In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes starts off quoting a young poet who said, “I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet.” He interpreted this to mean the young man wanted to “write like a white poet,” which could mean he wanted “to be a white poet,” and even going as far as to say the poet subconsciously “would like to be white.” This mountain that Hughes refers to, which stands in the way of any true Negro art in America, represents the “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. “ I think here in America we see this every day, not just toward African-Americans, but toward every other ‘non-white’ race.
The young poet’s parents make comments such as “Don’t be like niggers,” and “Look how well a white man does things.” As a result, “the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtues.” However, this poet comes from a middle class, and as Hughes points out, the majority “are the low-down folks, the so-called common element…the people who have their hip of gin on Saturday nights and are not too important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round. They live on Seventh Street in Washington or State Street in Chicago and they do not particularly care whether they are like white folks or anybody else…they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardizations.”
The youtube clip above became in instant hit overnight, quickly becoming the most watched video online. Although the young man in the clip, Antoine Dodson, is not an ‘artist,’ he is a representation of the ‘common folks’ Hughes talks about from Chicago or Washington. His family lives in the project in Huntsville, Alabama. Yet, there was so much backlash from this same ‘middle class’ as the young poet’s family, because they thought this was an unfair representation of African-Americans in the area, and they felt that Dodson gave them a bad name. This is a perfect example of what Hughes calls the “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.” It is ironic though, because if Dodson had not called the news and been interviewed, there would not have been as much coverage or effort put into finding the attacker, because usually things that happen in projects tend to get glossed over.
“And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself. Whereas the better-class Negro would tell the artist what to do, the people at least let him alone when he does appear. And they are not ashamed of him-if they know he exists at all. And they accept what beauty is their own without question.” Hughes goes on to say that while some people appreciate “negro art,” they shy away from anything that is “too negro.” This shows that even while America may be accepting to African-American art and culture, it is still filtered out as to what is acceptable to the filtered standard of “whiteness.”
As we can see in the second clip, Antoine is just a regular person, who had simply reacted to the attempted rape of his sister, angry and upset, just as anyone would be. Many contacted the newsroom saying they felt that “Interviews with people like Antoine reflect poorly on the community.” The reporter’s response was, “To that I say censoring people like Antoine is far worse.” The video was remixed into many different songs and raps, some of which are hilarious, but it still shows that there are many Africa-Americans that are afraid of being “too negro” and less white or American, even in places where “people like Antoine” are actually the reality, not a ‘poor representation.”
Here is an example of a remix for those interested. It got so big you can even buy it on iTunes now.