George Schuyler’s “The Negro-Art Hokum” and Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” have historically been considered in tandem as one is a direct response to the other. Both were published in The Nation in 1926. In “The Negro-Art Hokum,” Schuyler makes an argument against the specificity of African-American art, thus the title. If something is a “hokum” it is nonsense, or something that is meaningless or untrue. For Schuyler, there is no such thing as African-American art. Because of the influence of white models, and the varied participations of white people, Schuyler claims that what is called African-American art is really just American art.
Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” one week later in response to Schuyler. In his argument, Hughes criticizes what he calls “the racial mountain,” which he states is “this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.” He stresses his belief in the particular experiences of African-Americans to create cultural arts that are distinct, and are beautiful and important in that distinction.
Consider these two arguments from the early part of the twentieth century in relation to the arguments Morrison makes toward the end of the twentieth century in “Unspeakable Things Unspoken.”