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University of Chicago Press
Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies / Edition 2

Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies / Edition 2

by Michael C. Dawson
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ISBN-13: 9780226138619
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/28/2003
Edition description: 1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 396,753
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael C. Dawson is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Political Science and the college and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Behind the Mule: Race, Class, and African-American Politics.

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Black Visions: the Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies

By Michael C. Dawson

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2001 Michael C. Dawson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226138607

In the area of ideology, despite the impact of the works of a few Negro writers on a limited number of white intellectuals, all too few Negro thinkers have exerted an influence on the main currents of American thought. Nevertheless Negroes have illuminated imperfections in the democratic structure that were formerly only dimly perceived, and have forced a concerned re-examination of the true meaning of American democracy.
--Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
CHAPTER 1 - Introduction: The Contours of Black Political Thought

On the eve of the Civil War Frederick Douglass and Shields Green debated whether guerrilla warfare or a lightning raid was the best armed strategy to free their enslaved race. This debate represented a monumental ideological shift for Douglass, who had led the successful opposition to Henry Highland Garnett's call for an armed insurrection of slaves at the 1843 National Negro Convention. As Garnett and Douglass had disagreed fifteen years earlier at the Buffalo convention, these two former slaves would part ways. Green accompanied John Brown on the fateful road to the attack on Harper's Ferry. Then asnow, radically different visions of the road to freedom would shape and divide the black community as it searched for freedom in America.

Competing visions of freedom and the means to gain that freedom had confronted one another within black communities decades before the debate between Frederick Douglass and Shields Green on armed strategies to free their still-enslaved cousins. Taking to arms versus using "legitimate" politics, protesting versus voting, and looking towards socialism versus capitalism have all been seriously considered as viable options by many blacks throughout the centuries-long quest for black freedom, justice, and self-determination. Competing visions of freedom led Frederick Douglass to consider both armed struggle and the Republican Party as vehicles to freedom. Competing visions of freedom led Booker T. Washington to worry about law and order while Ida B. Wells fiercely led anti-lynching crusades in the early years of the twentieth century. Competing visions of freedom during the 1920s and 1930s led many Harlemites into both the Communist Party and the largest black nationalist organization in American history-- Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Converging and increasingly dark visions of a racist America led Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to share increasingly similar visions of freedom toward the ends of their respective lives during the 1960s. Competing visions of freedom at the end of the century have led Jesse Jackson and Clarence Thomas to hold nearly opposite views of the role the American state should play in advancing the welfare of African Americans. Over the centuries black activists, elites, and intellectuals have forged these and other visions of freedom into black political ideologies which offer both a more or less consistent vision of freedom and a roadmap for the journey to freedom. These visions of freedom are ideological visions. Ideologues craft ideologies which contain portraits of the good society, of state /civil-society relations, and of political morality. In turn, grassroots African Americans have reinterpreted and applied these ideologies in ways not always anticipated, or approved of by activist and elite ideologues. Throughout black history these different visions of freedom have been influential in shaping black political attitudes and practice. At other times, these ideologies have been quiescent, having a barely noticeable effect on either political practice or debate within black communities.

These ideologies, and the discourses around them, form the core of black political thought, which historically has not only captured the range of political debate within the black community, but has also produced one of the most trenchant critiques of the theory and practice of American "democracy." This book examines these ideologies and their origins, which have influenced African Americans to seriously consider the political program of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, overwhelmingly endorse Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential campaign, and favorably view Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in the 1990s. The study of black political thought is important not only to the study of the political dynamics of the black community, but also to an understanding of how, during critical historical periods, black political thought has played a vital role in shaping political debate and action in America.

In this book, I ask several questions about black ideologies. Which historically important black ideologies still have a presence within contemporary black public opinion? When present, how do the "mass" versions differ from the conceptions of their elite and activist codifiers? What structural and psychological factors make individuals more or less likely to adopt any particular black political ideology? How do these ideologies shape black public opinion? Finally, what are the likely consequences of racial political ideologies for the theory and practice of American democracy?


