Saturday, October 27, 2007

Propaganda of The Brownie's Book 10/29

When I first began reading the Du Bois article “Criteria of Negro Art” I wondered what connections I could make with The Brownie’s Book. Since Prof. Wells had told us that it was intended for children, I guess I picture it as an old time Highlights, but I was considerably struck by the letter in the ‘grownup’s corner.’ While I knew that text book history did not consider the contributions of African Americans until rather recently, I hadn’t thought of what it might feel like to be a child growing up with out role models or a mother unable to tell her child about the people the text books forgot. It was then I thought about what Du Bois said about propaganda.
“Thus all art is propaganda and ever must be…I stand in utter shamelessness and say whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy.”
Du Bois argued that there was no positive example of the lives of African Americans, even in art or literature, white publishers, directors, or managers only supported arts which portray African Americans as seedy, immoral or laughable and never as “lovable or inspired” as many works about white characters did.
With this in mind, I turned a critical eye to the stories of The Brownie’s Book, searching for the ways in which positive ‘propaganda’ were used. Probably my favorite example of which was the story of Dolly, the little girl who wanted golden curls, and was thus turned into a white girls because “as you know golden curls belong to people with pinky white skin and blue eyes (42.) So much of the other texts we’ve read have dealt with passing or interracial relationships, it was interesting to read a short story which pointed out that children were are of this color scale too and thus, might wish for features which seem to them more ‘white’ or fair. However, instead of making Dolly happy with her new appearance, she learned that she could not be with her family if she was a white child, and that, essentially, although she had only changed on the outside, she had lost a part of who she was.
I also found the article on Harriet Tubman very interesting (94-96.) Clearly, one of the functions of The Brownie’s Book was to provide a history left and out in schools, and to highlight the contributions made by Tubman that affected not just African Americans, but the United States. Additionally, articles like these were probably beneficial to adults as well, who like the mother in the grown-up’s corner, acknowledged neither her nor her husband knew much about African American history.
Lastly, I tried to analyze the stories of Br’er Rabbit, but really wasn’t sure what they meant. Maybe I am looking to deeply into a children’s story, but all the stories had a rather obvious message positive message for black children. However, when I read “Br’er Rabbit Wins the Reward’ I couldn’t help but think that wolf, fox, and rabbit were sharecroppers. Expected to do manual labor no one else would, for only the promise of something once it’s completed. In the end, the rabbit seems to trick the King, not complaining, but instead talking while he worked, and completing the task for the reward. Is the author saying children and other African Americans should continue to work hard and will one day receive recognition? Is it a comment on the labor or jobs open to the lower class, or does it have something to do with the fact that the rabbit essentially tricked the King?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Challenges of 'Passing ' 10/22

It is very clear in this section that Rene is angry with Claire, feeling as if she has been manipulated, as in when Claire invites herself to the NWL dance. However, it is also evident that she sort of allows herself to be led on, captivated by Claire story, and I would guess, her ability to cry at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, it seems Claire realizes this, constantly saying that Rene is kind and good, much better than her etc. Knowing that appealing to Rene’s sort of ‘motherly nature will allow her to live that life vicariously.

Like wise, the end of part II definitely seems to be foreshadowing something, which I can only assume is bad. It is clear that Claire doesn’t value her role as a mother, and she herself says she would do whatever she had to get the things she wants (124-125.) Additionally, she even jokes that she may one day kill her husband because her condition makes her unhappy (107.) While I don’t expect Claire to kill anyone by the end of this book, I do assume that violence is going to happen, probably when her racist husband finds she is actually African American.

Interestingly, while race, and obviously ‘passing’ is the subject of this novel, I definitely agree with the class comments on Wednesday that this book is also about the lives of women in general. Maybe intended to point out that all women, or all wives or mothers, share certain concerns or experiences. I think this is evident in Irene, as she seems always to be thinking first and foremost of doing what is safe or right for her children, and what may provide the most stability in her marriage. In fact, as she begins to form a relationship with Claire it seems she does worry more about the fate of Margery than Claire does. If this book was intended to reach a white audience, I imagine these similarities would lead white women to a at least more sympathetic view of the plight of African American mothers. Although, this book is most certainly geared towards a more wealthy group, as even sympathetic, up-lift minded Irene has a black maid, and only seemed to participate in NWL dances out of a sense of duty. Perhaps mirroring what Nella Larsen saw in her own friends and community.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

"The Gift of Laughter" 10/10

I thought ''The Gift of Laughter'' was an interesting expository piece. It definitely had a hopeful tone, obviously, meant to inspire African Americans working in the arts. Also, I think it was probably meant to inspire a younger audience, relating back to the importance of the ‘next generation’ in the Harlem Renaissance movement.

However, while trying to convey a brief history of African American actors, it is also clear that Fauset wants to express the deep sadness Bert Williams felt at not really being taken as a serious, or ‘legitimate’ actor. Although Williams was from Jamaica and actually had to study in order to portray the speech and characteristics of black Americans, he was forced to pursue acting only comedic, because that was really only as far as a black actor could go. In this way, it seems he really did understand the plight of African Americans, as they struggled for acceptance and advancements in industries that often refused to acknowledge them for anything more than menial positions.

Similarly, the narrator in Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, is warned by ‘the millionaire’ that he will never be able to reach his potential (or be accepted) as a black composer in the south. Although he never actually attempts this after witnessing a lynching, we can assume, from writings such as The Gift of Laughter that ‘the millionaire’ was in fact right, and that if he were to play in the south, at best, he would have been limited only to black clubs or organizations.

Still, Fauset covey’s hope that the struggles of actors such as Bert Williams has led to some exceptional musicals that have even made it Broadway, proving that coming from such modest means as the minstrels after the Civil War, African American arts have gotten much closer to serious or dramatic acting. Additionally, if nothing else, “The Gift of Laughter” is something that sustains African Americans, keeping them hopeful for the future, as well as literally providing them a way to advancements in the arts.