Haiti and Black Transnationalism: Remapping the Migrant Geography of Home to Harlem.
"Home to Harlem" ... for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath. (W. E. B. Du Bois, "Two Novels" 202)
The June 1928 issue of The Crisis featured the second installment of Clement Wood's expose of United States policy in occupied Haiti. His article reflected a renewed African American interest in the brutal hypocrisy of an occupation that had already lasted more than a decade. After years of decreasing attention to Haiti, articles denouncing United States policy had begun to reappear with greater frequency in journals such as The Nation, Opportunity. The Messenger, and The Crisis, anticipating the resurgence of widespread strikes and uprisings that would take place in Haiti the following year. It is ironic, then, that the same 1928 issue of The Crisis that criticized United States imperial policy in Haiti also included what has become the most notorious book review of Claude McKay's first and most popular novel, Home to Harlem. One would hardly suspect in reading this review by Du Bois that McKay's fiction would have such an important impact on anti-imperialist black intellectuals in the Caribbean, West Africa , and Europe. Du Bois castigates McKay for catering to "that prurient demand on the part of white folk for a portrayal in Negroes of that utter licentiousness which conventional civilization holds white folk back from enjoying," a demand that McKay met amply with his scenes of "drunkenness, fighting, lascivious sexual promiscuity and utter absence of restraint." He is quick to point out, however, that McKay is "too great a poet" to write a book that is totally worthless. "The chief character, Jake," he writes, "has something appealing, and the glimpses of the Haitian, Ray, have all the materials of a great piece of fiction" (202). Yet nothing more is said in this review about the Haitian intellectual whose narrative illustrates the destructive impact of an imperial policy that the same issue of The Crisis protests. Despite such renewed criticism of the United States occupation of Haiti in the later 1920s, the story of a Haitian migrant appears to have little place in a novel about Harlem.
Given Du Bois's advocacy of pan-Africanist unity during the 1920s, his exclusive attention to the African American context of Home to Harlem might seem surprising. His review, however, represented the response of many African American intellectuals, especially of his generation, who ignored McKay's Haitian protagonist and instead questioned the author's motivation for a book that bore a disturbing resemblance to Carl Van Vechten's controversial Nigger Heaven (1926).  Most readers of Home to Harlem have followed its initial reception by Harlem Renaissance critics, concentrating on McKay's primitivist portrayal of Jake, debating the racial politics of his gritty but romantic depiction of his Harlem "semi-underworld."  I would like to suggest that McKay's representation of a transnational black Harlem is more politically complex than most accounts of him as a "Harlem Renaissance" writer indicate.  I will concentrate primarily on the cross-cultural dynamic of Home to Harlem's two migrant narratives. The first is Jake's African American migrant narrative, which assumes a rural South-urban North geographical trajectory familiar to Harlem Renaissance fiction. Significantly, though, Jake's narrative journey to Harlem begins not in his native Virginia but on a trans-Atlantic freighter from London, shortly after he had left the United States Army in France, frustrated by the demeaning treatment of black soldiers who had enlisted to fight in the "white folks' war" (McKay, Home 8). The second narrative is Ray's African Caribbean migrant narrative, whose geography of exile evokes American immigrant and international modernist fiction more than African American fiction of the period.
Home to Harlem represents the uneasy intersection of its two migrant narratives, as it celebrates the unlikely friendship between the African American working-class war deserter and the young Haitian intellectual who had fled from the United States military occupation of his country. Ray's narrative of exile is structurally contained within lake's picaresque narrative, as it does not begin until the second part of the three-part novel, when we encounter him waiting tables in a railroad dining car where Jake is a cook. And his narrative concludes as abruptly as it begins, at the end of part two, with his seemingly impulsive departure from Harlem aboard a European-bound freighter. Nonetheless, the friendship that evolves between Ray and Jake transforms both of them, as they each must confront the mutual prejudice--based on national and class differences--that makes their comradeship so unlikely. The incongruity of the novel's two open-ended narratives represents less of a structural failure on McKay's part, as has been argued by most critics of the novel, than a failure of his readers to conceptualize the political significance of its incongruity. In revealing that divisions between African American and Caribbean residents of Harlem were based more on social prejudice than on competing political interests, McKay's novel also suggests its American readers' neglect in adequately relating these divisions to a hegemonic imperialist ideology. The Haitian nationality of the novel's African Caribbean protagonist is thus especially important. While Haitians comprised a small minority of Caribbean immigrants to Harlem, McKay's exposure of the devastating impact of the American invasion of Haiti underscored the necesssity for a renewed counterhegemonic pan-Africanist solidarity.
During the early years of the Harlem Renaissance the one concern that most unified African American and Caribbean intellectuals was the demand for Haitian self-determination. As editor of The Crisis, Du Bois himself had appealed to his readers to oppose the occupation of Haiti as early as 1915. Probably the most prominent African American critic of United States policy was James Weldon Johnson, who reported injustices in occupied Haiti in 1920 for The Crisis and The Nation. Drawing attention to both the unconstitutionality of the United States intervention and the commercial motivation behind it, Johnson set the tone for future reports on occupied Haiti.  During the long period of occupation (1915-1934), Haiti's revolutionary history also became an important point of reference for both black nationalist and communist radicals. Home to Harlem anticipates the appeal to Haiti's revolutionary past in 1930s proletarian fiction as well as in C. L. R. James's landmark history, The Black Jacobins.  But, as McK ay suggests in Home to Harlem, awareness of Haiti's national history-- including its recent history--was far removed from the proletarian consciousness of a character like Jake, even during the years of most intense conflict. Such awareness of Haiti had in fact also become far removed from American public consciousness by the mid-1920s, years of apparent calm following the consolidation of American military control. This decreased American attention to Haiti's ongoing ordeal--so dramatically different from the awareness of anti-imperialist Haitian nationalism that McKay encountered living in Paris at this time--is the unstated political subtext of Home to Harlem.
