Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bro.ConFeed Report To The Principal's Office To Discuss Patronage And The New Negroe...,


NewYorker |  Locke relished every titillating contradiction but shrank, still, from political extremes. Hoping to avoid the charge of radicalism, he changed the title of McKay’s protest poem from “White House” to “White Houses”—an act of censorship that severed the two men’s alliance. “No wonder Garvey remains strong despite his glaring defects,” the affronted poet wrote to Locke. “When the Negro intellectuals like you take such a weak line!”

And such a blurred line. In a gesture of editorial agnosticism, Locke brought voices to “The New Negro” that challenged his own. Among the more scholarly contributions to the anthology was “Capital of the Black Middle Class,” an ambivalent study of Durham, North Carolina, by E. Franklin Frazier, a young social scientist. More than thirty years later, Frazier savaged the pretensions and the perfidies of Negro professionals in his study “The Black Bourgeoisie.” A work of Marxist sociology and scalding polemic, it took a gratuitous swipe at the New Negro: the black upper class, Frazier said, had “either ignored the Negro Renaissance or, when they exhibited any interest in it, they revealed their ambivalence towards the Negro masses.” Aesthetics had been reduced to an ornament for a feckless élite.

The years after “The New Negro” were marked by an agitated perplexity. Locke yearned for something solid: a home for black art, somewhere to nourish, protect, refine, and control it. He’d been formed and polished by élite institutions, and he longed to see them multiply. But the Great Depression shattered his efforts to extend the New Negro project, pressing him further into the byzantine patronage system of Charlotte Mason, an older white widow gripped by an eccentric fascination with “primitive peoples.” Salvation obsessed her. She believed that black culture could rescue American society by replenishing the spiritual values that had been evaporated by modernity, but that pumped, still, through the Negro’s unspoiled heart.

Mason was rich, and Locke had sought her backing for a proposed Harlem Museum of African Art. Although the project failed (as did his plans for a Harlem Community Arts Center), Mason remained a meddling, confused presence in his life until her death, in 1946. During their association, he passed through a gantlet of prickling degradations. Her vision of Negro culture obviously didn’t align with his; she demanded to be called Godmother; and she was prone to angry suspicion, demanding a fastidious accounting of how her funds were spent. But those funds were indispensable, finally, to the work of Hughes and, especially, Hurston. Locke, as the erstwhile “mid-wife” of black modernism, was dispatched to handle the writers—much to their dismay. He welcomed the authority, swelling into a supercilious manager (and, to Hughes, a bullying admirer) who handed down edicts from Godmother while enforcing a few of his own.