African American Perspective in Early 20th Century America

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Throughout the era after the Civil War, Blacks struggled to show themselves and create an identity outside of the confines of slavery. There were many different ideas that display how Black should be perceived and how Blacks should carry themselves in order to uplift the race. Uplifting the race was one of the most influential ideas of the time. Miscegenation, sexuality, and education are just three of the issues that were influenced by the racial attitudes of the times. Many authors commented on these issues and the other issues of the time. Nella Larsen, Booker T. Washington, and Charles Chestnutt are three authors that share their views with their readers. Miscegenation occurs when different racial groups mix through marriage,…show more content…
We make our customs lightly; once made, like our sins, they grip us in bands of steel, we become creatures of our creations. By one standard the office-boy should have never been born. Yet he is a son of Adam and came into existence in the way ordained by God from the beginning of the world’ (Chestnutt, 24). Chestnutt shows the judge in the same struggle that he leaves his reader feelings. The customs of society say one thing; yet, true seems to be saying another. Chestnutt leaves his readers with this dichotomy in his book. Chestnutt balances between Larsen and Washington’s views. He makes his reader think though the reasons why or why not miscegenation should or should not be allowed. Sexuality was also an issue for Blacks in this time period. Most black women were classified as either a respectable, almost asexual, lady or a whore. They were classified as a mammy or a jezebel. There was a dichotomy between what women were allowed to be. Sexual desire needed to be separate from respectability. And respectability was highly prized. Larsen’s character Helga struggles greatly with this dichotomy between sexual desire and respectability. She has been taught to be a respectable woman in order to uplift the race and that black women should be perceived in a certain way. Larsen writes of Helga and Dr. Anderson’s conversation about Helga’s upbringing. Dr. Anderson says, “’Perhaps I can best
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