Zora Neil Hurston wrote Characteristics of Negro Expression with the aim of trying to understand the Negro or the African American Community in the way she understands. In her view, the results of the Great Migration were devastating, terrific, unbearable and spasmodic especially to the victims who were left behind. For Hurton, the rural black people were being forgotten and therefore opted to join the urban Negro movement. In the essay, she describes different concepts of what is meant to be a black American in the South. Notably, she observes that Negro encompasses various elements such as being dramatic, having the will to adorn, being angular, dancing, folkloric, originality, mimicry, non-reserve, having a peculiar dialect (Aguirre 37). In fact, these were just a few elements that Hurton used to describe the forgotten blacks of the south. Many African American authors later came to incorporate some of these elements in their work and poems especially in the wake of Harlem Renaissance. Specifically, Claude McKay published his poem, "To the White Friends" by incorporating the elements described by Hurton in her essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression". This paper, therefore, explores the manner in which McKay's poem uses and integrates the elements explained in Hurston's Characteristics of Negro Expression.
McKay utilizes the element of originality from Hurton's Characteristics of Negro Expression to exposes the negative sides of White America and ultimately provide insights about value attached to the black race. In his poem, McKay exposes the problems, challenges and the negative stereotypes that surrounded the blackness as well as the mastery of the formal aspects of sonnets or arts. In the first stanza of the poem, for example, he paints an essentialist, bestial and the hyper-aggressive projection of the black male. As a response, he confronts these stereotypes in a way that can predict and expose the images and the actual characters of the "friends," who are the white people in this case. The whites had been considerably involved in instilling suffering to the black people including the massive killing in the South. He uses this stanza to fantasize about the redemptive and the justifiable murder that thousands of whites performed on blacks. Undeniably, the statement portrays the manner in which playing in White America's stereotype has on the black people. McKay is astonished about the way in which the white Americans perpetuate the killing and does not understand the pleasure associated with the fulfillment of such expectations.
In the poem, McKay further gives an exposition of the various issues that white people directed towards the Black Americans in the United States. Ideally, racism formed the center of these issues whereby the whites perceived blacks as the savages. In the poem, McKay, therefore, chooses to act as a double agent, siding with the whites while threatening both the physical and mental elitism. In fact, he acts as a representation of the black, the dark people, to signify evil deeds that are associated with them. Even though this was a popular opinion that the whites thought and embraced in their lives, blacks mostly believed that they were righteous or even equal just like their white counterparts.
In another stanza, he continues to mention the harsh conditions that his black brothers were being subjected and promised to outdo them (Benston and Henry 533). Through supporting the stereotype of blacks being a representation of anything, evil hurts him and agrees that the reality of the statement is ironic as the whites will also not agree with their inferiority. By repeating the line seven in stanza one three times, McKay creates an idea that Blacks are worth more important and superior than their counterparts. In fact, he makes them know their pattern and thoughts in the poem, which are mainly associated with racism, self-pride, and superiority over other people of different racial background. By forcing the whites to think in a manner that they are not sued to, he can inject himself into the elitists and puts their own beliefs against them.
In conclusion, it is undeniable to mention that McKay joins other black activists through his poem, with an aim addressing many individuals and right civil issues that the world proved less attentive to. The poem comprehensively integrates the element of originality that is drawn from Hurton's "Characteristics of Negro Expression" to discuss his thoughts. In fact, the poem, "To the White friends" challenges white people to also think about what is the best for their nation. McKay, through this platform also manages to force them to determine if they could socialize with people from different racial backgrounds or if they were unable to step out of their thoughts (Daneman 1). Blacks sought to be treated like the members of the white community and share the same rights. It was a real mechanism through which the blacks were able to express their beliefs. These events further led to the civil rights movements that enhanced liberation in the United States.
Aguirre, Mercedes, and Benjamin Lempert. Characteristics of Negro Expression. CRC Press, 2017.
Benston, Kimberly W., and Henry Louis Gates Jr. "The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature Third Edition." (2014): 533.
Daneman, Matthew. "Harlem Renaissance ushered in new era of black pride." USA Today. Retrieved from http://www. usatoday. Com/story/news/2015/02/03/black-history-harlem-renaissance/22825245/. Retrieved on December 31 (2015): 2016.
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