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Black Nationalism in the New World: Reading the African-American and West Indian Experience

Black Nationalism in the New World: Reading the African-American and West Indian Experience

by Robert Carr

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From nineteenth-century black nationalist writer Martin Delany through the rise of Jim Crow, the 1937 riots in Trinidad, and the achievement of Independence in the West Indies, up to the present era of globalization, Black Nationalism in the New World explores the paths taken by black nationalism in the United States and the Caribbean. Bringing to bear a


From nineteenth-century black nationalist writer Martin Delany through the rise of Jim Crow, the 1937 riots in Trinidad, and the achievement of Independence in the West Indies, up to the present era of globalization, Black Nationalism in the New World explores the paths taken by black nationalism in the United States and the Caribbean. Bringing to bear a comparative, diasporic perspective, Robert Carr examines the complex roles race, gender, sexuality, and history have played in the formation of black national identities in the U. S. and Caribbean—particularly in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana—over the past two centuries. He shows how nationalism begins as an impulse emanating "upwards" from the bottom of the social and economic spectrum and discusses the implications of this phenomenon for understanding democracy and nationalism.

Black Nationalism in the New World combines geography, political economy, and subaltern studies in readings of noncanonical literary works, which in turn illuminate debates over African-American and West Indian culture, identity, and politics. In addition to Martin Delany’s Blake, or the Huts of America, Carr focuses on Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces; Crown Jewel, R. A. C. de Boissière’s novel of the Trinidadian revolt against British rule; Wilson Harris’s Guyana Quartet; the writings of the Oakland Black Panthers—particularly Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver; the gay novella Just Being Guys Together; and Lionheart Gal, a collection of patois testimonials assembled by Sistren, a radical Jamaican women’s theater group active in the ‘80s.

With its comparative approach, broad historical sweep, and use of texts not well known in the United States, Black Nationalism in the New World extends the work of such theorists as Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy, and Nell Irwin Painter. It will be necessary reading for those interested in African American studies, Caribbean studies, cultural studies, women’s studies, and American studies.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Robert Carr’s book places at our disposal a virtually unique comparative study of cultural production in the United States and the Caribbean.”—Hortense Spillers, Cornell University

“This book is really smart, interesting, and useful—in short, an incredible addition to scholarship in the areas it addresses. It is an outstanding work.”—Wahneema Lubiano, Duke University

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Black nationalism in the new world

Reading the African-American and West Indian experience
By Robert Carr

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-2973-5

Chapter One

F(o)unding Black Capital: Money, Power, Culture, and Revolution in Martin R. Delany's Blake; or The Huts of America

* * *

Geography, teaches a knowledge of the world, and Political Economy, a knowledge of the wealth of nations.... These are not abstruse sciences, or learning not easily acquired or understood; but simply, common School primer learning, that every schoolboy may get. And, although it is the very Key to prosperity and success in common life, but few know anything about it.-Martin R. Delany

Often described in radical histories written in the wake of the Civil Rights movement as the father of U.S. black nationalism, if not U.S. Pan-Africanism, Martin R. Delany, born a free man of color to a free mother and an enslaved father, lectured throughout the United States, addressing the ways and means for the social, political, and economic empowerment of black Americans (Painter 150; Ulman ix; Miller, Search 272; Moses, Golden 149). Through his leadership in National Conventions on Emigration in 1854, 1856, and 1858, Delany's impassioned arguments for black liberation through emigration to Africa or the Caribbean became sufficiently important to garner him national prominence among the Northern black abolitionists and the Anglo-American ruling elite.In the rising heat of the debate on slave labor in the South, Delany presented a national plan for emigration that was the logical outcome of his political economic analyses of the United States and his unrelenting commitment to black enfranchisement. Frederick Douglass remarked of him, "I always thank God for making me a man simply, but Delany always thanks Him for making him a black man" (qtd. in Quarles n.p.).

During the 1830s, Delany advocated "moral suasion" as a solution to the atrocities against U.S. blacks that had gone on for centuries since the founding state charters. Along with William Whipper, Lewis Woodson (Delany's mentor), William Lloyd Garrison, and Benjamin Lundy, Delany argued that "hard work, thrift and temperance" on the part of African-Americans was the solution to racial problems in the United States (Adeleke, "Race" 23). As Tunde Adeleke points out, implicit in the strategy of moral suasion "was the assumption that situational deficiency (i.e. condition), not racial intolerance (racism), was the more critical reason blacks were disadvantaged" (23). In the late 1840s, however, with the rise in attacks on black businesses, the lack of recourse in the legal system, and the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Delany became convinced that emigration was the only means to the ends of black political representation. African-Americans were trapped in a national agenda in which they were-explicitly again in the 1857 Dred Scott Decision-excluded from the rights of citizenship and super-disenfranchised by birth, by culture, and by blood even as the terms of U.S. citizenship were being more and more defined.

