Blackness and Modernity

Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 656
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Blackness and Modernity
    Book Description:

    In Blackness and Modernity Foster traces the main philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and mythological arguments that support views of modernity as a failed quest for whiteness. He outlines how these views were implemented as part of a "world history" and shows how Canada became the first country to officially reject this approach by adopting multiculturalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7581-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. xi-xxxviii)

    What do I mean whenI say I amBlack? Does that meaning change when I amcalledBlack or if, tomorrow, I should callyouBlack? What about BlackandCanadian, Black Canadian, and Canadian Blacks – do any of these terms mean a specific and distinct species of humanity within Canada itself, a meaning that is also different in the wider world? And does it matter to this meaning whether I am male or female, straight or gay, if I am being stopped by a police officer or if I am the police officer stopping someone? Does it matter...

    • Section One Blackness and the Quest for Freedom
      • 1 Introduction
        (pp. 5-26)

        This book travels along four main paths to tell its story. The first is to explain how a specific group of people in Canada came to be identified in a positive way, ethno-racially and by assimilation, as Black. The goal is to explain some of the social and political implications of such labelling, as, for these people, their identity of Black and their culture of Blackness place limits around them and take place within a specific ethical relationship and ethos that is multicultural Canada. This labelling is sociological and anthropological in its emphasis on relations and cultures, and is based...

      • 2 Blackness: Method, Differences, Perspective
        (pp. 27-37)

        In moving in the four directions outlined in the previous chapter, this book really attempts two goals: (1) a phenomenological study of Blackness, and (2) an explanation of the existentialism of contingent Blackness. The first would be a re-examination or re-evaluation of the “given” when we think of Black and Blackness, that is, of the norm and common sense attributes. The latter yields intertwined rationalizations of how Blackness exists as multiculturalism, but also of how, as a specific ethno-racial category called Black, Blackness exists within a multiculturalism that is perceived neomythically as ideal Whiteness, that is, as perfection itself. Given...

      • 3 Meaning, Understanding, and Knowing
        (pp. 38-68)

        In the following, I am going to try to give myself intellectual distance from the phenomena that are myself and the world. I want to take the position that as a consciousness I can step out of myself – and acting as a split but rational personality, can leave behind the physical body that has semiotic meaning only within current social interpretation. Intellectually, and constructed as what might be no more than an ego, I want to arrive at a special vantage position from which, through a neo-mythic lens, I can examine my own ethno-racial history and my strategic positioning across...

      • 4 Common Sense Blackness: Existentialism, Epistemology, Ontology
        (pp. 69-84)

        I recall a somewhat rowdy conversation with some friends in Jamaica nearing the end of my post-graduate studies. All of us were somatically Black, of a mature age, and supposedly middle or upper class. The scene was in what was recognized universally as a Black state aiming to become a Black modernist nation. By this I mean that it clearly aspires for what I call idealized Whiteness in this book, but has a somatically non-White population. We were sitting in a restaurant that was frequented mainly by the social elites. More than once, some of us remarked upon the fact...

    • Section Two Theoretical Frameworks
      • 5 Blackness and Goodness: Frameworks of Study
        (pp. 87-113)

        In this chapter, I will present two frameworks for viewing Blackness and its binary other, Whiteness, in what I have been calling Western thought in referring to a peculiar system that is rationally self-contained and has been developing syncretically throughout history. This is a system where we want to know in terms of universals, both in the hope of arriving at synthetic a priori forms of knowledge, but also as a way of explaining that seeming x-factor, the supersensible element that influences ethical relations with different people and groups. This factor is always part of the system, in subjects, objects,...

      • 6 Ideology That Privileges the Somatic
        (pp. 114-138)

        Ideology, according to Terry Eagleton, is “literally, the study or knowledge of ideas; and as such it belongs to the great dreams of eighteenth-century Enlightenment that it might somehow be possible to chart the human mind with the sort of delicate precision with which we can map the motions of the body.”¹ Theories of ideology are attempts to explain why men and women hold certain views and to provide a method for the examination of possible links between the way people think and their social reality.² It is, I shall argue, the glue of the supersensible element, holding together what...

