"To Negro Writers" (1935)--by Langston Hughes
There are certain practical things American Negro writers can do through their work.
We can reveal to the Negro masses, from which we come, our potential power to transform the now ugly face of the Southland into a region of peace and plenty.
We can reveal to the white masses those Negro qualities which go beyond the mere ability to laugh and sing and dance and make music, and which are a part of the useful heritage that we place at the disposal of a future free America.
Negro writers can seek to unite blacks and whites in our country, not on the nebulous basis of an inter-racial meeting, or the shifting sands of religious brotherhood, but on the solid ground of the daily working-class struggle to wipe out, now and forever, all the old inequalities of the past.
Furthermore, by way of exposure, Negro writers can reveal in their novels, stories, poems, and articles:
The lovely grinning face of Philanthropywhich gives a million dollars to a Jim Crow school, but not one job to a graduate of that school; which builds a Negro hospital with second-rate equipment, then commands black patients and student-doctors to go there whether they will or no; or which, out of the kindness of its heart, erects yet another separate, segregated, shut-off, Jim Crow Y.M.C.A.
Negro writers can expose those white labor leaders who keep their unions closed against Negro workers and prevent the betterment of all workers.
We can expose, too, the sick-sweet smile of organized religionwhich lies about what it doesn't know, and about what it does know. And the half-voodoo, half-clown, face of revivalism, dulling the mind with the clap of its empty hands.
Expose, also, the false leadership that besets the Negro peoplebought and paid for leadership, owned by capital, afraid to open its mouth except in the old conciliatory way so advantageous to the exploiters.
And all the economic roots of race hatred and race fear.
And the Contentment Tradition of the O-lovely-Negroes school of American fiction, which makes an ignorant black face and a Carolina head filled with superstition, appear more desirable than a crown of gold; the jazz-band; and the O-so-gay writers who make of the Negro's poverty and misery a dusky funny paper.
And expose war. And the old My-Country-'Tis-of-Thee lie. And the colored American Legion posts strutting around talking about the privilege of dying for the noble Red, White and Blue, when they aren't even permitted the privilege of living for it. Or voting for it in Texas. Or working for it in the diplomatic service. Or even rising, like every other good little boy, from the log cabin to the White House.
White House is right!
Dear colored American Legion, you can swing from a lynching tree, uniform and all, with pleasureand nobody'll fight for you. Don't you know that? Nobody even salutes you down South, dead or alive, medals or no medals, chevrons or not, no matter how many wars you've fought in.
Let Negro writers write about the irony and pathos of the colored American Legion.
"Salute, Mr. White Man!"
"Salute, hell! . . . Youre a nigger."
Or would you rather write about the moon?
Sure, the moon still shines over Harlem. Shines over Scottsboro. Shines over Birmingham, too, I reckon. Shines over Cordie Cheek's grave, down South.
Write about the moon if you want to. Go ahead. This is a free country.
But there are certain very practical things American Negro writers can do. And must do. There's a song that says, "the time ain't long." That song is right. Something has got to change in Americaand change soon. We must help that change to come.
The moon's still shining as poetically as ever, but all the stars on the flag are dull. (And the stripes, too.)
We want a new and better America, where there won't be any poor, where there won't be any more Jim Crow, where there won't be any lynchings, where there won't be any munition makers, where we won't need philanthropy, nor charity, nor the New Deal, nor Home Relief.
We want an America that will be ours, a world that will be ourswe Negro workers and white workers! Black writers and white!
We'll make that world!
from American Writer's Congress. Ed. Henry Hart. New York: International Publishers, 1935. Copyright © 1935 by International Publishers
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