Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of African American Thought

By Adolph Reed Jr.; Kenneth W. Warren et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Adolph Reed Jr. and Kenneth W. Warren

This volume coheres around a presumption that African American studies and its subject matter are both nested within and partly constitutive of broader currents of American history and thought and, therefore, that making sense of the black American experience requires situating it fundamentally within the larger cultural, political-economic, and ideological dynamics that shape American life in general. Specifically, we stress this view against the tendency to attempt to reposition the field within putatively “diasporic” frames of reference. Although such perspectives have attracted considerable interest over the past two decades, their appeal stems more substantially from their privileging of racial commonality as the fulcrum of inquiry than from the quality of the accounts they render of black American life. We should be clear that our objection is not to transatlantic inquiry in principle. However, much of the discursive strain associated with the frame of the African diaspora, particularly that lying outside the nonverbal arts, relies on exceedingly thin intellectual or cultural history, naive textual interpretation, nimble yet facile cultural analysis, or other forms of metonymic fallacy to justify a claim that black Americans’ beliefs and practices are most authentically understood as nodes in a supraterritorial world of African descent. This objective is rooted in the unproblematized conflation of scholarly and political legitimations that besets the field, including the presumptive posture that black studies scholarship articulates needs, concerns, and perspectives for the race.

Rather than succumb to the temptation to attempt to speak on behalf of the political and social needs of some “black community” outside the academy, we argue that the study of the evolving discourses of politically articulate black Americans has provided an important conceptual anchor for the black studies field for most of its own history. These discourses have shaped the main lines of public debate of political, social, and cultural ideas and strategies through which dominant notions of common black American identity and agendas have been constructed and pursued. To that extent they also undergird the black studies field’s definition of its subject matter and its interpretive frameworks.

-vii-

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