What were the effects of the Harlem Renaissance?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One effect of the Harlem Renaissance was to help illuminate the discourse concerning race and ethnicity in America.  With about a half a century having passed since the end of the Civil War, there was a great deal of challenge in articulating conditions of racial identity in America.  The Harlem Renaissance was critical in being able to open a dialogue about what it means to be Black in America.  At a time when this discussion was not fully evident to millions of people who struggled with the issue of racial identity in the nation, one of the effects of the Harlem Renaissance was to open up a discussion that was sorely needed.

Another effect of the Harlem Renaissance was to raise consciousness of what it meant to be a hyphenated American.  At a time period when there was homogeneity prevalent in the social setting, the Harlem Renaissance made it completely acceptable to embrace one's ethnic ancestry.  The pride in being African and examining what it meant to be African is one of the lasting effects of the Harlem Renaissance.  The African- American was shown to be someone who lived on and at the hyphen of American consciousness.  The Harlem Renaissance made it acceptable for Black people in America to view their African ancestry with a sense of pride and honor, as opposed to viewing it as something to hide or conceal.  Thinkers like Hughes and Cullen were able to argue that a source of distinction for Black Americans was being able to praise their sense of ancestry in a social order that seemed to preach homogeneity.

Finally, I would suggest that the lasting effect of the Harlem Renaissance was to make clear that issues of race and racial identity are never entirely clear.  The conflicting view of race that is brought out through the movement helped to humanize African- Americans to a society that saw them in reductive and terms that made them caricatures of human beings.  The Harlem Renaissance displayed that the issue of race was conflicting, empowering, painful, agonizing, and beautiful.  It presented racial identity as reflective of the complexity of human being.  The power of Hurston, the sorrow of Cullen, the intricacies of Hughes, and the metropolitan nature of McKay were all examples of the visions of race that emerged from the Harlem Renaissance.  It is in here where one of the most meaningful and significant effects of the movement is evident.