In a letter to Janet Vaillant, his biographer, Léopold Sédar Senghor declared that Négritude is not an essence but an existence, in the language of Jean Paul Sartre, or a phenomenon, to use a concept from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Senegalese poet and philosopher was thus responding to the criticism that Négrtitude is simply an essentialism. To say that Négritude is a phenomenon is to say that it is a movement that unfolded through contradictions, reappraisals, palinodes, and reformulations. Both Aimé Césaire and Senghor have insisted that far from being the racialist exaltation of a Black essence, Négritude aims at what Immanuel Wallerstein has called a truly universal universalism. The present essay examines the meaning of Négritude as existence and pursuit of the universal.

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