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

Part III
The Post–Jim Crow Era

Limning black political and intellectual life during the period after the fight against constitutionally sanctioned segregation had succeeded requires recognizing the extent to which scripts for black politics, black academic critique, and black imaginative literature written during the Jim Crow era have continued to exert interpretive and normative force into the present moment. As we noted in the introduction to Part II, “most of what most of us recognize, or imagine we do, about black Americans came into existence” during the long moment of Jim Crow. The persistent recurrence to these assumptions as guiding coordinates by commentators on black America, even as the terrain to which they were supposed to correspond has changed, reflects the way that the “elite-brokerage politics” developed under Booker T. Washington and the “race-relations” discourse it spawned continue to serve a black elite that derives its legitimacy from claims to speak authentically for a black community whose political representation requires mediation by self-appointed or otherwise anointed spokespersons.

The two lengthy chapters here draw out the terms of this continuity and discontinuity in conceptualizations of black intellectual life. Madhu Dubey’s “The Postmodern Moment in Black Literary and Cultural Studies” analyzes how the economic, political, technological, and cultural shifts during the 1970s—shifts that collectively define the moment of postmodernism—present both aesthetic and political challenges to the regimes of representation that had long defined the imagined relations between black writers of fiction and the black communities they sought to depict. As Dubey notes, postmodern black novelists register problems within the logic of racial representation even as they find it difficult fully to shrug off the call to represent the plight of urbanized black populations.

Adolph Reed’s “The ‘Color Line’ Then and Now: The Souls of Black Folk and the Changing Context of Black American Politics” rounds out this volume with a contextualist examination of the origins of, and the continual recourse to, the

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