New World vs. Newer World

One part about the Banjo passage that interested me was how Banjo talked about how promising Europe is supposed to be, but has let him down because he is a Black man. Banjo came to Europe so he can form a band, and he also came for opportunities that he cannot get in America. I find it ironic that he thinks the “Old World” is his “New World” when he initially arrives. The narrator comments that Marseilles’s port is “marvelous, dangerous, attractive, big” (McKay 12), a place that seems like it is full of opportunities for Banjo. However, it is hard for Banjo to get a job because he is Black. The narrator comments “A Negro in Europe could not pick up casual work as he could in America” (65) which brings Banjo’s once optimistic attitude back down to reality. This statement affirmed some of my preconceived notions that I had before reading Banjo. I have never heard about African-Americans traveling outside the country in 1929, and I feel like there’s a reason for that. Although the State Department’s Passport History page does not mention racial discrimination in obtaining passports, I still believe there were other barriers (such as cost) that hindered Black people from getting passports. To see Banjo travel abroad taught me about Black Americans’ abilities to travel during this time, yet his inability to find work while in Europe affirms the reasons why most of them may have been hesitant to travel.

I also find the “Old World vs. New World” concept interesting. Banjo leaves the New World because he believes it’s not new enough: it lacked diversity and opportunity for Black people. However, the narrator comments that the “overworked Old World lacked a background that young rough America offered to a romantic black youth to indulge his froward instincts” (65), demonstrating that the Old World is called old for a reason. It’s ironic that most of the Old World abolished slavery before the US, yet was still lagging in social aspects like these. One of my main takeaways from this section of Banjo is that Black Americans were still met with discrimination across the Atlantic. This was not just an “Americas thing”, but a reminder that such discrimination was transatlantic as well.

One Reply to “New World vs. Newer World”

  1. I really appreciated your connection to the passport history of the United States–it’s helpful to constantly ground ourselves in the historical context of these works of fiction. Your point about the transatlanticism of discrimination also highlights another way that these books are part of the Black and Green Atlantic. Discrimination is pervasive, but each of McKay’s characters have a different perception of where it is worse. The barkeeper, for instance, thinks that America, for its slavery and racism, is still better for a black person than Europe. Its implied that Banjo disagrees. Once again, we see that the Atlantic is not a homogenizing force. People who experience discrimination across the Atlantic understand it very differently, even if their experiences are similar.

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