Monday, March 19, 2012


  Unfortunately, black Americans as well as gay Americans have been mistreated throughout history, and the fight for equal rights has been going on for decades from both of these groups. However, several individuals who are both homosexual and African American, find themselves having to fight for the acceptance of two separate identities.
  In the film “Brother to Brother,” this idea is explored through the life experiences of characters: Richard Bruce Nugent, an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and a young student named Perry. At one point in the film, Perry gets annoyed at his friend for being irrationally angry at a white guy, and says, “The same anger you feel towards white people is what brothers feel about me for being gay.” His point is valid; gays are often shunned from the black community. Perry’s friend from a different generation, Ted Nugent, has faced the same rejection from African American culture that Perry has. Many figures in the Harlem Renaissance disregarded his work because of his open gayness, arguing that he was too “radical” to be accepted into mainstream white culture. Unfortunately, this did not exclude popular black culture either, apparently.
  Why is it that young gay men have to fight not only through white gay communities, but also black homophobic communities? In order to answer this question,  the reasons that homophobia exists, and that racism exists have to be explored. Our society revolves around inequality. In order to maintain the economic power structure in America, we have created gender and race to control the class system. Both African Americans and women are oppressed, and the inequality of race and gender relations is what makes our system of economic power work. Similar to sexism being used as an excuse to keep women in a certain social place, racism is used as a tool to keep African Americans in a certain place, and control the economic class system in America. Beginning with slavery, oppressors have created and institutionalized race to justify enslaving and oppressing African Americans; leaving a just one slot at the bottom of the economic pyramid for blacks.
  Being gay is different. Gender is also used as a tool to maintain class structure; men and women each playing a different part in the management of each household economy. As with race, there is systematic inequality in gender roles, but that exists between men and women. Any woman or man who ventures outside of the norms might be labeled as a lesbian or gay, so homophobia is sort of like an excuse; a tool used to control gender roles. It is not analogous to sexism the same way that racism is. 
Culturally, homosexuality is taboo, because it threatens the idea of gender roles. This taboo is organized more clearly through Christianity. It is important to realize that although African Americans are generally forced to the bottom of the social hierarchy in America, the same familial values about gender role having to do with household economy exist as in African Americans as with all Americans, and Christianity outlines these social roles and values in an explicit way. In fact, those who are oppressed into the bottom of the pyramid rely more heavily on social roles (gender roles), as they are often the only means of maintaining any sort of economic structure within each family.
  So, the reason that black, gay men have to fight against homophobia from other African Americans is that existing outside of gender norms threatens the social structure which exists in America. Although African Americans are oppressed, they remain a part of the economic power structure--generally at the bottom. Gays on the other hand, have no place in this structure, and therefore face a different kind of inequality. So, for Ted Nugent and Perry, fighting racism and fighting homophobia are completely separate things.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


         Augusta Savage was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida in 1892. As a child, she liked to sculpt things out of clay, but her parents strongly opposed her love of sculpting, and it wasn’t until she sculpted a statue of the Virgin Mary that her parents acknowledged and accepted her talent ( After giving birth to a girl, and surviving the sudden death of her first marriage, Savage moved to New York City to study at Cooper Union Art School ( In New York, she was commissioned to sculpt portraits of highly well known and influential African American figures like W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey, and went on to gain wide recognition of her work, in America and Europe (
  One Harlem Renaissance themes in Augusta Savage’s life include Determination to Fight Oppression. She fought for equal rights all her life, starting from when her application for a summer art program in France was turned down by the international judging committee because she was black ( She fought back against the committee, and continued to fight oppression and make great art, and found a way to establish herself in France a little later in life (
"The Harp"
  Savage is influential not only because of her beautiful work, but also because of her career as a teacher in the Harlem Community. She created the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, which became Harlem Community Arts Center, with her as it’s first director ( The center was successful in teaching young artists in Harlem, and inspired other art centers in different parts of America. Many of her students grew into famous artists and activists. She was also the first African American in the National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors (
  I chose to learn about Augusta Savage because I wanted to learn more about female artists in Harlem, and I really like her work. I admire her ability to create amazing work despite intense obstacles.


  The club scene was a big part of the Harlem Renaissance, and gave birth to new music as well as dance, most famously, swing dancing. Lindy Hop is an early form of swing dancing. In 1935, Herbert “Whitey” White put together a dance group of people in the club scene called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers (AKA: The Harlem Congaroos.) The group is featured in this crazy scene from the movie “Hellzapoppin’” which brought the dance into a more mainstream light.

