Africa in Du Bois’s Philosophy of Race

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QUEST: An African Journal of Philosophy / Revue Africaine de Philosophie XIX: 47-76

AFRICA IN DU BOIS’S PHILOSOPHY OF RACE by Teodros Kiros

RESUME: La philosophie systématique du racisme est un concept sous-développé dans la philosophie moderne. Dans cet article je présente une articulation rigoureuse et soutenue d’une philosophie du racisme dans les travaux de Du Bois. En présentant un architectonic du concept racial, comme l’a décrit Du Bois, les travaux de certains lecteurs de Du Bois d’aujourd’hui sont incorporés dans ce text comme Anthony Appiah et Cornel West. Cet article tente de présenter une philosophie du racisme Du Boisienne pour la première fois. MOTS CLE: Appiah (Anthony), le concept racial, West (Cornel), Du Bois (W.E.B.), philosophie systématique du race ABSTRACT: A systematic philosophy of race is an undertheorized concept in modern philosophy. In this paper I attempt to present a rigorous and sustained articulation of a philosophy of race in the works of Du Bois. In the process of presenting an architectonic of the race concept, as Du Bois called it, I engage the works of some contemporary readers of Du Bois, such as Anthony Appiah and Cornel West. This paper seeks to present Du Boisian philosophy of Race for the first time. KEY WORDS: Appiah (Anthony), Du Bois (W.E.B.), race concept, systematic philosophy of race, West (Cornel)

Introduction Variously described as the greatest African-American thinker of the twentieth century, Du Bois has recently commanded the attention of high profile modern thinkers. Ever since the arrival of Africana philosophy on the philosophical landscape, new readings of Du Bois’ vast work are fast appearing. A very recent striking example is that Philosophia Africana devoted its fascinating August 2004 issue to Du Bois, with some remarkable new readings – with Edward J. Blum reinterpreting the role of religion as the power which existentially enabled slaves and others to sustain the savagery of racism in America, as forcefully present in The Souls of Black Folk; Babacar © 2005 QUEST: An African Journal of Philosophy / Revue Africaine de Philosophie – ISSN 1011-226 for reprinting, anthologising, reproduction, subscriptions, back issues, submission of articles, and directions for authors: http://www.quest-journal.net

Teodros Kiros

M’Baye resituating Africa as backwards and in need of enlightenment in the narratives of W.E. Du Bois; Jonathon S. Kahn giving an inventive interpretation of “a new religious ideal” in The Souls of Black Folk; Jason Young arguing that Du Bois’s dream was the cultivation of a new modern man cleansed of the legacies of the past, and finally, Sandra l. Staton –Taiwo examining the effects of Cooper on The Souls of Black Folk. Indeed, Du Bois scholarship is rising to new heights again. Among the luminaries is Lewis Gordon, a leading Du Bois scholar, and the first who excavated an existentialist foregrounding to Du Bois complicated race concept, by arguing that: “Du Bois did not write about being Black but about its meaning. He announced a hermeneutical turn that would delight even his most zealous philosophical successors… The black, subject to interpretation, becomes a designation that could be held by different groups at different times and as such is both concrete and metaphorical” (Existentia Africana, New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 63).

Anthony Bogues, a leading Africana Political theorist, sees an originary heretic in Du Bois, who along with C.L.R. James were masters of the Western canon but also saw its radical limitations. As Bogues put it: “If many radical critiques of modernity focused on questions of exploitation, human alienation, and politics as involving issues of political obligation, sovereign self, and citizenship, the works of black radical theorists like James and Du Bois shift our gaze to questions of domination, oppression, and politics as a practice of freedom. They offer a different optic on the possibilities of human...
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