Presence Of Cultural Appropriation During The Harlem Renaissance 

The Roaring Twenty’s are synonymous with their flashy, flamboyant lifestyle. But the dark side of this period is frequently ignored. defines cultural as “the act or appropriation of elements from an outside culture (often a minority) without understanding the context and culture of that culture”. Cultural appropriation has the disadvantage that it allows the offender to reap the benefits of desirable aspects of a minority culture, without experiencing the hardships of the culture’s people. Harlem Renaissance began with the Great Migration of African Americans who moved from Jim Crow South to the North, and more specifically Harlem in New York. Its historical significance is linked to the “New Negro”, an expression of the new black independence and self-expression. The whites who lived during the Harlem Renaissance openly accepted “New Negro culture” but didn’t advocate as much for the blacks that contributed to the arts, music, and literature of society. The north wasn’t as good as it was portrayed, even though blacks fled the racist south.

Historians tend to make it out to be a dramatic change. While whites indulged in African American culture, they still had a paternalistic view of blacks. Whites made sure that blacks remained at the bottom of society during a period when they were achieving social advancements. Whites accepted every aspect of New Negro’s cultural heritage except for New Negro. The Harlem Renaissance was a time when the white people embraced the new black culture.

Harlem Renaissance Blacks contributed greatly to the arts, including music, literature, and theatre. Before the Great Migration, African Americans weren’t recognized for their artistic or creative abilities. These black writers, musicians, and artists were not only renowned in Harlem after the migration but also around the globe. The white ignorance about the black creative capabilities was the main reason for the recognition. Blacks’ physical traits were used to categorize them; their heights, their strengths, and, sadly, even genetics. It was as though they were genetically-modified cattle. It was not intentional for whites of that time to mentally train themselves to only see the black face. Black people’s abilities were not recognized because they were viewed only as their body.

Harlem Renaissance brought about no changes in black culture. Jazz remained the main music genre, writers continued writing the same books, and artists were true to themselves. African Americans were creating jazz and the blues as early as 1800. William Henry Johnson’s art was a representation of everyday life and landscapes. This style dates all the way back the 12th century. Langston Hughes wrote over 30 works of literature, but “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is his most well-known. It was published in the early years of the Harlem Renaissance, 1921. It was the fact that black talent was now on display, and no one could deny how talented these people were. The sudden success of black works confirms the belief that appreciation for them was just a trend. The whites did not appreciate the culture but rather capitalized on its popularity.

It is possible to argue that the blacks are now being recognized in a large way, and this alone would be a great accomplishment. The blacks of Harlem seized Harlem’s economic and socio-political freedoms. If these people were white, they would not have been considered accomplishments, but rather the normality of an entertainer with talent. “For a first, African Americans…were acknowledged for their contributions …”. In other words, the credit given to blacks was not more than they have ever received before. It was for the very FIRST time. It shouldn’t depend on the race of someone to determine if they get credit for being great. It should always be about their talent. It is disingenuous to say that the minority is entitled to credit simply because of their talent. Black excellence is not a favor. That idea exposes the paternalistic outlook that plagued Harlem Renaissance.

White people’s dissatisfaction with blacks was as deep as their love of black culture. Harlem’s white community did everything possible to keep blacks out of their neighborhood during the Great Migration. After failing to stop African Americans, the whites of Harlem moved out. It’s ironic how the local community embraced the artistic skills of blacks upon their arrival. Ironically, the people who had created fear in the community were the ones that brought joy and entertainment to the community.

Jazz music was very popular in Harlem. The black culture was centered around jazz. This is a style of spontaneity, adaptation and adaptability. It is a genre that relies on spontaneity and adaptation. It was a representation of blackness; an expression of identity. The whites didn’t understand the significance of Jazz and instead viewed it as a capitalist form. Cotton Club is the best example of black exploiting. The Cotton Club was a club where blacks would perform exclusively for white audiences. Dorsey called it “a form or entertainment for the whites” and said that “white downtowners would flock Harlem, to experience the primitive, without having go to Africa.” Black people were only allowed to hold positions of service in order to emphasize the superiority of whites. Blacks fled slavery to escape to the North and work as servants. Whites used the culture of blacks as capital, even if they did not understand it.

It is possible that the opposition will claim that blacks were not only exploited by whites but also funded. You can cite the work of white patrons like W.E.B. Du Bois. Some people helped fund blacks’ success but the majority did exactly the opposite. They benefited from their success. As a result, there were so few people who helped black people to succeed that they went down as heroic heroes in history. Black people were treated as inferiors by whites.

Harlem is a place where cultural appropriation has been demonstrated. Whites embraced cultures they knew nothing about and did not respect. This research reveals a refined form of racism. It also aims to educate readers on an important part of history. While circumstances can change, they do not stop history from repeating itself. The society must be educated about issues that could very likely reoccur. It is not just whites versus blacks that appropriate culture. This term is applicable to all cultures and ethnicities. The most important thing is to learn how to accept others’ different backgrounds and appreciate them without trying too hard. It is important to understand that heritage isn’t a “fad” or a way of life. It is a rich tradition with a deep meaning, which is difficult to understand without being educated. When everyone within a society is able to respect and appreciate the cultures of others, without feeling that they are required to accept them as their own, then racial unity will emerge. Cultural appreciation is a counter-measure to appropriation. Understanding and respecting other cultures will come from a true appreciation of one’s own.


  • jacobcunningham

    Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.



Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.