As McKay's biographers have noted, there are elements of the author in both protagonists of Home to Harlem.  Like Jake, he had experienced the exhausting work and intense nightlife of migrant laborers living in Harlem, and like Ray, he was disaffected with African American intellectual life and American society more generally. However, given McKay's insistent critique of American and European imperialism throughout his career, it is surprising how few readers have addressed the significance of Ray's nationality to McKay's Harlem novel. Ray reappears as a protagonist of McKay's second novel, Banjo, the sequel to Home to Harlem that revisits the young writer's quest for literary expression in Marseilles, amid the vibrantly international milieu of African, Caribbean, and North American black workers. Whereas Home to Harlem is usually cited as a flawed but important novel of the Harlem Renaissance, Banjo is credited as one of the founding texts of the pan-Africanist negritude movement, which was also inspired by Haitian nationalist response to American imperialism. If McKay is best known in the United States as the protest poet who wrote "If We Must Die" and other poems of black pride and resistance after World War I, his international reputation rests more on the impact of his prose fiction on postcolonial Caribbean and West African writers such as Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor.  This bifurcated reception of McKay's writing exemplifies the central problem that Paul Gilroy investigates in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness: "the fatal junction of the concept of nationality with the concept of culture and the affinities and affiliations which link the blacks of the West to one of their adoptive, parental cultures" (2). The alternative concept of a transnational, intercultural "black Atlantic" is, of course, especially appropriate for a writer like McKay, who spent much of his life quite literally, as well as intellectually, traversing the Atlantic. It is also appropriate for the stu dy of events, such as the Haitian Revolution, or movements, such as Garveyism, pan-Africanism, or negritude, that have had global implications. 
In his response to critics of his fiction, particularly of Home to Harlem, McKay himself underscores the significance of his cross-cultural experience. For example, in a retrospective essay entitled "A Negro Writer to His Critics" (1932), he emphasizes the continuity of his earlier Jamaican dialect verse with his novelistic representation of African American working-class speech. In doing so he asserts his own literary cosmopolitanism as he questions the narrow provincialism of his African American critics: "If my brethren had taken the trouble to look a little into my obscure life they would have discovered that years before I had recaptured the spirit of the Jamaican peasants in verse, rendering their primitive joys, their loves and hates, their work and play, their dialect. And what I did in prose for Harlem was very similar to what I had done for Jamaica in verse" (135). Writing from the experience of having lived for many years in Europe and North Africa, after he had lived in Jamaica and the United Sta tes, McKay furthermore suggests that his internationalist perspective was especially attuned to the multiracial development of American urban centers. His conclusion to "A Negro Writer and His Critics" is especially appropriate for understanding the importance of the cross-cultural camaraderie of characters like Jake and Ray in Home to Harlem: "The time when a writer will stick only to the safe old ground of his own class of people is undoubtedly passing. Especially in America, where all the peoples of the world are scrambling side by side and modern machines and the ramifications of international commerce are steadily breaking down the ethnological barriers that separate the peoples of the world" (139).
Recent comparative cultural and literary studies of American modernism have begun to "break down the ethnological barriers" that have defined the parameters of the Harlem Renaissance, arguing that its formation was more intercultural--and more international--than its most influential historians have suggested. Such studies would include George Hutchinson's interracial formulation of "the Harlem Renaissance in black and white," Ann Douglass's extensive overview of 1920s "mongrel Manhattan," Michael North's comparative analysis of "the dialect of modernism," and Michael Denning's panoramic account of "the laboring of American culture," all of which underscore the interrelations of African American and immigrant cultural forms within the United States. Perhaps the most significant parallel was the rhetorical appeal to cultural pluralism that characterizes African American and immigrant American cultural nationalisms. Liberal proponents of African American cultural nationalism emphasized Harlem's multinational d imension, affirming a model of cultural pluralism that paralleled immigrant claims for a "trans-national"
American culture,  Such a model of cultural pluralism is most familiarly found in The New Negro anthology, which, despite its limited coverage of the Garvey movement and of radical socialist politics, is still considered the canonical text of African American modernism. 
Alain Locke's introduction to The New Negro, published only a year after the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, describes Harlem as a cosmopolitan cultural capital whose importance for "Aframerican" nationalism resembles that of the newly emergent national capitals of Europe:
Here in Manhattan is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life. It has attracted the African, the West Indian, the Negro American; has brought together the Negro of the North and the Negro of the South.... In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. It is--or promises at least to be--a race capital .... Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland or Prague for the New Czechoslovakia. (Locke, "The New Negro" 6-7) Locke's claims for Harlem's role as the international cultural center for peoples of African descent--the "home of the Negro's 'Zionism'" ("The New Negro" 14), as he writes--are echoed elsewhere in the anthology. For example, James Weldon Johnson writes in the essay that would become the introduction to his important 1930 history. Black Manhattan: "Harlem is in deed the great mecca for the sight-seer, the pleasure-seeker, the curious, the adventurous, the enterprising, the ambitious and the talented of the whole Negro world; for the lure of it has reached down to every island of the Carib Sea and penetrated even into Africa" ("Harlem" 301). Johnson himself was born shortly after his parents had migrated to the United States from the Bahamas.  The large number of prominent African American intellectuals whose families had migrated from the Caribbean also included Du Bois, whose grandfather was from the Bahamas, and whose father was born in Haiti. More important to this vision of Harlem as a multinational center of black culture are the contributors to the anthology who themselves had migrated from the Caribbean. In addition to McKay, these would include the short story writer Eric Walrond (born in British Guyana), the scholar of African and African American history Arthur Schomburg (born in Puerto Rico), the journalist and historian Joel Rogers (born in Jamaica), and the journalist and radical political activist W. A. Domingo (also from Jamaica).
