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Négritude is a literary and political movement developed in France in the 1930s by a group that included the future Senegalesemarker President Léopold Sédar Senghor, Martinicanmarker poet Aimé Césaire, and the Guiananmarker Léon Damas. The Négritude writers found solidarity in a common black identity as a rejection of French colonial racism. They believed that the shared black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against Frenchmarker political and intellectual hegemony and domination. They formed a realistic literary style and formulated their Marxist ideas as part of this movement.


The history of the Negritude began in 1517. This is the year in which France began enslaving African blacks. By 1665, there was a Le Code noir. This was a rule book by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a French chief financial minister, which details how slaves should be treated in 60 infamous articles. More than 100 years later, the French revolution began. This war was centered on men’s rights and the issue of slavery, which is very similar to the American history. In 1823, Mme de Duras writes a French language novel to address the issues of racism against black people. Later in 1848, slavery was abolished. It would take years before they receive equal rights as men and women. Then 71 years later was the Harlem Renaissance, which had a heavy influence on the NegritudeMurphey, David. "Birth of a Nation? The Origins of Senegalese Literature in French." Research in African Literature 39.1 (2008): 48-69. Web. 9 Nov 2009. />..The movement was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, and particularly the works of Black writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, which address the themes of "noireism" and racism. Further inspiration came from Haitimarker, where there had similarly been a flourishing of black culture in the early 20th century, and which historically holds a particular place of pride in the African diaspora world due to the slave revolution led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in the 1790s. Césaire speaks, thus, of Haiti as being "where négritude stood up for the first time." On the European side, there was also influence and support from the Surrealism movement.During the 1920s and 1930s, a group of black students and scholars, primarily hailing from France's colonies and territories, assembled in Paris where they were introduced to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance by Paulette Nardal and her sister Jane. The Nardal Sisters contributed invaluably to the negritude movement both with their writings and by being the proprietors of the Clamart Salon, the tea-shop haunt of the French-Black intelligentsia where the Negritude movement truly began. It was from the Clamart Salon that Paulette Nardal and the Haitian Dr. Leo Sajou founded La revue du Monde Noir (1931-32), a literary journal published in English and French, which attempted to be a mouthpiece for the growing movement of African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris. This Harlem connection was also shared by the closely parallel development of negrismo in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and it is likely that there were many influences between the movements, which differed in language but were in many ways united in purpose. At the same time, "Murderous Humanitarianism" (1932) was signed by prominent Surrealists including the Martiniquan surrealists Pierre Yoyotte and J.M. Monnerot and the relationship developed especially with Aimé Césaire.

The term négritude (which most closely means "blackness" in English) was first used in 1935 by Aimé Césaire in the 3rd issue of L'Étudiant noir, a magazine which he had started in Parismarker with fellow students Léopold Senghor and Léon Damas, as well as Gilbert Gratiant, Leonard Sainville, and Paulette Nardal. L'Étudiant noir also contains Césaire's first published work, "Negreries," which is notable not only for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance but also for its reclamation of the word "nègre" as a positive term. "Nègre" previously had been almost exclusively used in a pejorative sense, much like the English word "nigger."

Neither Césaire—who upon returning to Martinique after his studies in Paris was elected both Mayor of Fort de Francemarker, the capital, and a representative of Martinique in France's Parliament—nor Senghor in Senegal envisaged political independence from France. Négritude would, according to Senghor, enable Blacks under French rule to take a "seat at the give and take [French] table as equals." However, France had other ideas, and it would eventually present Senegal and its other African colonies with independence.

In 1948, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a famous analysis of the négritude movement in an essay called "Orphée Noir" (Black Orpheus) which served as the introduction to a volume of francophone poetry called Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache, compiled by Léopold Senghor. In this essay, Sartre characterizes négritude as the polar opposite of colonial racism in a Hegelian dialectic. In his view, négritude was an "anti-racist racism" (racisme antiraciste) necessary to the final goal of racial unity.

Négritude criticized some black writers in the 1960s as insufficiently militant. Keorapetse Kgositsile the term was based too much on blackness by a white aesthetic, and was unable to define a new kind of black perception that would free black people and black art from white conceptualizations altogether.

Other uses

American Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and early abolitionist, used the term negritude to describe a hypothetical disease which he believed to be a mild form of leprosy, whose only cure was to become white.

Novelist Norman Mailer used the term to describe boxer George Foreman's awesome physical and psychological presence in his book The Fight, a classic journalistic treatment of the legendary Ali vs. Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" bout in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in October 1974.


  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Orphée Noir." Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache. ed. Léopold Senghor. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. p. xiv (1948).
  • .


Original texts
  • Césaire, Aimé: Return to My Native Land, Bloodaxe Books Ltd 1997, ISBN 1852241845
  • Césaire, Aimé: Discourse on Colonialism, Monthly Review Press 2000 (orig. 1950), ISBN 1583670254
  • Damas, Léon-Gontran, Poètes d'expression française.Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1947
  • Diop, Birago, Leurres et lueurs. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1960
  • Senghor, Léopold Sedar, The Collected Poetry, University of Virginia Press, 1998
  • Senghor, Léopold Sédar, Ce que je crois. Paris: Grasset, 1988
  • Tadjo, Véronique, Red Earth/Latérite. Spokane, Washington: Eastern Washington University Press, 2006

Secondary literature
  • T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women, University of Minnesota Press 2002, ISBN 081663680X
  • Gary Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude & Colonial Humanism Between the Two World Wars, University of Chicago Press 2005, ISBN 0226897729

  • Thompson, Peter, Negritude and Changing Africa: An Update, in Research in African Literatures, Winter, 2002
  • Thompson, Peter, Négritude et nouveaux mondes—poésie noire: africaine, antillaise et malgache. Concord, Mass: Wayside Publishing, 1994

Still Relevant:
  • Georges Balandier, "La Situation Coloniale: Approche Théorique," Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, XI (1951):44-79. English translation by Robert A Wagoner, as "The Colonial Situation: A Theoretical Approach (1951) in Immanuel Wallerstein, ed. Social Change; The Colonial Situation (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966): 34-61


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