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 George S. Schuyler - Literary Critique

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Name: Janean L. Watkins
Author: George Samuel Schuyler
Text Title: The Negro-Art Hokum
Type of Text: Article
Date of Publication: June 16, 1926; Nation: 122


The Main Theme or Central Point

             In “The Negro-Art Hokum”, Schuyler presents us with a view from the standpoint of an ‘Africamerican’ writer.  His perspective is one that denounces the separatism in what is widely accepted as art in the society of the day.  His central theme is about the similarities of Blacks and Whites.  Another obvious theme is the theory that Blacks use the “race card” to separate themselves thus finding that the art of the Harlem Renaissance is unlike any art forms on the scene; especially considering the trials and tribulations that most had to go through to have their art in the mainstream at the time.  It was a substantial amount of “race pride” that Schuyler obviously didn’t feel was necessary.

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Key Points Made

             He makes comparisons of Negro newspapers to Caucasian newspapers.  He says that the Negro periodicals contain the same news that the Caucasian ones include and that it is more widely read.  He states that Negroes experienced what he dubs, ‘colorphobia’ and that their constant sense of inferiority is sought by themselves.  He notes that the Negro newspapers spur them on.  He expresses feelings that all artists’ works are a product of their environments; and that their race is merely ‘happenstance’.

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Three Significant Lines or Passages or Quotations

“As for the literature, painting and sculpture of Africamericans –such as there is – it is identical in kind with the literature, painting, and sculpture of white Americans: that is, it shows more or less evidence of European influence”

“In short, the art of Homo Africanus was about to electrify the waiting world.  Skeptics patiently waited.  They still wait.”

Negro art “made in America” is as non-existent as the widely advertised profundity of Cal Coolidge, the “seven years of progress” of Mayor Hylan2, or the reported sophistication of New Yorkers.”

“Again, the Africamerican is subject to the same economic and social forces that mold the actions and thoughts of the white Americans.  He is not living in a different world as some whites and a few Negroes would have us believe.”

    I chose these quotes because they depict Schuyler’s general sentiment on the issue.  His loathing of pity, his opinion that the life wasn’t different for Negroes than it was for whites. Also, that the art forms of the Harlem Renaissance was even that great.  He also shows with these quotes his supposed proof of the blatant similarities in the derivation of this ‘so-called’ Negro art renaissance.

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Author's Strengths as a Writer

            In my opinion, the author’s main strengths were his use of metaphors, and his easy comfort with the English vernacular.  He also utilizes good form in presenting his argument.  His thesis, though at the end of the article, was a strong one.  If I were undecided I’d say he could have won me over.  His other great strength is his use of irony.  He often throughout the article says things that he really doesn’t mean and follows with the sarcastic comeback that roots the reader in their thinking that he was only being ironic in that statement.  He over exaggerates in his work, leaving you to wonder just how bad these politicians, blacks and leaders of the day really were.

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Personal Reaction

            In my personal opinion, I totally disagree with Schuyler.  I think he’s a pompous fool.  His arguments, though well presented, are shaky at best.  I felt like I was repeated being slapped about the face.  It should be obvious for a man of his caliber to know that life for blacks, especially during that time, was profoundly different.  That difference in the way blacks had to live and endure heavily influenced the various forms of art that made its way from Harlem and beyond.  I sum up his article and my opinions on it by saying that he wrote the article mainly to shout from the rooftops, “Look at me, I was raised ‘non-black’, you don’t have to be embarrassed to be my friend Mr. White Man!” 

            Schuyler’s writing is reminiscent of Swift’s “Modest Proposal”.  The use of satire takes away from the depressing situation at hand… the Negro plight and venture into the world of Art.  In some ways, I understand his underlying fear and need to belong, but respect for one’s self and one’s race is integral.  The recognition of the art of that area was important for future generations to come.  It didn’t need his degradation and refutation.

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Other Harlem Renaissance Writings That This Text Reminded Me Of

Schuyler’s work reminds me of Wallace Thurman’s “Infants of the Spring Chapter 11 [Harlem Salon]”.  The blatant satirist outlook on the stars of the Harlem Renaissance was fair play for both of these writers.  Schuyler himself is cut from the same aristocratic cloth as Rudolph Fisher.  The ways in which these artist play on the writers, artists, sculptors and overall; major players of the Harlem Renaissance is a pang in most lovers of the era’s side.  However, I don’t think either of these people so eloquently and shamelessly called out the artist of the time the way that Schuyler did. 