Domingo's essay in the New Negro, "Gift of the Black Tropics," makes the most specific case for the impact of Caribbean immigrants on Harlem society. Like New York City more generally, Harlem differed from other American cities with large black populations precisely because of its percentage of immigrants. About 25 percent of Harlem was foreign-born in the 1920s (Osofsky 131). Of course, as Domingo points out, Caribbean immigrants represented a plurality of cultures themselves, even though, "to the average American Negro, all English-speaking black foreigners are West Indians, and by that is usually meant British subjects" (343). In contrast with such assumptions, Domingo stresses the cultural plurality of these "colored people of Spanish, French, Dutch, Arabian, Danish, Portuguese, British and native African ancestry" who "for the first time in their lives...meet and move together" (341). While the American ignorance of cultural differences among Caribbean immigrants intensified their identifications with t heir islands of origin, their common experience of migration was crucial for the development of a pan-African consciousness among Harlem intellectuals. The recognition of racial commonality grew partly from the shared encounter with unfamiliarly rigid patterns of segregation: "Divided by tradition, culture, historical background and group perspective, these diverse peoples are gradually hammered into a loose unit by the impersonal force of congested residential segregation" (341-42). The disproportionately large number of Caribbeans who played leadership roles in radical Harlem-based political organizations like the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Blood Brotherhood could not be explained only by such deterministic forces, however. In conclusion, Domingo stresses the heroic importance of African Caribbean political activism in Harlem, citing none other than Claude McKay:
The outstanding contribution of West Indians to American Negro life is the insistent assertion of their manhood in an environment that demands too much servility and unprotesting acquiescence from men of African blood. This unwillingness to conform and be standardized, to accept tamely an inferior status and abdicate their humanity, finds an open expression in the activities of the foreign-born Negro in America.
This "spirit," he concludes, is "eloquently expressed in the defiant lines of the Jamaican poet, Claude McKay: 'Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back'" (349).
The irony of identifying McKay as "the Jamaican poet" has not been lost on Domingo's readers, especially given the article's expressed purpose of bridging cultural differences. Winston James, for example, emphasizes in his prologue to Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America that "it is inappropriate that Domingo should have cited McKay as he did, since one of the most powerful motifs in McKay's work is the supersession of petty and negative divisions between people of African descent--including those between African Caribbeans and African Americans" (5).  These divisions were especially pronounced during the early 1920s debates about immigration restriction, which coincided with the campaign against Marcus Garvey. As the heated exchange between Domingo and the African American socialist Chandler Owen in The Messenger exemplified, the boundaries between anti-Garvey and anti-West Indian antagonism were not always clear, even though the degree of mistrus t--and misunderstanding--between Caribbean and African American intellectuals became all too clear. 
During the Garvey controversy, disagreements between Caribbean and African American intellectuals about radical politics within the United States superceded common interests in opposing United States imperial incursions in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the cause of Haitian self-determination remained a source of agreement for blacks worldwide, as United States control of the Haitian economy and political system became more firmly entrenched under the administration of its client President, Louis Borno. Opposition to the American military occupation of Haiti within the United States was strongest during the election year of 1920, following the military response to the massive uprising against the Occupation that took place in 1919. By 1919, United States policy makers had drastically revised the Haitian Constitution. The new Constitution blatantly served American economic and military interests as it denied democratic rights to Haitians. Most notably, it legalized alien land ownership, suspended the elected Hai tian legislature, and legalized all acts of the military occupation. In addition to the introduction of such anti-democratic policies, the United States also implemented plantation agriculture that was financed by private American investments, which destroyed the existing land-tenure system of peasant freeholders. While there had been popular resistance to United States economic and military policy since the Occupation, the most intense guerilla warfare took place during the uprising of 1919. The Marines responded with their superior weaponry, killing over 3,000 Haitians. Criticism of the Occupation intensified in the United States when military documents about "the indiscriminate killing of natives" were publicized. 
The investigative articles that James Weldon Johnson wrote for The Nation and The Crisis had the greatest impact on African American public awareness of Haiti. After visiting Haiti on behalf of the NAACP, Johnson wrote bluntly about the economic reasons for the United States occupation. While revealing the racist hypocrisy of anti-democratic policy undertaken on behalf of American political ideals, the examples of political injustices and military atrocities he cites in the Nation article belie the very claims for respecting national sovereignty that informed the Wilson Administration's World War I policy:
... the Administration ... with less justification than Austria's invasion of Serbia, or Germany's rape of Belgium, without warrant other than the doctrine that "might makes right," has conquered Haiti. It has done this through the very period when, in the words of its chief spokesman, our sons were laying down their lives overseas "for democracy, for the rights of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations." (Johnson, "Self-Determining Haiti" 238)
As Johnson concludes, the official justification of United States policy in Haiti consistently contradicted its claims for defending Belgium against German aggression. Not only does Johnson's reference to the most obvious World War I European examples of violated national sovereignty reveal the duplicity of Wilson's foreign policy, but it also echoes more radical claims for Haiti's political significance as a victim of imperial aggression. After the 1919 revolt, Haiti was often compared to the emerging nations seeking independence from British colonial rule. According to the Socialist Messenger, for example, the United States had no credibility in arguing for "the self-determination of smaller nationalities," for "Santo Domingo and Haiti are the Ireland of America" ("Santo Domingo Protests" 226). Underscoring the systematically imperialist design of United States foreign policy in the Caribbean, The Messenger argues elsewhere that "Haiti is America's India.... Sentiment, homilies on justice and morality have no weight in a world of imperialism. Only profits count. No other reason can be assigned for Great Britain in Egypt, Japan in Corea and Siberia or America in Haiti ("America's India" 418). The Messenger was uncompromising in its emphasis on the international effects of imperialism on all workers, including, of course, American workers, whose "standard of living is endangered by the cheap labor of these oppressed peoples which American capitalists are exploiting for profits." Only when the Haitian workers could overthrow the imperialist government that is protecting American capitalist interests could "our India, our Corea, our Ireland ... be free" ("America's India" 419).
The Crisis, although more guarded in its recommendations for political action, likewise emphasized the parallels of Haitian claims for self-determination with the claims of India, Egypt, and Ireland, especially in Du Bois's reports on the initial Pan-African Congresses.  Johnson's investigative article in The Crisis, while covering much of the same ground as his Nation series, also appeals directly to the interests of his African American readers in considering the plight of Haiti, "for Haiti is the one best chance that the Negro has in the world to prove that he is capable of the highest self-government. If Haiti should ultimately lose her independence, that one best chance will be lost" ("The Truth About Haiti" 224). Johnson reminds his readers that the United States was the "last of all the strong nations to recognize [Haitian] independence" (218) and the first to violate Haiti's national sovereignty. In emphasizing that the Haitian people were now subject to the same racial "prejudice" of "southern w hite men" that had long oppressed African Americans, Johnson appeals to the democratic ideals that link Haitian self-determination with the interests of African peoples worldwide.
