Classic English Literature
Thesis Statement:Du Bois argued that people from African decent live through a special double consciousnesswhere there exists a psychological challenge of integration of African heritage to the European cultural background and education. Walker used the mule as the representation of black women who surpassed the abuses and oppression they went through to establish African identity, territory, class, culture and kinship with other nations. King’s letter was used as the medium to expose his sentiments against racism and human conflict where he expressed optimism in his battle despite the extreme prejudices committed against the blacks. Race is proven to be impenetrable within a modern worldview that is focused on the nation as a fundamental unit that organizes social life (Chapmanand Frader 116).
One of the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Jim Crow” is a graffiti which portrayed rebellion against the ruling class and multi-racial reality in American setting. Basquiat’s art in this work created the impression of oppression of Southern Americans. This encapsulated the life of marginalized citizens composed of mostly African‐Americanswho were made to suffer oppression and discrimination during the Jim Crow legislation. The painting has pointed out the reversal of particular “standards” which symbolized the black reclamation of the South and its culture. The work of Basquiat has pictured the lives of black African Americans has shown the negative effect on the mental development of human beings. The graffiti’s message tells the audience that black slaves harbor a sense of inferiority within themselves and because of this impact, slavery should be abolished.
The work of Du Bois entitled “Criteria of Negro Art” has reassessed and consulted every feature of African-American life, culture, thought and history of the “double-consciousness” of black business in the economic philosophy that he has established (Fontenot, Morgan and Gardner 70). Despite his criticism on capitalism and his concern for people of color all over the world, he acknowledged the reality of black Americans who lived in a capitalist society wherein wealth was derived from business activities that exploited blacks. He condemned the labor exploitation of blacks by the whites as he manifested his view of the potentially exploitative power of the white when he stated “This work must be inferior because it comes from colored people” (Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art”). Du Bois stressed further that the blacks have plenty of good hard workthat is alongside pain and suffering in life. However, the sacrifice of waiting has a reward since the black will be glorified for the world they created and they deserve a place in America and the world. The end result will be a world with equal opportunities even for the blacks, as they learn how to enjoy life and to create a designated place in this world.
Just as in the work of The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his feelings towards the injustices committed against black Americans. While he was in prison in 1963, he wrote the letter to celebrate the birth of the civil rights movement through non-violent means. He responded to the issues raised by 8 white clergy who criticized him for promoting the rights of black Americans. His powerful words awakened the minds of the blacks who were subjugated by the corrupt religious leaders. These people are supposed to be the servants of God to help the oppressed, but instead resorted to unwarranted force to do injustice.
The letter is meant to defy the prejudices against the oppressed people especially the blacks. He preferred to use diplomacy to avoid bloodshed. King has been identified as a civil rights advocate fought against aggression and brutality in the society. He called out to the human race, regardless of color, sex and religion to unite and promote equality, peace, and justice. This was evident in the lines, “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry” (King,“Letter from Birmingham Jail”). His letter is intended to make uplift injustices done against the black Americans. As a civil rights advocate, his ideals became the voice his fellowmen.
The theme of Du Bois’ “double consciousness principle” is to reconcile the two cultures of African and Americans into one. In the early history, the African-Americans became slaves to the whites as they tilled the land which they considered as their homeland. Slavery and acculturation brought the distortion to their identity. One of the reasons which attempted to distort the African culture is when they were forbidden to speak their native language and even their original names were not allowed to be used. This slavery system has disallowed them to enjoy music and any form of merriment as dancing and playing of drums was prohibited. Another significant change in the American-African culture is that they were forced to become Christians. Although there are some apologists viewed it as an opportunity for the slaves to be exposed to Christianity and the Western civilization. However, this view was opposed by other historians who argued that racism can be compared to Nazi concentration camps and considered as a “perverted patriarchy” because it had the effect of dehumanizing, emasculating and stripping the slaves of their heritage and culture (Healey 118). Racial discrimination have pushed indigenous forms of slavery further away from a social framework, in which slavery became a form of dependencies in societies based on kinship relationships (Lovejoy 3). Slaves are considered valuable in the sense that the system recognized the role of the slaves in the growth of the economy. The painting of Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Jim Crow” is a graffiti which has summarized the rebellion against the ruling class and multi-racial reality in American setting. Basquiat’s art in this work created the impression of oppression of Southern Americans that was shown in the work of Du Bois, Luther King and Walker. Such painting has reflected the effect of brutality in the system of slavery has left an emotional and psychological scar in the minds and hearts of the African community (Healey 118). The punishments during that time were considered cruel, inhuman, excessive and discriminatory which hampered the development of self-worth and self-preservation. However, amidst all these hardships given to the African-Americans who were sold for bondage, these slaves retained a sense of self and a firm anchor in their African traditions (Healey 118). They remained resilient and strong by becoming focused on the importance of their kinship, religion and culture that will aid them in gaining strength to overcome the traumatic and devastating experiences in the hands of the white landowners.
