Subverting the History of Slavery and Colonization in the Poetry of M. Al-Fayturi and Langston Hughes

By Gohar, Saddik Mohamed | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Subverting the History of Slavery and Colonization in the Poetry of M. Al-Fayturi and Langston Hughes


Gohar, Saddik Mohamed, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Introduction

While the painful ordeal of slavery and colonization turned the black people of Africa into a nation of exiles and outcasts, the same experience brings about enormous consequences which bind the black people together triggering literary interaction between black writers from different parts of the world. In his attempt to challenge colonial hegemony and promote the colonized sense of identity, the Sudanese/African poet, Mohamed Al-Fayturi is engaged in an intercultural dialogue with his mentor, the African American poet Langston Hughes, in order to reconstruct a history devastated by slavery and imperialism. Rooted in a revolutionary basis, the mutual dialogue between them aims to dismantle colonial narratives about Africa and black people by revising history and rewriting the story of racism and slavery from the viewpoint of the colonized and the oppressed. Carrying the scars of enslavement and hegemony, Langston Hughes and Mohamed Al-Fayturi poetically engage the history of racism and colonization linking the African literary tradition with its counterpart in the United States.

In the beginning of his career, Hughes not only writes folklore poetry but also embodies the emerging spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. In his poetry, he expresses the rising black consciousness and racial pride dismantling narratives of submission integral to African-American literature in the era of enslavement. Undermining the traditional image of what blacks were forced to think of themselves along three hundred years of oppression, Hughes's Harlem Renaissance poetry not only condemns white oppression but also refutes the oppressor's narratives of inferiority which aimed to banish black people outside human history. Through intensive poetic utterances, Hughes, like Al-Fayturi, turns colonial cultural mythology upside down celebrating Africa as the land of civilizations and the birthplace of his ancestors. Therefore, in the post Harlem Renaissance era and due to Marxist influence, Hughes's poetry is transformed into a dynamic of resistance confronting the damaging consequences of local policies of racism.

The Revolutionary Ideology of Al-Fayturi and Hughes

Like his mentor, Langston Hughes, who was attracted to Marxism in the thirties, Al-Fayturi found in Socialist Realism an appropriate means of poetic expression during the era of de-colonization. Both poets did not officially join political parties, however, they found in the Marxist/Socialist ideology a broader horizon for black struggle against white oppression. Dudley Randall points out that many black writers found in the Marxist ideology an alternative to the white capitalist system integrated in exploitation and racism. Randall argues:

   Even if black writers did not join the Communist
   Party they were sympathetic toward it and its policy
   of non-discrimination. Black writers did not give
   up their struggle for Negro rights but regarded it as
   part of the struggle for the rights of man everywhere
   (Randall 1973: 36).

After the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes abandoned the popular trends of his poetry and moved toward a Marxist art prioritizing social and political narratives which reflect the interests of his people. Exploring ethnic issues from a class struggle perspective, Hughes, in the post Harlem Renaissance era, substitutes the folklore poetry of the 1920's with a poetics of protest and confrontation preaching revolution against policies of racism in the United States. Unlike Al-Fayturi who remains faithful to the black/African cause, putting race and color in the center of his poetic universe, Hughes deals with the suffering of the black people not in terms of black/white conflict but as part of the struggle of the proletariat against the ruling capitalist minority. Hughes's ideological shift, from the folklore poetry of the Harlem Renaissance to the revolutionary poetry of the 1930's, is emphasized in his poem "White Man" where the racial conflict between blacks and whites is replaced with the class struggle of the majority against economic exploitation and capitalism:

   Sure, I know you,
   you're a White Man. … 

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