Given how strong such protests against the American Occupation of Haiti were, it is remarkable how quickly the cause of Haitian nationalism disappeared from the headlines of the major African American journals after 1922. There was no violent conflict in Haiti in the 1920s comparable to what took place in 1919; however, there was considerable unrest in Haiti over the United States-sponsored Borno administration, even as strict censorship of government opposition was enforced. Young Haitian intellectuals responded to the Occupation by rejecting both the elite French cultural values of the old regime and the pragmatic, materialist American values that had displaced them, instead affirming a new national identity rooted in Haiti's black African heritage. Yet, while this indigenist movement celebrated the African roots of Haitian folklore, religion, and language, it took some time before African American intellectuals took notice of the Haitian cultural response to the American Occupation.  Although there we re occasional editorials in African American cultural journals that criticized United States policy in the Caribbean, especially the Virgin Islands, more attention was paid to cultural differences among Caribbean and American-born blacks than to their shared concerns, especially in the aftermath of the Garvey indictment. After half a decade of minimal attention to Haiti, the years 1926-27 saw a resurgence of African American interest in the Haitian response to the Occupation, already over a decade long.
The African American journal that devoted the most attention to Haitian cultural politics in the late 1920s was Opportunity, the National Urban League publication then edited by Charles S. Johnson. Its November 1926 "Caribbean Issue," co-edited by Eric Walrond, did not include any articles specifically about Haiti, but its emphasis on the social differences of African Caribbeans and African Americans suggests why there was less interest in the cause of Haitian self-determination among African American intellectuals after 1921. Because of the social and political differences among Caribbean-and United States-born blacks, "it is inevitable that they should fail either to know or understand each other or to profit fully by the virtues of each other." Even as these differences are diminished by the "single, inexorable pressure of race," the goal of this "Caribbean Issue" was to alleviate the social prejudice that persisted among Caribbean and United States blacks ("A Caribbean Issue" 334). Subsequent issues of O pportunity concentrated more intensively on the Caribbean, and, in particular, on the situation in Haiti. The articles on Haiti include Rayford W. Logan's critique of supposed United States accomplishments in Haiti ("The New Haiti," Apr. 1927), John Vandercook's account of his travels to Haiti ("Whitewash," Oct. 1927), John Matheus's laudatory review of Louis Morpeau's Anthologie d'un Siecle de Poesie Haitienne (Oct. 1927). and the Haitian writer Dantes Bellegarde's "Haiti Under the Rule of the United States" (Dec. 1927), translated by Logan.
Not surprisingly, Bellegarde's article is especially passionate in decrying the ongoing United States "'civil occupation' whose evident aim is to absorb or destroy all the moral and economic forces of the Haitian people" (Bellegarde 354). Reiterating some of the same points made by James Weldon Johnson (whom he cites), Bellegarde, in his thorough indictment of United States economic and political policy in Haiti, reveals the absurd disjunction between American propaganda and the realities of everyday life for Haitians. The American policy, he writes, serves nobody's long-term interests, especially those of the American imperialists:
By the methods of government that they have employed and by the failure of most of their enterprises in Haiti since 1915, the Americans have struck a deadly blow not only at the prestige of the United States, but at that of the whole white race. The great mass of the Haitian people had kept as a heritage of the colonial regime a faint belief if not in the superiority of the white race at least in its efficiency. This belief has disappeared.... The American action in Haiti is in bankruptcy. (Bellegarde 357)
Given that Home to Harlem itself reveals how the "bankruptcy" of the "American action" had everything to do with the white supremacist ideology through which it was justified, it is remarkable that so many reviewers of McKay's novel felt that it had "struck a deadly blow" at the whole black race. Paradoxically, the critical objection to McKay's representation of Harlem relates to desires--and anxieties--that similarly have informed American cultural mythologies of Haiti. As Michael Dash has written, American representations of Haiti since its independence most often have been projections of fantasy or insecurity: Haiti has been "the extreme case, whether it was virgin terrain, a garden of earthly delights where the black race could begin again or the closest and most histrionic example of Africa's continental darkness" (2-3). During the Occupation, these dichotomous representations of Haiti intensified.
Such projections also characterized popular perceptions of Harlem in the 1920s, as McKay's novel itself exemplifies. Like the sensationalist vision of Haiti, Harlem nightclubs offered the exotic appeal of unrestrained sensuality. As Dash writes, Harlem nightlife provided "a safe safari into the world of the primitive ... a plunge into the unknown, a salutary disorientation for those who were willing to indulge their wildest fantasies" (46). Home to Harlem's commercial success attests to the popular desire for such "disorientation," and the polarized critical response to the novel among black American reviewers suggests how politically charged primitivist representations of black life still were in the late 1920s. But if the more conspicuous narrative of Jake's amorous adventures provoked the controversy that dominated critical discussion of the novel, it also seemed to deflect its readers' attention from the embedded narrative of the historically conscious Haitian exile.  Ray's narrative in fact undersco res the hegemonic power of primitivist stereotyping as it appeals to a pan-Africanist vision that can embrace such divergent experiences as those of Jake and Ray, of the African American and the African Caribbean, of the proletarian and the intellectual.
As much as Home to Harlem identifies Jake with a predominantly African American Harlem, the novel's introduction of his character, as part of a multinational, multiracial crew on a trans-Atlantic freighter, foregrounds how national identity is subjected to a transnational logic of racial and class hierarchy. The novel's opening two sentences suggest that racial categories are self-explanatory: "All that Jake knew about the freighter on which he stoked was that it stank between sea and sky. He was working with a dirty Arab crew" (1). Yet such an apparently self-evident equation of "Arab" with "dirty" is complicated by the narrative's subsequent racial contradictions. Within the racial hierarchy of this ship, which relegates "the Arabs" to the lowest level of "filth," Jake is elevated to a higher status than his fellow stokers. Yet he is not deceived when a white sailor says to him," 'You're the same like us chaps. You ain't like them dirty jabbering coolies'" (2-3). Jake's unstated response suggests an experie nced consciousness of how the interrelated hierarchies of race and class render such "flattery" suspect:" ... Jake smiled and shook his head in a non-committal way. He knew that if he was just like the white sailors, he might have signed on as a deckhand and not as a stoker" (3). The material consequences of racist ideology supercede any spurious attempts to bridge racial divides, as the subsequent narration of Jake's earlier wartime experience reinforces. Like other African American soldiers who had enlisted to fight, Jake is limited to manual labor at the army base camp. Frustrated, he makes a seemingly impulsive decision to leave the army and travel to England, a decision the potential consequences of which eventually follow him "home to Harlem."
