Negritude is a term coined from a literary and ideological movement developed by French-speaking black intellectuals during the 1930s, which reflected a widespread reaction to the colonial situation. It was a movement that influenced Blacks around the world to reject the social, political and moral domination of European colonizers. The external factor defining black persons in modern society is their physical and physiological domination by white persons; the beauty and vitality of the black person is constricted by internalization of colonialism. Negritude rehabilitates blacks from the European ideology that classifies them as inherently inferior to whites. By breaking the colonial “white/black” binary, negritude sought to reproduce the imaginary. The term negritude, originating from the same French term as the “n-word”, embodies this movements efforts transform the value of black personality. By treating a racial slur as a treasure, Aimé Césaire highlights the explosive value of the expression; a term used so stoutly to curse a people has even greater power to connect an entire race, which is exactly what negritude did for African and Caribbean peoples.
Black intellectuals used poetry and literature to affirm black personality and redefine the collective experience of blacks. Though some of the leaders demanded a complete removal from colonial ideology and others stressed the significance of accepting one’s past they all insisted on the expression of black peoples Africanism. Through poetry and stories these thinkers played the role of magician reproducing a culture in a land where culture didn’t exist; they would help move the Caribbean from sterility to virility. The epic poets role was to layout the possibility of hope to a peoples whose hope was internalized by oppression. They recreated the myths for black persons to begin reimaging themselves within.
Negritude demands black solidarity through the total consciousness of belonging to the black race and the passionate praise of the black experience. People were encouraged to reach an imaginative expression that was connected with the romantic myth of Africa. Because of this, surrealism became a foundational tool in the Negritude movement since it praised undomesticated blacks—a people who were not yet possessed by reason and logic. It was believed that life and liberation could only come from a capacity to receive from the true; love; fear; beauty; darkness; the marvelous, a capacity which only the decolonized black could achieve.
A. Cesaire: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land:
“And my special geography too; the world map made for my own use, not tinted with the arbitrary colors of scholars, but with the geometry of my spilled blood… Suddenly now strength and life assail me like a bull and the water of life overwhelms the papilla of the morne, now all the veins and veinlets are bustling with new blood.”
“I accept both the determination of my biology, not a prisoner to a facial angle, to a type of hair, to a well-flattened nose, to a clearly Melanian coloring, and negritude, no longer a cephalic index, or plasma, or soma, but measured by the compass of suffering and the Negro every day more base more cowardly, less profound, more spilled out of himself, more separated from himself, more wily with himself, less immediate to himself, I accept, I accept it all…”
“And here at the end of these wee hours is my virile prayer that I hear neither the laughter nor the screams, my eyes fixed on this town which I prophesy, beautiful, grant me the savage faith of the sorcerer, grant my hands power to mold… Make my head into a figurehead and as for me… the lover of this unique people.”