Books by Floyd W.
A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African
American Studies /
Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans
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Shelby. 2005. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Pp. 320. Cloth, $27.95. ISBN:0-674-01936-9.
Persuasive But Not Convincing
A Book Review Floyd
W. Hayes, III
the last three decades, the reawakening of philosophical
pragmatism has provoked tremendous interest and controversy in
the intellectual community (see Dickstein 1998; Diggins 1994;
Rorty 1979; West 1989; Westbrook 2005, 1991).
As America’s unique contribution to the field of
philosophy, pragmatism developed as a critique of abstractions
and absolutes and as a philosophy oriented toward practice and
We Who Are Dark, Tommie Shelby attempts to situate his
discussion within the framework of philosophical pragmatism.
he proclaims the necessity of a pragmatic black nationalism—a
conception of black political philosophy that encourages black
solidarity—which is conscious of the current forces of
fragmentation within America’s black population.
He reviews the political philosophy of nineteenth-century
radical abolitionist and black nationalist Martin R. Delany,
distinguishing variants of “classical” black nationalism and
“pragmatic” black nationalism.
On the one hand, Delany argued that even with the
abolition of enslavement black people would never be free of
white oppression or racial antagonism in America; therefore, he
concluded that black people should leave America to seek
democratic citizenship, self-government, and equal protection
under the law.
the other, Shelby points out that Delany also called for blacks
to cultivate solidarity with Native American and Latin American
peoples as a practical necessity in the struggle against
imperialism. It is
this latter conception of collective black identity, multiracial
national polity, and racial justice that Shelby terms pragmatic
examines the problem of black American class divisions by
focusing on the philosophical thought of W. E. B. Du Bois with
respect to the relationship among black ideals, political
solidarity, self-reliance strategies, and elite leadership.
He argues that although Du Bois never completely refuted
the charge of elitism, he did put forward a conception of black
solidarity that fused moral principle, racial identification,
and self-interest into a framework for collective action across
interrogating the perspective of black nationalism advocated by
Malcolm X and Black Power activists of the 1960s and 1970s,
Shelby rejects this conception of black unity, suggesting that
it calls for black institutional autonomy and black uniformity.
Moreover, Shelby criticizes this perspective because, he
maintains, it indicts white supremacy and anti-black racism as
the fundamental causes of black disadvantages.
Shelby argues for a conception of black solidarity that
functions across multiracial political coalitions, that refuses
to hold white supremacy as the source of all black
disadvantages, and that embraces a network of black leadership
and interest advocacy that is non-elitist. In the last analysis, Shelby asserts that pragmatic black
nationalism is a form of black unity and group
self-organization, which constitute a strategy for demanding
racial justice and the ideal of racial equality.
Shelby’s call for pragmatic black solidarity seems to be
persuasive, his argument is unconvincing, especially in view of
the growing segment of young and affluent African Americans who
are joining the ranks of the ultra-right wing Republican Party.
Chief among those shifting to the right is a significant
segment of the black church, which is being effectively co-opted
by the Bush regime’s faith-based initiatives.
This trend toward increasing religious, political, and
class differentiation and fragmentation within the black
population shows every sign of rendering impossible any form of
mass black political unity—pragmatic solidarity or otherwise.
Eschewing progressive forms of black nationalism,
Shelby’s liberal conception of pragmatic nationalism scarcely
possesses the strategic power necessary for channeling the
forces needed for a unified struggle to overturn white supremacy
and racial injustice.
Dickstein, Morris. 1998. Ed.
The Revival of Pragmatism: New Essays on Social Thought, Law,
and Culture. . Durham: Duke University Press.
Diggins, John P. 1994.
The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and
Authority. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Rorty, Richard. 1979.
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University
West, Cornel. 1989.
The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. Madison:
The University of Wisconsin Press.
Westbrook, Robert B. 2005.
Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth. Ithaca: Cornell
John Dewey and American Democracy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
posted 16 November 2005
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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