Significantly, Jake leaves France because he is seduced by the kindness of an English sailor who calls him "darky" rather than "nigger." He is seduced despite the admitted knowledge that "back home" such language would signify "friendly contempt." Although he "thought how strange it was to hear the Englishman say 'darky' without being offended" (5), Jake settles in London's increasingly racially mixed East End and even lives with a white woman. When postwar race riots disrupt Jake's temporary complacency in London, however, he realizes that England is hardly exempt from the racial hatred he had identified with the United States. His initial lapse of judgment, the moment of trust "colored" by his comparison of white American and English treatment of blacks, becomes painfully evident to him. He has no choice but to leave the "white folks' war" (8) as far behind as he can, so he embarks for Harlem on the freighter.
Because Jake is a deserter, albeit from a military that had deserted him in his desire to fight for his nation, he cannot leave the war entirely behind him. As casual as his picaresque migrant life appears to be, as confident as he is that he can always find another job or another lover, he is an outlaw throughout Home to Harlem. Yet his status as a war deserter does not seem unusual in Harlem, and the possibility of arrest for desertion is only vaguely threatening until the end of the novel. While his friend and fellow veteran Zeddy warns him as soon as he returns that the "'gov'mant still smoking out deserters and draft dodgers'" (22), even offering rewards to those who turn them in, this specific threat becomes submerged within the more general threat of random arrest that black men take for granted in McKay's Harlem. Nonetheless, Jake's outlaw status is given significant structural weight in the novel. Not only does he come "home to Harlem" as a war deserter, he eventually leaves Harlem as a result of be ing publicly exposed as such. The novel's primary narrative weight is given to Jake's quest for Felice, the "sweet brown" prostitute with whom he falls in love his first night back in Harlem, only to lose her until the novel's conclusion, when they are reunited and eventually depart for Chicago. The geography of this quest is not informed by a mythic pull of Harlem as a black Mecca, however, even though Felice herself embodies this myth with her attractiveness, her generosity, and her elusiveness.  It is defined instead by the more pragmatic need to escape the "white folks' business," to find refuge among black migrants like himself.
Jake's final decision to leave Harlem is impelled by his exposure as an outlaw by the same friend, Zeddy, who had warned him to keep quiet about his desertion. In the climactic barroom conflict over "whose woman" Felice is, Zeddy's final defense is to shout at Jake: "'You come gunning at me, but you didn't go gunning after the Germans. Nosah! You was scared and runned away from the army.'" As hurt as Jake is by Zeddy's desperate accusation, he is even more disturbed by the absurd truth of his final words: "'I ain't got no reason to worry sence youse down in the white folks' books'" (327). In the aftermath of this fight, Jake is disgusted that he has succumbed to the level of violence and hatred he had experienced in Europe:
... he was caught in the thing that he despised so thoroughly ... Brest, London, and his America. Their vivid brutality tortured his imagination. Oh, he was infinitely disgusted with himself to think that he had just been moved by the same savage emotions as those vile, vicious, villainous white men who, like hyenas and rattlers, had fought, murdered, and clawed the entrails out of black men over the common, commercial flesh of women.(328)
Interestingly, the very woman whose "commercial flesh" had initially signified Harlem's immense appeal to Jake reminds him not only of the masculinist absurdity of his regret for not fighting in the war but also of the real threat he faces as a known war deserter. "'What right have niggers got to shoot down a whole lot a Germans for?'" she asks. "'Is they worse than Americans or any other nation a white people? You done do the right thing, honey.... But all the same, we can't stay in Harlem no longer, for the bulls will sure get you'" (331-32). While Jake's immediate impulse is to "go on off to sea again," Felice's pragmatic solution to his dilemma depends on a clear distinction between "his America" and a "country" less rigidly inscribed by the rule of law: "'This heah is you' country, daddy.... This heah country is good and big enough for us to git lost in. You know Chicago? ... I hear it's a mahvelous place foh niggers'" (332-33). They leave for Chicago that night. If Jake is an outlaw from a "nation" that has denied him his rights as a citizen, he can still lay claim to a "country" within but apart from this nation, even if its primary appeal is that it is "big enough... to git lost in."
In contrast to Jake, the only "country" that Ray can claim as "home" is occupied by the United States marines. The introduction of Ray in part two parallels the novel's introduction of lake on the trans-Atlantic freighter, as he first appears in the highly stratified, class-conscious milieu of a railroad dining car crossing Pennsylvania. Whereas Jake is at first part of a multinational crew on the freighter, however, Ray is presumably the only "foreigner" among the African American Pullman porters and waiters. Ray's exile is accentuated not only by his outsider status among his co-workers--as a Haitian and as an intellectual--but also by the delayed appearance of his narrative within the novel. While lake's opening journey "home to Harlem" initiates the novel's overarching narrative pattern of movement, with Harlem as its (sometimes) centrifugal and (sometimes) centripetal center, Ray's narrative journey initially appears to have neither a "home" nor any other destination. As he is exiled from his native Hai ti, his narrative likewise appears out of place within lake's African American migrant narrative. This initially anonymous waiter is at first an anomaly to the incredulous lake, who presumably has never heard a black man speak French and never heard of Haiti. 
