A Brief Guide to Negritude

Year

2004

Negritude was both a literary and ideological movement led by French-speaking black writers and intellectuals. The movement is marked by its rejection of European colonization and its role in the African diaspora, pride in "blackness" and traditional African values and culture, mixed with an undercurrent of Marxist ideals. Its founders (or les trois pères), Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, met while studying in Paris in 1931 and began to publish the first journal devoted to Negritude, L'Étudiant noir (The Black Student), in 1934.

The term "Negritude" was coined by Césaire in his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939) and it means, in his words, "The simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture." Even in its beginnings Negritude was truly an international movement—drawing inspiration from the flowering of African American culture brought about by the writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance while asserting its place in the canon of French literature, glorifying the traditions of the African continent, and attracting participants in the colonized countries of the Caribbean, North Africa, and Latin America.

The movement's sympathizers included French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Roumain, founder of the Haitian Communist party. The movement would later find a major critic in Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka, who believed that a deliberate and outspoken pride in their color placed black people continually on the defensive, saying notably, "Un tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie," or "A tiger doesn't proclaim its tigerness; it jumps on its prey." Negritude has remained an influential movement throughout the rest of the twentieth century to the present day.