Alain Locke "The New Negro" Within The Circle

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Locke, Alain. "The New Negro." Within the Circle.

Ed. Angelyn Mitchel. Durham & London: Duke UP, 1996. 21-31 Alain Locke did an excellent job not only of showing that indeed the American Negro was not what he had been stereo typed as before, but also that he was a new force in the American political arena. This essay was written in such a way that, save a few time bound references, the majority of it could have been written a month ago. The ideas and feelings inside are all current.

In the first part of the essay Locke declares that the "New Negro" has appeared. Although it seems that culturally this happened overnight it was in fact something that had been building for quite some time even though it only broke into the public view recently. He relates this to the seemingly sudden emergence of Negro Spirituals that had been around since the time of the slaves.

He also points out that the "Old Negro" has been gone for some time and was only believed to exist by those arguing about it.

Locke plainly states, ""¦we (African Americans) have been almost as much of a problem to ourselves as we are to others (Locke, Within the Circle 22)." Here he is talking about perception of the "Old Negro" that has been proliferated by the African American themselves. He will touch on this topic more later in the essay. Here he is emphasizing more that the problem has been identified, and that is a start. The feeling's of self-respect and self-dependence are beginning to grow in the "New Negro." The stereotypes of the "Old Negro," Uncle Tom, Sambo, and the like have become invalid.

The migration of the "New Negro" towards cities Locke identifies as being motivated not by failing crops or the KKK. Instead he sees the migration happening for the same reason all poor people come to the city from rural areas, the promise of a chance to become financially well to do. This is where I agree with him whole-heartedly. These migrating people know that the greatest discrimination is not black and white. It's green.

Locke then goes on to pronounce Harlem as the Negro capital of the world. He declares his excitement about the coming together of the Negro community. Then he shares that America has become a great experiment of race welding. Oddly after that he defines the African American as being "a race in name more than in fact (Locke, Within the Circle 23)." I personally feel that he should have taken it a step farther and pointed out that the concept of different races of humans is absurd. All humans, barring some genetic defect, have or had the ability to interbreed. This defies the definition of race. At best we are different breeds of people, but even that could be argued. The only reason I could imagine that he referred to people this way was he was choosing his battles. Still I think it would have been good to include.

This next section is the part of Locke's essay that I felt was most insightful. On page twenty-five Locke begins by saying that Americans must get used to the "New Negro." Isn't that great? He goes on to say that African Americans can no longer be the subservient recipients of help. They must stand up and help themselves. Also the New Negro cannot excuse their shortcomings as being due to discrimination. Pretty good, but he's not done yet. "We used to lament this as the falling off of our friends (the decline in sentimental interest in the Negro); now we rejoice and pray to be delivered from both self-pity and condescension (Locke, Within the Circle 24)." He saw the end of outside help as the end of pity. The end of pity he saw as a definite and large step towards equalization of the Negro. That's the coolest, but wait there's more. Locke also recognizes that it is the lack of intermingling of the cultures that is causing a lot of the misunderstanding. He even recognizes that interaction will not make the Negro better liked or treated, only that it is the basic requirement for any future co-operative and mutually progressive relationships. Now that was insightful. For someone in the midst of oppression to recognize the need for interaction, not just to make things better for himself, but for the survival of the culture. Locke supports his assertions in the next few paragraphs, calling for ""¦less charity but more justice; less help, but infinitely closer understanding." Afterwards Locke speaks of the "New Negro's" inner and outer objectives. The outer ones being the American ideals and the inner ones ""¦to repair damaged group psychology and reshape a warped social perspective (Locke, Within the Circle 27)." He also has a great insight here that the "New Negro's" racial nerves will become less touchy as time goes on. We have seen that to be true.

Locke's last big point is the strategy that the African Americans have used to bring about personal pride. They have taken a thing they have been told to be ashamed of, their skin color, and made it a point of personal pride. This is the whole basis of Black Pride. Locke also believes that in there struggle African Americans want to be above hate counter-prejudice, but he also feels that in his time only a few above average people have been able to do so. His hope lies in two avenues available during his time. First is to help the African people into their relationship with the twenty-first century. Secondly to rehabilitate the prestige lost by the Negro due to slavery.

Locke's point is that the New Negro is here and is recognizing its past influence, feeling its current dilemma and actively working for a more just future. Locke was right when he said, ""¦we (the New Negro) cannot be undone without America's undoing. (Locke, Within the Circle. 28).