Harlem Renaissance has been both an erosive force, undermining African-American identity in its new form, and a constituent element of its modern culture. On the one hand, it has challenged the African-American doctrine of unique culture and the African-Americans' religious or ethnic exclusivism. The main factors and events that constituted to the raise of Harlem Renaissance were political changes after the World War I, new social ideals and consumer culture in America and the migration movement of African-Americans from South to North. Harlem Renaissance became integral in the identities of nearly all modern African-Americans and their cultural heritage. There is a rich tradition of African-American philosophy extending back to eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Criteria of Negro Art W.E.B Du Bois underlines that African-Americans never repudiated the universalism of the societal norms. But for various reasons, not the least of them exclusion and persecution, African-American communities before the modern period had accepted this heritage, stressing instead their own divinely ordained separation and superiority. Physical segregation, sometimes welcomed by the African-Americans themselves, and badges imposed by gentiles to mark them as African-Americans reinforced these feelings of exclusiveness. Du Bois writes :”We black folk may help for we have within us as a race new stirrings; stirrings of the beginning of a new appreciation of joy” (Du Bois), As Harlem Renaissance penetrated one class of African-Americans after another and one community after another, African-American identity became a cultural issue.
The essay of Du Bois clearly portrays cultural changes and social traditions of the African-American people and their new ideology. Wherever Harlem Renaissance penetrated, it brought self-consciousness and, especially for intellectuals, the need to achieve self-definition. But intellectual challenges were not the only ones that assailed African-American identity. An increasing number of the young felt estranged from their fellow African-Americans no less than they felt alienated from African-American tradition. Harlem Renaissance not only made their ancestors' beliefs and practices unacceptable to them, it distanced them from parents and relatives and reduced their sense of oneness with the African-American people as a whole, most of whom remained as yet unenlightened. For the enlightened African-Americans it is their fellow enlightened; for the traditionalists it is those who have stood steadfast with them in opposing the intrusion of alien values. As Harlem Renaissance brought African-Americans to aesthetic awareness, they often saw themselves compelled to choose between Hellenism and the strict morals of African-American tradition. The range of African-American social identity narrows as growing differences among African-Americans make full identification possible only with a smaller group within the African-American community (Ferguson 43).
The information gained form the Du Bois’ essay helps me to understand patriotism of the African-Americans and the process of African-American identity formation especially of its powerful cultural factor. Indeed, for many African-Americans in the West, the state and nation soon became the dominant objects of identification. Harlem Renaissance not only expanded intellectual horizons, it presented new perspectives from which the beliefs that one held and the customs that one practiced as an African-American looked irrational or ugly. The result was a step-by-step process in which the low social image was rejected. The spread of economic opportunities and political changes seemed to have progressed more rapidly among men than women, the latter preserving traditions within the more pervasively African-American atmosphere of the home, in which they spent a larger portion of their daily lives. Identity crisis became a recurrent feature in the generational transmission of African-American art and culture. There was no neutral ideological ground upon which African-American and whites could meet, no religion of humanity that they shared. Individuals were wholly the one or the other.