Situating black political ideologies and discourses within the larger polity's discourse necessitates answering the following question: Do blacks and whites share common beliefs, speak the same political language, have common understandings of the same events, and share conceptual categories of politics? Further, when blacks and whites debate politics, do they mean the same thing even when they use the same language? Or in Habermas's terms, is there a lack of shared understanding and common interpretation of "our lifeworld" (Habermas 1984)? Without a shared understanding of commonly experienced political events, blacks and others could reach very different conclusions and trigger different political responses. Strengthening our comprehension of the contours of African-American ideologies is a prerequisite for answering these questions and for understanding both the politics of the black community and interracial politics.

This book is based on the first national survey that focused on the ideological and political beliefs of African Americans. That this was the first survey of its type is symptomatic of how far short social scientists in this century have fallen of the goal set forth by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1897:

The American Negro deserves study for the great end of advancing the cause of science in general. . . . If they miss the opportunity--if they do the work in a slip-shod, unsystematic manner--if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, they do far more than hurt the good name of the American people; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world over, they voluntarily decrease human knowledge of a universe of which we are ignorant enough, and they degrade the high end of truth-seeking in a day when they need more and more to dwell upon its sanctity. . . . That there are differences between the white and black races is certain, but just what those differences are is known to none with an approach to accuracy. (Du Bois 1986, 597-98)
While the essentialist phrasing of the early Du Bois may cause some nervous shudders, the fact that race is socially constructed does not negate the fact that systematically different patterns of outcomes are produced within a racially stratified society. These different outcomes shape individual life chances as well as the perceptions of society, thereby providing the basis for the huge racial gulf in public opinion--a gulf that persists but about which we know little a century after Du Bois issued his call. But Du Bois also issued a call to study the dynamics within the black community with the best research tools available, and (not surprisingly) we know much less about difference within the black community, whether gendered, based on class, or on different degrees of integration into the black community, than we do about racial differences in public opinion.

In the realm of African-American ideologies, we do not know enough about how increasing divisions among African Americans have affected black understanding of and support for core concepts within American and black political thought, such as citizenship, equality, black power, self-determination, separation, integration, and justice. Each of these concepts has a long history within black politics, and each has been the object of struggle among African Americans (Pinderhughes 1987). Constellations of concepts come together to form political ideologies within black political movements. For example, the concepts of separation, self-reliance, and self-determination are all associated with various forms of black nationalism.

Ideology is defined here to mean a world view readily found in the population, including sets of ideas and values that cohere, that are used publicly to justify political stances, and that shape and are shaped by society. Further, political ideology helps to define who are one's friends and enemies, with whom one would form political coalitions, and, furthermore, contains a causal narrative of society and the state. Cognitively, ideology serves as a filter of what one "sees" and responds to in the social world.

In order to better understand black ideologies, it is important for the theory and research communities to understand how political discourse developed in the black community, the degree to which it differed from discourse in the American polity at large, and equally how it influenced and was influenced by discourses in American society. There is a pragmatic as well as theoretical need for a better understanding of African-American ideologies, since ideologies shape, or at lest inform, political action(Skinner 1988).

However, the ways in which ideologies shape political action is as determined by historical context as are the meanings of the concepts and principles themselves, which are shaped within a history. Even if we superficially examine a strain of ideological discourse such as black nationalism, we find that its proponents are in important ways engaged in political debate with American society even as they try to convince blacks of the need to distance themselves either spiritually, economically, politically, or socially from white America. On the other hand, even such a European-originated descendent of the Enlightenment as Marxism is to some degree transformed (as Cedric Robinson, Robin Kelley, and others have argued) as it becomes reinterpreted to better fit the realities of black life by each generation of activists and intellectuals in the black community (Kelley 1994; Robinson 1983).

