The Writings of African-Americans – Essay Example

The paper "The Writings of African-Americans" is an excellent example of an essay on social science. When the mass media shows images of American heritage and ancestry, the African-American images are predictable: Martin Luther King, Jr. will make an appearance; possibly Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois as well. However, many of the iconic images – the Pilgrim, the Minuteman, and Uncle Sam -- are emphatically white. And so the reconciliation of racial and social identities can be difficult for Americans who are not European-American. The writings of such African-Americans as Langston Hughes, DuBois, Gwendolyn B. Bennett, and Claude McKay all demonstrate how a sense of racial ancestry can influence one’s sense of “American” identity. Langston Hughes insists that being American transcends racial background in “Theme for English B.” The speaker likes “Bessie, bop or Bach” (24) and notes that being “colored doesn’t make [him] NOT like the same things other folks like who are other races”(25-26). Even though the speaker does not “often want to be a part of”(35) the same culture as the instructor, he also realizes that to do so is “American”(33). Hughes, writing in 1951, lived in a far different time than that described by W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Men. He describes the “fire of African freedom” that still burned in the “veins of slaves” before 1750. After the American Revolution, however, those of African descent tended to identify themselves in one of two ways: those in the South attempted three major insurrections, climaxing in Nat Turner’s 1831 uprising, while those in the North tended to segregate themselves in a “new and curious attempt at self-development”, as typified by the African Church in Philadelphia and New York City. McKay and Bennett both write of vestigial features in the contemporary African-American. Bennett’s “To a Dark Girl” sees “something of old forgotten queens”(5) in the girl’s “lithe”(6) walk, but “something of the shackled slave”(7) in the “rhythm” of her talk(8). This suggests that the majesty of the African-American spirit has not found full validation in its American identity. McKay spends some time in “Heritage” lamenting the “faun-like form, the fond elusive face”(4) of the ancestor that inspires him to greatness. Both authors here sense a loss between the potential and the actual in the status of the African-American in contemporary society – it would seem that the American identity is somehow muted in comparison with the glory of African ancestry.