9.3.08

Negritude.



I have a friend who writes great things. But she didn't know if they belonged here on The Liberator blog, not realizing that it's exactly the type of stuff that we need more of! So, with permission, I'm sharing!

This is an ongoing issue with me … the issue of black identity AND its function/purpose. I’m going to challenge it, I’m going to question it, I’m going to agree, I’m going to disagree. I’m going to make sense, and I’m going to contradict myself. So there. Bottom line is, I’m going to answer these questions in my head and I’m going to be honest and objective about what I feel. While I was doing research for an article I was writing for work, I came across an essay written by Senghor (former Senegalese president) who was also the main proponent of “negritude.” In its original context and intent, the Négritude writers found solidarity in a common black identity as a rejection of French colonial racism. They believed that the shared black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination. Even more broadly, the term addresses, what would contemporarily be called, “blackness.”

I can dig it. But only as a temporary and political function, and a means to an end – that end hopefully being a mass embracing of our African heritage as a common thread instead of a reactionary, political COLOR. I can dig it, but only because I know how very recent and modern “blackness” actually is. Sometimes, culture is indeed a catalyst for solidarity, but is it enduring? (That is, also, if we are actually stipulating that “blackness” is a culture. We could argue … but that’s another post.)

My overall problem with this is that if we are to be more forward-thinking, this focus on “blackness” places such heavy emphasis on our cultural existence and detracts from other scholarly functions that we need to reacquaint ourselves with … you know … the ones that were emblazoned in our heritage by our earliest kemetic ancestors.

Harold Cruse (“Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”) refers to it as a lack of contemporary negro presence in the scientific, statistical, empirical, qualitative and quantitative fields. As we know there are different ways to address problems – and we ought to be utilizing ALL of our fortes and not just our cultural solidarity. We have the blueprint, we have just been so far removed. For instance, why can’t we organize and come up with a systematic and collective way to become more economically sufficient and politically relevant all throughout the diaspora? What are some ways that we can neutralize the ramifications of colonialism and exploitation for future generations? What are some ways that we are going to broker a strategic trans-atlantic relationship with our brethren?

It would be so easy to just accept the “negritude” idea alone, as it makes perfect sense to me on an emotional level. But I’m increasingly finding myself hovering between these two phrases from Zora and Tina, respectively … “just because you’re my skinfolk, doesn’t make you my kinfolk” and “what’s love got to do with it?”

4 comments:

raven said...

what is the alternative?
i love zora ( and I adore tina too) but I often disagree with her...which is a delightful thing..but the quote always startles me because though I certainly experience the emotion..i always correct myself or tell myself to keep believing in blackness..in the connectedness...for one because there are elements of it that are real and true and ive felt and experienced them and because what other alternative is there for people of my space and time?? the luxury to go with total abandon of that term isnt there...i see that luxury in friends of mine who are born/raised on the continent...one friend asserts that she isnt black..but African...its a special thing to be in possession of that kind of feeling

raven said...

im just thinking also that what is the defining factor for characterizing some act/practice as cultural vs scholarly?...cant cultural entities act in the agency of scholarly critique/expansion of knowledge/elucidation of what has been there all along? should they not be blendable or should there be a separation? im interested to know..im not so well read these days so maybe im missing something

Anonymous said...

