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Negritude refers to a consciousness of and pride in the cultural and physical aspects of

the African heritage or the state or condition of being black

Negritude is a literary and political movement founded in Paris in the 1930s by a group of
students from the French Caribbean and Africa. The founding members, Aimé Césaire, Léopold
Senghor, and Léon Damas hoped to eliminate the barriers between black students from the
various French colonies. They were not only concerned with the cooperation between Blacks
within the group, but also with the well-being and unity of the black race. This concern sparked
the cultural movement we call “Negritude”.

The founders of Negritude were in part inspired by their encounters with members of the Harlem
Renaissance, many of whom were living in France at the time to escape racism and segregation
in the United States. Amongst the most influential of those were Langston Hughes and Richard
Wright. Césaire, Senghor and their colleagues were also taken with the jazz music of Duke
Ellington and Sidney Bechet.

Negritude strives to be universal, encompassing all people of African descent. Yet, it is a


complex movement which denounces colonialism, rejects Western domination, and promotes
acceptance of the black self. It is through literature that both Césaire and Senghor begin to find
their political voices, and each proceeds to take on an important role in his respective region after
the end of colonialism .

Although most artists and intellectuals no longer subscribe to many of Negritude’s theories, its
influences are evident in the Creolity movement launched by intellectuals from the French
Caribbean .

This site, which serves as an introduction to Negritude, examines the movement in its diversity.
Ideal for students of French, the selected texts and comprehension questions are presented in
both English and French. In addition, various articles, internet links and music selections are
provided in order to show the impressive cultural activity of the Africans and members of the
African diaspora as well as provide further information on the history of Negritude.

Source: The Legacy of Negrismo/ Negritude- inter- American Dialogues

Guest editor’s introduction in The Langston Hughes Review 16:2 [Fall 1999-Spring 2001]
Negritude
Heather Carlberg '93 (English 32, 1989)

Negritude, originally a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black


intellectuals, reflects an important and comprehensive reaction to the colonial situation. This
movement, which influenced Africans as well as Blacks around the world, specifically rejects the
political, social and moral domination of the West. The term, which has been used in a general
sense to describe the black world in opposition to the West, assumes the total consciousness of
belonging to the black race.

In contrast to this broad definition, a narrower one pertains to artistic expression. The literature
of Negritude includes the writings of black intellectuals who affirm black personality and
redefine the collective experience of blacks. A preoccupation with the black experience and a
passionate praise of the black race, provides a common base for the imaginative expression in
association with romantic myth of Africa.
The external factor defining the black man in modern society is colonialism and the domination
by the white man, with all the moral and psychological implications. Negritude rehabilites Africa
and all blacks from European ideology that holds the black inherently inferior to the white -- the
rationale for Western imperialism.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, president of Senegal, who further defines Negritude in his poems and
writings, rejects the classical white/black view that races can be mutually exclusive saying,
"Race is a reality--I do not mean racial purity. There is difference, but not inferiority or
antagonism." Senghor believes in the expression of values of traditional Africa as they are
embodied in the thinking and institutions of African society, but he does not desire a return to
outmoded customs, only to their original spirit. His interpretation of Negritude has become the
most clear definition and a model for other writers.

In contrast, Wole Soyinka reacts against Negritude, which he sees belonging to colonial ideology
because it gives a defensive character to any African ideas. The artist, for him, is a reformer who
draws on the past for significant lessons and proceeds to what he calls "the re-appraisal of the
whole human phenomenon." This view balances the more romantic view of the early Negritude
writers.

Soyinka takes into account the imperfections of the past, which he accepts as inherent to the
human condition and which he takes as an invitation to question the present. He provides
something important to the idea of Africanism that he finds missing from Negritude. In the
colonial period, the innocence of Africa had to be stressed, but the new generation of African
writers and intellectuals have been freed from colonial restraints and express African reality very
differently.
Some Questions?

1. Although Soyinka criticizes Negritude, doesn't the drawing on past African myth
and experience to understand and express the present black man's situation define
Negritude in the best sense?

2. How does this new emergence of Black pride and the old problem of human
prejudice relate to the works we've studied this year in English 32?

3. How does Conrad's view of Colonialism in Heart of Darkness compare to the


modern black writers?

4. How does Negritude relate to the poems of Soyinka and his imprisonment?

Reference: Abiola Irele, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology (1981)