The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 18.2 (2004) 118-128
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Politics, Racial Solidarity, Exodus!
In this paper I explore the issue of racial solidarity through a detailed engagement with Eddie Glaude's Exodus! (2000; hereafter Ex.), a substantial and timely contribution to the study of African American political thought and practice. Like some of the recent writing of political philosopher Tommie Shelby, Exodus! is a subtle attempt to reconceptualize the possibility of African American political solidarity amidst the remnants of racial domination affecting post-Civil Rights America and in the wake of the demise of plausible appeals to an "essential black subject," an expression that Glaude borrows from Stuart Hall and Cornel West (Shelby 2002, 231-66). As will become apparent, I strongly sympathize with the central thrust of Glaude's argument and, specifically, with his defense of a pragmatist notion of black solidarity. I shall contend, however, that Glaude's approach to racial solidarity is not pragmatic enough, precisely because the myth of the essential black subject still haunts it, its claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
My essay divides into two parts, the first of which is a reconstruction of Glaude's conceptual "mapping" of African American politics. There, I analyze the key distinctions animating Glaude's defense of a pragmatist, or "common problems," notion of black racial solidarity. In the second part, I explore some of the implications of Glaude's views for an engagement with the political thought of the early W. E. B. DuBois, echoes of which may still be heard in contemporary discussions of race in America, and for a reconsideration of Frederick Douglass's contributions to African American political philosophy. In particular, I maintain that Douglass's second autobiography presents a picture of black racial solidarity that, while race conscious, avoids Glaude's residual essentialism.
Part 1: Glaude's Conceptual Map
Glaude's conceptual mapping of African American politics involves four distinctions. The first is the distinction between a pragmatist notion of racial solidarity and a cultural nationalist, or "organic," notion of the same; the second is [End Page 118] between political and cultural conceptions of the black nation; the third is a distinction between two different inflections of the politics of respectability—on one hand, "the privatization of discrimination," on the other hand, "immanent conversation";the fourth and final distinction is between an insurrectionary politics and what Glaude calls a "soul craft politics."
Cultural Nationalism or Pragmatism?
I begin with the distinction between cultural nationalist and pragmatist ideas of racial solidarity. According to Glaude, the cultural nationalist holds "that there is a specific form of life that binds black people to one another in the United States and throughout the world" (Ex., 12). While some cultural nationalists tend to take the position that this form of life manifests a biologically inherited racial essence, others insist simply that it is "deep-rooted, if not biologically grounded" (Ex., 13). For the cultural nationalist, the form of life that unites all black people is an expressive totality (a phrase Althusser made famous with his criticism of Hegel), a many-faceted culture (defined by common memories, beliefs, forms of art and religion, and so forth) that expresses in each of its facets the same underlying organic, racial specificity. On this view, which is a racialized version of political expressivism,1 black political solidarity stems from black peoples' embeddedness in the culture they share in common (Ex., 12-13). Mutatis mutandis, one can easily imagine similarly expressivist forms of chauvinistic, ethnic nationalism, where the idea of an organic, ethnic specificity serves the same political theoretical function as that of an organic, racial specificity.
The pragmatist notion of racial solidarity eschews the cultural nationalist belief that there is something deep-rooted and organic that binds black people together. For the pragmatist, black political solidarity is a function of the common problems faced by similarly situated African Americans. Endorsing the pragmatist view, Glaude argues that "it is the common problem that necessitates conjoint action, actions that may vary, given the different conceptions of the good that animate...