Critique of Black Reason
Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is coeditor of Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, also published by Duke University Press, and the author of On the Postcolony as well as several books in French.
Laurent Dubois is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History and Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.
Difference and Self-Determination
Black discourse in literature, philosophy, the arts, or politics is the appropriation of the ideology of cultural difference. Slavery, colonialism, and apartheid dominated Black discourse. From the fifteenth century on, mercantile reason was driven by liberalist expansion and the accumulation of wealth and merchandise. Within liberal democracies the Black slave was paradoxically stripped of humanity, and so rights, yet upheld as a material energy, both desired and feared. Across the nineteenth century, racist hierarchies enforced “natural” distinctions between Blacks and White Europeans. Over time, the African sign shifted meanings, from fundamental difference, to a being-apart, to the possibility of assimilation. Yet Pan-Africanism, Negritude, and anticolonial movements as well as anthropology and geography, the latter of which increasingly equated Blackness with Africanness, insisted on race as the basis of cobelonging. African identities, as doubled and contingent, can be understood only in relation to the continent’s responses to Judeo-Christianity and Islam.