Négritude Was France’s Black Power Movement

Black Power Symbol/Garrett Ziegler/Flickr/CC-SA-4.0

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"The equilibrium you admire in me is an unstable one, difficult to maintain. My inner life was split early between the call of the Ancestors and the call of Europe, between the exigencies of Black-African culture and those of modern life." - Léopold Sénghor

At the height of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Black expression in literature and arts exploded across the country and even into international waters.

As writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston revealed truths about the Black social and political experience in America, Black folks from other countries gained a newfound voice and language to discuss their experiences as well.

Founded by three French-speaking Black men (Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, and Léopold Sénghor), Négritude became one of the largest movements spawned from the Harlem Renaissance.

By definition, Negritude means “the simple recognition of the fact that one is Black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as Blacks, of our history and culture.” Beyond affirming their Blackness, the founders set out to reject Europe’s colonial rule and communicate traditional African beliefs and values to the masses.

Self-respect, self-reliance, and self-determination are pillars of Négritude and the movement centered on fostering a spirit of independence and Black consciousness. Publications were one of the main ways Négritude spread throughout France as skilled writers crafted poems, essays, and calls-to-action.

Césaire, Damas, and Sénghor believed that the Transatlantic slave trade had a long-lasting effect on the psyche and cultural understanding of enslaved Blacks that needed to be erased.  

Césaire captured this sentiment when he wrote, "Africa, help me to go home, carry me like an aged child in your arms. Undress me and wash me. Strip me of all of these garments, strip me as a man strips off dreams when the dawn comes."

The actual name “Négritude” was really a slap in the face to colonizers. By incorporating the derogatory term “negre” (Black person), they reclaimed an insulting word and used it to unify around.

Ironically, critics of Négritude argued that the movement was racist, but Senghor swiftly replied to the naysayers. According to him, "Négritude...is neither racialism nor self-negation. Yet it is not just affirmation; it is rooting oneself in oneself, and self-confirmation: confirmation of one's being.”

If you want to dive deeper into the Negritude movement, grab a copy of Freedom Time: Négritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World here.

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