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

8
Black Power Nationalism
as Ethnic Pluralism
POSTWAR LIBERALISM’S ETHNIC
PARADIGM IN BLACK RADICALISM

Dean E. Robinson

The most consequential feature of black nationalism in the United States has been not its radical critique of American politics and thought but its inadvertent reproduction of them. As I argue in Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought, in its modal form black nationalism is a more conservative than revolutionary force—more the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Nation of Islam than the African Blood Brotherhood or the Black Panther Party. Drawing on Wilson Moses I argue that “classical” and “modern” black nationalism1 has tended to take on the shape of its historical container, and that one of its fundamental characteristics is its “apparent inability to diverge from what could be considered the ‘normal politics’ of its day.”2 For a host of reasons, including government suppression, the forms of black nationalism that have stood on a critique of racial and class inequality have not drawn the greatest numbers, have not enjoyed the longest tenure, and have not had the impact on black politics in the United States that more conservative forms have. Garvey’s embrace of racial purity, which Michele Mitchell examines in Chapter 7, and entente with the Ku Klux Klan is an easy example, as is the Nation of Islam’s embrace of “black capitalism.” This pattern is evident as well even in the mid-1960s to early 1970s period marked by a renewed, insurgent, black nationalist politics, the Black Power era.

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