George Schuyler maintains that it is impossible for the voice of the Harlem Renaissance to be a unified one because these recent migrants to the North come from different regions and have different experiences. He offers that the reason for the current, but now obsolete representation of African Americans as downtrodden (as found in the blues) and bizarre (as evidenced by the popularity of the Charleston dance) is universal because they emanated in the south. I believe Schuyler could agree that a representative style could originate in Harlem, but it would take years and years to develop. Schulyer also states that the model African American artists are more or less white artists because they have been educated in Europe and have those same sensibilities. He assumes that this is why W. E. B DuBois and the like are the most exalted of the African American artists because they’re basically in the same vein as whites. Schulyer explains that, “Aside from his color, which ranges from very dark brown to pink, your American Negro is just plain American.” Just like the melding of European immigrants into the American existence after years of settlement, African American have also been altered by their surroundings, becoming American. Schulyer is more of a proponent for classification by nation, not race.
Langston Hughes is diametrically opposed to this classification. He believes that African American poets must be spiritually connected to their race in order to be successful and true. He writes, “But this mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America — this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.” Hughes acknowledges that African American artists often need acceptance and funding by whites in order to make it onto the scene, but in doing so, they squash reality. In trying to please whites, they write about stereotypes, and in trying to make their own people happy, they are asked to hype up how respectable their people are – never do they write about what they know. The end goal of African American art, according to Hughes is to express individuality. He concludes, “If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.”
Alain Locke is also an advocate for what the individual can create and he asserts that the individual can only flourish once the propaganda has vanished. He writes that propaganda, “perpetuates the position of group inferiority even in crying out against it.” This argument is similar to Hughes’ recognition of the fact that African Americans want acceptance and choose to write in a manner that promotes their people but doesn’t lend itself to exposing the varied shining stars.
DuBois states that African Americans cannot write what they know because it will not be accepted. He backs this up with an anecdote about how one of his works was denied when the characters were black, but accepted and embraced by the same editor when the color of the characters and the location were changed. To me, the implications of DuBois’ tale show that the experiences of whites and African Americans are unified enough so that they can be used to represent either race when fitting. Wouldn’t this tie into Schulyer’s desire to classify according to nation, not race?