Négritude is a literary and political movement developed in the 1930s by a group that included the future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, and the Guianan Léon Damas. The Négritude writers found solidarity in a common black identity as a rejection of French colonial racism. They believed that the shared black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination.
The Négritude movement was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, and particularly the works of African-American writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, whose works address the themes of "blackness" and racism. Further inspiration came from Haiti, where there had similarly been a flourishing of black culture in the early twentieth century, and which historically holds particular pride of place in the African diaspora world due to the slave revolution led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in the 1790s. Césaire speaks, thus, of Haiti as the place "where négritude stood up for the first time." On the European side, there was also influence and support from from the Surrealist movement.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a small group of black students and scholars from France's colonies and territories assembled in Paris, where they were introduced to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance by Paulette Nardal and her sister, Jane. Paulette Nardal and the Haitian, Dr. Leo Sajou, founded La revue du Monde Noir (1931-32), a literary journal published in English and French, which attempted to be a mouthpiece for the growing movement of African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris. This Harlem connection was also shared by the closely parallel development of negrismo in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and it is likely that there were many influences between the movements, which differed in language but were in many ways united in purpose. At the same time, "Murderous Humanitarianism" (1932) was signed by prominent Surrealists including the Martiniquan surrealists Pierre Yoyotte and J.M. Monnerot, and the relationship developed especially with Aimé Césaire.
The term négritude (which most closely means "blackness" in English) was first used in 1935, by Aimé Césaire in the third issue of L'Étudiant noir, a magazine which he had started in Paris with fellow students Léopold Senghor and Léon Damas, as well as Gilbert Gratiant, Leonard Sainville, and Paulette Nardal. L'Étudiant noir also contains Césaire's first published work, "Negreries," which is notable not only for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance, but also for its reclamation of the word "nègre" as a positive term. "Nègre" previously had been almost exclusively used in a pejorative sense, much like the English word "nigger."
Neither Césaire—who upon returning to Martinique after his studies in Paris was elected both Mayor of Fort de France, the capital, and a representative of Martinique in France's Parliament—nor Senghor in Senegal envisaged political independence from France. Négritude would, according to Senghor, enable Blacks under French rule to take a "seat at the give and take [French] table as equals." However, France had other ideas, and it would eventually present Senegal and its other African colonies with independence.
The term was embraced by Frantz Fanon. Cesaire and Senghor were mentors to Fanon and his work reflects the sensibilities of Negritude. In 1948, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a famous analysis of the négritude movement in an essay called "Orphée Noir" (Black Orpheus), which served as the introduction to a volume of francophone poetry called Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache, compiled by Léopold Senghor. In this essay, Sartre characterizes négritude as the polar opposite of colonial racism in a Hegelian dialectic. In his view, négritude was an "anti-racist racism" (racisme antiraciste) necessary to the final goal of racial unity.
Négritude was criticized by some black writers in the 1960s as insufficiently militant. Keorapetse Kgositsile argued that the term was based too much on celebrating blackness by means of a white aesthetic, and was unable to define a new kind of black perception that would free black people and black art from white conceptualizations altogether.
American Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and early abolitionist, also used the term "negritude," whose usage seems to have independently arisen from that of the 1930s, to describe a hypothetical hereditary disease which he believed to be the cause of "blackness" (that is, he considered being black to be a kind of genetic defect).
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