XIII
RACE-CONSCIOUSNESS

THE songs in which the Negro singer is race-conscious are generally work songs, though some of them, especially the older ones, may be social songs. Race-consciousness may be present even in his religious songs. It was present in the songs sung on the early minstrel stage and preserved by the Negro.1 It would be almost impossible, in fact, for any American Negro not to be race-conscious at times.

But race-consciousness is one thing and race-sensitiveness and racial self-pity are others. Many Negro writers and leaders are highly race-sensitive. A large number of poems have been written by Negro poets to protest against the white man's injustice.2 The commonest explanation to-day of the Negro spiritual is that it is a racial sorrow-song -- an idea good for at least one purple patch of prose sympathy in almost any treatise. This idea, which I hope I have already demonstrated to be misleading, finds an occasional complement in the consideration of the secular songs also as an expression of self-pity. Both ideas have had the support of Negro writers-- for one reason, because they gained sympathy for the Negro; for another, because the writers themselves sincerely believed them. This fact only suggests, what anyone who knows the folk-songs and the writings of Negro leaders could easily believe, that the more radical-minded Negro leaders and the extremely conservative folk Negro do not understand each other as fully as they might be supposed to do.

Beyond question there are some secular folk-songs in which the Negro does indulge in self-pity, also some in which he expresses resentment of the treatment accorded him by the white race. "All for the white man and nothing for the nigger" is the sentiment of several songs in which the white man and Negro are compared as to their opportunities, their pleasures, and their status before the law. Of course, there is some bitterness in the comparison. But to stop

____________________
1
Cf. nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 14.
2
See "Racial Feeling in Negro Poetry", by the present author, in the South Atlantic Quarterly, January, 1922.

-376-

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American Negro Folk-Songs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Foreword v
  • Preface xxi
  • Contents xxv
  • I The Negro Song in General 3
  • II Religious Songs 31
  • III Upstart Crows -- The Reaction From Religion 130
  • IV Social Songs -- Dance and Banjo 148
  • V Social Songs: Narrative Songs and Ballads 185
  • VI Songs About Animals 224
  • VII Work Songs--Gang Laborers 250
  • VIII Rural Labor 281
  • IX General and Miscellaneous Labor 290
  • X Songs About Women 311
  • XI Recent Events 341
  • XII The Seamier Side 356
  • XIII Race-Consciousness 376
  • XIV Blues and Miscellaneous Songs 387
  • APPENDICES 403
  • Bibliography 467
  • INDICES 481
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