The original post is on point and I hope it garners much critical discussion. So real quickly, I’m going to add some points for elaboration, tweaking, etc. I saw this clip on CNN about this somatically black male hip-hopper singing traditional Japanese love ballads and mused about how his Western defined blackness was reconstituted by his incursion and popularity in Japanese music. I thought to myself that defies the “normative” ways I as a African American (defined regionally not nationally) typically understand (my/our) blackness. SO this posting right here….yea, let’s talk about it.
Black identity, or rather, black identities need be addressed in the manner Cruse said they need be and also on the every day/ quotidian. I think both discourses—abstract theoretical and tangible practical—need to be in active dialogue so that we (however, we want to define “we”) can use Black identities as an effective tool rather than just a rhetorical or emotive device.
When thinking on Senghor, Cesaire, and Dumas’ formulation of negritude, I’ve always roughly approximated its function to that done by the concept of afrocentricity (thinking along the lines of how Asante defines it). Within these discourses tangible v. theoretical, negritude (francophone W.A and W.I), black power (US), afrocentricity (US), creolite (Martinique), indigisme (Haiti), all are means in which black identities are affirmed WITHOUT any tangible benefits (i.e., programs for land for self-sustaining communities [if that be the project of that particular black identity group], attaining political power to ensure deep structural changes to that black identity group, or autonomous economic vitality in global world system).
I think articulated black identities need to do more than just affirm positivity about an ephemeral blackness. Let’s see how blackness is made real by the people who use that as a primary site of identity; rather than the black identity concepts above that depend on whiteness power structures as an omnipotent transhistorical definition of who we as blacks are. What does blackness mean and to whom/where and more importantly WHY. I think that once we (you know who you are…) are able to grapple w/ these issues, we can make a concerted effort to use blackness as a viable method of sustaining various black cultures.
B/c I believe slavery shouldn’t be a starting point for understanding blackness, I think it would be best to define it locally. Meaning as an African American (defined nationally), I’ve always understood blackness as stratified by class and religion. So, for this black identity project “thing” I’m envisioning, after 2 hours of snatched sleep over the course of two day, I wonder how we could develop separate, yet mutually constitutive black identity platforms/ideologies (whatever) based on local definitions of it. As understanding and (omg, Imma say it) capitalizing on the auto-definitional context of a card-carrying black bourgeoisie member of the NAACP, Boule versus an unemployed recent GED recipient. The differences between these two people may be numerous; however, I am sure w/ deep probing we can either bring them to the same table under the guise of a charismatic leader or ideology that encapsulates both parties while respecting the inherent differences among them.
Once we have them at the table, some deep structural changes might be initiated after developing an agenda to their “syncrenized blackness” (if that makes sense)….well, I’m going back to the trenches; hopefully this made sense and I’ll try to think on it deeper.

Cheers,
CBS

ElectricLadyLike said...

yes!
Yeah I kind of got the feeling that the post identified where the emotive sense of "Blackness" can oftentimes be a bit limiting. I mean let me say that I ADORE Cesaire, probably more then Senghor. He gave me that Rockstar abstraction that I get from other brilliant artists (visual-Basquiat even?). "Notes on a Return to My Native Land" is stunning. Hits you to the core...
I'm saying that to say again, these folks played a specific role in a particular aspect of self-awareness however, the "presence in the scientific, statistical, empirical, qualitative and quantitative fields" (or lack there of) is CRUCIAL.
The Africana experience is just so vast I think if anything its a bit intimidating to think of approaching it. Which is why I think we have to sift through the emotions of it to get to the necessary elements that we need for survival. (Octavia-Butler-like: We have to really operate on that level with it...survival mode, something she explores in her texts...what people do when they are forced to do it). To do so I think it DOES need to be approached in steps (beginning with cultural appreciation then moving onward to more critical analysis and then to strategic action). Still, history ALSO shows us that sometimes things don't move in that order. I don't think Dr. King was exactly a Pan-Africanist (though his thought and action demonstrated his Africaness and his ability to work for the collective good of our people).
But that wasn't his FOCUS (as opposed to say a Kwame Ture). Yet Kwame Ture profusely admired and deeply love Dr. King (which proves that those two could sit and eat at the same table...plenty).
So as the post describes, these folks have their role and play an important function in the midst of HELLA other ideologies and points of view. Problem is, the "academy" often upholds the Negritude ideology as the concept of Black Consciousness and (of COURSE) marginalizes e'rythang else!
"My overall problem with this is that if we are to be more forward-thinking, this focus on “blackness” places such heavy emphasis on our cultural existence and detracts from other scholarly functions that we need to reacquaint ourselves with … you know … the ones that were emblazoned in our heritage by our earliest kemetic ancestors."
Yes...our earliet Kemetic Ancestors were startrekers (literally0. I mean so we have a LOT of work to do! yup...a whole lot.
Folks were HELLA innovative. Extremely so in very self-defined ways, not reacting...just BE-ING. That's whats missing. We're not being...

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