The Complex Impact of The Harlem Renaissance on Race and Gender Roles

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1090 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

Words: 1090|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020


Table of contents

  1. Influence and Role of the Movement in African American History
  2. The Harlem Renaissance - a Defeat in the Struggle for Women's Rights
  3. Challenges and Contradictions
  4. Conclusion

The Harlem Renaissance occurred during the early 20th century. It was when many Africans moved to New York City and developed a community called Harlem. It was also known as the Golden age of African Americans because, during this time, the African cultures started to flourish especially the artistic side of these African Americans. Some also called this time as the New Negro Movement. This movement may seem like a very successful movement for African Americans, however, this wasn’t the case in certain aspects in the society regarding gender role and Race. This paper will analyze the impact of the Harlem Renaissance on Gender Role as well as Race. The Harlem Renaissance is considered as the Golden age of the African American cultures, however, this movement has both Positive and Negative Impact on the African American Society concerning Race and Gender Roles.

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Influence and Role of the Movement in African American History

The Harlem Renaissance is known as a successful movement in African history but was not successful enough to give African Americans the same respect and equality as whites. For example in the short story, “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston we see the female main character Delia Jones as a washer who washes clothes for whites. We know this when her husband Sykes told her “Ah done tole you time and again to keep them white folks’ clothes outa dis house”. Zora Neale Hurston was one of the important figures during the Harlem Renaissance. She focuses on the female character’s struggles in this story but when reading this we could still see that even though African Americans were freed, they would still work for white folks. In this quote, we see that Delia’s husband is upset at her for washing white folks clothes, however, this doesn’t seem to affect Delia because “she went on with her work” and it was one way for her to earn money on the weekends.

Furthermore, in Allen Dunn and George Hutchinson’s journal, they stated that the Harlem Renaissance was unsuccessful in giving African American a position in the US society when they state:

“According to its critics, the movement’s ‘failure’ extended from the alleged weakness of its artistic accomplishments to its inability to bring about significant change in the position of African Americans in U.S. society”.

Here Dunn and Hutchinson are acknowledging the unsuccessfulness of the Harlem Renaissance accomplishments. They claimed that the movement failed to bring significant changes because even though the artistic cultures were mainly focused on, it was still weak and therefore the movement was unable to place African Americans in the same society as whites. Matthew N. Hannah expanded on this idea when he stated that,

“In many ways, his work combated the misrepresentations, stereotypes, and shoddy scientific studies of African-American life made by white social scientists”.

Here Hannah is claiming that African American life was misrepresented by white social scientists. Earlier in his journal, he mentioned that,

“Racial uplift relied on cultural production that would showcase black genius, and the emerging science of sociology focused on black life as an object worthy of study”.

He is claiming that in order to place African American in the US society, their life was studied as if it was “an object to study”. He uses “object” to emphasize that African American’s life were studied as to how researchers would do research on various things. He is comparing African American life to things that are researchable. Dunn and Hutchinson claimed that African Americans were unable to be placed in the US society and Hannah is claiming that their lives were being researched in order to be placed in the US society. The relation between these two articles is that since African Americans were unable to be placed in US society, they were being researched. These two articles can also relate to Hurston short story “Sweat”.

In addition, because of how African Americans were being seen as by whites, they would use any opportunity to change their identity as colored to have the same rights as whites. For example, Barbra Chin wrote a journal called “‘It’s a Funny Thing About ‘Passing’’: A Discourse Analysis of Nella Larsen’s Passing and New Negro Identity Politics”, here she analyzed Nella Larsen’s novel. She stated that one of the characters was mistaken to be white but didn’t correct the driver when she claims

“Irene enters the Drayton, a white-only hotel, after her cab driver, mistakes her for a white woman and she does not correct him. It is here, as she is momentarily passing for white herself, that she reacts so disdainfully towards the idea of passing”.

The Harlem Renaissance - a Defeat in the Struggle for Women's Rights

According to Elyse Demaray and Lori Landay claims

“The Harlem Renaissance has been seen as a male movement; we immediately think of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer as representative of this period – not Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Gwendolyn Bennett, or Marita Bonner”.

Furthermore, according to Jenny Hyest “Although Anne Spencer has been regarded as one of the significant female poets of the Harlem Renaissance, less attention has been given to her role as an important innovator of American modernism”. She also claims that “Together, these three poems tell an intricate story of how normative masculinity and femininity are constituted through their binarized relation to vulnerability”. She also claimed that “Spencer thus emphasizes how these traditions and conventions fail to protect women”.

African American women were also being categorized by whites. For example, colored women were considered to be “the images of mammy and tragic mulatta persist in the representations of black people fashioned in narratives and songs”. A “mammy” was a colored nursemaid that would take care of the white children, while a “mulatta” was a woman of mixed race: one parent colored and the other white. Mayberry claims that

“Continuing the white southern projection of mammy as cook and housekeeper, always caring for her people, the oral tradition denies her harmlessness and presents her as ‘cunning, prone to poisoning her master, and not at all content with her lot’. This mammy refutes any kind of debasement associated with motherhood and imbues the role with the dignity and responsibility that are carryovers from the African image of mother as a symbol of the earth’s creative forces. The tragic mulatta also appears in the slave narratives, but there is little romanticism in the accounts. Any advantages that the mulatta might have because of her ties with the master are easily offset by the abuse she suffers and the alienation and frustration she feels”.

Challenges and Contradictions

Despite the cultural and artistic achievements of the Harlem Renaissance, it's essential to acknowledge that the movement did not erase the systemic racism and sexism prevalent in American society. Racial segregation, discrimination, and violence persisted, and African Americans continued to face barriers in accessing equal opportunities.

The Harlem Renaissance also faced criticism for its limited impact on addressing broader societal issues. While it celebrated African American cultural achievements, it did not necessarily translate into significant changes in the social and political landscape. The movement's focus on artistic expression, while crucial, sometimes overshadowed the urgency of addressing systemic racism and gender inequality.

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In conclusion, the Harlem Renaissance had a multifaceted impact on race and gender roles in American society. It celebrated African American culture and provided a platform for artistic expression that challenged traditional norms. However, it also revealed the complexities of identity, the internal debates within the African American community, and the limitations of cultural achievements in the face of deeply entrenched racism and sexism. The movement remains a significant chapter in African American history, highlighting both the progress made and the ongoing struggles for racial and gender equality.


  1. Hughes, L. (1926). The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. The Nation, 122(3164), 692-694.
  2. Hurston, Z. N. (1926). Sweat. Opportunity, 4(14), 398-399.
  3. Larson, N. (1929). Passing. Knopf.
  4. Demaray, E., & Landay, L. (2006). The Harlem Renaissance and the “New Woman”: Revisiting African American Gender Politics. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 32(4), 999-1025.
  5. Chin, B. (1999). “It’s a Funny Thing About ‘Passing’:” A Discourse Analysis of Nella Larsen’s Passing and New Negro Identity Politics. African American Review, 33(2), 219-232.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Complex Impact of the Harlem Renaissance on Race and Gender Roles. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“The Complex Impact of the Harlem Renaissance on Race and Gender Roles.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
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