- Being Apart: Theoretical and Existential Resistance in Africana Literature by Larose T. Parris
Larose Parris’s Being Apart: Theoretical and Existential Resistance in Africana Literature faithfully follows in the footsteps of the discursive and disruptive works it discusses. Focusing on the works of seminal Africana thinkers such as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Frantz Fanon, and Kamau Brathwaite, Being Apart simultaneously reveals and extends their counter-hegemonic legacies. Aptly titled, Being Apart is a text that critically explores and contends with issues of ostracization. At its crux, the title itself connotes the ostracized ontological and epistemic positionality of Africana peoples as historically defined by a hegemonic confluence of racist Western discourses. Additionally, “being apart” connotes the intellectual ostracization of Africana thinkers from the canons of Western thought and the attendant ostracization of Africana studies from curricula devoted to the study of said thought. In response, Being Apart constitutes a text whose title serves as a trope for its author’s efforts to duly situate and appreciate Africana thought within the domains of Western discourse in virtue of the ways in which it duly situates Africana people in relation to Western history, Western thought, and Western society.
Parris begins Being Apart by foregrounding Enlightenment discourses of scientific racism and the power dynamics that gave rise to them. Describing these discourses as a “protracted attack on African people’s humanity and historicality” (1), she highlights the way the resulting re-creation of the African into an ahistorical tertium quid was necessitated and precipitated by the Western practice of African enslavement. Unable to reconcile itself to the inhumanity of its pernicious system of subjugation, the Western hegemonic order reconfigured African identity in ways that suited its purposes. Moreover, as Parris writes, “The African’s distorted character came to be embodied in the figure of the Negro, the enslaved beast of burden whose presence came to define the boundaries of Enlightenment racial science, while establishing the perimeters of subhumanity and the anti-African trajectory of Western hegemonic discourse” (2). Situating Africana thinkers and their works within the historiographical, philosophical, and political contexts of this racist reconfiguration, Parris joins the chorus of scholars who hail such figures as progenitors of a counterhegemonic alternative epistemology. More particularly, however, she contends that collectively, many of these figures not only contest racist Western theory, they also effectively reinvigorate it by recasting it, redeploying it, and concretizing it in ways that are much more ontologically and phenomenologicallly attuned, and therewith relevant.
Schematically, Being Apart maps out three different modes of the discursive practices of African negation that animate and perpetuate multiple forms of racist and Eurocentric Western domination. Namely, it delineates these discursive practices as, “the erasure of ancient Africa’s role in the development of classical civilization; the transmogrification of the African into the bestial Negro slave; and the denial of chattel slavery’s import to the growth of modern Western capitalism and empire” (8). Collectively, these discursive negations effectively deny the historicity and humanity of Africana peoples and relegate them to the proverbial state and status of being apart—a state and status that Parris then summarily defines as “the historical, ontological, and epistemological peripheralization of [End Page 395] African people and Africana knowledge production in the West during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries” (8).
With the stage thus set, Being Apart delves into the counterhegemonic import of three different yet overlapping dyads of Africana thinkers. In chapter one, Parris highlights David Walker and Frederick Douglass as early exemplars of the black vindicationist tradition. Fundamentally, both Walker and Douglass astutely recognize the way in which the institution of slavery is firmly rooted in the erasure African civilization and the concomitant negation of African humanity. In response, both Walker and Douglass distinguish themselves as avid students of history who confound the efforts to historically and ontologically ostracize Africana people by calling attention to various Western authorities and sources that trace their lineage to the widely hailed cradle of Western civilization itself, namely, the...