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African American Criticism

Lois Tyson's Chapter on AA Criticism
by

Lenora Perry

on 28 March 2013

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Transcript of African American Criticism

Finally African American Criticism Background Alice Walker African American Criticism African American history and culture were excluded from American education until the late 1960s (Tyson 360). American history books did not cover slave uprisings during transportation from the Middle Passage, slave rebellions that occurred on plantations, or the underground resistance formed by slaves. The Harlem Renaissance The emergence of the "New Negro" [as opposed to the old "uncle Toms" and "Mammys"] and the "Talented Tenth" the obligation the truly gifted blacks had to reveal their race.
Began in the late 1910s in Harlem, New York and ended around mid-1930s
Raised issues affecting the lives of African Americans using literature, art, music, the press, and film.
Brought Jazz music into mainstream culture. Key Contributors Marcus Garvey W.E.B. Du Bois Key Terms
Hegemony: the dominance of a "white" America through the use of social constructs.

Racialism: the belief of racial superiority, inferiority, and purity which is based on the conviction that moral and intellectual characteristics are biological properties that differentiate the races.

Racism: unequal power relations that grow from the sociopolitical domination of one race by another and that result in systematic discriminatory processes.

Africanism: white conception of African and African American people on which white authors have projected their own fears, needs, desires, and conflicts

Afrocentricity: the relationship a text has to African history and culture

White privilege: the belief that white is the dominant race and includes many social advantages, benefits, and courtesies

Eurocentrism: the belief that European culture is vastly superior to all others Key Authors Tony Morrison John Edgar Wideman Double Consciousness Internalized and Institutionalized Racism “Before “Black is beautiful!” and “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud!” sounded the call for a radical change in African American self-definition and self-perception in the late 1960s, many African Americans suffered from internalized racism” (Tyson, 362).

Tyson defines Internalized racism as the “results from the psychological programming by which a racist society indoctrinates people of color to believe in white superiority (362). “Victims of internalized racism generally feel inferior to whites, less attractive, less worthwhile, less capable, and often wish they were white or looked more white.

Tony Morrison summarizes it perfectly when she “provides us with one of the most chilling portraits of internalized racism in The Bluest Eye (1970), in which Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who can’t see her own beauty, believes she would be pretty, happy, and loved if only she had blue eyes” (Tyson, 362).
For example, we see this term in Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”. Pecola Breedlove, one of the main characters in “The Bluest Eye”, suffers from internalized racism the most in this novel, with her constant obsession with having blue eyes.

“Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed” (Morrison, 46). Pecola felt that if she had blue eyes, she would then be beautiful and viewed as beautiful by her family and society.

In one chapter of the novel Pecola receives a white baby doll from her family, the baby doll has white eyes and blonde, long, curly hair and Pecola loves it because that is how she envisions herself looking like once she gets her blue eyes. “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue eyed, yellow haired, pink skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (Morrison, 20).

You can also see Institutionalized racism in “The Bluest Eye”. Institutionalized racism is defined as “the incorporation of racist policies and practices in the institutions by which a society operates” (Tyson, 361). Blue eyes, long yellow hair, and pink skin were coveted by all that were not born with those features. This was the society that Pecola Breedlove was born into. A term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois describes how African American’s feel when they are torn between two different cultures: the African culture, which came from their African Heritage and evolved while they were in America., and the European culture that had already been around and that has been enforced upon them by white America (Tyson 362).

This causes African Americans to feel like they are being ripped apart, and that they must act one way amongst family, and a completely different way in public.

For literature, this has meant that black writers must take on two different voices for two different audiences. They may choose to write using African American Vernacular English, for a black audience and which was not accepted by white America, or they can write in Standard English, geared toward a white audience. The Black Arts Movement Brought on by the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and inspired by the Black Power Movement

Focused on black power, black economics, political success, and tried to revitalize a community that had been hurt by riots and police brutality

Pushed black writers to feel empowered, and to help their race through literary works depicting the atrocities resulting from racism

Initiated black critics into pointing out the ideologies present in texts which oppressed black Americans politically and economically

Questioned the Eurocentric critical theories being used to examine black texts Intra-racial racism Another form of racism which results from internalized racism. It occurs when African Americans discriminate against other African Americans with darker skin.

For example, in “The Bluest Eye” when Pecola is picked on by other black children for having dark skin, while another black child, the light-skinned Maureen Pearl, is treated by the same black youngsters as if she were superior to them (Tyson 362).

