- African American Contributions to the Americas’ Cultures: A Critical Edition of Lectures by Alain Locke by Jacoby Adeshei Carter
Jacoby Adeshei Carter. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
Jacoby Adeshei Carter has done an invaluable service in editing this critical edition of Alain Leroy Locke’s series of six lectures in Haiti delivered “from April 9 to July 10, 1943, when he was the Inter-American Exchange Professor to Haiti under the joint auspices of the American Committee for Inter-American Artistic and Intellectual Relations and the Haitian Ministry of Education” (1). African American Contributions to the Americas’ Cultures consists of two parts. The first part is Locke’s series of six lectures entitled “The Negro’s Contribution to the Culture of the Americas.” The second part is Carter’s critical interpretative essay on Locke’s lectures entitled “‘Like Rum in the Punch’: The Quest for Cultural Democracy.” In what follows, I summarize each of the six lectures from Locke, and then argue for the plausibility of Carter’s interpretation of Locke’s philosophy of race as a form of racial [End Page 117] eliminativism. Along the way, I will explain how Locke’s conception of race in the early 1940s can be understood from the perspective of contemporary philosophy of race.
In the first lecture of Locke’s “The Negro’s Contribution to the Culture of the Americas,” Locke discusses how the notion of cultural democracy promotes the integration of many diverse national cultures “into a richer and harmonious pattern of a composite civilization” (14). He identifies this composite civilization and its accompanying philosophy of cultural pluralism with the “only fully democratic notion of culture and the only realistic and safe concept of nationality” available to the people of the Americas (14). This is the theoretical lens Locke uses to view and understand the cultural hybridity of American identities and how Afrodescendant people have contributed to the cultural diversity of the Americas (15). In the second lecture, Locke explains how social science research into African history and cultures, as well as into the African heritage in cultures throughout the Americas, has given Afrodescendant people reasons to be proud of their racial heritage. This research has also given the nations of the Americas scientifically informed reasons to help redress the detrimental effects of Western colonialism on the African continent (39–40).
In the next three lectures, Locke concentrates on the contributions that Afrodescendant people have made in North America. In the third lecture, Locke explains the significance of Afrodescendant people in developing and influencing North American culture. In the fourth lecture, Locke explains the sociological position that Afrodescendant people have in the United States. He notes how the socioeconomic problems faced by the Afrodescendant population in the United States are not unique to them. Rather, these problems are specific instances of socioeconomic problems faced by many other groups in the United States, especially in the southern United States (59). Locke thinks that the root of these problems is social and economic inequality, which can be ameliorated through concerted efforts by government interventions and by improved democratic institutions (62–70, esp. 70–71). In the fifth lecture, Locke provides his audience with an encyclopedic introduction to African American contributions to literature, the arts, labor and social activism, religion, and the social and natural sciences in the United States. Locke ends his series of lectures with a lecture on the influence that Afrodescendant people have had on the three Americas: South (Latin) America, the Caribbean, and North America. He ends that lecture with a brief exploration of what Afrodescendant people’s identities will look like when the British-influenced model of race (in which racial identities are assigned [End Page 118] to people based on their ancestry and, to a lesser extent, their recent ancestors’ nationality) is combined with the Latin American conception of race (in which racial identities are not ancestral-based, but are fluid, hybrid identities) (100–02).
Carter’s critical interpretative essay explains how Locke made several contributions to a pluralistic Inter-American philosophical outlook in his 1943 lectures, decades before a...