  Dance during the Harlem Renaissance was important because it was fun; a way to celebrate African American culture and people, in a country where that culture was marginalized. Jazz music and swing dancing are two great things that were born out of the Harlem Renaissance, and gave life to an important moment in African American history.
  I like Lindy Hop and swing dancing because it’s fun and exciting. It’s not one of those weird dance moves that go out of style in a decade, it was a cultural movement, and it still isn’t out of style. I admire the dancers in this video, and all dancers in general, because dancing is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never been good at.


     "Ascent of Ethiopia” was painted by Lois Mailou Jones in 1932. This painting is about the history of African American culture, starting with Ethiopia, and ending with the Harlem Renaissance. “Ascent of Ethiopia” depicts a large profile of the head of a presumably ethiopian woman in the bottom right-hand corner. It shows crouching dark figures that seem to be traveling toward the light of a big bright star in the upper left-hand corner and a bright light coming from what is presumably Harlem in the upper right-hand corner.
    This painting depicts some of the most important stories in African American story. The big star in the top left-hand corner represents two of these stories: the journey from Africa to America, with the star and lines next to it representing the stars of the American flag, as well as the journey out of slavery, with the star representing the Northern Star, which African Americans used as a guide when escaping slavery. The third theme is the story of gaining acceptance in American culture, specifically through the music and art of the Harlem Renaissance.
     An obvious Harlem Renaissance theme in this painting is "exploration of Negro heritage and history." The painting explicitly tells the story of African Americans. The journey from Africa seems to end in this painting with the light coming from the Harlem Renaissance. Jones strategically places her depiction of Harlem right on top of the Ethiopian woman’s face. This could possibly mean that the culture of modern African Americans rests originally on it’s African ancestors. Also, the woman could be a depiction of Africa as a “mother” who gave birth to the African Americans in Harlem.
Lois Mailou Jones
     I chose this piece because it’s an aesthetic painting, with a deep meaning. I like the use of color and form in this piece, with most of it being sort of black and blue, accentuating the bright yellow shapes. I like art that tells a story.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I must confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

     Claude McKay, an important writer of the the Harlem Renaissance, wrote “America” in 1921. The poem describes the speaker’s love-hate relationship with America. McKay considers the country to be “a cultured hell,” and yet he admits that he also can’t help loving and admiring the country. These two intense emotions come from two of the completely contradictory aspects of American culture that are most well known: oppression and freedom.
  One Harlem Renaissance theme in this poem is “determination to fight oppression.” Lines like “as a rebel fronts a king in state, / I stand within her walls with not a shred / Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer” show that although American culture is deeply rooted in racism, it wont always be that way. Equality is something worth fighting for, and African Americans are not just going to stand the hatred from racist whites. This poem reflects the hope and excitement of the Harlem Renaissance mixed with the equally important pain and struggle that was also going on.
  McKay uses personification to compare America to a female, perhaps a mother or even a romantic interest; someone who he theoretically despises, but can’t help depend on. Although she has wronged him and hurt him deeply, “Her vigor flows like tides into [his] blood.” She gives him the strength he needs to fight against her oppression. American culture is founded on racism and oppression, but also values freedom and equality, allowing the oppressed to fight back and win against inequality.
  I chose this poem because I relate to it so much; I truly love and hate this country. Although McKay is originally from Jamaica, he had a deep understanding of America that a lot of people don’t get. Not to mention it’s incredibly well written, with perfect meter and rhyme, and a compelling tone.


Southern trees bear a strange fruit, 
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root, 
Black bodies swinging in the summer breeze, 
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. 

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is the fruit for crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

     The most famous version of the song “Strange Fruit” is by Billie Holiday. It was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, and Holiday recorded it in 1939. Many other artists have recorded their versions of the song. The song’s powerful lyrics depict bodies hanging from trees. The grotesque “strange and bitter crop” is obviously a metaphor for the African Americans who were subject to lynchings, which were happening all in of America, especially in the South, due to extreme racism and hate. The metaphor suggests that lynching blacks was almost considered a natural thing in the South, as observed in the line “Southern trees bear a strange fruit,” when it’s something so incredibly wrong and unnatural, so that it resolves itself into being absolutely bewildering; “strange.”
     Some Harlem Renaissance themes in this song include “identification with race,” and “exploration of Negro heritage and history.” The entire song depicts the chilling racism that African Americans have faced in the past, and continue to face. Singing about this aspect of African American culture and history can be extremely depressing, it’s nearly impossible to explore Negro heritage and history without acknowledging the pain. Exploring this pain can lead to identification with race.
     I chose this song because it’s so powerful. I think it’s important to have artistic expressions of mass cultural pain, it adds meaning and determination to struggle. The song is also something that anyone interested in American history should listen to. The scar of racism across the face of America is exquisitely exemplified in this song. There is no sugar coating, and it’s beautifully written.