Although controversial, critics suggest that the aims of the Harlem Renaissance movement may have backfired. The Harlem Renaissance began in the 1920s, a time of rapid growth and change in the United States. New radical thoughts and ideas sparked a cultural revolution that sought to change the image of the African American from rural and uneducated to urban and cosmopolitan. The revolution produced abundant literary, artistic and musical creations, but critics argue that the Harlem Renaissance also negatively impacted African-American identity and blunted cultural expression.
Critics of the Harlem Renaissance view it as a movement tainted by self-loathing and internalized racism. Some African Americans of the Harlem Renaissance attempted to escape the history and culture of their ethnicity by trying to create a new one that was more white or European in nature. African influences were viewed as more primative and less civilized. Even renaissance revolutionaries often copied white culture by adopting their style of dress, manners, etiquette and values.
Dependence on White Culture
Many critics have accused the literary and musical revolutionaries of the Harlem Renaissance of tailoring their work to appeal to white audiences. The intent of the Renaissance was to create more equality for African Americans at white publishing houses, but this came with the cost of the inability to express themselves despite what white audiences thought. Also, only the African-American musicians that appealed to white audiences had access to mainstream popularity and success, which may have unduly influenced the musical genre.
Division Within the African-American Community
The movement for the creation of the image of the urban and cosmopolitan African-American caused internal strife and discord. Those who did not believe in the adoption of white customs, manners and etiquette separated themselves from those who did. African Americans of the Renaissance movement were often viewed as disillusioned and disloyal to their cultural roots. African Americans who did not believe in the Renaissance were seen as detractors to the advancement and accomplishments of African-American culture in the United States.
Spread of Racism
Critics argue that the Harlem Renaissance helped to fuel racism against the rural and uneducated African Americans in the south. As African Americans mimicked white culture and tailored their musical, artistic and literary creations to favor white audiences, African Americans reinforced the idea that those who were not a part of the Renaissance were inferior and incapable of greatness. After the Renaissance heyday, the Harlem neighborhood sunk back into poverty, leaving some to wonder if the Harlem Renaissance was more of a romantic era than a catalyst for change.