Race matters: cosmopolitanism, Afropolitanism, and Pan-Africanism via Edward Wilmot Blyden.

Author:Sterling, Cheryl
Position:Essay
 
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"... the time of slavery negates the common-sense intuition of time as continuity or progression, then and now coexist; we are coeval with the dead" (Hartman, "Time of Slavery" 759)

Blakk wi blak, we nay tun back/ Blakk wi blak, we under attack (Mutabaruka, Blakk wi blak..k..k)

We are at the point in which the concept of "race" has undergone radical rethinking. Resulting from scientific breakthroughs in recent scholarship, race-based theorizing, as well as race identification, is seen as outdated thinking that limits the advancement to a post-ethnic, deracinated future--a cosmopolitan ideal. Yet, "Black Lives Matter" has become the slogan for the recent sets of rallies against police brutality. So it seems that racial identities are still very much de rigueur in the real world, and academicians, once again, present a position that totally contradicts actuality. Public empathy against this post-millenium violence on Black bodies visibly shifted in the wake of Travyvon Martin's death, but it took the concentrated deaths of 11 people in 2014 alone, (1) the most well-known being Eric Garner (age 46), Michael Brown (age 18), Akai Gurley (age 28), and Tamir Rice (age 12), for the acknowledgment of the sustainability of what DuBois termed the color line. Successive movements from abolitionism, anti-lynching campaigns, civil rights and its local anti-segregationist missions, to what many lauded as its teleological end, the election of the first Black president, all gave hope for this deracinated future. Race is not real, we have been told, and our most renowned cultural and philosophical critics like Paul Gilroy, in Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (2000), and Kwame Anthony Appiah in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), have opined on how continued racialism, perverts humanistic values. The two together share the quest to denaturalize race as a signifier of human difference and its attendant forms of racialism and racism. In previous works, I specifically rebutted Gilroy's against race positionality (Sterling 2012; Sterling 2007). The ubiquity of violence on Black peoples now impels my interrogation of Appiah's concept of cosmopolitanism, as such work is used in academe as a key articulation of an idealized post-race trajectory. Like Gilroy, Appiah's critique of racialized discourses, which admittedly came well before the events outlined here, is not against the sets of historically charged values that continue to condition and define Blacks as perverted and grotesque, that limit social, cultural, economic and transnational access, and make violence against them perfectly natural, but against the use of race as a paradigm in modern day constructs.

With the first election of Barack Obama in 2007, and the celebratory narrative proclaiming the end of racism, we were officially in a post-racial era, activated by coalitions of likeminded peoples, who simultaneously identify within and beyond race, but who collectively sought for the perfectibility of the human experience. Ironically, however, as I made my way to a friend's apartment in Brooklyn to watch the inauguration, a young, tall, good looking Black man, asked me for a swipe on my metrocard, because he could not afford to pay the $2.00 to take the train and dared not risk jumping the turnstile, as he knew that he could end up, if lucky, just face down on the concrete--arrested, and if not so lucky, simply dead. Yet, too, just a month previously in October 2007, right before this first "post-race" election, our leading DNA expert, James D. Watson, stated that Blacks are less intelligent than whites.

While the knowledge gained from mapping the human genome tells us that there is little to no differences between human beings, Watson claimed that testing has shown and the advanced level of testing that would develop in the next 10 years would show that Blacks did not have equal capacity to reason as whites (Milmo). Dr. Watson has apologized for his claims and negated them, but does that signify a real change in his perception or the perception of others influenced enough to see his judgments as true and valid? This begs the question that if a Nobel prize winning scientist continues to recount, affirm, and prolong the racist perceptions undergirding this society, are the inchoate blunderings of a Donald Sterling, the directed vigilantism of a George Zimmerman, or the racist emails of police officers in Ferguson (2) really such aberrant behaviors?

