Intellectual Pursuit: By Ignoring Our Social and Political History, We Have Impoverished Debate about 'Black Public Intellectuals.'

By Hanchard, Michael | The Nation, February 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

Intellectual Pursuit: By Ignoring Our Social and Political History, We Have Impoverished Debate about 'Black Public Intellectuals.'


Hanchard, Michael, The Nation


Mark 1995 as the year the mainstream white media discovered public intellectuals in black. Figures like Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, bell hooks and others were identified as the nineties equivalent of another generation of emergent intellectuals: Michael Berube in The New Yorker called the arrival of the black intellectual "a development as noticeable as the ascendancy ... of the New York intellectuals after the Second World War." In a comparison with New York Jewish intellectuals in The Atlantic Monthly, Robert Boynton wrote that contemporary black intellectuals exemplify "how one ethnically marginalized group of public intellectuals has followed in the footsteps of another."

While the "emergence" may indeed be notable, there is one big problem with tracing the footsteps of the current crop of black public intellectuals to the mostly white, mostly Jewish New Yorkers of more than two generations ago. Black public intellectuals, as Adolph Reed Jr. has noted in The Fillage Voice, were alive and well, arguing over various crises within black communities in New York during the thirties, forties and fifties. Important figures like Doxey Wilkerson, a radical lawyer and Communist Party member in the forties; Marvel Cooke, the first woman to write regularly for a daily newspaper in the United States and a party member as well; and Paul Robeson and others were in New York at that time, and were engaged in progressive politics that consistently crossed barriers of race, class and gender.

It is the tension rather than the analogy between the New York intellectuals and their black counterparts that is the more pertinent issue, one that underscores the tendency of white intellectuals then and now--New Yorkers or not-to treat racial oppression as mere flotsam on capitalism's undulating surface. Harold Cruse's The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, one of several books on black intellectual ferment during this period, expressed frustration with white leftist analysis on this point. Richard Wright's Native Son conveys a similar message. Both men, it should be remembered, quit their association with the C.P.U.S.A. partly because of this.

By neglecting such political and social history, we impoverish present debate about the "state of black intellectuals." As it happens, the issues that divide and preoccupy contemporary U S. African-American intellectuals have their precursors less in the writings of Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe and Irving Kristol than in the writings and politics of Latin America and the Caribbean. People like C.L.R. Jaines oftrinidad or Rigoberta Menchii of Guatemala are more apt references.

James's major works, which include The Black Jacobins, Beyond a Boundary and Mariners, Renegades and Castaways, combine macroeconomic history, local cultural analysis and personal insight in ways that collapse distinctions between academic disciplines, as well as the "personal versus political"-- issues common to contemporary thinkers of every color in the United States. Beyond a Boundary, James's examination of the role of cricket as an expression of Afro-Trinidadian pride and as a vehicle in the formation of national culture and his own political identity, is more akin to the writings of Ralph Ellison or Larry Neal than to those of Theodor Adorno or Russell Jacoby. A Trotskyist for most of his political life, James was involved in political organizing in both Trinidad and the United States, among other places. For his efforts, he was rewarded with house arrest in his native Trinidad and with internment on Ellis Island before being deported from the United States in the fifties.

Menchu, the 1992 Nobel Laureate for Peace and a Quiche Indian woman, has been criticized by fellow indigenous activists in her country for becoming world-famous and for capitalizing on the plight of her people in her testimonial I, Rigoberta Menchu. According to her critics, she has assumed the role of "honorary indigena" at international conferences and head-of-state dinners abroad. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Intellectual Pursuit: By Ignoring Our Social and Political History, We Have Impoverished Debate about 'Black Public Intellectuals.'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.