Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


Negritude was an early postcolonial intellectual and cultural movement developing primarily in French-speaking colonies. Its ideology reacted against light-dark color codes of superiority and inferiority, good and evil, civilization and savagery that accompanied colonialism.

The term "negritude" was derived from French neger or "negro," derived from Latin niger for "black."

Oxford English Dictionary: The fact or quality of being of black African origin; spec.

  • the affirmation or consciousness of the value of black culture, esp. of a collective African heritage and identity;

  • the cultural and political movement based on this. (The idea grew out of the meeting of French-speaking African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris in the 1930s, most notably the Martiniquan poet, Aimé Césaire (1913–2008), who coined the term, and the Senegalese poet, Léopold Senghor (1906–2001), who was president of Senegal from 1960 to 1980 and became the central figure in the movement.)

related terms:

noireism (associated with Harlem Renaissance of 1920s?)

negrismo (Spanish-speaking Caribbean)

Harlem Renaissance

Black Arts Movement (BAM) 1960s-70s > "The Black Aesthetic" = "Black is Beautiful"

Effort to redeem blackness from associations with ugliness or evil and establish its inherent beauty or value.

Online sources: on Negritude

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Negritude

Wikipedia on Negritude

review of Negritude Women (2003)

Poems from the Harlem Renaissance depicting Negritude or Black Aesthetic

Question for each poem: How or where does the poet reverse or complicate the color code?

Claude McKay (1889-1948), b. Jamaica

Harlem Shadows

Harlem Dancer

Langston Hughes (1902-67)

Dream Variations

Countee Cullen (1903-46)

from The Dark Tower


Negritude and its variants may be seen as a movement to subvert or equalize "the color code" by which Western or European civilization equates positive and negative values with light and dark:


1d. “The Color Code” (from LITR 5731 & 4332 American Minority Literature)

  • Literature represents the extremely sensitive subject of skin color infrequently or indirectly.

  • Western civilization transfers values associated with “light and dark”—e. g., good & evil, rational / irrational—to people of light or dark complexions, with huge implications for power, validity, sexuality, etc.

  • This course mostly treats minorities as a historical phenomenon, but the biological or visual aspect of human identity may be more immediate and direct than history. People most comfortably interact with others who look like themselves or their family.

  • Skin color matters, but how much varies by circumstances.

  • Voices that have been marginalized revise the color code to redefine darkness or give it a humanized identity

from Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. 1961. Trans. Richard Philcox. NY: Grove, 2004

150 Colonialism, little troubled by nuances, has always claimed that the “nigger” was a savage, not an Angolan or a Nigerian, but a “nigger.” For colonialism, this vast continent was a den of savages, infested with superstitions and fanaticism, destined to be despised, cursed by God, a land of cannibals, a land of “niggers.” Colonialism’s condemnation is continental in scale. Colonialism’s claim that the precolonial period was akin to a darkness of the human soul refers to the entire continent of Africa. The colonized’s endeavors to rehabilitate himself and escape the sting of colonialism obey the same rules of logic. The colonized intellectual, steeped in Western culture and set on proving the existence of his own culture, never does so in the name of Angola or Dahomey. The culture proclaimed is African culture. When the black man, who has never felt as much a “Negro” as he has under white domination, decides to prove his culture and act as a cultivated person, he realizes that history imposes on him a terrain already mapped out, that history sets him along a very precise path and that he is expected to demonstrate the existence of a “Negro” culture.

And it is all too true that the major responsibility for this racialization of thought, or at least the way it is applied, lies with the Europeans who have never stopped placing white culture in opposition to the other noncultures. Colonialism did not think it worth its while denying one national culture after the other. Consequently the colonized’s response was immediately continental in scope. In Africa, colonized literature over the last twenty years has not been a national literature but a “Negro” literature. The concept of negritude for example was the affective if not logical antithesis of that insult which the white man had leveled at the rest of humanity. This negritude, hurled against the contempt of the white man, has alone proved capable in some sectors of lifting taboos and maledictions. Because the Kenyan and / 151 Guinean intellectuals were above all confronted with a generalized ostracism and the syncretic contempt of the colonizer, their reaction was one of self-regard and celebration. Following the unconditional affirmation of European culture came the unconditional affirmation of African culture. Generally speaking the bards of negritude would contrast old Europe versus young Africa, dull reason versus poetry, and stifling logic versus exuberant Nature; on the one hand there stood rigidity, ceremony, protocol, and skepticism, and on the other, naïveté, petulance, freedom, and, indeed, luxuriance. But also irresponsibility.

The bards of negritude did not hesitate to reach beyond the borders of the continent. Black voices from America took up the refrain on a larger scale. The “black world” came into being, and Busia from Ghana, Birago Diop from Senegal, Hampate Ba from Mali and Saint-Clair Drake from Chicago were quick to claim common ties and identical lines of thought. . . .


153 The African Society for Culture was to become the Cultural Society for the Black World and was forced to include the black diaspora, i.e., the dozens of millions of blacks throughout the Americas.

          The blacks who lived in the United States, Central, and Latin America in fact needed a cultural matrix to cling to. The problem they were faced with was not basically any different from that of the Africans. The whites in America had not behaved any differently to them than the white colonizers had to the Africans. We have seen how the whites were used to putting all “Negroes” in the same basket. During the First Congress of the American Society for Culture in Paris in 1956 the black Americans spontaneously considered their problems from the same standpoint as their fellow Africans. By integrating the former slaves into African civilization, the African intellectuals accorded them an acceptable civil status. But gradually the black Americans realized that their existential problems differed from those faced by the Africans. The only common denomination between the blacks from Chicago and the Nigerians or Tanganyikans [present-day Tanzania] was that they all defined themselves in relation to the whites. But once the initial comparisons had been made and subjective feelings had settled down, the black Americans realized that the objective problems were fundamentally different. . . .

154 Negritude thus came up against its first limitation, namely, those phenomena that take into account the historicizing of men. “Negro” or “Negro-African” culture broke up because the men who set out to embody it realized that every culture is first and foremost a nation, and that the problems for which Richard Wright or Langston Hughes had to be on the alert were fundamentally different from those faced by Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. . . .