Like many other African-American emigrationists, Delany's relation to the federal state changed dramatically with the upheavals of the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of South Carolina from the Union (Ullman 247). With the advent of the Civil War, Delany found new hope for a "unity of interests" between black and white peoples in the United States, leading him to propose a black division led by black officers to fight alongside Union forces. After four years of persistent application, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton finally endorsed the plan and Delany became a major, the first black field officer in the Union. In support of his military aspirations, Lincoln described him to Secretary Stanton as a "most extraordinary and intelligent black man" (qtd. in Quarles n.p.).

During Reconstruction, Delany played a prominent role in southern politics, becoming increasingly alienated from freedmen and freeborn alike and retreating into what Nell Painter calls an "apolitical, elitist, Southernizing/New South position [attractive] to many respectable blacks in the [postwar] South" (168). At the end of his life he turned again to the emigrationist mandates of his youth, in support of Liberia. In the history of the antebellum struggle, however, Delany was tireless in his efforts to theorize the liberation and empowerment of blacks in the New World. With enormous energy and determination to fashion and promote a black nationalist agenda, Delany produced a treatise in 1852 titled The Condition, Elevation, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States; helped to organize national conventions, which he also attended; and scouted Africa for territory and Europe for capital in 1859. On his tours of England and the United States, he sought to prove to those prepared to listen that the United States of America had declared war on black Americans politically, economically, and morally. For Delany the only end to this war was the creation of a modern black diasporan nation-state that could compete within an industrializing world. Black labor had built the southern U.S. economy, and Delany argued that this same labor could bring black revolution on a global scale by establishing a homeland.

In his only novel, Blake; or The Huts of America, written during the 1850s and serialized between 1859 and 1862 in the Anglo-African Magazine and the Weekly Anglo-African, Delany presents us with his blueprint for black revolution in the United States and the Caribbean basin. His tour through the South to gather the information for his plan was a dangerous undertaking and could have quietly cost him his freedom or his life (Moses, Wings 48). As it stands, Blake is a testament to the scope of his vision; the work of writing his blueprint forced him to textualize the myriad relationships between the political and economic situation of blacks internationally, the means by which a plan for international black revolution could be achieved, and the nature of the new black man who could bring this about. Delany's novel is most often heralded for its creation of the hero to save the nation and for its "affirmation of the intercultural and transnational" (Gilroy 29). As Painter points out, Delany's reputation as the father of black nationalism in the United States has rested on eliding the split in class interests that became so apparent in Delany's postbellum political activity (149). Eric Sundquist in his 1993 To Wake the Nations sees Blake as a paradigm of revolutionary insight, with both Delany and his title character as the heroic representation of the people. In Sundquist's analysis, Delany emerges as a champion of democracy, outstripping his more famous antebellum peers through his political and aesthetic representation of black Americans and the democratic ideal. Sterling Stuckey argues that in Delany's hands the culture of Africa gains a new level of acceptance in nineteenth-century black nationalism and that he in fact "broke with the view of African barbarism in modern history by arguing for the existence of luminous aspects of Africanity from which Americans were already benefiting" (Slave Culture 229). "The names of his children, ideally," Stuckey writes, "reflected a progression beyond ethnicity and reinforced a sense of oneness in their consciousness and in the consciousness of those blacks who called their names" (226). Gilroy makes the same point (29).

In fact, glimmers of the split in class interests Painter identifies are apparent even in Delaney's antebellum work. What emerges coterminously with his black nationalism is the tangled issue of ethnicity in nation formation, an issue that bears directly on the question of class interest in black national representation. Grappling with this issue will take us further into the problems inherent in forging a new national culture; that is, the problem of the role of a national culture in serving the political interests of the men and women designated slaves or freedmen and freedwomen, versus the political interests of the black petit bourgeoisie. For at the heart of Delany's strategies there is a split in the conceptualization of the role of ethnicity in culture, a split that points directly to the problem in Delany's work: that is, that the role of ethnicity underscored by class in black culture leads to a rift between the people and the leadership.

In much of the northern black leadership's perception of the slaves we confront the problem of industrial versus agrarian identities, as well as the implications of this problem for political representation of the black majority by the black national leadership. It is here we confront the split in class interests (to use modernism's terminology) played out through debates on ethnicity and barbarian culture. "For all the strength of the Pan-African environment of the day," Stuckey writes, "so effective was anti-African propaganda-so convinced were educated blacks that there was nothing of value in the ceremonies and customs of the mass of slaves in America-that consciousness of African cultural formation was no advantage to one seeking a leadership role outside the slave community" (Slave Culture 145). Modernism in black antebellum America comes to signify the internalization of industrialization and the personal and political projects of European Enlightenment as norms. "Agrarianism" comes to signify, in the instance of slave culture, an agriculturally based, subsistence-oriented economy and the internalization of magical/ mystical/religious epistemologies and ontologies that circulate outside the paradigms of Reason.

