Friday, February 25, 2011

The Implications of Negritude

Negritude poses some serious problems for me. I have trouble buying into the idea that there are racial “essentials” in the first place, because there is no science in the field of genetics to validate those claims. All of us in the class seem to agree with the idea that there is no genetic basis for race as we know it, but we also seem to gloss over the that fact often. Where I think this has the most impact is in our discussion of negritude. Senghor claims that black value expresses itself, “through primordial rhythms, synchronized with those of the Cosmos.” As stated in class, this initially sounds like something a mild-mannered racist would say. Perhaps it would be something you were more likely to hear in the drum circle at Overton Park and not something normally found in a philosophy text. It’s problem lies not in just its stylistic elements, but also in its foundations.

When Senghor states that these are the ways black values express themselves, he gives no reason as to why this is so. In a way, we just have to take his word for it. If we do indeed take his word for it, then it also follows that there are negative aspects that apply to all blacks. Blacks are humans and humans certainly have flaws, so blacks must have negative aspects as well as positive ones. This seems like a dangerous road to take, for negative racial essentials are what the Nazis used in their European racialism. Essentially, if one allows for racial essentials at all, then one must also allow for negative racial essentials.

Negritude also poses a problem for me in that it concentrates so much on the differences between races. The blacks have something to offer to the world that the whites can’t and the whites have something to offer that the blacks can’t. I really don’t see the separation of “offerings” as a way to eliminate racism as it exists today. We are all humans and therefore have the potential to offer the same thing. Of course, that last statement runs into trouble when considering figures like MLK. As Prof. Johnson brought up in class, his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement was as a black man, and not just a man. I am not sure how to reconcile this idea with the idea that we shouldn’t concentrate on our differences. MLK himself argued for focusing on our similarities rather than our differences, which I think was what gave strength to his argument.


  1. Ferrell, I definitely agree with your skepticism about "negritude," particularly when you pose the idea of having negative essential qualities. The dictionary definition of essential is "inherent, intrinsic, refer to that which is in the natural composition of a thing." Therefore, like you said, every individual has his or her personal weaknesses. If one were to claim that certain races have essential flaws, that would only foster racism and oppression, as exemplified in Nazi Germany. Therefore, when supporting the theory of "negritude," one must consider both the positive and negative consequences-- if races have essential "good" qualities, then they can also have essential "bad" qualities, seeing as we are all human. Using the word "essential" in reference to race is unsettling, considering race is used as a political tool. To deny people the chance/opportunity to change is a scary thought.

  2. Like Ferrell, I had some problems with the implications of negritude. I am black and I don't feel as though those characteristics are the only three things that blacks can offer to the world. I think it might be offensive to say that blacks can't contribute reason like whites can. I liked the idea of making negritude a positive implication, but I do feel as though there is a constant separation among the groups that is being proposed by philosophers.

  3. I feel that these traits which Senghor outlines are quite bland and far from cover the characteristics of an entire race. It begs the question though, if these characteristics don't adequately cover it, then could we possibly formulate the differences between the races? I know that this may sound odd, but there seems to be some knee-jerk reaction against discovering and exploring race - perhaps because of the hierarchical and base ways in which race has been utilized throughout history. I give Senghor some credit for trying to elucidate something which hasn't been covered authentically before.


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