What is Blackness?: Movement for Afro Equality

Negritude was a movement that sought to reaffirm the cultural identity of blacks and rebel against the implicit superiority of European cultures. It was born in literature and expanded to other arts.

Last update: 26 September, 2022

La negritude is an intellectual and literary movement that originated in Paris in the 1930s. Defends the values ​​of African societies and demands the recovery of its culture.

This movement quickly spread to different parts of the then French colonies, such as the current Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, in Africa; or Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti, in the American Antilles.

Its main figure was Léopold Sédar Senghor (elected first president of the Republic of Senegal in 1960). Along with Aimé Césaire from Martinique and Léon Damas from French Guiana, he began to critically examine Western values ​​and revalue African culture.

Origin and development of the movement

The literary movement of blackness was born in the Parisian intellectual context of the 30s and 40s. It was the product of the union of black writers who sought to reaffirm their cultural identity and rebel against the implicit superiority of European cultures over African ones.

In this sense, through literature, blackness defended ideas about African religions and cosmologies, narrated historical events that occurred on the continent, taught the contributions of African cultures to humanity and claimed black identity and the freedom of African societies. with respect to Western colonial domination.

Aimé Césaire was the first to coin the word “negritude” in his 1939 poem entitled Cahier d’un return to the native country (Notebook of a return to the native country). There he declared:

My blackness is not a stain of dead water, in the dead eye of the earth, but it takes root in the burning flesh of the earth.

~Aime Cesaire~

Along with Césaire, Léon Damas and Léopold Sédar Senghor created a poetry that would define blackness. The best-known works of these poets were pigments (Ladies), black hosts Y Chants d’ombre (Senghor), and Cahier (Cesaire).

The African colonies claimed their rights from their own perspective that criticized colonialism.

Expansion of blackness to other countries

At the outbreak of World War II, the movement’s leaders left Paris for the Caribbean and Africa. From there, new forms of blackness emerged in these places, whose expression not only encompassed literature, but other types of art, such as music and painting.

After the war, Paris was once again the center of black activities. On this occasion, many artists from Africa and the Caribbean emigrated to the city to study. Among them, Frank Bowling, Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, Ben Enwonwu and Uzo Egonu stand out.



World Festival of Black Arts

In 1966, Senghor organized the first World Festival of Black Arts in Senegal. Many black artists, musicians, writers, poets and actors had the opportunity to participate in a global examination of African culture.

Senghor’s goal was to promote the concept of blackness as a viable philosophical model. In addition, he sought to revalue African tribal art, which until then had been viewed with a certain indifference by the African diaspora.

This event gave rise to the beginnings of the international black arts movement and has been repeated on two subsequent occasions: in 1977 in Nigeria and in 2010 in Dakar.



Basics of blackness

The Negritude movement arose as a protest against French cultural dominance and assimilation policy. Therefore, he defended the following:

  • The mystical warmth of African life, gaining strength from its closeness to nature and its constant contact with the ancestors. It should continually be placed in proper perspective against the soullessness and materialism of Western culture.
  • Africans must look to their own cultural heritage for the most useful values ​​and traditions in the framework of the modern world.
  • Committed writers must use African subject matter and poetic traditions to arouse the desire for political freedom.
  • Blackness itself encompasses the totality of African cultural, economic, social and political values.
  • Above all, the value and dignity of African traditions and peoples must be affirmed.
Freedom was the underlying concept in the art of blackness. This is supported by the importance of African tribal and ancestral culture.

Does it still continue?

Blackness responded to the alienated position of blacks in history and asserted an identity of its own for them. For its part, from a political point of view, the movement was an important aspect in the struggle against colonialism. It had an impact on how the colonized viewed themselves and positioned themselves in the cultural fabric of the West.

Finally, there is no clear end date for the move. In fact, some literary critics say that it still continues in any artistic expression that affirms black identity.

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