Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy

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Overview

Despite black gains in modern America, the end of racism is not yet in sight. Nikhil Pal Singh asks what happened to the worldly and radical visions of equality that animated black intellectual activists from W. E. B. Du Bois in the 1930s to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. In so doing, he constructs an alternative history of civil rights in the twentieth century, a long civil rights era, in which radical hopes and global dreams are recognized as central to the history of black struggle.

It is through the words and thought of key black intellectuals, like Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, C. L. R. James, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and others, as well as movement activists like Malcolm X and Black Panthers, that vital new ideas emerged and circulated. Their most important achievement was to create and sustain a vibrant, black public sphere broadly critical of U.S. social, political, and civic inequality.

Finding racism hidden within the universalizing tones of reform-minded liberalism at home and global democratic imperatives abroad, race radicals alienated many who saw them as dangerous and separatist. Few wanted to hear their message then, or even now, and yet, as Singh argues, their passionate skepticism about the limits of U.S. democracy remains as indispensable to a meaningful reconstruction of racial equality and universal political ideals today as it ever was.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Reflecting several new trends in current scholarship, Singh provides a provocative contribution to civil rights literature. He focuses on a 'Long Civil Rights Movement,' which for him covers the New Deal through the Great Society and into the 1970s. The roles of Communism, anti-Communism, and the Cold War loom large as impediments to a radical social change that might have led to an alternate form of black empowerment...As an intellectual history of the long Civil Rights era and exploration of paths not taken as much as those that were, this book stands out. This important contribution places the idea of race as a political idea at the forefront, and will challenge and provoke scholars and students alike.
— D. C. Catsam

Robin D. G. Kelley
Black is a Country is a work of great urgency; it is one of those books you carry with you, read over and over again, and quote often. Nikhil Singh puts to rest our national founding myth that America was always a source of "justice for all." Instead, he finds within the black radical critique of U.S. racial capitalism a more inclusive, global, and universalist vision which has the potential of renewing democracy and dismantling racism once and for all.
George Lipsitz
Black is a Country is a beautifully, written, elegantly argued, and exhaustively researched study of the links between African American social movements and new ways of knowing. From his skilled exegesis of 1930s writings by W.E.B. Du Bois through provocative arguments about the prominence of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s to his sophisticated understanding of the limits of both multiculturalism and 'color blind' interchangeability, Singh presents challenging, original, and persuasive interpretations of topics that are much discussed but little understood. This is a splendid book, one that will be widely read, frequently taught, and often cited.
David R. Roediger
Black Is a Country is a rare work that succeeds both as theory and as history. Reading and researching widely in movement history, political economy and above all in the writings, speeches and styles of Black intellectuals and activists in the 20th century, Singh shows how African American thinkers and organizers literally made history from the edges. His book should be read by all those who care about how U.S. freedom movements fit into worlds of race.
Lani Guinier
Black is a Country is an elegant account of the paradoxical relationship between race as a resource of hope and racism as an enduring curse at the core of this country's cultural and political imagination. In lucid and often lyrical prose, Nikhil Singh argues that race functions as a highly durable and oppressive technology yet race simultaneously provided a political space for 20th century intellectuals and activists to enlarge upon the public meaning of words like freedom and democracy. Black is a Country deserves to be widely read; it is the work of a gifted young scholar that promises to provoke a rethinking of classic liberal accounts of race, class and democracy.
Choice - D. C. Catsam
Reflecting several new trends in current scholarship, Singh provides a provocative contribution to civil rights literature. He focuses on a 'Long Civil Rights Movement,' which for him covers the New Deal through the Great Society and into the 1970s. The roles of Communism, anti-Communism, and the Cold War loom large as impediments to a radical social change that might have led to an alternate form of black empowerment...As an intellectual history of the long Civil Rights era and exploration of paths not taken as much as those that were, this book stands out. This important contribution places the idea of race as a political idea at the forefront, and will challenge and provoke scholars and students alike.
Library Journal
Historically situated in the South during the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is narrowly associated with the now iconic figure of Martin Luther King Jr. and organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Singh (history, Univ. of Washington) asserts that black challenges to inequality during the movement were the continuation of a pattern of black antiracist organizing that went beyond the South and issues of desegregation and voting rights. Thus he presents the antiracist theories and organizing of black radicals W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Bunche, Ralph Ellison, C.L.R. James, the Black Panthers, and others critical of U.S. public and foreign policies that tout freedom and democracy while at the same time promoting racial exclusion. Singh argues persuasively that the black struggle for social justice has been for universal rights that benefit the nation as a whole and can represent a model of democracy. His historiography and analysis are important and represent a new generation of historians examining the Civil Rights Movement and race in America from fresh perspectives. Suitable for U.S. history collections.-Sherri L. Barnes, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara Libs. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019515
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nikhil Pal Singh is Visiting Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History Director of the Program in American Studies at New York University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Civil Rights, Civic Myths

1. Rethinking Race and Nation

2. Reconstructing Democracy

3. Internationalizing Freedom

4. Americanizing the Negro

5. Decolonizing America

Conclusion: Racial Justice beyond Civil Rights

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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