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Racism Towards African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance

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The Harlem Renaissance was a movement that spoke to a range of issues and concerns like hostility, racism, and anger. Authors spent lots of time aiming to highlight them in ways like power struggles, emotions of hate/animosity towards white people, and even colorism between individuals in their own race. How many African Americans back then faced so much discrimination from white people that it created a hated in them that affected them deeply and created issues in their day to day lives. The theme that deserves the most recognition is racism and how it affected their daily lives because authors Hurston, Bennett, and DuBois forces on this in the following works of ‘Returning Soldiers’, ‘Wedding Day’, and ‘Color Struck’. Though these three authors, readers get an understanding of how deep racism really went and affect a lot more then what was perceived.

During the time of the Harlem Renaissance, African Americans soldiers took the same risks to defend their country against enemies as white soldiers did however despite all that and the violence that when with the war. None of that was as bad as having to face the battle of racism and segregation back at their own country, their home. DuBois symbolized African Americans return from war as not a breath of fresh air or a step into equal rights but more as the movement from one battle abroad to coming home to fight another battle. Even in the military where there was supposed to be unity as men fighting for their country. DuBois expresses how even though everyone is wearing the same uniform, the years of racism and segregation doesn’t disappear. White soldiers will still see African Americans as Negros, nothing but slaves not as comrades. African Americans still had to deal with unfair treatment and racism once they got home: “It organizes industry to cheat us. It cheats us out of our land; it cheats us out of our labor. It confiscates our savings. It reduces our wages. It raises our rent. It steals our profit. It taxes us without representation. It keeps us consistently and universally poor, and then feeds us on charity and derides our poverty” (DeBois 4). It should have got better considering their bravely and laying their lives for this country, but there is still no respect, no change. There is a feeling of hopelessness during this time in the Harlem Renaissance because it seems like nothing African American, not even fighting for the country, could end racism making everyday life like an endless journey of injustice and just creating more emotions of anger and hostility.

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During the Harlem Renaissance, there were many African Americans who felt angry at white people for all the injustice and prejudice they caused them. These acts of racism affect many African Americans in the Harlem Renaissance very negativity as it affected their day to day lives, and that was the case in ‘Wedding Day’ Paul Watson. He represented how dealing with the racism back then constantly does so much damage to yourself and your life. Paul is a perfect example of a black man on a self-destruction path that is fueled with angry, violent, and misery created by racism. He deals with this angry by violence as: “The last syllable of the word, nigger, never passed the lips of a white man without the quick reflex action of Paul's arm and fist to the speaker's jaw” (Bennett 364). This acts as a way of living out vengeance without breaking the law. So, his opponent in the ring is like stress relief, something he can hit and punch to get through his anger, frustration, humiliation, and oppression out without getting in trouble. Many African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance had to feel that same angry and limit that Paul felt that they didn’t have healthy ways to cope with the racism, so the next best option was to get mad, violent, and get into fights. This could have been a way that Bennett portrayed how black men addressed their emotions about racism though violence and that many black men had a strong hatred for white people, wanting to cause physical harm to them. Not only that but also highlights how little power black people had back then. When white people attack and physical assault them, black people can’t hit back, or they’ll go to prison. In the ring, Paul has the power and ability to beat up his opponent, in the real world he doesn’t have that power. The racism during that time was high and it made every black person feel like there was no way to get justice against the mistreatment without getting in trouble with the police. The angry and hostility African American felt towards racism did not only create violence outburst but also affected their relationships with other people.

During the time of the Harlem Renaissance, it was clear that African Americans faced racism against white people however they also faced colorism within their own race that affected their lives and their relationships. This is evident in ‘Color struck’, where Emma, an African American woman who is jealous of those with lighter skin. This jealous not only affects her own personal life but also her relationships with other people. An example of this is her relationship with John, who deeply loves Emma but her constant jealousy and insecure toward light skin blacks cause their relationship to end “Emma, what makes you always picking a fuss with me over some Yaller girl. What makes you so jealous, no how? I don’t do nothing” (Hurston 307). In a way Emma was self-sabotaging her own life because she could have been happy with a man who didn’t care she was black and loved her for who she was but her fear that John would leave her for a lighter skin women and hatred blinded her and, in the end, she lost the love of her life. Even when John came back wanting to marry Emma even after 20 years, she didn’t believe him thinking the only reason was because of her light skin daughter Lou that he wanted to marry her now. She even let her colorism affect her relationship with her daughter as she wouldn’t let any light skin doctor help her daughter who was very ill. Her colorism was the reason her daughter died if she went to get a doctor sooner (regards of their skin color) her daughter could still be alive. Hurston uses Emma to symbolize how in the Harlem Renaissance African Americans did have some feeling of hatred and animosity against some of their own, more specific lighter skin or mulatto. This could be African American women like Emma had insecurities that these light skin women were more pretty, more beautiful and better than they were because they had some white in them. Emma had an obsession that caused her to become unhappy, miserable, and destroy every relationship she had. African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance let their jealousy, and hatred towards white people and light skin blacks affect their lives and make themselves miserable and unable to overcome some of the oppression.

In conclusion, the Harlem Renaissance was a time where racism between white people and black people was at a high. The injustice black people faced caused a lot of issues in their daily lives. In ‘Returning Soldier’, DuBois expresses how African Americans soldiers who fought in wars, don’t get their freedom and still must deal with racism making them feel hopeless and angry. In ‘Wedding Day’, Bennett shows how racism from white people caused African Americans to become angrier and act violently, and how limited they were to get vengeance against white people without police involvement. In ‘Color struck’, Hurston expresses how African Americans felt colorism in their own race that caused a lot of insecurity, and misery. Each of these authors created an understanding for readers when it comes to how deep the racism affected black people everyday lives.

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Racism Towards African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Racism Towards African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Racism Towards African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Racism Towards African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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