Négritude is a literary and ideological philosophy, developed by francophone African intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France during the 1930s. Its initiators included Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor (a future President of Senegal), and Léon Damas of French Guiana. Négritude intellectuals disfavored French colonialism and claimed that the best strategy to oppose it was to encourage a common racial identity for black Africans worldwide. They included the Marxist ideas they favored as part of this philosophy. The writers generally used a realist literary style, but later were also influenced somewhat by the Surrealism style, and during 1932 the manifesto "Murderous Humanitarianism" was signed by prominent Surrealists including the Martiniquans Pierre Yoyotte and J.M. Monnerot..
The term négritude derives from the French word "Nègre" ("black") and literally means "blackness." The term was first used in its present sense by Césaire, in the third issue of L'Étudiant noir, a magazine which he had started in Paris with fellow students Léopold Senghor and Léon Damas, as well as Gilbert Gratiant, Leonard Sainville, Louis T. Achille, Aristide Maugée, and Paulette Nardal. L'Étudiant noir also includes Césaire's first published work, "Conscience Raciale et Révolution Sociale" with the heading "Les Idées" and the rubric "Negreries," which is notable for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance and for its use of the word "nègre" as a positive term. "Nègre" previously had been used mainly in a pejorative sense. Césaire deliberately incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his philosophy.
During 1885, Haitian anthropologist Anténor Firmin published an early work De l'Égalité des Races Humaines (On the Equality of Human Races), which was published as a rebuttal to French writer Count Arthur de Gobineau's publication Essai sur l'inegalite des Races Humaines (An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races). Firmin influenced Jean Price-Mars, the initiator of Haitian ethnology, and 20th-century American anthropologist Melville Herskovits. Black intellectuals have historically been proud of Haiti due to its slave revolution commanded by Toussaint L'Ouverture during the 1790s. Césaire spoke, thus, of Haiti as being "where négritude stood up for the first time".
The "Harlem Renaissance", a literary style developed in Harlem in Manhattan during the 1920s and 1930s, influenced the Negritude philosophy. The Harlem Renaissance's writers, including Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, addressed the themes of "noireism" and race relations.
Development during the 20th century
During the 1920s and 1930s, a group of young black students and scholars, primarily from France's colonies and territories, assembled in Paris. There they were introduced to some writers of the Harlem Renaissance by Paulette Nardal and her sister Jane. The Nardal sisters contributed to the Negritude discussions by their writings and by being the proprietors of the Clamart Salon, a tea-shop venue of the French-Black intelligentsia where Negritude philosophy was often discussed. Paulette Nardal and the Haitian Dr. Leo Sajou initiated La revue du Monde Noir (1931–32), a literary journal published in English and French, which attempted to appeal to African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris. This Harlem association was shared by the parallel development of negrismo in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean region.
Although each of the initiators had his own ideas about the purpose and styles of la Négritude, the philosophy was characterized generally by opposing colonialism, the denunciation of Europe's alleged lack of humanity, and the rejection of Western domination and ideas. Also important was the acceptance of and pride in being black and a celebration of African history, traditions, and beliefs. Their literary style was realistic and they cherished Marxist ideas.
Aimé Césaire was a poet, playwright, and politician from Martinique. He studied in Paris, where he discovered the black community and "rediscovered Africa". He saw la Négritude as the fact of being black, acceptance of this fact, and appreciation of the history and culture, and of black people. He sought to recognize the collective colonial experience of Blacks - the slave trade and plantation system. Césaire's ideology was especially important during the early years of la Négritude.
Neither Césaire—- who after returning to Martinique after his studies was elected mayor of Fort de France, the capital, and a representative of Martinique in France's Parliament—- nor Senghor in Senegal envisaged political independence from France. Négritude would, according to Senghor, enable Blacks in French lands to have a "seat at the give and take [French] table as equals". However the French eventually presented Senegal and its other African colonies with independence.
Poet and the later first president of Sénégal, Senghor used la Négritude to work toward a universal valuation of African people. He advocated a modern incorporation of the expression and celebration of traditional African customs and ideas. This interpretation of la Négritude tended to be the most common, particularly during later years.
Damas was a French Guyanese poet and National Assembly member. He had a militant style of defending "black qualities" and rejected any kind of reconciliation with caucasians.
During 1948, Jean-Paul Sartre analyzed the négritude philosophy in an essay called "Orphée Noir" (Black Orpheus) which served as the introduction to a volume of francophone poetry named Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache, compiled by Léopold Senghor. In this essay, Sartre characterizes négritude as the opposite of colonial racism in a Hegelian dialectic and with it he helped to introduce Négritude issues to French intellectuals. In his opinion, négritude was an "anti-racist racism" (racisme antiraciste), a strategy with a final goal of racial unity.
Négritude was criticized by some black writers during the 1960s as insufficiently militant. Keorapetse Kgositsile criticized that the term Négritude was based too much on blackness according to a caucasian aesthetic, and was unable to define a new kind of perception of African-ness that would free black people and black art from caucasian conceptualizations altogether.
The Nigerian dramatist, poet, and novelist Wole Soyinka opposed Négritude. He believed that by deliberately and outspokenly being proud of their ethnicity, black people were automatically on the defensive: "Un tigre ne proclame pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie" (French: A tiger doesn't proclaim its tigerness; it jumps on its prey).
American physician Benjamin Rush, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and early abolitionist, used the term negritude to imagine a rhetorical "disease" which he said was a mild form of leprosy, the only cure of which was to become white. This early use of the term may not have been known by the Francophone blacks who developed the philosophy of Negritude during the 20th century.
Novelist Norman Mailer used the term to describe boxer George Foreman's physical and psychological presence in his book The Fight, a journalistic treatment of the legendary Ali vs. Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" bout in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) during 1974 October.
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- Césaire, Aimé: Discourse on Colonialism, Monthly Review Press 2000 (orig. 1950), ISBN 1-58367-025-4
- Damas, Léon-Gontran, Poètes d'expression française.Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1947
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- Diop, Birago, Leurres et lueurs. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1960
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- Tadjo, Véronique, Red Earth/Latérite. Spokane, Washington: Eastern Washington University Press, 2006
- T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women, University of Minnesota Press 2002, ISBN 0-8166-3680-X
- Christian Filostrat, Negritude Agonistes, Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers 2008, ISBN 978-0-9818939-2-1
- Gary Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude & Colonial Humanism Between the Two World Wars, University of Chicago Press 2005, ISBN 0-226-89772-9
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- Thompson, Peter, Négritude et nouveaux mondes—poésie noire: africaine, antillaise et malgache. Concord, Mass: Wayside Publishing, 1994
- Georges Balandier, "La Situation Coloniale: Approche Théorique", Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, XI (1951):44-79. English translation by Robert A Wagoner, as "The Colonial Situation: A Theoretical Approach (1951) in Immanuel Wallerstein, ed. Social Change; The Colonial Situation (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966): 34-61
- Négritude : Naissance et expansion du concept a documentary by Nathalie Fave et Jean-Baptiste Fave,first minutes online with the interventions of Amadou Lamine Sall, Racine Senghor, Lylian Kesteloot, Jean-Louis Roy, Jacqueline Lemoine, Gérard Chenêt, Victor Emmanuel Cabrita, Nafissatou Dia Diouf, Amadou Ly, Youssoufa Bâ, Raphaël Ndiaye, Alioune Badara Bèye, Hamidou Dia, Georges Courrèges, Baba Diop ; Maison Africaine de la Poésie Internationale, Shoot at Sénégal in 2005, 56' (DVD)