By Ashley Lee 

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet," meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet"; meaning subconsciously, "I would like to be a white poet"; meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--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…

…So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, "I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet," as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange unwhiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he must choose… 

…We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. 

The aforementioned excerpts are taken from brother Langston Hughes’s essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” 89 years later and his message functions as a mode of wisdom to Black writers, thinkers, and intellectuals. The essay urges Black artists to not only proudly identify as such, but to be unapologetic in their craft and to resist assimilating into the white power structure. Hughes equates American standardization and whiteness with one another, while considering the Negro an identity of incredible importance, creativity, and resiliency. He suggests that as Black artists we should not hide behind our race. We should engage in subject matters that are important to us and to revel in their complexities. Our writing shouldn’t please anyone, instead should be a forthright expression of ourselves. His essay motivates me to be honest in my own craft. I refer back to it periodically, most notably when I am in doubt as a writer or questioned for engaging in racial politics. The essay reaffirms my commitment to shamelessly writing about Blackness and a personal Black experience. It compels me to be unashamed of my voice and places me in conversation with not only my peers, but poets, essayists, playwrights, and fiction writers in the Black literary tradition. Without fear, without shame, I am a Black writer. I hope the essay in its entirety has a profound impact with you as it does for me.