Are the ideas presented in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" by Langston Hughes still relevant today?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main argument of Hughes in this compelling essay concerns the way in which to be a black artist is to face opposition against both your own people and against the white majority that will comment upon your work. Often, as the following quote from this essay demonstrates, a black artist is stuck between a rock and a hard place:

The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whites. "Oh, be respectable, write about nice people, show how good we are," say the Negroes. "Be stereotyped, don't go too far, don't shatter our illusions about you, don't amuse us too seriously. We will pay you," say the whites.

There is therefore the danger, Hughes argues, of black artists not being true to their artistic selves and modifying what they write and want to express to try and satisfy either his own people or whites. A true black artist, Hughes says, will write what is on his or her heart without changing it and thinking about how their work will be received.

In a sense, I think there are ways in which this essay is still relevant today. Let us remember that so often authors are defined by their skin colour or ethnicity. If a woman writes a book, the fact that the author is a woman is majored on. Likewise if an African-American writes a book, this becomes very important as to how that work is marketed and sold. Whilst we could argue that such concerns as Hughes expresses have alleviated as a result of the Civil Rights movement and steps that have been taken towards equality, unfortunately ethnicity and race are still very powerful concerns.


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