Increasing our understanding of African-American political discourse requires us to understand how concepts that reappear in black political debate change over time or are interpreted differently within a given time period. Let's take the concept of "black nation," a fairly common concept in what has been called black political thought. The term has a long and honored history in black political discourse. The concept of a "black nation" has shifted both over time and across discourse communities during the same period. As Higginbotham explains, the concept of a black nation is part of an old tradition among black nationalists (and a newer one among black radicals). Martin Delaney described African Americans as a "nation within a nation" as early as the 1850s (Higginbotham 1993). It was used by black Civil War veterans when they petitioned the victorious Union government in the name of the "poor colored nation." In the 1920s the term was used both within the Garvey movement and by black cadres within the Communist Party of the United States who, with significant aid from the leadership of the Communist International, forced the concept on white American communists. It appeared once again among black nationalists and black Marxists in the context of the black liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is evidence of the concept's continued use among grassroots African Americans into the late 1970s, as one elderly urban resident argued that "we are our own nation" (Gwaltney 1980). It is difficult to believe that a black Union veteran from the 1860s, a 1920s communist, or a member of the Nation of Islam in 1970 shared a similar understanding of the term "black nation."

Concepts such as "black nation" and "freedom" mean different things to different people and different groups in different places at different times. Wittgenstein argues that the meanings of concepts such as "black nation" are constructed within given historical contexts (Wittgenstein 1958). Interpreting these concepts' meanings is not impossible; we can use "characteristic experiences" and notions of each concept's essential elements to be able to say that various versions of "the black nation" have the same meaning (Wittgenstein 1958). There was significant agreement, for example, among the newly freed slaves after the Civil War that freedom meant autonomy in (re)forming families, the ability to work small plots of land, and power to refuse to work large plantations if they so chose (Dawson 1994a; Foner 1988; Jaynes 1986; Ransom and Sutch 1977). During the same period, blacks had profound disagreement with southern and northern whites about all of these components of freedom. The meaning of freedom had shifted for blacks by the time of the turmoil of the Civil Rights era to encompass full citizenship rights and active participation in the economy. Again, there was profound disagreement with whites (as well as some disagreement within the black community) over the meaning of freedom.

Ideologies serve to anchor meanings. Ideological activists often use ideologies as mechanisms that can "fix" the meanings of key concepts such as nation, self-determination, and freedom across time and context. Black feminists and black nationalists of our era explicitly attempt to define and fix the meaning of woman. Attempts to establish definitive definitions can be the cause of intense political conflict. Since the late nineteenth century, for example, one social definition of the term woman has attempted to regulate the status of women as public leaders of black movements, ranging from the extremely effective anti-lynching leader, Ida B. Wells, to leaders in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements like Ella Baker and Angela Davis. Many male leaders argued that these women's place was back in the private sphere of the home. Both nationalist and Pauline Christian narratives have been interpreted to mean that black women should not desire social and political equality but should treasure and preserve their roles as the guardians of hearth, home, and the morals of the community.

We must guard against the belief, however, that ideologies such as black nationalism, the black variants of liberalism or feminism, or any other ideology are themselves fixed throughout time or space. Black national-ism's attitude toward Africa during the middle and late nineteenth century was very different from that of the nationalist activists of the 1960s and 1970s. The nineteenth-century nationalists believed it was their responsibility to "civilize" the "dark" continent (Moses 1978). Nationalists during the second half of the twentieth century were studying the writings of the late leader of the liberation movement of Guinea-Bissau (Amilcar Cabral) to learn what African lessons could be applied to black struggles in the United States. The writings of Nkrumah of Ghana, Fanon of Algeria, and Walter Rodney of Guyana, as well as those of other diasporic activists and theorists were highly influential among black activists during the period of African independence and national liberation that coincided with the period of the Cold War. The slogan of some of these activists that the "East was red, and the West was ready" suggested a reversal of the assumed direction of liberating influences across the Atlantic. What does remain constant across evolving notions of nationalism is the belief that race represents both the fundamental reality and the fundamental analytical category for understanding the plight of blacks in the Americas--that race remains the fundamental axis around which blacks need to be mobilized for liberation.

