This past semester, I took a course that focused on African American Literature in the 20th Century. Beginning at the turn of the century, we discussed the Harlem Renaissance, in which we focused on the work produced by the prominent poets, writers, authors, illustrators, artists, and intellectuals.
Some of them included the following: Zora Neal Hurston (Who wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God), Langston Hughes (known for his groundbreaking poetry), W.E.B. Du Bois (known for his academic work expressing the dire need for black people in America to retreat to their homeland: nations in Africa.
The Harlem Renaissance embodied the intellectual, social, economic, political, and artistic birth of black people that took place in Harlem, New York- the historical home to black culture, existence, business, and growth. Harlem itself aided in the breeding of a black network of artists and intellectuals, who, while lacking major civil rights, protections, resources, and direction settled in and worked relentlessly to craft their own when their own country failed them.
In addition to the brilliant minds that we explored, as mentioned above, we progressed into the century itself and hit intellects like that of James Baldwin. James Baldwin, a writer, a playwright, and a revolutionary thinker, although not always centering his career on such a topic, engaged himself in the climate present in America in the mid-1900s--Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, racist rhetoric, etc... My professor challenged us to watch a documentary film I Am Not Your Negro, which analyzed the birth of, the role of, and the persistence of race in America. This analysis of race as a tool of destruction in America was intended to be the topic of one of Baldwin's upcoming books, but unfortunately, he died before he could complete the novel.
Baldwin, throughout his later career, became more of a prominent observer of race and its presence in the overall culture of America and Americans themselves. Baldwin's focus on race in America was greatly influenced by the deaths of three prominent Civil Rights leaders: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Medgar Evans, in which he began to open his own eyes to the evil that did debilitate the very nature of black existence in the United States: racism.
We concluded the semester with a close analytic reading of one of the most phenomenal novels of all time, Beloved BY Toni Morrison, which tells the story of slavery, its remnants, and its continued presence in the lasting generations in the black communities. Beloved wasn't just a novel documenting slave narratives or documenting the horrors of slavery, the novel focused on telling the stories of the untold, the stories that seldom see the light of day or seldom fall off the tongues of individuals.
Toni Morrison takes the stories of slavery, the physical trauma, and the lasting trauma and through the characters in the novel and their experiences, tells the story of psychological trauma--the psychological dismantling that the system of slavery subjected human beings too--that continues to plague the black community today.
The novel makes a large connection to the relationship between psychological and physical trauma, and how each precipitates the other, and how each plays a role in each other's existence. This is a reality that Toni Morrison addresses which, I realized while reading, is brilliant in its essence, as it is a reality in the black community that seldom gets discussed.
Having only been in college for 2 full years, I have to say that the Black Literature class that I enrolled in was my favorite thus far and bears the sole responsibility for a gradual change in my intellectual understanding of the social, political, and economic issues that black people, especially black Americans, experience in America today.
This course has opened my eyes to a new world that I lacked the ability to see prior to enrolling. This is the power of engaging in a reality that we seldom get exposed to. This is the power of engaging our minds in a reality that social media, pop culture, and mass media fail to provide us with. This is the power of engaging ourselves in a reality that many live in and that some will never experience.
It is up to us to choose whether or not we want to engage in the reality. The reality is painful and difficult to see, but just because something is painful and difficult to see, address, and acknowledge, does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to it. The only way to alleviate the many social, political, and economic injustices that we see today is to do one thing: Acknowledge them!