Tuesday, December 06, 2005

the new negro has no fear

i have been teaching the harlem renaissance for the last couple of days, and as with many of my course topics, it has led me to do some thinking. one of the themes that has emerged (we don't teach "stuff" anymore, btw, we instead present material and facilitate students understanding of emerging themes in the world around them...which, although i mock, is actually sort of cool) is that of unintended consequences. as my students were looking for connections in the major themes of the unit, they discovered that despite the best (or worst) intentions of societal agents in history, they often caused changes that were the exact opposite of what they desired.

let me share an example. it seems that jazz music and the whole jazz culture never really "took off" until prohibition was instituted in America. when alcohol was made illegal, the relatively small number of saloons dispersed around the country became thousands of illegal speakeasies where high society drank and caroused until the sun came up. and the prohibitionists? well, they uttered a collective, "damn."

or how about the kkk? they wanted to intimidated minority groups in the country in order to preserve their definition of old-fashioned american values. so a black family moving north during the great migration of WWI and the 20s has a choice to make: rural indiana or the south side of chicago? pittsburgh or harlem? so many, many families choose to live where they will not be seen or treated like a minority...where they don't have to live in fear of the next lynching. the result, a new type of african-american culture. one that writes beautifully and prolifically; one that makes music no one has heard before; one that is proud to be who they are.

one particular photo stands out in my mind. there is a parade going on in the streets of harlem, and in the background is a banner hanging from NAACP headquarters that reads, "a man was lynched yesterday." but in one of the cars, a man holds out a sign that reads, "the new negro has no fear."

i guess all this says to me that control is a funny thing. i mean, we strive to control our surrounding world, and other individuals in it, but at what price? and when are we going to realize that we really can't control anything or anyone that doesn't want to be controlled. i have been particularly bugged lately by people saying, "this happened, so God is good." well, what if it didn't happen? is God less good? if God doesn't answer my prayer the way i want it answered, did He fail? or did He fail me?

just some thoughts at the end of a long day...


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sagslike a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

--Langston Hughes

2 comments:

ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!

Mary said...

i love that langston hughes poem. man, i miss school ....

way to teach, cory.