The issue of black identity

24 Feb

This was originally a sociology paper but I’m publishing it here.

Throughout John T. McCartney’s academic book, Black Power Ideologies: An essay in African-American thought, there is one major issue to stem from this writing, but this issue isn’t always out front, but imbedded in the arguments. That issue is the question of black identity: are they Americans, Africans, Christians, Muslims,  neither of these or multiple types of these identity? The debate over this question continues throughout the whole book and seems to perplex others.

The issue of black identity and how blacks identify others is one that is important in terms of American identity and the rich cultural history of struggle in America. Also, since blacks have “have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people” according to a centuries old account by Islamic philosopher Ibn Battuta, this phenonmenon interests me. What further fascinated me was the diversity of thoughts. The colonization movement of the 17th and 18th century put forward the idea of having a seperate black nation in Africa, saying blacks should identify more with Africa and America, because of the future that god destined for them, to escape slavery, to bring “Christian Civilization” to the continent, to regenerate Africa and avoid economic depression in the United States. Abolitionists on the other hand believed in legal and political equality for blacks. Legalists on the other hand, including Frederick Douglass, said that blacks are legally citizens of the United States and are entitled to all rights and privileges of such citizens. Moralists believed that blacks shared common traits with other races, not being inferior or brutish as Social Darwinists suggest. Douglass, belonging to both schools, preached the assimilation of blacks into American life, and that race was only as secondary element of racial identity. Later, Marcus Garvey looked at the second-class status, blacks had under Jim Crow laws in the South, but he bucked the general belief of most blacks, that America was their homeland by saying Africa was their homeland, while creating their own nation. At the same time, black nationalist Noble Drew Ali wanted blacks to become Muslim and seperate themselves from whites. This was different from Martin Luther King who use enlightenment principles and said people had god-given rights, and that blacks should lift up themselves from poverty nonviolently. As for black power as a whole, there were a number of different approaches to black identity, depending on their views of society. People like Stokely Carmichael would think blacks have “the right to create our own terms…to define ourselves.” Another group, led by Huey Newton, say that blacks needed to be “liberated” from capitalism and create the stage for a more humane America through black communities. On another side, Shirley Chisolm said that the black minority has failed to gain full citizenship despite the Civil Rights Movement. Charles Hamilton on the other hand argues for integration of blacks balance power with whites, or the whole of society will be ruined. These views differ from Elijah Muhammad who believes blacks are a member of the Shabazz tribe, a part of the “original” black nation. In light of the colonization, abolitionist, Civil Rights and black power movements, it seems black identity is entering a new stage. Between debate about wjay to call themselves, based on the influence of cultural norms and skin color, the question of where black identity goes from here is interesting enough.

Since sociology is simply the study of society, the concept expressed in this book of black identity is key to that. Blacks are key aspect of American society through different jobs, their position in the political system and the presidency is key. Since blacks are struggling to maintain their voting rights and some survive in tough economic times, their identity affects the country as a whole. In a time when they are still a “minority,” this affects their outlook to overall society and how they act in a given area overall.

There are many strengths and weaknesses of this book. The author does a good job at presenting the differing views on black identity. However, the book seems to just have his views rather than the views of other writers. This book seems to value the opinions of blacks more than those of whites, mainly radical white activists, who may share views with those that are radical black activists. In other words, what I’m saying is, since he wrote the book, the lack of differing authors for every chapter makes it less interesting and interactive for the reader.

If I could ask the author a question, it wold be tough to think of one. But there is one thing that irks me: how did our views and background affect the book you wrote? This would be important to gain some context. This question would also help to understand the opinions behind the book overall. Overall, I would say the idea of black identity was adequately addressed in the book.

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