restricted access 2. Black Ethos and the Rhetoric of Pan-Africa
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33 C h a p t e r 2 Black Ethos and the Rhetoric of Pan-Africa In the previous chapter, I sketched a history of imperialism and identified the politics and cultural practices with which colonialism operates. I argued that colonialist practices were founded on the belief that cultures were distinct and that commerce between them occurred through diffusion. According to the diffusionist paradigm, a more developed “metropolitan” culture always existed at the spatial “center” of world-historical narratives. Cultures on the periphery evolved to higher stages of civilization through imitation of the metropole. In return, the periphery supplied the metropole with raw goods like labor or natural resources. In economic terms, this relationship was asymmetrical, because the manufactured goods that were exported from the metropole, like rum, had more value than the raw materials that were imported, such as sugar. Culturally, the export of Christianity and Western civilization to a pagan and “uncivilized” periphery figured in a similar equation. Because of the asymmetry inherent in this relationship, metropolitan cultures often viewed its commerce with the periphery in terms of national sacrifice . This sense of a sacrifice was heightened by the common belief that the periphery carried with it the danger of contamination; thus, colonial policies manipulated intercourse between discrete cultural spaces in an effort to keep them separate. In this chapter, I introduce a second context, a discursive scene that outlines the role of diffusionist assumptions in the expression of black nationality in the early years of the twentieth century. The scope and purpose of this chapter make impossible a comprehensive history of Black 34 Ch apt er 2 Nationalism or of how and when characterization of Africa has appeared in black public address generally.1 Regardless, such a survey would not giveadequatecriticalpurchaseontheparticularrhetoricthatshapedblack identity at the outset of the twentieth century. Equally important, many prominent themes in this rhetorical history, especially the tropes and arguments that were most significant in the nineteenth century, reached their maturity at the beginning of the twentieth century, resounding most loudly and persuasively in the voices of black leaders. The point of this chapter is not to indict black rhetoric for fanciful or regressive interpretations of Africa as has Tunde Adeleke.2 Adeleke’s argument, that nineteenth-century African American activists not only employed colonialist assumptions when they imagined Africa but also that they were complicit in colonialist policies, is deeply problematic in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it ignores the fundamentally dialogic nature of pan-Africanism. In contrast, Wilson Jeremiah Moses’s groundbreaking Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History appreciates the complexity of pan-Africanism and its negotiation of diverse, sometimes conflicting, ideological positions and cultural traditions. However, Moses’s intellectual history does not focus on the connection between this cultural work and its political contexts and rhetorical effects. Throughout the nineteenth century, elements of African culture persevered in black America through personal memories and cultural practices that endured slavery and racist policies.3 This heritage and the twin colonial projects to de-Africanize African America and to manipulate African culture encouraged black Americans to invoke and revalue Africa in early expressions of black identity.4 However, as the principle of diffusion structured the modern nation, it also shaped how many New World Africans expressed the character of black public community.5 Black rhetoric during this period confronted, configured, and conformed to the principle of diffusion as it interpreted Africa and its diaspora. In the early years of the twentieth century Africa’s role in black identity underwent fundamental change in its tenor and scope. W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey were at the forefront of this transformation, and their debate about Africa and its diaspora uniquely influenced black culture and politics. This chapter analyzes the rhetoric of Du Bois and Garvey’s arguments about the nature of Africa and how it should matter for black people in diaspora. I argue that, through their public pronouncements Black Ethos and the Rhetoric of Pan-Africa 35 about Africa, Du Bois and Garvey tried to craft a new “sense of place” for black people in which Africa was central; in so doing, they encouraged their audiences to understand black identity as performed in an international arena. This new perspective shifted the circumference of black experience away from the political borders created by white supremacy— indeed, away from the traditional boundaries that demarcate a state. Yet, despite this progressive frame, their rhetoric also reproduced the...


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Race identity -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Attitudes -- History -- 20th century.
  • African diaspora.
  • Anti-imperialist movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • American prose literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Haiti -- History -- American occupation, 1915-1934 -- Social aspects.
  • Labor movement -- Liberia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1936 -- Social aspects.
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