Negritude in Black Orpheus

Submitted by Christopher D. Lewis on Saturday, 12/10/2011, at 3:24 AM

In Black Orpheus, Jean-Paul Sartre speaks of Negritude as a poetic entity that provides the avenue for the rebirth of the black man in his innate roots. Sartre illustrates Negritude in a similar light of Aimé Césaire, in which Sartre expresses that the black man uses his damaged being to create a more positive sense of self. Through the European mindset of logic and reason, the black man encountered oppression and subjugation. Given this ordeal, Sartre explains that the black man's ultimate goal is to redefine himself and discover his human and cultural qualities. Through this process, Negritude reverses the subjugating effects of the French language and utilizes the language as a positive force to bring about an African cultural expression. Despite the usage of the French language, Sartre also articulates that the black man must eliminate white cultural traits from his entire being. Upon this cultural shedding, the black man can then rebuild himself through his African roots and develop a culture from a poetic image. However, Sartre's idea of Negritude faces tension between two ideas in terms of the struggle's focus: race and class. Sartre's vision of Negritude surrounds the idea of class given his reference to the proletariat. Although the proletariat are relevant to the Negritude movement, the initial struggle surrounds the concept of race. The oppression of the black man deals with the destruction and disregard of his human characteristic. Therefore, the Negritude movement is not rooted in the class struggle for economic independence. Instead, Negritude strives to revitalize the racial identity that makes black people a distinct society. The Negritude movement fuels itself through an anti-racist racism, in which it uses the oppressive colonial ideas to generate a more positive and substantial identity for the black race. Upon redefining the black race, Sartre believes the Negritude movement addresses class and the economic struggles of the proletariat, which seems to resonate with the black race. Léopold Senghor deems Negritude as a struggle that is exclusive to the black race. However, Sartre's perception conveys Negritude as a small idea that contributes to a larger theme. Through his idea, the Negritude movement is a struggle that not only considers the revitalization of the black race, but it also includes the refining and development of the proletariat. Therefore, the Negritude movement is a sub-section of a larger theme that addresses and combats all forms of oppression.


"In a word, I am talking now to white men, and I should like to explain to them what black men already know: why it is necessarily through a poetic experience that the black man, in his present condition, must first become conscious of himself; and, inversely, why black poetry in the French language is, in our time, the only great revolutionary poetry." (p. 16)

"The unity which will come eventually, bringing all oppressed peoples together in the same struggle, must be preceded in the colonies by what I shall call the moment of separation or negativity: this anti-racist racism is the only road that will lead to the abolition of racial differences." (p. 18)

"The density of these words thrown into the air like stones from a volcano, is found in negritude, which is defined as being against Europe and colonization. What Césaire destroys is not all culture but rather white culture; what he brings to light is not desire for everything but rather the revolutionary aspirations of the oppressed negro; what he touches in his very depths is not the spirit but a certain specific, concrete form of humanity." (p. 33)

"And I agree: like all anthropological notions, Negritude is a shimmer of being and of needing-to-be; it makes you and you make it: both oath and passion. But there is something even more important in it: the negro himself, we have said, creates a kind of antiracist racism. He wishes in no way to dominate the world: he desires the abolition of all kinds of ethnic privileges; he asserts his solidarity with the oppressed of every color." (p. 48)

"After that, the subjective, existential, ethnic notion of negritude "passes," as Hegel says, into that which one has of the proletariat: objective, positive and precise. Senghor says: "For Césaire, 'White' symbolizes capital, just as Negro symbolizes work....When writing about the black men of his race, he is writing about the worldwide proletarian struggle." (p. 48)

"Thus Negritude is dialectical; it is not only nor above all the blossoming of atavistic instincts; it represents "going beyond" a situation defined by free consciences. Negritude is a sad myth full of hope, born of Evil and pregnant with future Good, living like a woman who is born to die and who feels her own death even in the richest moments of her life; it is an unstable rest, and explosive fixity, a pride which renounces itself, an absolute that knows it is transitory: for whereas it isthe Announcer of its birth and of its death agony, it also remains the existential attitude chosen by free men and lived absolutely, to the fullest. (p. 51)