Books Read in 2016: November

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Birth of a Dreamweaver. New York: New Press, 2016.

The third installment covers Ngugi’s time at Makerere covers the moment his writing takes off, a moment–the dawn of African independence movements– pregnant with possibility.

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

Everyone has already reviewed this, I can only add that it helps us see what modernity has meant for us and our families, the ones whose names we might never know.


Books Read in 2016: October

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir. London: Harvill and Secker, 2012.

Second volume of Ngugi’s memoir, focusing on his secondary (colonial) education.

Gloria Naylor, Bailey’s Cafe. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

The recently transitioned Gloria Naylor’s fourth novel is set in the early half of the 20th century and features an ensemble cast produced by its vagaries.

On The Black Radical Tradition, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, HBCUs and African Liberation Struggles

Some recent discussions of which I was fortunate to part on the various ways we can think differently about liberation and its cultural and international dimensions with the Africa World Now Project and RGB Live.

“Understanding the Black Radical Tradition,” RBG Live, May 11, 2016

“The Enduring Rhythm of Ngugi wa Thiong’o,” Africa Now, July 6, 2016

“Role of Black Universities in African World Resistance,” Africa World Now Project, September 21, 2016

Books Read in 2016: September

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. London: Harvill Secker, 2010.

The first memoir of a set that expands this October, exploring Gikuyu life and traditions and the meaning of coming of age in settler colonial Kenya.

Alvin Tillery, Between Homeland to Motherland: Africa, U.S. Foreign Policy, and Black Leadership in America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Attempts to demonstrate that elites from various Black political tendencies shaped foreign policy interests to conform to domestic interests rather than transnational ones.


Lecture Notes: On Modernity

A student query sparked the following thoughts. A rough transcription of it: “How did you come to study the phenomena that were not actually about the diaspora, given that your Ph.D. is in Africana Studies?” It was a great segue into our discussion of the text we are currently studying: Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983).

Significations of “modern” tend to operate as shorthand for a sense of the now, the current, the present. These ideas stand in for a philosophy of history that renders all movement as progressive. Together, these thoughts render the modern as progressive. And in so doing, they obscure the fact of the modernity; what Cedric Robinson calls the “process” of “Africa’s transmutation” and the creation of the Negro. The destruction of Africa’s past required the Negro—what Aime Cesaire characterized as thingification.[1] European modernity needed things. And “things,” they therefore believed, were required to generate them from the grounds, from the oceans— from the enclosures they called the “New World.”

Robinson’s Black Marxism also shows that this rendering of the African, this conception of the Negro was not always a feature of the consciousness of those who inhabited the West Asian peninsula. It is reminder that everything that we think is normal, has a historical process, one that we have to comprehend in order to really make sense of the quotidian: “…one’s sense of the past is so often conceptually distorted by a consciousness whose natural world of things and relationships is the present…” (82).

“Race” connoted both a historical process and a characteristic feature of European consciousness. It is modernity’s epistemology. “Europe” was the manifestation of a racial logic that was now being transported. For the African, Robinson argues, their transmutation occurred over a thousand year period, featuring the creation of the idea of Portugal, the religious wars that organized European identities as “Christian,” the labor shortages which required the use of both Christian and non-Christian others, the development of Western philosophy from Arabic translations, and the Age of Discovery (see Chapters 4-5). Each of these moments attached “fictive” racial meanings to progress. They quickly hardened into realities. In order to produce the Negro, her history, culture, and civilization were negated. She became a thing.

These imaginations were produced by those also responsible for the project of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and other developments that fed the flowering of the modern. Today, modern may stand in for progress, but its hidden meaning is that Europe—a real fiction—sets that standard that guides what is, and what can be: “The architects of European consciousness had begun the construction of that worldview that presumed the basic structure of other than European societies was at its foundation a European structure, that the moral, ideological, and spiritual scaffold of these societies was the same bottom structure discernible in European culture, that the measure of mankind was indeed European” (99). As the Negro was imagined, the world beyond Europe—perhaps most pertinently, inclusive of the “New World”—became understood in “Eurocentric terms” (98).

So it would seem that modernity cannot be deracialized. Colorblindness is a useful fiction that obscures the racial normativity at the heart of the national projects of the West.[2] Enslavement was not an immoral blot, on an otherwise moral system. The entire system that structured and benefitted from enslavement—that is, the modern world—was perhaps immoral. At least that was what the fact of Black resistance implied. For Robinson and other thinkers, Black freedom was the total rejection of the entirety of the modern world system—the system that had tried, but was unsuccessful, in creating the Negro. Africans resisted. Richard Iton asks: “If modernity, that bundle of cultural, political, philosophical, and technological, iterations and reiterations of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution, “requires an alterity,” as Michel-Rolph Trouillot suggests, if it implies and requires antonymic and problematic others—if it, to put it bluntly, needs “the nigger”—can those constituted and marginalized in this manner viably challenge their circumstances without questioning the logic and language of their exclusion?”[3]

Perhaps the “historical archaeology of the Black radical tradition” can offer the best answer.




[1] See his Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press, 2001).

[2] See Nikhil Pal Singh, Black is a Country (Harvard, 2005).

[3] In Search of the Black Fantastic (Oxford, 2008), 13.