In the article, “Nancy Cunard’s Negro and the Transnational Politics of Race” Laura Winkiel very often makes a claim that Nancy Cunard’s Negro Anthology contains a multitude of “contradictions.” The “contradiction” that I find the most fascinating is “between detailing the horrors of colonization and racism and its jubilant and often primitivist celebration of popular black entertainers” (Winkiel 509) as if the experience of a black person in the modernist times cannot be both jaded and hardened by the world they live in and freely laude those who are successful and give them joy in life. I find that Laura Winkiel stating this as a contradiction when she also calls the anthology “far more than a rigid dichotomy, the anthology aims at a ‘panorama’ of black struggles and achievements against a racist modernity” (Winkiel 509) to be an interesting turn. It seems that Winkiel has some contradictions of her own in this article. It should be noted that while an anthology on a group of people should show the good times and the bad, we need to see the layers that go into them. The anthology shouldn’t be seen as a rigid dichotomy of joy and struggle because people’s emotions aren’t one or the other. I will explore what counts as a struggle and what counts as an achievement through the two sections “Hitting Back” by Henry Crowder and “Three Great Negro Women” by Gladis Berry Robinson to examine how the two explore the “panorama” of the struggles or achievements.
“Hitting Back” by Henry Crowder is formed as a series of vignettes (quite appropriate for an anthology) about times that he fought back against racism in his home. These events range from a joke that revealed the seriousness of the world to straight up brawls between white and black people. Even from the title, the reader can see this is a story of struggling against white superiority and racism. What is harrowing about these events is the casuality of them. The third vignette is about the author going home to where his father lives during the Atlanta riots and making a joke about demanding to be let in the house. After he realizes that the joke is going too far and gives his name, his father opens the door with a shot gun. The author solemnly states, “I will never try that kind of joke again” (Cunard 117) thus showing the audience that even joking about the riots under-cutted the seriousness of them and how they were affecting people. People were so riled up and afraid, that his father went to the door prepared to kill and die. This is particularly effective because it shows how people could become disconnected to what was happening around them because it was so common, but at the end of the day, people were dying and scared. The sixth vignette is about the narrator and his friends happening upon a group of white men beating one lone black man in the street, so they intervene and scare the white people away. Again, there is a casual tone about this story. Many of these stories are about one black man facing a beating from multiple white men for no good reason until more black men come and the white men back down. This story shows how common violence was. These stories make it especially clear that white men were very willing to beat a black man, but didn’t want to risk their own hides in a fair fight that the black men were willing to fight. This paints the white men as bullies, but also shows the kind of fear that a black man had when he was alone on the streets, because he could always get jumped. There is a bitterness in these stories, but I think they show a strong variety in the type of violence against black people that occurred and how common it was.
“Three Great Negro Women” by Gladis Berry Robinson is the telling of the lives of three great black women: Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. These women are inarguably some of the greatest women in American, if not world, history. Each section on each woman starts as historical retellings of the women’s lives and what they did that made them great with some personal comments from the author, especially for Phillis Wheatley. For Phillis Wheatley, the author takes note of how great her poetry and prose was despite the fact that she was born a slave and not appreciated for her talents. Truth and Tubman both fought for emancipation and freedom for black people and women’s rights. What is interesting about these women is that Phillis Wheatley sticks out a bit as not being as prominent and active as the other two, yet she is placed first. Her inclusion shows that the author doesn’t need great women to lecture presidents or be activists to make great strides for black women. Yet, she gets the most personal comments from the author, as if she feels the need to defend her choice to include Wheatley in the mix because she isn’t as obvious a choice as Truth and Tubman. Still, all of these women did what they did in during slavery and the Civil War where there was even more oppression for black women then when this article was written, so the author clearly wants to make a point that great women stand in the face of adversity even in the worst times.
What I like about these two writings is that they show diversity in what it means to succeed and struggle as a black person in America. They are snippets of a greater “panorama” but show great difference in what it means to be black. Both of these writings are anthologies themselves which proves how different the lives of black people can be, but they share enough commonality to be included in the larger work.