“Negro is a document of war against imperialism and capitalism. It does not deconstruct the color line, but rather seeks to make clear the stakes involved for the underdeveloped world in a situation of on-going capitalist development and bourgeois forms of nationalism.”
This quote is what I’m going to be looking at in terms of analyzing this anthology. The notion of being anti-capitalist (or, likely more accurately put, the restraints that the capitalism of the time presented the black community) is one that I believe can be dealt with. Cunard shows an appreciation for the struggle of black people to survive in the economic structure of the time. The anthology is large and the ways to interpret are myriad, but the way that she approaches the city of Harlem and the manner in which she describes it leads me to think that there was a genuine feeling of respect for the people there.
I’m more familiar with the poem “Harlem” than anything else here, and there is no shortage of controversy associated with Cunard’s time spent in that neighborhood. There is power in Hughes’ poem, and the language that he used resonated with myself in, I think, a similar way to Cunard. There is a feeling of being genuine in this poem, and it would appear that Cunard saw how accurately and profoundly Hughes was able to represent that experience. She references her time, the things that she saw in Harlem, with language that is similar if not directly pulled from “Harlem.”
“This (the ‘negro renaissance’) is not the Harlem one sees. You don’t see the Harlem of the romancists; it is romantic in its own right. And it is hard and strong; its noise, heat, cold, cries and colours are so, And the nostalgia is violent too; the eternal radio seeping through everything day and night, indoors and out, becomes somehow the personification of restlessness, desire, brooding. As everywhere, the real people are in the street.”
I want to touch on the term “real” because I think it’s one that has transcended the cultural shifts and social adjustments that have taken place over the many years since this was written, as to how it relates to black culture and city culture, and a culture of poverty that has been a part of the black experience since people started to notice it. To put it plainly, there is a connection between modern black people, (I’ll say that it’s even more relevant with modern black men) and a lady from the 20’s who used the term “negro” on a regular basis. I can’t imagine that anyone would expect that. However, if you were to walk into a largely black neighborhood and ask people out on the street to define the term “real,” they would have similar definitions, I think, as Cunard has mentioned. An anti-capitalism sentiment is in effect here, with the results being in the form of describing the idea of living in poverty, of surviving in adverse conditions, of being “hard” and “strong.” People who understand, who get it, who know what life is like and what tough experiences are, are real. And these people can identify others who have experienced the same. How well we can label Nancy Cunard as being “real” is up for debate, but it seems undeniable that she is someone who saw black people in a different light, and she took the time and effort to go to these places and experience them genuinely, rather than, as she says, someone who is looking to “go slumming.”
“Notice how many of the whites are unreal in America; they are dim. But the Negro is very real; he is there. And the ofays [whites] know it. That’s why they come to Harlem—out of curiosity and jealousy and don’t-know-why. This desire to get close to the other race has often nothing honest about it. . . .”
Now, the controversy that arose from her trips to Harlem could have been a fair criticism of her “fetishization” of the black race. It’s difficult to know what her true intent was in her efforts. The quotes about the people of Harlem being “real” gives her some credibility, in my assessment. The claim that she is waging war on imperialism and capitalism is fair, at least when I look at how she respected the people of a tough place.