Along with internalized racism, intra-racial racism can cause debilitating psychological effects. Tenets of African American Critical Race Theory Every Day racism One of the worst forms of racism because it can occur every day without the perpetrators realizing they are being racist

The most hurtful instance of every day racism is white people’s denial that racism still exists today Interest Convergence
When racism occurs because it can advance or help the person being racist

Or when racism is taken away to improve an image or further a cause The Social Construction of Race The idea that different categories of race are created

There is no scientific evidence to support any categories of race or that the word should even exist

The idea of race was specifically created in order to denote races which were superior to others Differential Racialization Formation of stereotypes used to describe different races at different times

Used to fulfill a current need of the society which is currently in control Intersectionality Race intersects with class, sex, sexual orientation, political orientation, and personal history to form a person’s identity Voice of Color The idea that African American writers are better suited to discuss racism because they have experienced it directly African American Criticism in literature African American literature focuses on a number of recurring historical and sociological themes, usually reflecting politics of black American experiences.

One theme presented in African American literature: surviving the combined oppression of racism, classism, and sexism. Two prominent features that African American literature is distinguished by: orality and folk motifs.

Orality can be defined as the spoken quality of it's language that gives a literary work a sense of immediacy, of hum an presence, by giving readers the feeling that they are hearing a human voice talking.

According to the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, a great twentieth-century example of orality in the African American sense is Martin Luther King Jr.'s best-known address "I Have a Dream" (Murfin and Ray 357).

Folk motifs are used to include a wide range of character types and folkpractices to create a sense of community with the African and AfricanAmerican past. Houston Baker attempts to relate folk literature to the blues.

Baker believes that every blues song has a double theme that usually includes a spiritual theme and a material theme.

The spiritual theme is about loss and desire

The material theme is about the economic necessity Major themes to look for Urbanization

Quest for freedom

Alienation

Importance of culture

Importance of family and community

Absolving stereotypes African American criticism can relate to Feminist Criticism in the sense that black women must negotiate the conflicting requirements of their relationship to the black community as a whole. Tyson comes to the conclusion that there are four salient types in African American literature. Both Alice Walker and Mary Helen Washington have come together to form the first three salient types that include the provision of realistic female character types.

"Suspended women" - victim of men and of society as a whole, with few or no options, and she cannot do anything about her situation.

The "assimilated women" - a woman who is not victimized by physical violence and has more control over her life, however she is victimized by psychological violence in the sense that she has to forget about her African American roots and adapt to the white society and desire to be accepted.

The "emergent women" - the women who is coming to awareness of her own psychological and political oppression and is becoming capable of creating a new life for herself.

The "liberated women" - the women who has discovered her abilities, knows her wants and needs, and takes charge to get it. Toni Morrison believes heavily in the ability to read white mainstream literature from an African American perspective that reveals the ways in which white texts construct the Africanist presence in American History.

Africanism is a "white conception of African and African American people on which white authors have projected their own fears, needs, desires, and conflicts (391)." African American literature has had a very important role on society. It
has played a significant role in American history since the eighteenth
century. Since the late 1960s, Black Studies has been an important field
among the American academia. Included in Black Studies is the great role
of African American literature and its importance. Signifyin(g) African American writers often used interesting methods of relating to or commenting on the ideas of their peers.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent Harvard Professor, comments on this in “The Signifying Monkey.” He uses a monkey because it has long stood as the trickster character in African American folk tales (Tyson 387).

In his book, Gates brings up the example of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, two African American writers who signify on each other’s different ideas. Wright was a naturalist, so he believed in expressing racial inequalities by avoiding ambiguity. However, Ellison was a modernist who believed that it would be better to use metaphors and ambiguities. They comment, or signify upon each other's varying ideals in their different novels. Key Questions What can the literary piece teach one about African heritage, African American culture and experience, and/or African American history?

What racial politics and poetics are included in specific African American works?

How is the “black person” portrayed throughout a literary piece?

How does the literary work help to participate in the African American literary tradition?

How is the use of blacks used by a white writer to construct positive portrayals of white characters? Where'd Harlem Go? Seeing as Nick was so educated, he should have known about Harlem and their contributions as well as had at least made one visit there.

The African American population was found all over Manhattan, not just Harlem. the only point in the novel that represents African American's in any way is when Nick and Gatsby are out to lunch. Then, Toni Morrison's analysis of Africanist presence in white American literature is represented

Jazz was originally founded by African Americans, however in The Great Gatsby jazz is only shown being performed by Caucasians.

Fitzgerald is known for eliminating any African American characters, unless they are represnted in a stereotypical and comical way. ` “The Great Gatsby omits all reference to, let alone description of, Harlem, which is located in Manhattan and is one of the primary places responsible for the Jazz Age. It’s the place where, at that very time, the Harlem Renaissance-that great outpouring of African American literature, music, painting, sculpture, philosophy, and political debate, among other creative enterprises-was in progress. And it’s the place that was famous for attracting white folks to its nightclubs in droves-especially white folks with money like The Great Gatsby’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, Jordan Baker, and narrator Nick Carraway-where they would hear the latest jazz tunes, see and be seen by the in crowd, and drink the bootlegged liquor that flowed as freely in Harlem as it flowed in every sophisticated metropolis of Prohibition America” (Tyson, 396). "The Harlem Renaissance" by Jerry Butler Maya Angelou
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