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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: January 2010

4 - Black Nationalist Discourse

Summary

Modern black nationalism as theory and practice benefited from an outpouring of discourse concerning the theme, both by and about supporters of black nationalism. This discourse emanated mainly from two sources. First, during the decade of the 1960s, scholars produced a large number of articles and books on the subject of black nationalism. Scholars like Robert S. Browne, James Turner, and others offered analysis and commentary concerning the meaning and desirability of a nationalist agenda. Generally they sought to identify black nationalist politics and thought as a legitimate variety of nationalism that had appeared in other historical and geographical contexts. Economists, political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others tackled the difficult problem of characterizing the meaning and identifying the causes of black nationalism of the 1960s.

In addition to scholarship produced by members of the academy, a number of “paraintellectuals” – critics outside the academic profession like Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, and Eldridge Cleaver – discoursed prolifically on the topic of black nationalism. This discourse, which included speeches, poetry, novels, books and articles, signaled the appearance of an essentially new and increasingly important stratum of intellectuals who spoke and wrote about black politics, but who did not necessarily originate from the black middle class. For paraintellectuals involved in political organizations, identifying black nationalism as an authentic nationalism had its purposes: it allowed easy comparison to other Third World – especially African – nationalisms; it challenged the view of integration-as-assimilation; and it placed black nationalism on the cutting edge of radical politics and thought. Of the two groups, paraintellectuals figured more prominently in terms of volume.