Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Color Line as a Confining and Restraining Paradigm: Keith Richburg and His Critiques Analyzed

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Color Line as a Confining and Restraining Paradigm: Keith Richburg and His Critiques Analyzed

Article excerpt

Theoretical Framework

In August of 1854, Martin R. Delany delivered a lengthy address to the National Emigration convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Titled "Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent," the address underscored the depth of racism in the United States. Delany implored Black Americans to consider emigrating to locations such as Africa and the Caribbean, where they would have unfettered opportunities to develop and realize their full potentialities.(1) The address is replete with illustrations of the virulence and pervasiveness of racism. In Delany's judgement, race had become perhaps the most critical factor in the shaping of human relations, both within the United States and on the international scene. As he poignantly declared, "It would be duplicity longer to disguise the fact that the great issue, sooner or later, upon which must be disputed the world's destiny, will be a question of Black and White, and every individual will be called upon for his identity with one or the other."(2)

Delany's prioritization of race occurred after decades of affirming faith in, and propagating, the Protestant work ethics. After the convention, he spent the next eight years crusading for emigration. In his writings and speeches he drew attention to the ubiquitous nature of racism, and to what he perceived as a more sinister and troubling reality--a conspiracy by American Whites and their Anglo-Saxon cousins to subordinate, subjugate and exploit Blacks in diaspora and Africans ad infinitum.(3) Race became, in Delany's judgement, the engine dynamo of global development, with the White race occupying the top echelons of societal ladder, a position that conferred benefits and privileges of immense proportion, while Blacks and the colored race are confined to a life of deprivation and degeneration at the lowest rung of the ladder. This reality, therefore, mandated racial solidarity on the part of oppressed Blacks. In order to conquer oppression, and escape perpetual subordination, Delany urged Blacks to unite and forge a common front. He committed himself to the pursuit of this unity, until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861 compelled him, once again, to embrace integration.

In 1903, almost fifty years after Delany's speech, William E. B. Du Bois, in his seminal publication The Souls of Black Folk reaffirmed Delany's critical insight in his now famous contention that, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,the relation of the darker to the lighter races of man in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea."(4) Du Bois's declaration proved prophetic, for no issue has dominated international relations in this century, and has shaped the relationship between peoples in different parts of the globe, particularly in the regions he identified, as prominently as race. Many analysts have in fact ventured the intimation that, judging by the state of contemporary race relations, particularly, the ascendance of ethnocentric and cultural jingoistic consciousness on a global scale, race, and, ipso facto, the color line, will indeed become the substantive problem of the twenty-first century,

The color line concept thus has a deep historical pedigree. Some scholars trace its very origin back to the dawn of enslavement in the New World. Color was, in fact, the defining essence of the Peculiar Institution from its inception in the seventeenth century to its demise in the mid-nineteenth century.(5) The color line defined and shaped the relationship between masters and slaves, conferring human qualities and attributes to the former while depicting the latter as sub-human. Despite its historical depth, the color line has, however, been conceived and understood essentially in terms of a demarcation paradigm, that is, a concept that affirms racial boundary. There has not been any attempts to probe its deeper ramifications. There are indeed hidden implications of the color line that, though, not publicly acknowledged and proclaimed, significantly shape the attitudes and orientations of those within the parameters of the line, especially in relation to others deemed external, and by implication hostile, to the racial group. …

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