Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Being and Blackness"

Orlando Patterson The New York Times

It isn't easy being a philosopher committed to making critical reflections on African-American identity. Those about whom you write have little time for abstractions and even less patience with criticism. The philosophers for whom you write often refuse to take seriously a subject so outlandishly removed from all that has preoccupied them for the past two and a half millenniums. And the experience upon which you reflect is largely bereft of earlier models to build upon. Only a few intrepid souls have plowed this virgin intellectual field. Add to them now Tommie Shelby, a sparkling new talent with all the boldness and intellectual self-assurance necessary for such an effort. [...]

Shelby's powerful critique of black cultural particularism incorporates and supersedes all previous discussions of the subject. He identifies eight basic tenets of this tradition: blacks have a distinctive culture; they should collectively and consciously reclaim that culture; they should take pride in conserving and reproducing it; unlike white culture, it provides a valuable foundation for their individual and communal identities; it is an emancipatory tool in resisting white hegemony, providing an alternate set of ideals to live by; it should be accorded public recognition by the state; blacks, as the main producers of this culture, should benefit from it in financial and other ways; and as "owners" of this culture, blacks should be the foremost authorities and interpreters of it. [...]

Nonetheless, Shelby does favor a special form of black political solidarity. To this end he borrows the sociological distinction between "thick" and "thin" identities. A thick identity positively promotes black cultural autonomy and the "so-called politics of difference" that Shelby firmly rejects. Thin identity views blackness as no more than "a vague social marker imposed from outside." Yet it remains important. In this view, according to Shelby, "what holds blacks together as a unified people with shared political interests is the fact of their racial subordination and their collective resolve to triumph over it."

Is this a productive (or not) re-framing of, say, Debra Dickerson's The End of Blackness? (more)


At 6:22 PM, Blogger Naro% said...

You drop a tremendous amount of knowledge I have so many things to comment on, but this really caught my eye. Being and understanding the "black" cutural space. What I have noticed in several theoretical discussions is the continual attemp to define the space based upon notions of culture (interpersonal) in stead of diffusing space as something beyond vis a vis interactions among our people and the need to constantly affirm our attempt at "civilized behavior". Shelby mentions that space as a collective resolve (at leats I thinks he does) while Dickerson's attempt is matched by looking for a new attempt (again I think) at redefining "blackness". While framing is centered around the intent of the message, I think it is important to recognize, indentify, and structurally articulate the identity that one is trying to build in a socially objective and constructive manner, which engages all parts of our cultures. For the most part I would think that both Shelby and Dickerson are looking to this "SPACE" they just have different methodologies.
Now that I have said a bunch of mumbo jumbo, I just wanna say thanks for a good read!


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