Yes!, race is a social concept and not a biological one, but does this fact eradicate racism or the history of racialism that undergirds it? The sustained violence on Black bodies and the continued modes of economic and social exclusion, tell another story and make issues of race, racialism, and racism, in the past and present, even more valuable to excavate, enumerate, and adumbrate. In the first epigram, Saadiya Hartman states that we are "coeval with the dead," that ancestral time and the now, are one in the articulation of the myriad sustained struggles that began with the transatlantic slave trade. So, it seems, we still have to tell the world and local policing agents that Black lives matter. This article is meant to be an inquiry into the inherent tension in our globalized world, which has and continues to become much more, interactive, integrated, and demographically intertwined, yet persists with the continued sublation of the Black subject. It interrogates Kwame Appiah's concept of cosmopolitanism in relation to Pan-Africanist thought. It analyzes cosmopolitanism's foundational premise as the concept for this new globalized age, and as a continuity of the humanist tradition, in relation to the beginnings of Pan-Africanism and the principles set out by Edward Wilmot Blyden, who even Appiah aptly names as the "father of Pan-Africanism" (Father'sHouse 21). (3)

Hence, my inquiry, by necessity, goes back to 18th and 19th century discourses on/about and from the Black subject. It seems that we are living with the baggage inherited from (post) Enlightenment discourse, its stereotypes of peoples of the world, postures of domination and subordination, ideals of rationality and humanism, that having become codified in whiteness, manifests in what bell hooks terms a "terrorizing imposition" on the Black subject (341). The actuality of terror, especially since it is now conflated with radical Islamists, is never applied to the modalities of Black lives. However, Western man defined himself through a litany of terrible, terroristic, and genocidal acts that were reinforced by his definition of humanism. That Euro-humanism equals terror to the majority of non-white peoples around the world is not explored in the cosmopolitan paradigm.

Appiah's cosmopolitanism, grounded in the collective discourse of humanism and, most particularly, influenced by Kantian strains of thought, must be placed in dialogue with responses by the Black intelligentsia, and Blyden becomes the obvious choice, as his work opens the discourse from the other side of humanist thought, by accessing the strategies of those constructed and oppressed by premises of the transcendence of (white) man and his rational capacity. Through his ideations, Pan-Africanism's globality developed and flourished even despite the suppressed mobility of Black peoples in local and transnational networks, and within a system of averred global insignificance to disrupt and reshape Euro-domination.

When scrutiny is placed on Euro-humanism limitations, in its creation of man in its own image and the specific response of Black peoples to their collective systematic objectification, it opens a field of inquiry in understanding how to conceptualize the present with its reverberations of the past? How does our understanding of both past and present then transform? How does this interplay slip from moments of dialectic tension, to palimpsestic overlaps, to free floating signifiers? And what shifts in our understandings, codifications, taxonomies, stereotypes, meanings and intentions are available in the oeuvre of this time/space, i.e. past/present, now continuum? Too often are we caught in a deux ex machina complex that sees racism as outside of individuals. The institutionalization complexes pioneered by Saussure, Marx, Freud, Nietzche, and Foucault show the existence of systems of knowledge, perception, and being that transcend individuality and singularly, actional behaviors. The choice for individuals was never whether to work within their flows of conditioning, but how to work in these systems for their own betterment or not. With this logic, if a police officer even as a Derridean supplement of a larger social order, is pre-conditioned to conflate blackness and criminality, until s/he understands from where that conditioning derives, how such conditioning is imbedded in our visual and discursive fields, how much of this conditioning affects his/her individual sense perception and leads to faulty logic as truth, and that human difference does not have to be apprehended as deviant, then race continues to matter.

Cosmopolitan vs. Pan-Africanism

In the 18th century bleeding into the 19th, the term cosmopolitan was coterminous with world citizenship as it conferred the title of being a citizen of the cosmos. It signified a moral code and an ideal of being, marked by open-mindedness, impartiality, use of reason and rationality to determine place and positionality in the world. It signified a sense of freedom from religious credo, political authority and dogma; the cosmopolite was unbiased, open to all, devoid of local loyalties, and free from cultural prejudices.

The term was also used to describe a sophisticate, an urbane, learned individual with a love of the arts, of literature, who traveled and enjoyed traveling, who cherished and held a network of social contacts across an international scope, and, by extension, was comfortable everywhere and...

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