Friday Feature: The Negritude Movement

Négritude is a literary and ideological movement, developed by francophone black intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France in the 1930s. Its founders included the future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, and the Guianan Léon Damas. The word négritude derives from the French word "Nègre" and literally means "negro-ness."

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. They formed a realistic literary style and formulated their Marxist ideas as part of this movement.

Negritude responded to the alienated position of blacks in history. The movement asserted an identity for black people around the world that was their own. For Césaire and Damas, from Martinique and French Guiana, the rupture from Africa through the Atlantic Slave Trade was a great part of their cultural understanding. Their work told of the frustration and loss of their motherland. For Senegalese Senghor, his works focused more on African traditionalism. In ways the assertion of each poet diverges from each other, but the combination of different perspectives is also what fueled and fed Negritude. From a political standpoint, Negritude was an important aspect to the rejection of colonialism. Emerging at the cusp of African independence movements, Negritude made an impact on how the colonized viewed themselves. It also sparked and fed off of subsequent literary movements that were responding to global politics.

The term négritude (which most closely means "blackness" in English) then 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, Louis T. Achille, Aristide Maugée, and Paulette Nardal. L'Étudiant noiralso contains Césaire's first published work, "Conscience Raciale et Révolution Sociale" under the heading "Les Idées" and the rubric "Negreries," which is notable for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance and 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". Césaire deliberately and proudly incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his movement.

Poet and the later first president of Sénégal, Senghor used la Négritude to work toward a universal valuation of African people. He advocated a modern incorporation of the expression and celebration of traditional African customs and ideas. This interpretation of la Négritude tended to be the most common, particularly in later years.

There is no clear end date to the movement, and some literary critics say that it still continues today, in any artistic expression asserting black identity.

This information was accessed on on 14 November 2014.

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