      • 7 Phenomenology, History, and Paradigms
        (pp. 139-163)

        This chapter continues the argument that a rationalist ideology, in thought privileging the neo-mythic register but in action that of the passionate and assimilative ethno-racial register, underpins Western society. This is an understanding of society as both a complete system of its own and as a specific way of finding meaning. Canada and multiculturalism are embedded in and intrinsic to this system, and because, analytically, the two registers are not always reconciled, the system itself contains equivocal notions of Whiteness and Blackness as ways of making sense of daily life. We have accounted for this historical development through Frye’s explanation...

      • 8 Blackness and Speculative Philosophy
        (pp. 164-200)

        What, then, are the ethical lessons that we can learn from this history that leaves us with a future, that is an ethical and epistemological dead end for pure meaning, that is really just another point in a never-ending history predicated on changing determinations on the ethno-racial register? What does this tell us about what we should take with us for our leap into the future – into the epistemological Blackness where we hope to be the ethical Whiteness within this darkness? What should we expect of multiculturalism today, and possibly in the future?

        As Hegel argues, history is humanity’s reassessment...

    • Section Three Blackness – Quest for Whiteness in Western Thought
      • 9 Greek Mythologies and Philosophies
        (pp. 203-213)

        In this the third section of the book, I begin mapping philosophically and sociologically the movements and structural manifestations of the spirit of freedom in the dominant strain that we call Western history. In this way, I will present a path and explanations that allow the self-conscious ego that is reflecting on itself to rationalize that, at the beginning of a new millennium, it is idealistically Black, and that the spirit of the times is trapped in a world that is culturally and somatically Black. First, a quick word on my methodology as it applies to this section.

        To start...

      • 10 The Cunning of Blackness
        (pp. 214-247)

        Every so often, it becomes necessary to see things starkly as Black and White, as a choice philosophically between good and evil. In our time, one such juncture is widely believed to have occurred on 11 September 2001. This was another proverbial day of infamy and Blackness in Western civilization, when socially-constructed evil struck in the guise of terrorists at the symbols of Whiteness and goodness. What happened on this day is a story that explains Blackness in the four categories that we have developed – those of the somatic, cultural, status, and idealistic – and their counterparts for Whiteness. It is...

      • 11 Blackness: Status, Citizenship, Death, and Rebirth
        (pp. 248-276)

        Aristotle argues that by their very nature, humans are, in terms of affectivity and motility, political creatures and must live gregariously to achieve their highest virtues. Idealistically, they can only hope for justice in a civil society and it is only in a civil society that they can expect to achieve happiness, which is the highest good for individuals. For it is by living this way that humans create and share a common good of becoming self-sufficient in their material needs and happy in their spiritual well-being. In such a way, Aristotle claims, is the good of society established, and...

      • 12 Slavery and Death
        (pp. 277-304)

        The next two chapters argue that what we call Western civilization, with its well-developed epistemological concepts of Blackness and Whiteness and of good and evil, is founded on a syncretism of Greek, Hebraic, and African mythologies into mainstream thought. The creolized Christianity that resulted from this mixing would selectively choose to emphasize aspects of ontology, epistemology, and of ethical relations from the three separate mythologies to explain a Christian worldview in which evil was seen as constantly threatening the created good and Blackness as eternally pitted against Whiteness’s quest for survival. As a result of this thinking, the social order...

      • 13 Ethno–Racial Bondage
        (pp. 305-324)

        We shall take a closer look in this chapter at the quest for freedom within an ever-changing lordship and bondage relationship that is the underpinning of Western aspirations and thought. Slavery, as Orlando Patterson argues, is the other to freedom: to talk about one is to speak indirectly about the other.¹ As Patterson further states, freedom has meaning only in comparison to bondage, whether physical or social.² Indeed, whether of a people or of an individual, slavery was anathema to the Enlightenment that spawned modernity. In the ideology that came to dominate Western life, liberty meant, in practical terms, consent...