Again, we must remember that ideologies are socially constructed and reconstructed within particular social, economic, and political contexts. Viewing ideologies as constellations of political concepts constructed out of politically laden language helps us realize that while ideologies are so fluid that they are extremely difficult to pin down, the relationships of political concepts within ideologies allow us to compare them if we are careful about context and do not insist on any absolute or final definition for any ideology (Wittgenstein 1958). A central concern of this book is to consider how similar are the members of the "family" of ideologies that African Americans have forged over the centuries, not only to each other, but also to the dominant ideologies found within the United States.

The best way to study changes in black ideologies is not to focus on only a few canonical texts or authors, but to try also to understand how various concepts were used within various black activist and grassroots communities. One reason for this approach is that once an ideological discourse enters the public realm, control is lost, no matter how tightly an ideology is scripted by ideologues and activists (Dolan 1994). Once such a discourse enters the public sphere(s), it becomes shaped and reshaped. This is not just a feature of ideology, as Arendt would argue. Dolan argues that Arendt wants to label as ideology that which

replaces the real world constituted in a genuine public sphere. Such a fiction departs from the world in that it presents events as inevitable, ordered, and necessary; it tells a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit in the beginning; it seems to consist of particular experiences that follow from some general principles; and above all, it conceals the radical contingency of political life, in which purposes are transmuted into unanticipated projects and acts take on meanings their agents could not have intended or predicted. (Dolan 1994, 169)
Ideologies do have this property to a significant degree; however, these fictions can tell us quite a bit about how the world is perceived, and in the case of oppositional ideologies, they have generative (as well as totalitarian) possibilities. Black feminists and nationalists, as well as black liberals and Marxists, all envision futures which differ from the dominant understanding of the American Dream (Dolan 1994; Thompson 1984). All ideologies, including the American mythos, seek to define and control debates by providing a "script" of scenarios with which to think about the political world (Sanders 1995a). Some discourses--liberal ones, for example, or many variants of feminism--have as part of their ethos open public discourse. All ideologies, however, claim at least local, if not universal, sovereignty over the future at least of civil society and often of the polity as well. Ideologues and activists attempt to use ideologies in order to define the limits of the permissible within both private and public realms. Many feminists, for example, have argued for restrictions on speech that they find promotes harm to women as well as on actual practices, such as genital mutilation.

Theorists such as Arendt and Habermas worry that ideologies seek to establish bonds that prevent the "rational" deliberation deemed necessary for democratic processes and institutions. Indeed, American liberalism has some of the characteristics that worry these theorists. First, American liberalism is constructed with its own set of fictions. The version of American ethnic and race relations celebrated by theorists who work within this tradition bears little resemblance to historical reality, but does represent well the standard American liberal myth: "The United States is a political nation of cultural nationalists. Citizenship is separated from every sort of particularism: The state is nationally, ethnically, racially, and religiously neutral. At least, this is true in principle, and whenever neutrality is violated, there is likely to be a principled fight against the violation. The expression of difference is confined to civil society" (Walzer 1992, 9).

This depiction of historical support for this version of "neutrality" is patently at odds with the historical record. Smith (1997), for one, demonstrates how both grassroots and elite Americans have at times enthusiastically embraced such violations. Almost all African-American theorists, on the other hand, have severely challenged the idea that the United States has followed the principled path described by Walzer, or, indeed, that America can even be generally considered a "just" country. A few decades earlier, conservative theorists such as Storing attacked King for his refusal to acknowledge America as a "just country" (Storing 1995). Indeed Storing's ideological vision for America refuses to find a place for the activist, nonviolent protest which is central to the black liberal vision out of which King emerged. Conflicts over these ideological visions have often entered public debate within the United States. Former Senator Dole, for example, challenged historical standards which took "too critical" a view of the polity by emphasizing such factors as the long history of slavery and racial oppression.