The difference from European thought in slave culture, a culture that I refer to here as "agrarian," is a profound one. As Stuckey writes, folktales, songs, the ring shout, the cross, baptism, and many other aspects commonly recognized as constituting slave culture are in fact infused with complex transformations of African cultural norms into new terms and new processes. White Americans-and, as Stuckey argues, free black Americans-could not recognize this deep cultural mesh without a process of acculturation. Here, then, class divisions and ethnic divergences intersect at the level of culture in dramatic ways that divide the black nation. As Stuckey goes on to argue, the secrecy surrounding the African holdovers at the heart of slave culture was great:

The division between the sacred and the secular, so prominent a feature of modern Western culture, did not exist in black Africa in the years of the slave trade, before Christianity made real inroads on the continent.... This quality of African religion, its uniting of seeming opposites, was perhaps the principal reason it was considered savage by whites. It was the source of creative genius in the slave community and a main reason that whites and free blacks thought the slaves lacked a meaningful spiritual life.... But the possibility that whites might discover the guiding principles of African culture kept blacks on guard and led them, to an astonishing degree, to keep the essentials of their culture from view. (Slave Culture 24)

"Modernity" is thus antithetical to black slave culture, the culture of the antebellum black majority. It is here that class and ethnicity converge. The problem is that the trajectory of escape from slavery is through economic self-sufficiency and political representation-that is, development -and is therefore ineluctably modern.

"Modernism" comes to signify the reconceptualization and reorganization of society, labor, and the self. Throughout Delany's writings the notion of nation formation appears as a modern phenomenon, and its terms are states, capital, industry, labor. The new terms of this transformation have already been set by the rise of industrialization and the political takeover by the bourgeoisie of Europe. If nationalism is seen as a mass movement prior to state formation and territorial consolidation-what Hobsbawm, Stuckey, and Moses call "protonationalism"-then questions of whom the (proto)national/political leadership represents become critical for determining both the viability and future of black nationalist movements in the United States. Such a split occurs over a fracture in antebellum politics in which the slave is being represented-spoken for politically.

Given the plantocracy's strategic use of visible aspects of slave culture to develop and refine its modes of oppression and destabilization of the slave community for economic and psychological ends, the fact of this political-cum-cultural need to keep one's culture hidden from the view of outsiders leads to two crucial points. First, slaves are structurally linked to the concept of the "subaltern"; that is, those who are strategically unrepresented culturally and politically. Second, it is this combination of secrecy as resistance that comes to constitute the positive aspects of "slave culture" in the minds of the relative elite. At the same time this relative elite holds the opposite argument, namely that slave culture is debased and barbarian. As Moses suggests, this debate is an expression of how black culture can be read through the lens of white culture or, better, how white culture as the only paradigm of logic knows black cultures, which entangles the interrelationships between ethnic groups. For the black intelligentsia to approach slave culture from the side of the comparative elite-those who can write, those who have never been enslaved-is indicative of their critical remove from slave culture, at least in part. These degrees of integration into the dominant ideologies in turn have their effects on cultural identity and conceptualizations of power, of norms of behavior and self-perception.

This difference from the culture of the black intelligentsia is due in large part to the acknowledged persistence of Africanisms in slave culture, of African cultural norms clashing with the antebellum black leadership's agenda of integration into international capitalism. Southern slaves keeping the secrets of their culture is the other side of the northern black leadership's accusations of slave ignorance. Thus slave culture comes to signify black oppositional culture of the oppressed masses and tells of "other suppressed narratives and perspectives" (Pandey 224). Behind this silence is a political struggle over both national culture and the place of Africanness within it.

In the next section of this chapter, I examine Delany's complex rendering of the position of blacks in the New World political economy, given the mid-nineteenth century alignment of nation-states. This rendering lays bare the networks of power, ethnicity, and money regulating the policies of the U.S. elite. At the same time, however, it is important to acknowledge that without the support of a moneyed elite there can be no nation building. From there, in the second section, I raise issues of culture, subalternity, and modernity in nation formation in order to examine the questions of who forms the nation, the constitution of national leadership, and the social pact promised by this national leadership. The concept of class enters the text of the novel through the back door and will be coded through the terms of "intelligence" versus "ignorance," terms bearing the weight of the debates over modernism versus barbarism to which Stuckey alludes. In closing my analysis, I look to Delany's political speeches, reports, and tracts to discern the nature of power and citizenship in his postulated nation-state through the problem of territory as the culmination of his political theory, his hope for a new state reuniting the black diaspora.

White Power, Political Cadres, and the Dynamics of (Inter)national Administration: The Constitution of the Nation-State

In teasing out the assumptions and dynamics of Delany's racialized political economy, we can begin by grappling with the intersections of race, capital, and geography that Delany embeds in Blake's opening scenarios. Reading closely his first installments (particularly "The Project") within a series of historical contexts, we can recover Delany's understandings of the position of blacks in the complex relationships between industrial and industrializing states.


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What People are saying about this

Wahneema Lubiano
This book is really smart, interesting, useful, in short, an incredible addition to scholarship in the areas it addresses. It is an outstanding work.
Hortense Spillers
Robert Carr's book places at our disposal a virtually unique comparative study of cultural production in the United States and the Caribbean.

Meet the Author

Robert Carr is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Psychology, and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. He is a management consultant to a number of government and nongovernmental organizations specializing in culture-specific Caribbean responses to HIV/AIDS. He has a doctoral degree in English and has translated, along with Ileana Rodríguez, her book House/Garden/Nation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Postcolonial Latin American Literatures by Women, published by Duke University Press.

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