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< Back to question How do we think about African-American literature? Show more Show less

African-American literature is a body of literature made in the U.S. by Americans of African descent. Because of how African-Americans were integrated into the founding of the U.S., African-American writing is often concerned with racism, oppression, and struggles for freedom. At the same time, should such literature always be concerned with political advocacy, or should Black writers and artists focus on art for art’s sake? From early U.S. history (Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar), to the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen), to the Civil Rights Movement era (James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks), to now (Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Natasha Trethewey, Jamaica Kinkaid, Nikki Giovanni), how do writers and readers think about African-American literature?

African-American literature should always be political Show more Show less

Since the founding years of the U.S. as a nation, Black lives, culture, and literature were deemed inferior or invalid. African-American writing cannot escape this reality, so their literature should illuminate racial injustices and promote political equality.
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"All Art is propaganda"

Art is political in nature because art can change viewers’ minds and bring viewers’ to empathize with something new. African-American literature should advocate for political equality in today's unequal society.
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Proponents


Context

Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. stated, "it is fair to describe the subtext of the history of black letters as this urge to refute the claim that because blacks had no written traditions they were bearers of an inferior culture."[1] The idea that African-American art must be political in nature has shaped African-American literature since Phillis Wheatley published her first book of poems in 1773.[2] In the abolitionist era, writer Charles Chesnutt claimed that writing was a "high holy purpose" of advancing Black liberation.[3] W. E. B. Du Bois, a sociologist and activist, wrote in 1921 that literature should be used in the advancement of Black liberation as well.

The Argument

Literature can bring about social change, and writing is a political act.[4] Writers have the opportunity to contribute to literature that resonates with a wider audience and promote social equality. Many writers during the Harlem Renaissance believed that Black artists should use their talents to primarily bring about social change. While art for art's sake is a worthy reason to create art, the ability to write is a privilege that should ultimately be used to promote Black liberation. Black artists have a moral responsibility to use their art to promote political equality. The U.S.'s pervasive structural racism influences people's ideologies about the character of Black people. Black writers should use their talents to contribute to the literary field. Black writers should write content that resonates across races, even to White people who usually decide which kind of literature is worthy. By writing about actual experiences, myths, cultural backgrounds, and promoting to the literary field, Black writers can use their work as a means to refute the dominant ideologies of White supremacy (which promotes the idea that literature written by White Americans or Europeans are the standard for good literature).

Counter arguments

It is an unfair burden to African-American writers that their art should always advocate for themselves politically. Artists and writers should be free to pursue art to express themselves—whether to express the mundane beauty in everyday life or explicitly political purposes. Writers shouldn’t be restricted to only writing the “protest novel” primarily for White audiences.[5] Just as non-Black writers have the ability to create art for art's sake, Black writers also should create stories with attention to form and truth, not just for propaganda.

Framing

This argument assumes that art should have a social purpose.

Premises

[P1] The nature of art is political. [P2] The U.S. is a racist society. [P3] Black writers should use art to promote racial equality.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Art does not always have a political purpose.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_literature#cite_note-Stryz_p140-54
  2. https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/papersandpubs/vol2/iss1/2
  3. https://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text10/text10read.htm
  4. https://www.electricliterature.com/writing-is-always-a-political-act/
  5. https://faculty.gordonstate.edu/lsanders-senu/Everybody's%20Protest%20Novel%20by%20James%20Baldwin.pdf

This page was last edited on Wednesday, 26 Aug 2020 at 23:42 UTC