While it is naive to obsess about the deformities introduced into democracies by ideologies (they are with us all the time), it is also problematic to believe that the egalitarian goals of democracy are advanced by a blind preference for "rational" deliberation. As Sanders demonstrates, deliberative debates are fundamentally shaped by societal inequalities of power and thus often promote the inequalities that democratic debate is supposed to alleviate (Sanders 1997). When sorting out the effects of black political ideologies on African-American as well as American politics, one should focus both on discourse communities within the black community and within other U.S. speech communities. A key aspect of this analysis is an assessment of the relative levels of power between discourse communities. For that matter, one should also focus internationally, when we consider the importance of non-U.S.-based theorists and activists of African descent on black debates and movements within the United States.

It is also critical to focus on the dynamic properties in the development of black political thought. For example, it is a mistake to try to understand the work of activists such as Du Bois and King as temporally coherent; we cannot assume that their early work easily fits into the same philosophical framework as their later work. Just as it is difficult to reconcile the "young Marx" with later versions, it is hard to believe that the political thought of Malcolm X in 1961 and his beliefs in early 1965 can be easily reconciled within a single theoretical framework. Consequently, historical specificity and nuance are important factors to account for when modeling contemporary black ideologies. Public opinion data on black ideologies must be understood in the context of a multivocal set of discourses that have occurred both within the black community and between the black community and other communities for more than two centuries.


The discourses that encompass black political debate are centered around six distinct political ideologies. These have evolved as a result of the continued ideological conflict which has been a constant feature of black politics since at least the early nineteenth century. While the antebellum Negro Convention movement of the first half of that century can be viewed as the first major forum for black ideological debate, it was the Reconstruction era that provided the first opportunity for African Americans to combine ideological debate with high levels of political activity and mobilization (Brown 1989; Foner 1988; Saville 1994b). Brown's description of black politics at the 1867 Virginia state constitutional convention illustrates the significant degree to which ideological debate and political mobilization were combined in black politics. At this juncture ideological debate was a mass activity for the black community. She reports that during points of heated controversy, black delegates turned to blacks in the gallery as they made their addresses on the convention floor. The purpose was to gain support for their position and to gauge the wishes and sentiments of the community at large. Furthermore, outside the convention, mass meetings were held where children, women, and men debated and voted on major issues. These were not merely mock assemblies; the most radical black Republicans argued that major convention issues should actually be settled at these mass meetings and that delegates would attend the convention to cast the community's vote.

The political ideology and behavior of the Virginia delegates is said to be a product of an African-American world view in which the moral, spiritual, and material development of the community is at least as important as the development of the individual (Dawson 1994a; Foner 1988). Brown argues that African Americans held a communal world view during the Reconstruction period. Lewis describes the importance for African Americans of perceptions of collective racial interests in the political and economic spheres of black life several decades later during the Depression era (Lewis 1991). To a great extent, Brown's description of a communal world view during Reconstruction and Lewis's discussion of a similar world view among blacks in the midst of the Great Depression are similar to Jencks's (1990) definition of "communitarian unselfishness." That is, individuals develop a politicized sense of racial identification which influences both their ideological view of the social world as well as their political behavior (Allen, Dawson, and Brown 1989; Dawson 1994a).

A communal approach to politics continues to influence African-American political life. This point is made clear in a number of empirical voting studies which indicate that racial concerns shape not only political perceptions and attitudes but candidate choice and participation (see Campbell et al. 1960; Dawson 1994a; Tate 1993). Group-based racial politics have developed historically to such a degree that many African Americans' political preferences are shaped by the belief that their individual life chances are linked to the fate of the race (Dawson 1994a). This sense of linked fate is a product of the individual's interaction within both informal and formal African-American sociopolitical networks. These networks include the black media, the black family, and religious and community-based organizations. These networks and institutions have been largely responsible for crystallizing the shared historical experiences of African Americans into a sense of collective identity, and they have also played a key role in shaping the development of black political ideologies. Neither the communal nature of black politics nor the strong sense of the majority of blacks that their fate is linked to that of the race prevent political conflict from raging within black communities. The fact that two African Americans can believe that their fate is linked to that of the race does not mean that they agree on how best to advance their own and racial interests. Black ideological conflict occurs precisely over what constitutes the best political path for the race.