The purpose of King’s letter is to expose his sentiments against racism and human conflict. He expressed optimism in his battle despite the extreme prejudices committed against the blacks. He condemned the white church and its leadership for doing injustice. The focal point of this letter is to uplift the condition of blacks who were denied of their rights. He used powerful words to reach out to church leaders by venting out his disappointment for their actions. During that time, the clergy urged the Birmingham blacks to withdraw their support from civil rights activists including himself. His strong faith in God gave him continued positivity to work for peace.
King’s letter used strong arguments to defeat all forms of injustice against black Americans through appeals to higher spiritual principles. It is a method of a non-violent protest without resorting to force. He made use of powerful words to achieve freedom and justice for all. He transformed the situation as his mode of appeal to fight for the same revolutionary principle all for democracy. During the 1960s, Birmingham in Alabama was known as the racially divided city in America. It was known to be a city that discriminated the blacks and did not provide any employment opportunities for them. Due to this economic disparity, King used the scene to initiate the civil rights movement in the history of America.
While the work of Alice Walker entitled “In Search of our Mothers' Gardens” is a piece of work that depicted the suffering endured by black women through years of perseverancein order to keep their creativity intact during the years of slavery. She used various techniques in order to relay this message and explain the reason why black creativity surpassed the years ofoppression. She used the character of Jean Toomer who was regarded as the “the mule of the world”, and the representative of black women in order to rise above the abuses and painful ordeals they had to go through. She used the words “In the still heat of the post-Reconstruction South, this is how they seemed to Jean Toomer; exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era (Moore 110). Walker addressed the women of our childhood, where there is no rose colored glasses to conceal their flaws and nothing in required to recognize their beauty and humanity of these women (Moore 110).
In all the works portrayed by the three authors Du Bois, Luther King and Walker, it was shown that art became a means to practice non-violent debates to establish the rights of the black people. It can be concluded that race alone has set social structure in which other elements such as class, language, cultural practices and beliefs have emphasized on race as a color.It may be true that history will show that white race signifies aristocracy because social class takes into account social graces, proper manners and right conduct. However, there are those people who belong to the black race, who have learned to accept that social contingency of racial identity had long been abolished by acculturation and post modernism. The sentiments of the three authors where clearly captured in the painting of Basquiat, “Jim Crow”, which is a reflection of an art that has the ability to act as political resistance to the oppression of the Southern Americans. The graffiti was able to express rebellion against the ruling class in order to redeem the culture of the black African-Americans.
Chapman, Herrick and Frader,Laura Levine. Race in France: Interdiciplinary Perspectives on
the Politics of Difference. USA: Berghahn, 2004. Print.
Du Bois, W.E.B.Criteria of Negro Art. Web. 29 March 2013.
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Web. 29 March 2013. http://www.bartleby.com/114/1.html.
Fontenot, Chester J. Jr., MorganMary Alice and Gardner, Sarah. W.E.B. Du Bois and Race.
Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2001. Print.
Healey, Joseph F. Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity and Gender. California: Pine Forge
Press, 2009. Print.
King, Martin Luther Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail. 1963. Web. 29March 2013.
Lovejoy, Paul E. Transformations in Slavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Moore, Opal. In Search for Our Mother’s Garden by Alice Walker. Web. 29 March 2013.