The New Negro Essay - Critical Context

Arthur Locke

Critical Context

The New Negro represented an African American intervention in debates about ethnicity, racial difference, cultural identity, and normative Americanism that were preoccupying the literate public. These issues shaped discussions of how the United States might deal with a rapidly changing population. In the face of Anglo-Saxon resentment that “model Americans” could not be made of the newer immigrants, social progressives countered that in diversity lay strength. In 1916, essayist and critic Randolph Bourne challenged the melting-pot model of Americanization. He urged that the ideal of a cosmopolitan federation of national cultures take its place. After the war, philosopher Horace Kallen weighed in with an equally cogent discussion of Culture and Democracy in the United States (1924). The emerging liberal consensus was consolidated with the Carnegie Corporation’s monumental ten-volume series of books on “Americanization Studies” published from 1918 to 1924. However, widespread nativist sentiment found political expression in the Immigration Act of 1924, which established entry quotas for less-favored foreign nationals.

Nevertheless, in the course of debating the incorporation of immigrant peoples on culturally equitable terms, a more flexible public language became available. American identity was reconceived as the composite product of multiple ethnic ingredients. Because pluralism was urged as an integral dimension of a...

(The entire section is 518 words.)