IntroDuctIon
Fortunately there are constructive channels opening out into which
the balked social feelings of the American Negro can flow freely. . . .
These compensating interests are racial but in a new and enlarged way.
One is the consciousness of acting as the advance guard of the African
peoples in their contact with Twentieth Century civilization; the other
the sense of a mission of rehabilitating the race in world esteem. . . .
Harlem, as we shall see, is the center of both of these movements; she
is the home of the Negro’s “Zionism.” The pulse of the Negro world
has begun to beat in Harlem.
—Alain Locke, The New Negro, 1925
An exile from Chicago’s black urban society strikes out west to be-
come an envied, wealthy rancher in South Dakota. A half- dressed black
American playing a Haitian revolutionary hangs a white American actor
playing a French imperialist with his own belt in a New York play. Danc-
ing to swing music black performers with liner- extended eyes perform a
British play in yellowface makeup. An American actress playing a Jamai-
can casts a fake voodoo curse on her estranged American half- sister. A
famous tap dancer dressed as an African native in zebra stripes hops
across enormous drums in a song about tom- toms. In instance after in-
stance Depression- era black performance appropriates and manifests
modern imperialist representation. This engagement poses the question
of how African Americans identified with the nation and with power as
second- class citizens in the United States. Broadly defined, this book
focuses on black American cultural and ideological struggles against
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