Cultural Pluralism During the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance remains an important part of American history.

Cultural pluralism refers to different groups of people living together in one society while maintaining their unique cultural identities. The distinction between diversity and pluralism is important, as diversity, which refers to a variety of cultural groups in society, has existed throughout American history, while pluralism -- the peaceful interaction, coexistence and acceptance of diverse people -- remains an issue in many areas of the country. The early years following World War I evolved into a period in America known as the Harlem Renaissance. This cultural movement proved important to cultural pluralism as it initiated the desegregation of black and white America through fine arts.

1 The Beginning of Cultural Pluralism

Horace Kallen was an American philosopher in the early 1900s who advocated cultural pluralism. He asserted that encouraging groups of people from various backgrounds to participate in their cultural traditions, while also being active members of the larger culture in which they live, makes for a stronger, more unified country. W.E.B. DuBois, a black philosopher during this era, also advocated cultural pluralism, as he described black Americans as struggling with a sense of “twoness” because white America did not accept African-American culture.

2 Emergence of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, which refers to the emergence of talented black artists, began in New York in 1924. Black Americans, having endured racial discrimination in the South, migrated north in search of jobs and freedom. In addition to writers and poets, the Harlem Renaissance included African-American musicians, artists, dancers and actors. It succeeded in crossing some racial boundaries and advancing cultural pluralism, as white patrons began to dine and dance alongside black entertainers and patrons.

3 Eat, Drink and Dance

During the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem, in New York City, became known for its nightlife. Coinciding with Prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance brought attention to the marginalized African-American people who lived in Harlem, as white patrons flooded to nightclubs in predominantly black neighborhoods, watched black entertainers and consumed illegal alcohol alongside black patrons. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, people from all walks of life found a commonality in seeking an escape from the effects of the Depression. Although certain clubs, such as the infamous Cotton Club, hired African-American entertainers while only serving white patrons, the Harlem Renaissance presented the cultural spirit and diversity of black artists to the world.

4 Writers and Artists

African-American creativity thrived during the Harlem Renaissance, as talented black writers used their literary works to define and express cultural philosophies, convey feelings of marginalization and advance the ideals of cultural pluralism in American society. The written works of Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Zora Neale Hurston advanced the civil rights movement, embraced cultural pluralism and marked a turning point in African-American culture.