Claude McKay and Zora Neale Hurston both seek to redefine the narrative of the African American identity. Several generations of slavery had passed, and now slaves were no longer African but African-American. This identity was utterly distinct from West Africa. These people had generations in America and were tied to the imperialist land, separated from their culture. In an attempt to demean them, white people created stereotypes to define the African American identity. They called them lazy, stupid, slow, violent, and physically superior. A monolith was made of Black Americans. In an effort to reshape this narrative, these authors explore their perspectives and histories to reveal the vastly different lives African-Americans had.
In “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” Hurston pokes fun at the assumptions white people make about Black behaviors and their explanation. In one section, she speaks about the absence of privacy in the community. In a sarcastic tone, she states that “discord is more natural than accord” (28). The belief that chaos came naturally to Black people was nonsensical. If such were the case, elaborate systems and kingdoms could not be spearheaded by them. It perpetuates this idea that we would be unable to lead successful societies. She furthers this connection by drawing it back to Africa and aligning it with some innate animal aspect. Either way, it could be perceived as a performance by the people and their audience. McKay takes this same goal and applies it to Banjo, who is always seeking something outward. Despite his status, people in more significant positions of power cannot help but pay attention to him. This is the revelation of the position of Black Americans. Each thing is perceived as a performance waiting to be understood and analyzed by some audience, even when there is no goal to the actions. Their way of must be categorized and labeled by the dominant culture.