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    Claude McKay and No "Color Line" in Russia

    An article in yesterday's New York Times describes the fascinating discovery of an unknown novel by Claude McKay, a major writer of the Harlem Renaissance who was born in Jamaica but moved to the United States in 1912.  McKay was important for me in my work on THE BLACK RUSSIAN because he visited the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, or just a few years after the 1917 Russian Revolution.  Like other black American writers, intellectuals, artists, and technical specialists who would go to the Soviet Union later, he wanted to examine the great "social experiment" that the new state was conducting, and especially to experience its colorblindness.  He published two articles in The Crisis (December 1923 and January 1924) about his trip that illuminated how Russians viewed black people.  First of all, McKay was struck by “the distinctive polyglot population of Moscow” (a reflection of the fact that Russia had been a multi-ethnic empire).  He was also charmed to discover that “to the Russian, I was merely another type, but stranger, with which they were not yet familiar.  They were curious with me, all and sundry, young and old, in a friendly, refreshing manner.”  Because McKay spent most of his leisure time “in non-partisan and anti-bolshevist circles,” as he characterized them, he concluded that this attitude was inherent in the Russian pre-Revolutionary cultural mentality and not the “effect of Bolshevist pressure and propaganda.”  One of McKay’s young acquaintances was actually perplexed that anyone would pay special attention to him: “But where is the difference?  Some of the Indians are as dark as you.”  This is what Frederick Thomas also encountered in pre-Revolutionary Russia when he arrived in 1899 and what allowed him to achieve spectacular success in Moscow.

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    « The Detective (continued), or How I Researched THE BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 3) | Main | The Detective (continued), or How I Researched THE BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 2) »