GEORGE SCHUYLER AND THE POLITICS OF "RACIAL CULTURE"
This essay is part of a larger work that examines the cultural production of the "New Negro" within certain African-American expressive forms of the period now commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance. Though used to describe newly-freed African Americans after the Civil War, the term "New Negro" was subsequently adopted and modified in the post-reconstruction era by African American writers and intellectuals who sought to intervene in the ideological organization of "race" by reimagining and re-presenting in art, literature, music, and political and everyday cultural practices what it means to be black and American. In general, I am interested in interrogating the intersection of national, racial, and cultural identities within one period in the U.S. in which articulating new forms for that relation was a central political and aesthetic project. More covertly, my concern is twofold: 1) to focus on the 1920s in part to provide a context and history for current debates about the source and nature of racial identity, particularly in relation to claims to national belonging or exclusion; and 2) to critique certain recurring moves in American racial discourse among both racist and anti-racist groups.
This is academic language for issues with which most people are familiar, some intimately. They are also ones which increasingly frame public discussion of African-American life. For example, the cover of a recent Village Voice asks "Who's Winning the Black Studies War?" For those of its readers unaware that there is a "war" for Black Studies, or of what that might mean, the Voice's editors illustrate its battlelines with the iconographic images of, on the one hand, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., currently at the Du Bois Institute at Harvard, shown with his books and stuffy white shirt, and, on the other, Molefi Asante, the Godfather of