Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question

Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question

Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question

Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question

Synopsis

While acknowledging Hannah Arendt's keen philosophical and political insights, Kathryn T. Gines claims that there are some problematic assertions and oversights regarding Arendt's treatment of the "Negro question." Gines focuses on Arendt's reaction to the desegregation of Little Rock schools, to laws making mixed marriages illegal, and to the growing civil rights movement in the south. Reading them alongside Arendt's writings on revolution, the human condition, violence, and responses to the Eichmann war crimes trial, Gines provides a systematic analysis of anti-black racism in Arendt's work.

Excerpt

Philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt is among the most insightful and influential intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century, and her work remains relevant to the global political landscape of the twenty-first century. the ongoing publication and multiple reprints of Arendt’s books attest to the continued importance of her scholarship. Her correspondence with teachers, mentors, and friends has also been collected and published, attracting additional attention. As Arendt’s classic writings along with earlier scholarship and personal letters have become increasingly more accessible, her works are being reread and reinterpreted in light of her Jewish identity and what have been described as her Jewish writings. Furthermore, in spite of her distance from feminism, significant feminist interpretations, appropriations, and critiques of Arendt have also brought new perspectives to her work.

One of Arendt’s great contributions to philosophical and political thought is her mastery of distinction making. She takes familiar philosophical and political terms (like public/political, private, and social; race thinking and racism; imperialism and colonialism; antisemitism and Jew hatred—all relevant concepts for my project here) and locates them in an unfamiliar historical framework that encourages a different understanding of the concepts in question. Even if the reader ultimately disagrees with or rejects the distinctions drawn by Arendt, as I of en do, she still has the opportunity to think with Arendt about these terms and their connections to one another in provocative ways that result in more acuity—as for example when Arendt shows the relationship between imperialism and totalitarianism. Unfortunately, in spite of her insight and influence, Arendt’s writings about anti-Black racial oppression (or the Negro question) in particular of en reflect poor judgment and profound misunderstandings. in her sincere attempts to critique, confront, and even save the Western philosophical tradition, she too becomes entangled within it. in that regard, Hannah Arendt might be seen as a case study for the limitations of the Western philosophical tradition.

I was introduced to Arendt’s scholarship when I read The Human Condition in a graduate course titled “Democracy and Difference.” After that, I went on to read and analyze numerous essays, from “What Is Authority?” to “Reflections on Little Rock,” and several of Arendt’s books, from The Origins of Totalitarianism to On Violence. Although I respect Arendt’s brilliant writing style, her insight, her influence, and her mastery of distinction making, I do not see myself and my experiences as a Black woman adequately represented in her writings about the po-

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