Although we see Ray primarily through Jake's eyes, the novel reminds us that "lake was very American in spirit and shared a little of that comfortable Yankee contempt for poor foreigners. And as an American Negro he looked askew at foreign niggers. Africa was jungle, and Africans bush niggers, cannibals. And West Indians were monkey-chasers" (134). When lake asks where Haiti is, Ray's answer assumes an imperial American geopolitical frame of reference: "'An island in the Caribbean--near the Panama Canal'" (131). Nonetheless, lake is captivated by Ray's discourse on "'the romance of Hayti'" (136). He asks him how a student of literature and history like himself could end up working on an American railroad dining car, and when Ray responds that "'Uncle Sam put me here,'" lake's impulsive reaction is defensive: "'Whadye mean Uncle Sam?... Don't hand me that bull'" (136). Ray explains:
"Maybe you don't know that during the World War Uncle Sam grabbed Hayti. My father was an official down there. He didn't want Uncle Sam in Hayti and he said so and said it loud. They told him to shut up and he wouldn't, so they shut him up in jail. My brother also made a noise and American marines killed him in the street. I had nobody to pay for me at the university, so I had to get out and work. Voila!" (136-37)
If an educated, French-speaking citizen of an independent black nation is almost inconceivable to him, lake proves to be a receptive student of Ray's lecture on Haiti's proud but tragic history.
Ray, on the other hand, is initially far less receptive to lake's more practical lessons of migrant work life, as his contempt for American imperial arrogance eclipses any recognition of commonality he shares with his black coworkers. He is both repulsed by the thought of any kinship with them and disturbed by this repulsion, as he reflects on his racial identity during the crew's layover in Pittsburgh: "These men claimed kinship with him. They were black like him. Man and nature had put them in the same race. He ought to love them ... if he had a shred of social morality in him." But he instead questions the very grounds for this "social morality": "Why should he have and love a race?" (153). While Ray sees racial and national idealizations as similarly problematic responses to white supremacist ideology, the troubling question of his own national identity supercedes any thoughts of cross-cultural racial commonalities:"He remembered when little Hayti was floundering uncontrolled, how proud he was to be the son of a free nation. He used to feel condescendingly sorry for those poor African natives; superior to ten millions of suppressed Yankee 'coons.' Now he was just one of them and he hated them for being one of them...." Like Jake, Ray's vision is initially limited by the very nationalism he decries. Any transnational alliance with the African American working class is difficult to imagine, even though he is now "one of them." Because Haiti is no longer a "free nation," he can only imagine "home" in his delirious nightmares as a refuge from "the clutches of that magnificent monster of civilization" (155), a fantastic "paradise" that blends childhood memory with primitivist fantasy of an exotic tropical landscape where "taboos and terrors and penalties were transformed into new pagan delights..." (158).
If Jake is challenged to imagine a world of black self-determination, a world that he identifies with the rhetorical power of intellectual discourse, Ray is challenged as a writer to render the poetic power of Jake's black proletarian speech.  As affectionate and mutually supportive as Jake's friendship with Ray becomes, their distance from each other remains. However, this distance becomes less one of cultural difference than of social class, of education, of Jake's awareness that, because he is not "proper-speaking" like Ray, his future is limited (273), and of Ray's awareness that his education has failed to provide him a language to represent Jake's working-class world: "The sudden upset of affairs in his home country had landed him in the quivering heart of a naked world whose reality was hitherto unimaginable. It was what they called in print and polite conversation 'the underworld' "(224). While Ray's literary vision is limited by the proprietary codes of "print and polite conversation," his dista nce from Jake's "underworld" is also a problem of translation: "The compound world baffled him, as some English words did sometimes. Why underworld he could never understand. It was very much upon the surface as were the other divisions of human life" (224-25). Ray recognizes that the problem of representing Jake's working-class world is less a problem of absolute social stratification, given his own involvement with this world, than of his literary education. Though he had been taught to value the social vision of nineteenth-century novelists such as Hugo, Stowe, Dickens, Zola, and especially the Russian realists, he realizes that with the "great mass carnage in Europe and the great mass revolution in Russia ... he had lived over the end of an era" (225-26).
As betrayed by his education as Ray feels within the African American working-class world that he has adopted, paradoxically, it is his experience of social upheaval in his own country that has given him the insight to recognize the challenge of representing Jake's world: "Thank God and Uncle Sam that the old dreams were shattered. Nevertheless, he still felt more than ever the utter blinding nakedness and violent coloring of life. But what of it? Could he create out of the fertile reality around him? Of Jake nosing through life, a handsome hound, quick to snap up any tempting morsel of poisoned meat thrown carelessly on the pavement?" (228-29). As bitterly ironic as Ray's "thanks" to "Uncle Sam" are, and as brutally pessimistic as his portrayal of Jake is, Ray's meandering reflections suggest a link, however unconscious at this point, between Haiti and Harlem. But it is only when he decides to leave Harlem that Ray can conceive of this connection in more affectionate terms:
Going away from Harlem.... Harlem!
How terribly Ray could hate it sometimes. Its brutality, gang rowdyism, promiscuous thickness. Its hot desires. But, oh, the rich blood-red color of it The warm accent of its composite voice, the fruitiness of its laughter, the trailing rhythm of its "blues" and the improvised surprises of its jazz. He had known happiness, too, in Harlem, joy that glowed gloriously upon him like the high-noon sunlight of his tropic island home. (267)
Ray has hardly solved the problem of reconciling his condescending disdain for "Harlem niggers" (264) with his attraction to the "warm accent" of Harlem's "composite voice." This romantically nostalgic vision instead converts Harlem into a primitivist paradise like his own "tropic island home." Anticipating his departure for Europe, Ray can only identify Harlem with "home" within the retrospective realm of the exile's memory.
Ray's problem with representing Jake's proletarian "underworld" is ultimately the novel's socioaesthetic problem as well, but this problem is obliquely mirrored by lake's difficulty in imagining Haiti, either as an independent black nation or a nation subject to United States military rule. Significantly, the childhood home that had filled Ray with such longing during the dreadful layover in Pittsburgh, the moment of his most intense estrangement that also begins his friendship with lake, reappears much more casually at the conclusion of his narrative. The mere mention of the "home" from which Ray remains exiled reminds us that occupied Haiti has virtually disappeared from the novel's narrative "surface" until this point, just as the Occupation had practically disappeared from public discourse during the years in which McKay was composing Home to Harlem. If this Haitian past is temporarily relegated to the narrative "underworld" of Home to Harlem, displaced by the very questions about representing African Am erican working-class life that obsess Ray, the re-emergence of his Haitian past suggests how the novel's political unconscious is more complex than his vision of the childhood tropical paradise. The translation of his exile into the "composite voice" of Harlem blues and jazz underscores how the systematic source of his dislocation is not unrelated to that of the African American migrant, a dislocation from "home" that even lake cannot entirely repress.
