Harlem 1920-1960 Term Paper

Pages: 30 (9936 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Harlem 1920-1960 Culture of the Harlem

Harlem has indeed been a mirror of the diversity that sums up the essence of the American nation. It is the social, economic, and political environment in which the African-American cultural individuality has integrated and defined itself as a cornerstone of what came to be known today as the American nation. Despite the multitude of opinions arguing that there is no true American cultural identity, it is beyond any doubt its existence, even if it cannot be fully integrated in a cultural blueprint as expressed by the traditional analysis of the European standards. Indeed, the American culture lacks the time duration and from this point-of-view it can be said to be inferior to the French or the Italian ones which have their roots well defined by the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment era, for instance. Still, the specificity of the American culture lies precisely in its novelty and its enormous diversity which proved to offer a true sense of cultural identification for hundreds of millions of Americans. In this framework, the African-American culture which developed in the poor homes of the Harlem is essential for underlining the diversity of the U.S. cultural environment and at the same time, it stands out as the fruit of the tormented existence of the Black people, in a way, similar to the actual struggling experience of the creation of the United States.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Harlem 1920-1960 Assignment

African-Americans represent the symbol of a different culture from the European one, which had influenced and set the stage for the creation of the United States. On the one hand, black people, due to the historical circumstances that made them to come to America, were somewhat forced to adopt different means of expression of their grievances and at the same time of their cultural identity. In this sense, in the 1920s and 1940s, the Harlem became one of the most active places for the African-American population and a crucial point for the rediscovery of their cultural inspiration. Clare Corbould considered that "African-Americans heard the noise, or sound, of Harlem, rather differently. To them, it indicated a distinctive and valuable culture." This was perceived in such a manner due to the fact that they considered culture and the use of their national and racial elements of identification as a tool for manifestation and for staging their own identity by comparison to the white people's criticism and exclusion.

The black population in Harlem considered the expression of their cultural identity as a means to erase or at least reduce the racial discrimination and ill treatment and, as one review of Mckay's "Harlem: Negro Metropolis" notes, Harlem represented an area in which Negroes have created a new order to obliterate the old social one of race, an order that was based upon custom and tradition. The new order of Negro megalopolis is one neither absolute nor sacred to the area's residents, more or less artificial, of course, but pragmatic. In this Harlem race is primordial, education more than a social ritual, politics empirical, amusements vocational and avocational, religion a quest rather than a tradition, and any "cause" of the "lost" variety, if it involves race, an occasion for striking up the band.

Indeed, the identification of the Harlem areal with a cultural framework was essential for the population living in the small and poor neighborhoods of New York. Although there have been numerous voices that considered the Harlem as an insalubrious area of the great city, in fact it was a matter of perception and of point-of-view. In this sense, for instance, Claude Brown expressed his views on the neighborhood through the perspective of his own childhood experience, as "he was born in Harlem (and) at the age of sixteen, began selling marijuana and cocaine." From his point-of-view, and especially taking into consideration the vivid and negative accounts of Harlem Brown had offered throughout his books, its negative perception of the neighborhood is more than entitled. However, it can be said that parts of the elements he presented, such as dirty flats, slums, the offensive white police, represented in fact the physical aspect of an area in which black people were not welcomed and were constantly rejected the right to belong to. At the same time, the author points out in his autobiography, "Man child in the Promised land" the evolution of the cultural and individual identity of the black community, as they tried to recreate and adjust their own cultural demands to a hostile environment. In this sense, Brown notes his mother's devotion to God during trying times, thus suggesting the strong commitment of the African-Americans to their religious beliefs.

Thus, from a different perspective, it is fair to say that Harlem cannot be considered a mere outrageous place, but also one in which a community, especially the black community, struggled to find and rebuilt its cultural identity in order to be part of what is called the American society.

There were different ways in which the cultural identity of the African-Americans manifested in Harlem throughout the period from the 20s up to the 60s. While some considered the neighborhood to be a "cancer in the heart of the city," it is due to the black community in Harlem that Jazz became available to the larger audience, as well as different types of interpretative theater. Therefore it can be argued that it represented a central point for the formation of an African-American identity.

The history of the Jazz music is inevitably linked to the evolution of the Black Harlem. The sounds and bits of the jazz music were "an entirely American-made, modern expression of primitivism." It represents a combination between the perspective the African background has offered the black community and the experiences they have had throughout their existence. Thus, many have viewed jazz as being a the primitive sound of the urban space, similar to the actual image of the African-American living in the city which includes the idea of savagism combined with civilization. However, while some find it evolutionary, others consider it to be a regressive step in the development of the city and therefore label the African-American presence as being a "cancer in the heart of the city."

The existence of a distinct community inside a major city cannot be perfectly interpreted in terms of only financial problems the respective groups pose for the wider majority. Indeed, there are figures to show that there was great poverty among the dwellers of the Harlem. In this sense, the years preceding the Depression were important in terms of the rise in the number of the population and the decrease in the number of houses. From this perspective, the crowded spaces and precarious living conditions, as suggested by Winston McDowell were a shortcoming for the image New York wanted to convey to the world. It represented the symbol for a decaying society taken as a whole, and, from the white majority's perspective, a pit for increased violence. Nonetheless, one cannot argue that the situation in those days in the neighborhood was the full result of the black Americans and other minorities that had found shelter in Harlem. Rather, it would be fair to say that, taking into account the evolution of the black community and the way in which it settled in Harlem, the miserable conditions they lived in were the result of the white pressure and the black population's lack of possibility to adjust to this pressure. The fact that whites were still determined to control the entire city, including the areas such as the Black Harlem where blacks were a majority determined the latter to consider a certain opposition and rebellious attitude. From this point-of-view, the sense of violence and the behavior that created the bad fame of the neighborhood was a reaction in fact to the conditions African-Americans had to endure throughout decades of exclusion.

On an opposite point-of-view lies the idea that in fact the violence of the black American man and of the Harlem dweller is more a preconception rather than a reality based assumption. Alain Locke idea of the Old Negro can be placed in the Harlem framework, because, as he suggests,

The Old Negro had long become more of a myth than a man. The Old Negro, we must remember, was a creature of moral debate and historical controversy. His has been a stock figure perpetuated as an historical fiction partly in innocent sentimentalism, partly in deliberate reactionism. The Negro himself has contributed his share to this through a sort of protective social mimicry forced upon him by the adverse circumstances of dependence. So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being --a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be "kept down," or "in his place," or "helped up," to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogey or a social burden.

From Locke's point-of-view, the traditional black person, the one most critics of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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