Claude McKay: a black poet's struggle for identity by Tyrone Tillery

By Tyrone Tillery

The Nineteen Twenties witnessed a rare flowering of literary and creative creativity between African americans. Critics hailed the emergence of a "New Negro," who took satisfaction within the black race and its African historical past, and whose writings uncovered and attacked discrimination, explored black people tradition, and strove to create a distinct African-American literature. but for all its power, the cultural move top often called the Harlem Renaissance used to be fraught with tensions: among the perfect of Africa and the truth of the United States; among the entice of a romanticized rural earlier and the calls for of an alien city current; among the necessity to verify the distinctiveness of black tradition and the will to accomplish reputation by way of the bulk white tradition. maybe greater than the other Harlem Renaissance determine, Claude McKay embodied those contradictory impulses.

The paradox of Claude McKay can't be lowered to any basic formulation. He used to be immediately an enfant bad who took satisfaction within the Negro's cultural history and an highbrow who strove for reputation in predominantly white circles. He was once an intensive purpose on reworking his followed county who however left the USA quickly for the Soviet Union. but those tensions, as this ebook strives to teach, can't easily be ascribed to private or mental difficulties; finally, they have been rooted within the ambiguous social and cultural place of the black artist and political radical of the early 20th century.

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By 1912 McKay realized he needed to see the world beyond Jamaica. As he later noted, "Jamaica was Page 20 too small for high achievement. " 71 McKay never mentioned a racial motive for leaving Jamaica. 72 When it was suggested by Henrietta Vinton Davisan African-American singer on tour in Jamaica, who was a friend of Booker T. Washingtonthat McKay might attend Tuskegee and study agriculture, he seized the opportunity. He immediately consulted Jekyll, who initially objected for fear that America would exert a corrupting influence on the young author.

Moreover, as protective as Tuskegee's administration sought to be, McKay was ill at ease in a country where race played such an overwhelming role in the relations of its people. 7 Since, at least in his own mind, race and color were factors Page 23 "hardly taken into account," in Jamaica, McKay must have been uncomfortable living amidst the obviously racist, often hostile, whites of the Deep South. 8 He was estranged even from African Americans. 9 As a black man of African descent, McKay was disgusted by white animosity regarding his black brothers, but as a Jamaican "black Briton" he also felt culturally and psychologically distanced from his American brothers and sisters.

They could, for instance, serve in the legislative council. In truth, the majority of legislators where whites and mulattoes, but blacks did sometimes win election. Negroes were conspicuous and exercised a great deal of influence in all Jamaica's affairs, according to McKay. McKay was particularly impressed by the "sense of dignity" bequeathed to blacks by British culture. " 56 For most of his life McKay believed that the extreme poverty of black Jamaicans could be explained by laws of economics or the variations in natural conditions that determined the ebb and flow of agricultural prosperity.

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