Ray's professed admiration for lake in their concluding conversation is not without an ironic reminder of the African American's politically naive world view: "'If I was famous as Jack Johnson and rich as Madame Walker I'd prefer to have you as my friend than--President Wilson' " (273). But as oblivious as lake seems to Ray's Haitian vision of Wilson's hypocritical imperial policy, his desire to "understand things better and be proper-speaking" (273) poignantly reveals a class consciousness that makes Ray's "constant dreaming" (274) seem self-indulgent. "'Ef I was edjucated,' " says lake," 'I mighta helped mah li'l sister to get edjucated. too (she must be a l'il woman, now), and she would be nice-speaking like you' sweet brown, good enough for you to hitch up with"' (273). While lake reminds us of the class divide that prevents such a union of the proletarian and the intellectual, the parenthetical reflection on his sister reminds us of his sense of homelesness. As Ray's memory of occupied Haiti is represse d for many chapters only to recur as a reminder of the American repression of its imperial policy, lake's memory of the "little sister down home in Petersburg" (209), whom he has not seen for nine years, is likewise repressed until this moment when the differences between the two comrades seem most acute. Significantly, the "surface" resemblance of Ray's "edjucated" African American girlfriend Agatha to lake's dimly remembered sister underscores the class difference that separates them as it suggests the racial commonality that underlies their shared sense of dislocation. Ray rejects rake's bourgeois aspirations for education, but his romantic fantasy of losing himself "in some savage culture in the jungles of Africa" is hardly a viable alternative. This self-defined "misfit" (274), severed from the roots of his native Haiti, is only beginning his education as a writer as the novel returns full circle to its opening. Emulating lake despite his warnings, Ray departs from Harlem just as Jake had initially retur ned, as a laborer on an international freighter.
By writing the West Indian immigrant narrative as a narrative of Haitian exile, McKay suggests a common ground for cross-cultural dialogue among African American and Caribbean critics of American imperialism. In doing so, he deflects attention from conflicts between African Americans and Caribbean immigrants that had politically divided Harlem, conflicts that had affected McKay's early career in New York. While Home to Harlem discloses a racist ideology that linked United States imperial foreign policy to domestic policies of segregation and discrimination, McKay also draws attention to the African Carribean response to the United States occupation of Haiti. At the same time that African American intellectuals were debating the political implications of Home to Harlem's primitivist portrayal of Jake, Haitian artists and intellectuals were answering Ray's call for a new literature. The invisibility of "the Haitian, Ray," to American readers of Home to Harlem may ultimately tell us more about the novel's lasti ng significance than Jake's controversial visibility. Likewise, the post-colonial future that Ray can barely imagine, rather than the 1920s Harlem that disturbed so many readers, may tell us more about the lasting legacy not only of McKay, but also of the Harlem Renaissance as a transnational movement.
John Lowney is Assistant Professor of English at St. John's University, New York. He is the author of The American Avant-Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory (1997) and is currently writing a book on the relation of Popular Front cultural politics to postmodern American poetry.
(1.) Among the book's initial reviews, there is the occasional mention of "Raymond, a Haytian chap who worked on the same dining-car with Jake" (Bennett 6), or even of "the interesting Haytian, Raymond" (Brickell 151), but most reviews relegate his character to a minor status, if they mention him at all. Even a review entitled "The Negro in King Christophe's Haiti, in Sir M. Garvey's Harlem, in Sunday School and at Large" (by Robert Cortes Holliday), which reviews Home to Harlem (mistitled Back to Harlem) with John W. Vandercook's biography of the Haitian King Christophe, responds only to McKay's depiction of Harlem, ignoring Ray's narrative altogether. While Du Bois questioned the political impact of a novel that seemed to reinforce racist social prejudice, other readers, particularly younger African American artists, praised McKay's vivid depiction of the working-class "semi-underworld" of Harlem, agreeing with Langston Hughes that McKay's novel would become "the flower of the Negro Renaissance, even if it is no lovely lily" (1 Mar. 1928 letter to Alain Locke, qtd. in Tillery 88). Cooper (84-87) and Tillery (87-106) discuss the significance of Home to Harlem's polarized reception. For an annotated bibliography of reviews of Home to Harlem, see Bassett (90-95).
(2.) Critics who examine Home to Harlem in relation to McKay's subsequent fiction are more likely to foreground Ray's intellectual development, especially given the correspondence of his ideas about writing with McKay's. See, for example, Cooper, Dixon (31-55), Giles, and Tillery, each of whom traces McKay's development as a fiction writer. None of these critics pays much attention to the political significance of Ray's Haitian national origins, however. An important exception would be Pedersen, who writes: "It is no accident that Ray comes from Haiti and not Jamaica. As the first independent black republic, Haiti represented a purer form of black culture, a culture that had been jeopardised by the intrusion of white civilisation in the form of American troops" (117).
(3.) Even studies of the Harlem Renaissance that accentuate McKay's bi-cultural identity tend to situate Home to Harlem within a specifically African American national framework. Lewis's When Harlem Was in Vogue is a good example. In introducing McKay, he writes that "the racial burden afflicting McKay was of the cruelest duality--of being in but not of two cultures" (51). His discussion of Home to Harlem, however, concentrates not on the novel's cross-cultural dimensions but on its controversial resemblance to Nigger Heaven (224-28). An interesting exception to this pattern of reception is De Jongh, who examines how McKay's novel relates Harlem to other mythic "Afro-New World landscapes," particularly Haiti (26-32). For critics more interested in how Caribbean (im)migration complicates African American nationalist paradigms, McKay's writing has a more profoundly cross-cultural resonance. For a cogent exploration of McKay as a writer of "black transnationalism," see Stephens, who emphasizes "McKay's construc tion of a transnational community of blacks" in Banjo (603). While Stephens does not discuss Home to Harlem, the distinction she makes between internationalism, which "aims to bring nations together," and transnationalism, which "seeks to go beyond the nation form itself' (607), is likewise important for my understanding of McKay's construction of Harlem as a transnational "home."
