How does Dutchman, a play written by Amiri Baraka, represent characteristics of the Black Arts Movement? 

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Jacob Christiansen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Amiri Baraka's Dutchman represents a primary characteristic of the Black Arts Movement right off the bat--it was written by an African American. 

The Black Arts Movement was an artistic endeavor that began just after (and some would say, was prompted by) the assassination of Malcolm X. The movement encouraged African Americans to engage in their own form of artistic endeavors, not to assimilate to white culture. 

That could mean starting primarily black publishing houses, journals, art galleries, or whatever else a black artist could think of. But its primary goal was to encourage black artists to do work that centered around the African American experience. 

In this way, Dutchman is a perfect example of the movement. Its drama centers around the black identity. Two strangers--a white woman and a young, black man--meet on the subway and begin a discussion on what it means to be black in America. The white woman (Lula) dares the black man (Clay) to pretend "that you are free of your own history." 

Lula challenges Clay on his suit, his language, and his rage--all fundamental to his very identify. Clay, in turn, argues that all black art is fueled by a secret, inner rage. Dutchman is about black identity, an issue that is fundamental to the African American community. 

A further characteristic of the Black Arts Movement (besides black artists doing work about black issues) is advocating for black separatism. The Black Arts Movement wanted its work to be solely the work of black folks, totally separate from white culture and white work.

Examine the conclusion of Dutchman. Lula, the white woman, stabs and kills Clay. What might that image say about how Baraka viewed white society's influence on black art? The two, Baraka seems to be arguing, cannot exist together. One will always kill the other.  

Read the study guide:
The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader

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