In an interview with James Alan McPherson in 1970, Ralph Ellison had this to say about the idea of a specifically "black" awareness:
I think too many of our assertions continue to be in response to whites.... I think we're polarized by the very fact that we keep talking about "black awareness" when we really should be talking about black American awareness, an awareness of where we fit into the total American scheme, where our influence is. I tell white kids that instead of talking about black men in a white world or about black men in white society, they should ask themselves how black they are because black men have been influencing the values of the society and the art forms of the society...We [African Americans] did not develop as a people in isolation. We developed within a context of white people.1
What makes Ellison's comments so richly problematic is that he argues for an American identity that issues from cultural collaboration, even in instances where the participants are less than willing to acknowledge it as such. This position calls for different assumptions, which do not focus on who belongs, but how.
A unique feature of Ellison's xcomments, then, is his refusal to acknowledge the existence of either an hermetically sealed "black awareness" or "black culture," or such a thing as "white culture":
I don't recognize any white culture.... I recognize no American culture which is not the partial creation of black people. I recognize no American style in literature, in dance, in music, even in assembly-line processes, which does not bear the mark of the American Negro.2
American culture, then, was the result of collisions between different racial groups; the result, as Robert Penn Warren says, in light of slavery, of "every possible, every imaginable combination of human social relationships," the country could manifest.3 This led, Ellison