Upon reading Levinson’s critique and learning about “La Revue Negre” coming onto the scene in 1920’s Paris, I have decided that it is difficult to claim that Parisians had much of a sense of respect for African American cultures. Levinson calls black art “savage” and “primitive”. He even says “We should not, however, jump to the conclusion that because of this extraordinary rhythmic gift alone the Negro dancer should be taken seriously as an artist”. Even though he recognizes that black artists have a particular talent in one aspect of the music-making, he is unable to recognize it as good.
I am reminded in our discussion about African American artist, about minstrel shows that were happening in America around the turn of the century. In this case, immigrants from European countries were also performing in ways that seemed to make a caricature of their culture. Artists took advantage of the fact that audiences found their culture to be exotic and interesting. By performing in styles that were unique to their culture, even if they were parodying them, artists thought they were making their culture known and asserting their presence in the country. They were saying to audiences that they had an identity worth being aware of, even if it was presented in a derogatory manner. While I think there is something to be said for being aware of another culture, if that culture is not being treated with respect and dignity, even by themselves, it doesn’t seem worth it.
Yet, at the same, time, Langston Hughes mentioned a number of times that he thought the African-American race was losing their identity as a race because of an ”urge towards whiteness” and a desire to be fully “American”. (This is from the 1926 essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by Langston Hughes.) I think that black artists in Paris could be considered the “other” more dramatically than what Hughes says. These artists were not trying to be “French”. They were trying to appeal to the Parisian audience, but in a way that seemed to differentiate them as “other” and as spectacle.
In general, I think that it is hard to say that the Parisian audiences loved African American music because of how they described it. However, it could be interesting to look at how different players in this discussion (the white audience-goer, the black performer, the black audience-goer, the black critic, etc.) would respond to whether or not black music was loved. Similarly, we might examine if that was even something African-American artists were even conscious of while performing.