Core Concepts of Black Political Ideologies

Several ideologies have developed within black political thought, and the adherents of each have contested for dominance within the black community throughout black history. The continued importance of political conflict over black ideologies and the legacies of the political leaders who popularized them can be seen in conservative Clarence Thomas, nationalist Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), and Marxist Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), all claiming to be followers of Malcolm X. Ideological confusion can be limited by specifying the key components of black political thought.

Black ideologies contain positions on classic questions from political theory such as the role of the state, the perfectibility of human nature, how to view the law, and the moral and strategic standing of the use of violence. But more important, black political ideologies must also answer several questions about African Americans' relationship to the state and other racial and ethnic groups within U.S. society. Black ideologies answer the following questions:

How is blacks' position in society explained? What specific roles are race, class, and gender assigned?
Who or what is the enemy?
Who are friends; with whom is one willing to form coalitions?
What attributions are made about the nature of American society and the state?
What is the nature of whites? Are they by nature hostile to blacks; are they too tied to the "benefits" of racism to abandon racism; or are they basically good and able to become willing partners in the quest for racial justice? (This list, of course, is not exhaustive of the possibilities found historically in black political thought.)
What degree, if any, of either tactical or strategic separation (social, political, economic, cultural) from whites is desirable or necessary?
What stance should African Americans take toward what has been labeled the "American Creed," "American Liberalism," and the "American Liberal Ideology"?
The relationship between black political ideologies and "American" liberalism is critical for framing the book. Many, mainly white, commentators on black ideology have forcefully argued that black political thought falls comfortably within the realm of liberal democratic thought and practice. Just as many, mainly black, scholars have argued that black political thought and practice can be read as a rejection of American liberalism. I marshal a significant amount of textual, historical, and quantitative evidence to support the following propositions. First, as can be expected from a discourse that exists partially within the framework of a larger discourse, black political thought contains ideological currents that are firmly within the boundaries of American liberalism, broadly construed. Black variants of liberalism, with one moderate exception, have been transformed by the historical experience of African Americans in ways which not only stretch the traditional boundaries of mainstream American liberalism, but also contain elements which are decidedly antiliberal. Finally, black political thought contains ideological trends, such as black nationalism, which not only cannot be made to march under the liberal banner, but have enjoyed significant mass support during several historical epochs, including the present period.

The great majority of black theorists challenge liberalism as it has been practiced within the United States, not some abstract ideal version of the ideology. It is a form of liberalism that celebrates the boundaries between the public and private. Most (white) Americans have had more faith in markets, the voluntary associations of civil society, and local governments than in a strong central state. The American Creed, the form of liberalism that has dominated American society in practice, also eagerly promotes a rugged (and gendered) individualism while remaining skeptical about establishing a strong central state. It is a form of liberalism of which the great majority of black theorists and activists, including black liberals, have been skeptical. Let me be clear--as Holmes, Waldron, Shklar, and others demonstrate in their analyses of the history of the liberal tradition--that there is no necessary contradiction between the liberal tradition in theory and black liberalism. The contradiction exists between black liberalism and how liberalism has come to be understood in practice within the American context.