Schuyler was, by far, the harshest in his critique of the works of this time.  His unfairness and unwillingness to recognize the differences and beauty in the works was staggering. 

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Other Works

            Please visit my works cited page below, for other works by George Schuyler, refer to the listing provided below:

Black and Conservative, 1966.

Black No More: (1931). New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Black Empire, An Imaginative Story of a Great New Civilization in Modern Africa, 1937-38.

Fifty Years of Progress in Negro Journalism, 1950.

Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia, 1930

"The Reds and I." American Opinion, March 1968.

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Biography (Compliments of

    Schuyler, George S. (1895–1977), satirist, critic, and journalist. George Samuel Schuyler was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to Eliza Jane Fischer and George S. Schuyler. He grew up in a middle-class, racially mixed neighborhood in Syracuse, New York, where he attended public schools until he enlisted in the army at the age of seventeen. He spent seven years (1912–1919) with the black 25th U.S. Infantry and was discharged as a first lieutenant.

From early on, Schuyler possessed a high level of confidence and boasted of his family having been free as far back as the Revolutionary War. In 1921, Schuyler joined the Socialist Party of America, through which he connected with A. Philip Randolph, who hired him in 1923 as assistant editor for the Messenger; in that position, from 1923 to 1928, Schuyler also wrote a column entitled “Shafts and Darts: A Page of Calumny and Satire.” In 1924, Schuyler became the New York correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier, contributing a weekly commentary, “Views and Reviews.” Schuyler led several investigative series while with the Courier, including one entitled “Aframerican Today,” reporting on race relations in Mississippi in 1925–1926. In 1926, his article “The Negro-Art Hokum,” published in the Nation, propelled him into the middle of the literary debate of the Harlem Renaissance. While Schuyler was concerned with race difference always being interpreted as inferiority and was trying to refute negative stereotypes, his statement in that essay, “the Aframerican is merely a lamp-blacked Anglo-Saxon,” caused him to be labeled as an assimilationist throughout his career. In 1927, “Our White Folks” was published in H. L. Mencken's American Mercury; from this, Schuyler's reputation grew and Mencken published nine more of Schuyler's articles between 1927 and 1933.

By the end of the 1920s, Schuyler began to acquire a national reputation as an iconoclast; despite his constant attacks on white racism, his commitment to exposing fraud, regardless of race, caused some African Americans to doubt his racial loyalty. In 1928, Schuyler married Josephine Cogdell, a white Texan ex-model.

In 1931, Schuyler published his first satirical novel, Black No More, Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free. The bulk of Schuyler's reputation rests on the success of this novel, which attacks myths of racial purity and white supremacy and the ways in which the perpetuation of racism serves economic purposes. Also in 1931, Schuyler became the first African American writer to serve as a foreign correspondent for a metropolitan newspaper, when the New York Evening Post sent him to assess the controversy of Liberia's slave labor. The articles were condemned by Marcus Garvey supporters, but based on the experience he published Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia (1931).

Schuyler also had several literary alter egos. Between 1933 and 1939, he produced fifty-four short stories and twenty novels/novellas in serialized form under such pen names as Samuel I. Brooks and Rachel Call. Until recently, scholars paid no attention to this body of work and Schuyler's own attitude toward his serialized fiction ranged from amusement to disdain. The freedom of a pen name allowed him to explore melodrama, and in contrast to the audience for his satirical essays and his novel, Black No More, Schuyler wrote his serialized fiction for an exclusively African American audience. To date, four of his serialized novels have been reprinted into two volumes: Black Empire (1991) and Ethiopian Stories (1995). Black Empire explores the success of the retaking of Africa from European colonial powers; Ethiopian Stories explores Ethiopia's wars against Italian occupation.

Schuyler continued his career as a journalist until 1966, when he published his autobiography, Black and Conservative, which gives an inside track to the feuds among the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a look at Schuyler's own anticommunist/anti-capitalist views. While Schuyler saw the major problem of the twentieth century to be the color line, he felt that focusing on race conflict only would lead African Americans into second-class citizenship. George Schuyler is generally considered the most prominent African American journalist and essayist of the early twentieth century.

–Adenike Marie Davidson

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Works Cited

Ferguson, Jeffrey B. The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005.

Peplow, Michael W. George S. Schuyler. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

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