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boundary 2 28.3 (2001) 207-216

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Beside the Two Camps:
Paul Gilroy and the Critique of Raciology

Ronald A. T. Judy

Book Reviewed: Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2000). This work is cited parenthetically.

The scholarly work that has been done in the past few years under what is now commonly called “the African Diaspora” has been breathtaking in its volume. The scope and dynamic of this work may well have exceeded even the expectations of George Shepperson, who had offered up the possibility of such a subfield of historical work named African Diaspora some thirty years ago. Still, the work, on the whole, remains true to Shepperson’s notion that the study of people of African descent dispersed outside the continent of Africa needs to focus on the search for their commonalities in order to discern a common cultural mind. The perpetual impulse of African Diaspora studies is to determine how much African culture was retained by diverse groups designated as being of African descent through the violent process of enslavement that took place over nearly four hundred years. Beside the presumption of capitalist slavery as common beginning, a pronounced feature of African Diaspora studies is the proclivity to take up the question of [End Page 207] whether there is an authentically African intelligence. Given the extreme diversity of cultural forms among the designated groups round the world, the principle has become that of identification. The presumptive question being addressed by these studies is: In what terms is a particular diaspora expression recognized as a so-called authentic transmittable cultural experience, identified with what is supposed to be a general African intelligence? Such a formulation of the problem of general and particular intelligence in terms of authentic cultural experience, however, is indicative of the extent to which the anthropological understanding of human intelligence has achieved ascendancy in the humanities these days.

The bulk of the work in African Diaspora studies has been in the fields of history, anthropology, and ethnography. Taking the noteworthy book by Vincent Bakpetu Thompson, The Making of the African Diaspora in the Americas: 1441–1900 (1987), as a standard of reference, there is little doubt that African Diaspora studies has acquired the coherence and weight of a distinct scholarly field. Recent examples of some of the best of this work are The African Diaspora, edited by Alusine Jalloh and Stephen E. Maizlish (1996); Africans in the Americas: A History of the Black Diaspora, edited by Michael L. Conniff and Thomas J. Davis (1994); and The Black Diaspora, by Ronald Segal (1995). These are rich descriptive analyses that seek to gather—with the explicit presumption that it is a regathering—as much of the particularities of diverse African-descent communities abroad to support the claim for cultural commonality, if not continuity.

In spite of this impressive effort, however, we still have no adequate gauge or measure for determining a definitive relation between particular and general intelligence, except that of blood, or race. The presiding thought has two basic presumptions. One is biological. That is, that biology somehow determines cultural expression. Supporting this presumption is a further presumption that certain phenotypic resemblances indicate natural genetic groupings. This is a very old idea, one that was first given systematic form in the Modern period by the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He did this in order to explain that although environment (nature) was paramount in determining that specific genotypes would express specific phenotypes suited to the geographic conditions, once the genotype had been established in antiquity, the phenotypic characteristics would only be genetically transmitted, regardless of any change in environmental conditions. Being a proponent of monogenesis, and so holding the view of a single origin of the species, Kant’s point was to offer a scientific explanation for why black people stayed black despite being in Europe and [End Page 208] the Americas for hundreds of years, and why whites did not come to physically resemble either blacks or American Indians...


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pp. 207-216
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