The paper "The Writings of African-Americans" is an excellent example of an essay on social science. When the mass media shows images of American heritage and ancestry, the African-American images are predictable: Martin Luther King, Jr. will make an appearance; possibly Booker T. Washington, and W. E.B. DuBois as well. However, many of the iconic images – the Pilgrim, the Minuteman, and Uncle Sam -- are emphatically white. And so the reconciliation of racial and social identities can be difficult for Americans who are not European-American. The writings of such African-Americans as Langston Hughes, DuBois, Gwendolyn B.
Bennett, and Claude McKay all demonstrate how a sense of racial ancestry can influence one’ s sense of “ American” identity. Langston Hughes insists that being American transcends racial background in “ Theme for English B. ” The speaker likes “ Bessie, bop or Bach” (24) and notes that being “ colored doesn’ t make [him] NOT like the same things other folks like who are other races” (25-26). Even though the speaker does not “ often want to be a part of” (35) the same culture as the instructor, he also realizes that to do so is “ American” (33).
Hughes, writing in 1951, lived in a far different time than that described by W. E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Men. He describes the “ fire of African freedom” that still burned in the “ veins of slaves” before 1750. After the American Revolution, however, those of African descent tended to identify themselves in one of two ways: those in the South attempted three major insurrections, climaxing in Nat Turner’ s 1831 uprising, while those in the North tended to segregate themselves in a “ new and curious attempt at self-development” , as typified by the African Church in Philadelphia and New York City.
McKay and Bennett both write of vestigial features in the contemporary African-American. Bennett’ s “ To a Dark Girl” sees “ something of old forgotten queens” (5) in the girl’ s “ lithe” (6) walk, but “ something of the shackled slave” (7) in the “ rhythm” of her talk(8). This suggests that the majesty of the African-American spirit has not found full validation in its American identity. McKay spends some time in “ Heritage” lamenting the “ faun-like form, the fond elusive face” (4) of the ancestor that inspires him to greatness.
Both authors here sense a loss between the potential and the actual in the status of the African-American in contemporary society – it would seem that the American identity is somehow muted in comparison with the glory of African ancestry.