Who K(new): The Nation-Ist Contour of Racial Identity in the Thought of Martin R. Delany and John E. Bruce

By Curry, Tommy J. | Journal of Pan African Studies, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Who K(new): The Nation-Ist Contour of Racial Identity in the Thought of Martin R. Delany and John E. Bruce


Curry, Tommy J., Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Despite the irrefutable failure of integration1 and multiculturalism, race theory in philosophy continues to endorse the dilapidated ideas of color-blindness (Bonilla-Silva 2003, 2001), (2) and liberal democracy, which ignore the historic and systemic racism of American society. (3) Currently, theories about race focus on the socially constructed nature of the term--its contingency, rather than the effects it has had on African descended people's political orientation in America and the cultural heritage various African thinkers have infused the term with over the centuries. The dominance of anti-essentialist rhetoric and cosmopolitan care ethics in philosophy has forced scholars to write a historical and textually skewed apologetics of historic Black figures as the condition for their acceptance into the canon.

By ignoring key texts, inventing illusory continuities with established white philosophical traditions, limiting Africana philosophy to applied social/political thought, (4) and eliminating meaningful discussions of culture with charges of essentialism, philosophy has effectively enforced an anti-Black moratorium on any attempt to address the drastic cultural, social, and political conditions of African people in America.

This essay is divided in three parts. In part I, I review and critique part of the extant literature on race, nationalism, and Delany. In part II, I argue that Delany's thesis that Blacks are a "nation within a nation" provides a fertile ground for theorizations about Black solidarity under the permanent conditions of oppression in America. In part III, I explore John E. Bruce's reformulation of Delany's concept of nation as a development of race. The theories of Delany and Bruce on race help articulate the theoretical contributions of a Nation-ist perspective to contemporary racial problems in the United States.

I. Literature Review

The analysis of racism that contextualizes the Black situation in the United States as a product of domestic colonialism is largely ignored in philosophical conversations about race. As illustrated by Hurricane Katrina, the colonial condition in America perpetuates Black vulnerabilities, poverty, and death. The conception of American racism as colonialism may appear as a pessimistic reality; but this reality needs to be confronted in contemporary philosophical works on Black solidarity and reflected in current "critical" understandings of the socially constructed nature of race in America. To date, the only literature that suggests a conceptual apparatus to explain the reality of African descended people's (hereafter ADP) subordinate status in the American context is Critical Race Theory (hereafter CRT), or more specifically Derrick Bell's racial realist account in CRT. According to Bell,

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those Herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary "peaks of progress," short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it and move on to adopt policies based on what I call: "Racial Realism." This mind-set or philosophy requires us to acknowledge the permanence of our subordinate status. That acknowledgement enables us to avoid despair, and frees us to imagine and implement racial strategies that can bring fulfillment and even triumph. (Bell 1992b: 373-374)

Despite the philosophical insights and explanative power of Bell's theory, Black philosophers primarily rely on the promises of American liberalism and the hopes of democracy in the post-Civil rights era to fundamentally change the racial context of the United States and remedy individual attachments to racial loyalties. Under the integrationist teleology, the jettisoning of race is consistent with a normative universalism that equates truth and progress with the elimination of racial distinctions. …

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