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  • In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America
  • Kimberly J. Banks
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. 208 pp. $25.00.

In a Shade of Blue is Glaude's latest effort to refine the way we discuss racial identity, African American historical narratives, and the formation of black publics. The phrase "in a shade of blue" describes the difference a consideration of racial apartheid and white supremacy make in the interpretation of pragmatism. If the blues have been a way to describe the way African Americans have negotiated a life and nation that regarded us as nameless nobodies, they have also provided a way to assert ourselves as somebodies with many names. In the context of black liberation theology, Glaude explains, "we become self-determining agents insofar as we see ourselves as children of a just God: the existential state of nobodiness so central to the practices of white supremacy is denied and a sense of somebodiness is affirmed. Here God talk echoes, and justifies, the politics of transvaluation so central to the black power era" (76). Glaude focuses on the importance of the narratives we construct about our experiences as African Americans. Narratives by creative writers about African American experiences help Glaude emphasize various ways of formulating such experiences. Glaude elaborates on what he means by a "shade of blue" through Toni Morrison's Beloved. In Baby Suggs's discovery of "the nastiness of life," she retreats from her communal role as "Baby Suggs, holy." Because of and despite such retreat she is able to speak in spirit to her granddaughter, and in response to Denver's hesitation, "you said there was no defense," she answers, "Know it. But go on out the yard. Go on."

Such engagements in the world, because of and in spite of experiences with slavery and white supremacy, lead to a new understanding of political action and democracy. Glaude uses epigraphs from John Dewey's work throughout his book, but two take on central importance. One discusses the remedy for "the ills of democracy" in "the idea itself." The second indicates how "every generation has to accomplish democracy over again for itself … in terms of needs, problems, and conditions of social life." The first epigraph from Dewey focuses on the conditions which make philosophy useful. Glaude teases out this idea in chapter three where he explains that "[T]o the extent that we generate the foresight to anticipate future consequences in our present doings and sufferings, we engage in intelligent activity. [Dewey] therefore rejects the notion that 'the past exclusively counts.' Experience, for Dewey, is prospective; it is as much about projection and anticipation as it is about recollection and memory. For example, Sethe cannot let go of the past; it haunts her. However, there comes a time when forgetting becomes more important than remembering, when action and growth can only be achieved through forgetting" (85). Other epigraphs elaborate on this characterization of Dewey's work through references to "best intelligence," "existing self" and "future self," a declaration of partnership in genesis, and the supremacy and realizability of the good and a life of virtue. As Glaude builds a foundation for understanding pragmatism in the first chapter, he notes Cornel West's critique of Dewey's failure to account for evil. Glaude also notes Hilary Putnam's critique of Dewey's moral theory, specifically how two moral beliefs are not to be resolved but give rise to conflicting and contradictory action.

Glaude builds on Nietzsche's theoretical explanations of history: the monumental, antiquarian, and critical approaches. He defines two general approaches to black identity: archeological and pragmatic historicist. Archeological historical projects are ultimately monumental in nature. He explains, "The conception of the self informing these projects is often fixed, an unchanging reference for deliberation. Given this premise, either one acts like a true black person—one who understands who she is—or one doesn't. It is not really possible to experience genuine conflict or uncertainty about how one should act as a black person; all the distinctions have already been made...


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pp. 190-191
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