The Urban Plantation: Racism & Colonialism in the Post Civil Rights Era

By Robert Staples | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Race and Colonialism: Theory and Praxis

In the post-slavery years various theoretical perspectives have competed as an explanation of the status of Afro-Americans in the United States. Until the last 20 years those theories were all in the range of biological determinism to racial equality through assimilation. While Pan-Africanism took hold as a social movement during certain early periods, it never fitted into the mainstream of scholarly thought about the condition or fate of Afro-Americans until recent years. After assimilation concepts were put to a reality test by the civil rights movement during the 1960's and found wanting, a more nationalist orientation emerged among black intellectuals in the late '60's. Along with a renaissance of Marxist theory, the theoretical perspective that began to dominate the scholarly interpretation of black life was internal colonialism.1

This transformation in theory and ideology arose because blacks began to define the nature of their situation, to write their own books and publish through black-controlled media. Members of the liberal sociological establishment either retained their faith in assimilation as a solution to the race problem, retreated from the study of race relations or in a few cases became part of an intellectual neo-conservative white backlash. As conceptual models Pan-Africanism and Marxism seemed more relevant to the black reality. Pan-Africanism filled the need to link up the cultural unity and common struggle of peoples of African descent while Marxism stressed the class exploitation of the black population. Both models, however, have limited visions of black life. As William Strickland has noted, "The Pan-Africanists seemed to want to substitute the African reality for the American while the Marxists appeared

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