(4.) For a concise critical review of African American responses to the Occupation, see Dash (45-60).
(5.) The best known proletarian novels that treat Haiti's revolutionary past would be Arna Bontemps's Drums at Dusk and Guy Endore's Babouk. Citing a wide range of African American texts on Haiti's revolutionary history, Denning relates this renewed interest to Popular Front cultural politics in The Cultural Front (396-97).
(6.) See Cooper (98-99) and Tillery (85-86).
(7.) For discussion of McKay's impact on Francophone black writers, see Cooper (214-16, 258-59), Fabre (92-113), and Kesteloot (56-74).
(8.) The intellectuals whom Gilroy studies most intensively are W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. While he mentions McKay only briefly, his formulation of the black Atlantic as a "counterculture of modernity" suggests how the reception of a writer like McKay is limited, if not distorted, by nationalist conceptual fields.
(9.) The best known argument of this period for a transnational model of cultural pluralism is Boume's 1916 essay "Trans-National America." Stephens relates Boume's argument to early twentieth-century Caribbean "black transnationalism" as well as to current formulations of transnationalism.
(10.) See Hutchinson (387-433) for a lucid overview of the production and reception of The New Negro. The limits of the anthology's openness to radical social criticism are perhaps best exemplified by Locke's decision to change the title of McKay's poem "The White House" to the politically safer "White Houses." For McKay's angry response to this decision and his criticism of the anthology more generally, see his autobiography, A Long Way from Home (313-14, 321-22).
(11.) Johnson's mother was from Nassau, the Bahamas, while his father was an African American from Virginia. They spent the first eight years of their marriage in Nassau. For an overview of important African American cultural and political figures with Caribbean roots, see James (292-93n3).
(12.) As James explains, Caribbean leadership roles in radical international political organizations (such as the UNIA, the African Blood Brotherhood, and the Communist and Socialist parties) and the antagonism between Caribbeans and African Americans arise from the same general social sources. Having moved from predominantly black islands to mostly white cities such as New York, African Caribbean migrants brought with them a majority consciousness that heightened their consciousness of everyday racism (James 50). At the same time, many of these migrants had already been radicalized before leaving the islands, especially those who had experienced the protests and labor revolts that took place in the aftermath of World War I (James 52-66). Previous experience with migration, whether to the Panama Canal or to Central America as laborers, or to Europe or elsewhere as mariners, also contributed to a pan-Africanist consciousness among African Caribbeans, whereas United States-born blacks had limited opportunity f or international travel prior to World War I (James 70-72). Caribbean migrants who came to the United States also had a greater degree of literacy and educational attainment on average than American blacks and whites, but they were often unable to find jobs that matched their skills and experience. The discrimination responsible for this discrepancy between opportunity and aspiration also contributed to the greater tendency toward socialist or black nationalist politics among Caribbeans (James 78-89).
(13.) James addresses the antagonism between African Americans and African Caribbeans in his prologue to Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia. On early-twentieth-century Caribbean migration to Harlem, see also Kasinitz (41-52); McKay, Harlem (132-35); Osofsky (131-35); and Reid.
(14.) See Schmidt (82-107) on the military conflict in Haiti and its political aftermath in the United States. While the exact number of Haitians killed was not known, according to General George Barnett, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1914 to 1920, only "14 or 16" Marines died (Schmidt 103).
(15.) The most dramatic example of Du Bois's criticism of American policy in Haiti is his April 1920 editorial, in which he writes that the "greatest single question before the parties at the next election is the Freedom of Haiti" (297-98).
(16.) Dash (45-70) discusses African American and Haitian literary relations throughout the Occupation period.
(17.) For example, in The Crisis there were no editorials or articles focusing on Haiti after the Dec. 1922 issue until the July 1926 issue, when it published an article entitled "Haiti: What Are We Really Doing There." The Messenger likewise published no editorials on Haiti during this period, as it concentrated more intensively on its critique of Garveyism. Opportunity, which began publication in 1923, published a brief 1925 editorial on United States policy in Haiti, but it paid little attention to the Caribbean until 1926.
(18.) Dash assesses McKay's characterization of Ray only briefly but critically. According to Dash, McKay's Haiti conforms to the prevalent stereotype of an "aboriginal and pre-industrial paradise." He writes: "Perhaps the most famous Haitian protagonist in black American literature is McKay's Ray, portrayed as that whining, repressed Haitian mulatto who is a misfit because he does not have the courage to 'go and lose (himself) in some savage culture in the jungles of Africa.' Ray's heritage is an atavistic longing for the perverse and the carnal which his Westernization never permits him to fulfil' (55).
(19.) In her incisive study of representations of urban black migrant women in the 1920s, Carby notes that Felice becomes the object of Jake's narrative quest precisely because she returns his money for sex. Through this narrative "sleight-of hand" Felice is transformed from a prostitute into the less threatening "figure of wholesome sexuality" in Jake's representative journey of "black masculinity in formation" (749).
(20.) Ray's outsider status is accentuated further by his (understanding of) sexuality. When Jake meets him, he is reading a story by Alphonse Daudet about a woman named "Sapho." Their subsequent comic exchange about lesbians--" bulldykers,' "according to Jake (129)--reveals how their class differences affect their understanding of gender differences. Ray's character is feminized by his Pullman peers because he is both an intellectual and a French-speaking Haitian. While the homoeroticism of his friendship with Jake has received little attention in studies of McKay's fiction, the link between nationality and sexuality becomes more dramatically evident when they are reunited in Banjo. Upon seeing each other unexpectedly in France, they immediately embrace and kiss each other. Jake says: "The fust time I evah French-kiss a he, chappie, but Ise so tearing mad and glad and crazy to meet you thisaway again.'" Ray responds: "That's all right, Jakie, he-men and all. Stay long enough in any country and you'll get on to the ways and find them natural'" (292). For further discussion of McKay's homosexuality, see Cooper (esp. 29-32, 75,149-51). On gay male sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance, see Lewis, Garland, and Chauncey (244-67).
(21.) See North (116-22) for a concise but cogent analysis of Ray's inability to represent Jake's speech in writing.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2000|
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