What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals

What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals

What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals

What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals


Whom does society consider an intellectual and on what grounds? Antonio Gramsci's democratic vision of intelligence famously suggested that "all men are intellectuals, " yet within academic circles and among the general public, intellectuals continue to be defined by narrow, elite criteria. In this study of four celebrated citizens of the African diaspora--American boxer Muhammad Ali, West Indian Marxist critic C. L. R. James, British cultural theorist Stuart Hall, and Jamaican musician Bob Marley--Grant Farred develops a new category of engaged thinker: the vernacular intellectual. Extending Gramsci's concept of the organic intellectual, Farred conceives of vernacular intellectuals as individuals who challenge social injustice from inside and outside traditional academic or political spheres. Muhammad Ali, for example, is celebrated as much for his dazzling verbal skills and courageous political stands as for his pugilistic talents; Bob Marley's messages of liberation are as central to his popularity as his lyrical and melodic sophistication. Neither man is described as an intellectual, yet both perform crucial intellectual functions: shaping how people see the world, oppose hegemony, and understand their own history. In contrast, the careers of C. L. R. James and Stuart Hall reflect a dynamic blend of the traditional and the vernacular. Conventionally trained and situated, James and Hall examine racism, history, and the lasting impact of colonialism in ways that draw on both established scholarship and more popular cultural experiences. Challenging existing paradigms, What's My Name? offers an expansive and inclusive vision of intellectual activity that is as valid and meaningful inthe boxing ring, the press conference, and the concert hall as in academia. Understanding the full complexity of the black experience through the intellectual achievements of pop culture personalities.


Who knows but that on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Vernacularize. Explore and explicate the links between the popular and the political. Never underestimate the capacity of the popular to elucidate the ideological, to animate the political, never overlook the vernacular as a means of producing a subaltern or postcolonial voice that resists, subverts, disrupts, reconfigures, or impacts the dominant discourse. For disempowered constituencies, resistance against the domination is extremely difficult without a vernacular component. Challenging or overcoming subjugation frequently depends on those expressions of disenfranchised life that articulate ideological oppositionality and the pleasures that are contained within—and extraneous to—acts of political resistance. the political is not always pleasurable; but the pleasurable, within the vernacular, is always potentially political. Within the terms of the vernacular, no minority or anticolonial struggle can be sustained if it does not contain in it a cultural element; an element, moreover, that has popular purchase. in the vernacular conception of politics, popular culture constitutes a singular practice. It represents that mode in which the political and the popular conjoin identificatory pleasure with ideological resistance.

In order for a black or marginalized intellectual (more so than for other figures) to be politically efficacious, the historical injunction is overdetermined: vernacularity is an absolute prerequisite. From W. E. B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, a study of black life in the Reconstruction . . .

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