP 's magazine The Crisis on this topic, saying in "We want everything that is said about us to tell of the best and highest and noblest in us.

We insist that our Art and Propaganda be one. Du Bois's belief in the propaganda value of art showed when he clashed in with the author Claude McKay over his best-selling novel Home to Harlem. Du Bois thought the novel's frank depictions of sexuality and the nightlife in Harlem appealed only to the "prurient demand[s]" of white readers and publishers looking for portrayals of Black "licentiousness.

Addressing prejudice between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned Blacks, the novel infuriated many African Americans, who did not like the public airing of their "dirty laundry. Many African American writers thought their literature should present the full truth about life and people. He wrote that Black artists intended to express themselves freely no matter what the Black public or white public thought. More recently, some critics accused Alice Walker of unfairly attacking black men in her novel The Color Purple Robert Hayden , the first African American Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress , critiqued the idea of African American literature by saying paraphrasing the comment by the black composer Duke Ellington about jazz and music : "There is no such thing as Black literature.

There's good literature and bad. And that's all. In order to substantiate this claim, he cites both the societal pressures to create a distinctly black American literature for uplift and the lack of a well formulated essential notion of literary blackness. For this scholar, the late 19th and early 20th centuries de jure racism crystallized the canon of African American literature as black writers conscripted literature as a means to counter notions of inferiority.

In an alternative reading, Karla F. Holloway 's Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing Literature Duke University Press , suggests a different composition for the tradition and argues its contemporary vitality. Legal Fictions argues that the social imagination of race is expressly constituted in law and is expressively represented through the imaginative composition of literary fictions.

As long as US law specifies a black body as " discrete and insular ," it confers a cognizable legal status onto that body. US fictions use that legal identity to construct narratives — from neo-slave narratives to contemporary novels such as Walter Mosley 's The Man in My Basement — that take constitutional fictions of race and their frames contracts, property, and evidence to compose the narratives that cohere the tradition.

African American women's literature is literature created by American women of African descent. African American women like Phillis Wheatley Peters and Lucy Terry in the 18th century are often cited as the founders of the African American literary tradition. Social issues discussed in the works of African American women include racism , sexism , classism and social equality.

In the article "Mechanisms of Disease: African-American Women Writers, Social Pathologies, and the Limits of Medicine" , Ann Folwell Stanford argues that novels by African American women writers Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, and Gloria Naylor offer a feminist critique of the biomedical model of health that reveals the important role of the social racist, classist, sexist contexts in which bodies function.

In , Barbara Christian discusses the issue of "minority disclosure. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

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Introduction to African American Literature - Bryan Carter

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