    • Section Four Canadian Blackness and Identity
      • 14 Multiculturalism and Blackness
        (pp. 329-359)

        This chapter takes a closer look at what is still the goal in the Canadian nation-state, that of achieving A Just Society, an ideal state where Canadians can live in peace and happiness with themselves and the world. We shall examine it as a paradigm and as an idealized consciousness of hope that provides the framework for Canada’s ideological acceptance of Blackness. The chapter studies in greater detail, as part of the continuing dialectic of freedom, the inner contradictions that result from Canada’s self-conscious recognition of itself as multicultural, idealized, and culturally creolized Blackness. The contradictions were embodied in Pierre...

      • 15 Promises of Multiculturalism
        (pp. 360-392)

        In this chapter, I explore some of the contradictions in multiculturalism as the lived reality of a new form of idealized Whiteness in Canada that is based on the acceptance of idealized Blackness as the country’s official good. This is an idealization based on the recognition that, in the least, Canada is neo-mythically and ethno-racially Black because of the lack of purity that is now the state of Canadian culture. Officially, Canadian culture is fully recognized as a composite produced by a population that reflects the diversity or idealized Blackness of the world in terms of skin colours, cultures, and...

      • 16 Blackness: Essences, Mythologies, and Positioning
        (pp. 393-413)

        This chapter looks at the question of who is authentically Black in a multicultural setting from the particular gaze of purported Black Canadians. In the prevailing Canadian mythology, only presumed Black people, through a process of self-identification that is the quintessence of a liberal democracy, know that they are Black. Phenomenologically, this approach is the ultimate in privileging intuitive perception over sensory perception and even reason, for who can persuade a somatic Black who believes she or he has undergone the rigours of the miraculous double negation of citizenship that she or he is not genuinely White? So it is...

      • 17 Neo-Mythic Multiculturalism
        (pp. 414-429)

        In its mythology, Canada is a Promised Land primarily for groups constructed as Black, specifically by those whose Blackness is an indication of how they have been constructed as Africans. In a famous Massey Lecture broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio in 1964, Black civil rights advocate Reverend Martin Luther King Jr praised Canada as having a special place in the mythology of somatic and cultural Blacks, as a place of refuge. He mentioned that Canada was described in Negro spirituals as A Placed Called Heaven where escaping slaves found refuge via the Underground Railroad.¹ In this mythology, any...

      • 18 Blackness: Social and Political in Canada
        (pp. 430-446)

        From the foregoing analysis, it becomes clear that phenomenologically there is no essence of Blackness that can be discovered, ontologically and epistemologically, either within the wider Canadian society or within the more narrowly defined Black community. Assuming, however, for argument’s sake, the common sense acceptance that there is such a thing as a Black ethnicity, this chapter now discusses the existentialism and ethical relations enjoyed by those who are perceived to be Black in Canada mainly because of their somatic features. The still ongoing placement of a particular group called Canadian Blacks at the bottom of the social, economic, and...

      • 19 New Ideals of Canadian Blackness
        (pp. 447-477)

        In this chapter, I make a fuller examination of Canadian identity and question whether, even in this post-modern moment, official Canada is still wedded to a modernist notion of the Canadian good that is based on original racial categories associated with the ethno-racial register or if Canada has instead opened itself to the positive promises that are conceptually inherent in full multiculturalism. I argue, ethically, not only for recognition of other goods, but for a reversal and return, diachronically, to a moment of creation as is suggested neo-mythically to be necessary for converting multicultural from a contingent to a necessary...

      • 20 Black Canada – Reconciliation?
        (pp. 478-504)

        The middle of the twentieth century was one of the bleakest for Canada. This was when the dialectical forces of the nation-state appeared most unreconciled, with the country seemingly destined to be fractured into two distinct and separate bodies. For the dominant elites of the day, this change in the prevailing mythology would have been perceived ethically as death. This would have been the unwanted and unnatural change that occurs when goodness turns into Blackness. In 1963, Canadians turned to a Royal Commission to avoid falling into the abyss that appeared to be awaiting them. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 505-596)
  7. Index
    (pp. 597-613)