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Drums are not for Gentlemen: Class and race in Langston Hughes' Haitian encounter

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This article focuses on the trip to Haiti made by Langston Hughes in the spring of 1931. It examines Hughes' reflections on Haitian class and race relations as they were articulated in two short essays, People without Shoes and White Shadows in Black Land, as well as in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). All three texts explore the cultural differences between a large peasantry which spoke Kreyl and worshipped vodou, and a smaller, French-speaking Catholic elite. One of the prime movers of the New Negro Movement, Hughes' writing on Haiti, a nation of totemic significance in the Black Atlantic world, but occupied by American forces since July 1915, positioned the loa-worshipping peasantry closer to Africa, and hence to the locus of an authentic blackness, than the elite who privileged French culture, and had therefore sold out their black cultural heritage. The article also examines the connections between Hughes' thinking and the cultural and political agenda expounded by those poets and writers associated with Haitian indignisme. Hughes thus emerges from the article as a central figure in internationally constructed debates: about black identity, about an emergent black consciousness, and about the connections between diasporic black culture and an African heritage.
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Keywords: Class; Haiti; Langston Hughes; US occupation; mouvement indigniste; politics; race; vodou

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Southampton Solent University.

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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