Black ideologies directly challenge the idea of what Dolan characterizes as a single "national mythology" (Dolan 1994, 5). The universal acceptance of liberalism is one of America's national mythologies. From Hartz to modern theorists, the claim that "nothing is waiting; American[s] . . . have to recognize that there is no one out there but separated, rights-bearing, voluntarily associating, freely speaking, liberal selves" (Hartz 1955; Walzer 1990, 15). One example of the American national myth of a universal consensus around liberalism is provided by some of the writing of Michael Walzer. He has argued, for example, that Martin Luther King's speeches represented the best of a "palpable [American] tradition"-- one which, when invoked, we as a nation would disagree with only in regard to the timing and method of implementation (Walzer 1990, 14). We will see in chapter 6 not only that King harbored deep doubts about whether white Americans in fact supported that tradition, but also that he began to harbor deep doubts about the goodness of the tradition itself. Perhaps even more fundamentally, I will argue that certain aspects of King's thought were well outside of the American Creed. Indeed, with the exception of black conservatism, all black ideologies contest the view that democracy in America, while flawed, is fundamentally good. Theorists such as Michael Walzer are able to argue that "America has been, with severe but episodic exceptions, remarkably tolerant of ethnic pluralism (far less so of racial pluralism). I don't want to underestimate the human difficulties of adapting even to a hyphenated Americanism, nor to deny the bigotry and discrimination that particular groups have encountered. But tolerance has been the cultural norm" (Walzer 1992, 44). A central theme within black political thought has been not only to challenge such characterizations of the nation's propensity for tolerance, but also to insist that the question of racial injustice is a central problematic in American political thought and practice, not a minor problem that can be dismissed in parentheses or footnotes.

Some black ideologies challenge the single American mythos from within liberal political thought. These are radical egalitarianism, disillusioned liberalism, and conservatism. However, some black challenges represent the interaction of race with other constitutive hierarchies of power. Black feminism challenges American liberalism on an ideological foundation based primarily on analyses of the intersection of race and gender, although some forms of black feminism account for intersections with sexuality and class as well. Black Marxism challenges American liberalism on the basis of analyses of the intersection of race and class. As mentioned above, black nationalism critiques American liberalism and builds an alternative vision based on taking race as the fundamental analytical category of concern to African Americans. All of these black ideologies are similar to other oppositional ideologies to the degree that self-definition and rejection of external definitions of the political, social, and economic self are central to their visions.

Six historically important black political ideologies were identified for study. They were the radical egalitarian, disillusioned liberal, black Marxist, black nationalist, black feminist, and black conservative ideologies. The following sections provide suggestive sketches of each of these ideological tendencies. Full descriptions of each ideology's development and current status within black political thought are provided in chapters 3-6. The six ideologies are the key ones that were identified from reading black political history and thought. There is nothing sacred about the number six. Many other commentators have identified two or three separate ideologies. My examination of the historical record identified three that could be clearly viewed as liberal ideologies. Other scholars' categorizations will surely differ from mine. Black liberal ideologies have been present within black political thought since before the founding of the nation. The language of the founding was adapted to black political needs. As will soon be detailed, I have identified three important liberal ideological strands. Just as important as liberal ideologies are the ideological challenges to liberalism that have emerged from black politics. The oldest challenge to black liberalism comes from black nationalism. To a people subjugated on the basis of their race, an ideology based on racial liberation that tended to cast the enemy also in racial terms provided a certain persistent attraction. Other challenges to liberalism were based on ideologies which had their roots in the intersections of race and gender, on one hand, and race and class on the other. This categorization of black ideologies loses much of the richness that they have had historically. This reduction in richness is a necessary feature of the process of abstraction, which allows us to better analyze broad historical patterns and the effect of black ideologies on contemporary public opinion. Some of the richness of these ideologies is hinted at in the following chapters. Short preliminary descriptions are provided now to give readers an overview of the ideological landscape.

Radical Egalitarianism

The radical egalitarian ideology typifies the optimistic phase of such important African-American intellectuals and activists as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, the pre-1930 Du Bois, and the pre-1967 Martin Luther King Jr.


Excerpted from Black Visions: the Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies by Michael C. Dawson Copyright © 2001 by Michael C. Dawson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction: The Contours of Black Political Thought
2. Black Ideologies and Black Public Opinion
3. Visions of a Black Nation: Black Nationalism and African-American Political Thought
4. A Vision of Their Own: Identity and Black Feminist Ideology
5. Black and Red: Black Marxism and Black Liberation
6. A Vision of Freedom Larger Than America Is Prepared to Accept? The Diverse Shades of Black Liberalism
7. Conclusion: The Future Evolution of Black Political Thought, Black Politics, and American Political Thought

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