Harlem Renaissance: The Double Consciousness

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Harlem Renaissance: The double consciousness The early 20th century African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois identified the 'double consciousness' of African-Americans as the demand that African-Americans must understand white culture as well as their own to survive in a hostile, white-dominated America. Unlike whites, who could choose to interact with blacks only when it suited their needs (whether this meant employing them as servants or going to jazz clubs), African-Americans had to be hyper-aware of the needs of whites, given white political and economic dominance. One of the foremost poets of the Harlem Renaissance was Langston Hughes. Many of Hughes' poems are about the act of writing poetry, justifying African-American poets' right to speak and create verse, which was denied in previous eras. The act of literacy for African-Americans was depicted as a radical, self-conscious act in Hughes' output. This is explicitly seen in Hughes' poem "Theme for English B." The poem very literally portrays a young, African-American man (presumably Hughes himself) being given an assignment by a white teacher to write about himself. The poet is forced into a paradox he is in a white-run institution, using the language of whites, and yet he must speak about himself truthfully: Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you Then, it will be true. I wonder if it's that simple? I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then
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