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Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination

Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination

Teshale Tibebu
Volume: 56
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination
    Book Description:

    Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination' is a critical study of one of the most prolific and knowledgeable black-world intellectuals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focusing on his writings, it shows the contradictions, ambiguities, complexities, and paradoxes in Blyden's powerful black racial nationalism. Blyden was a modernist who called upon African Americans to 'uplift' Africa; yet he was a defender of Africa's culture and customs. He was the most sophisticated critic of Eurocentrism; yet he was an avid Anglophile. He was a Protestant who admired Islam's 'civilizing' role in Africa. Blyden was the first black intellectual to advocate for the symbiosis of Africa's 'triple heritage': indigenous, Islamic, and Western. His voluminous writings laid the groundwork for some of the most important ideas of African and black diasporic thinkers of the twentieth century, including Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Chiekh Anta Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Walter Rodney. Though Blyden is often overlooked in the history of modern black thought, in this book, Teshale Tibebu brings him out of oblivion and engages the reader in an extended, systematic evaluation of his written works. Teshale Tibebu is professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of 'The Making of Modern Ethiopia, 1896-1974', 'Hegel and Anti-Semitism', and 'Hegel and the Third World: The Making of Eurocentrism in World History'.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-790-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book offers a critical reading of the works of Edward Wilmot Blyden, a seminal figure in modern transnational African thought. It aspires to map the contours and configurations of Blyden’s appraisals of the encounter between the black world and the Western world in modern times. It is an undertaking in intellectual history.

    Long before the deconstruction discourses of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and others in the West rocked the boat of Western hegemonic hubris, black men and women on both sides of the Atlantic were cultivating alternative paradigms from the one informed by the self-images of the Western world...

  5. 1 Africa: Service, Suffering, and Subjection
    (pp. 21-49)

    Blyden sees the history of Africans as a history of serving humanity, both materially and spiritually. Indeed, he is of the opinion that the glory of Africa lies in serving humanity.¹ This view is central to Blyden’s philosophy of history. As a Christian minister, he draws parallels between the trials and tribulations of Jesus and that of the Africans. He writes, “If service rendered to humanity is service rendered to God, then the Negro and his country have been, during the ages, in spite of unwanted influences, tending upward to the Divine.”² As such, “Shem and Japheth have largely participated...

  6. 2 The Critique of Eurocentrism
    (pp. 50-62)

    Blyden was one of the first black intellectuals to formulate a systematic critique of Eurocentrism long before the term itself came to use. This critique centered on culture, including education. Blyden sees the education of the black Christian in the Western world, unlike that of the Muslim counterpart in Africa, as defective, an example of the “mis-education of the Negro.”¹ As he puts it in Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race, “The Negro in Christian lands, however learned in books, cannot be said to have such a thing as self-education. His knowledge, when brought to the test, often fails him....

  7. 3 Ishmael in Africa: Black Protestant Islamophilia
    (pp. 63-75)

    In his philosophy of religion, Blyden refers to how different races gravitate toward one religion or another: “It is remarkable that the eight distinct religions of which history gives account all had their origin in Asia, and the three highest religions—the Jewish, the Christian, the Mohammedan—took their rise among Semitic peoples.” Furthermore, “it is equally remarkable that since Christianity left the place of its birth it has seemed to be the property exclusively of the European branch of the human family.” As Christianity “has become the possession of the Western Aryan, it has shared the fate of that...

  8. 4 The African American “Civilizing Mission”
    (pp. 76-107)

    Blyden is a modernist.¹ He is an ardent believer in that typical ideology of nineteenth-century liberalism, one he calls “the law of progress.”² As he puts it, “There is no such thing as standing still in life. The law is either forward or backward; if there is no conscious movement forward, there is an unconscious movement backward.”³ Based on such a belief, he sees Africa as a backward continent. He tirelessly advocates the need for Africans to rise above and beyond their material and spiritual degradation. He writes in A Voice from Bleeding Africa on Behalf of Her Exiled Children:...

  9. 5 The “Mulatto” Nemesis
    (pp. 108-125)

    Blyden sees race as a concrete, material reality determined by the natural conditions of the human existence. Racism, on the other hand, is for him a sociohistorical construct. He writes in Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race, “Hereditary qualities are fundamental, not to be created or replaced by human agencies, but to be assisted and improved. Nature determines the kind of tree, environments determine the quality and quantity of the fruit.”¹ He accepts the racial distinctions of his time as matter of fact. Although he sees racial classification as natural, he objects to the racist hierarchical gradation. His is a...

  10. 6 Appraising the Colonial Enterprise
    (pp. 126-145)

    For all his contradictions, inconsistencies, and sometimes outright blunders, one issue Blyden follows through with iron consistency is the belief in the need for Africa to move in the direction of modernity. And the modernity he has in mind is primarily Western. This view makes him support the European colonial enterprise wholeheartedly, assuming that it will bring Africa closer to the degree of civilization attained by the West.

    In the collection West Africa before Europe, published in 1905, Blyden writes that imperialism is “deficient in spirituality. … Its most successful work for aliens must be on its material side. Well...

  11. Epilogue: Post-Blydenian Reflections
    (pp. 146-172)

    The Africans who led the struggles for independence against European colonialism in the second half of the twentieth century and who became the first leaders of postcolonial African states were in the main “philosopher kings.” They were politicians who were first-rate intellectuals; they were intellectuals whose vocation was politics. It was not long, however, before the leadership of these philosopher kings was abruptly interrupted by the violent intrusion of the rifle. Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Augustino Neto, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, among others, were some of those formidable intellectuals. These were men of vision...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 173-188)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-220)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)