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African American Studies and Post Colonialism

African American Studies and Post Colonialism

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Published by: dhiraj on Nov 24, 2008
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African American Studies and Postcolonialism 
"Colonial racism is no different from any other racism."-Frantz Fanon-
A Need To Talk Back 
 
W
hile African American Studies and Postcolonial studies are viably different fields, a sharedgoal of destabilizing racial hierarchies lends itself to other issues held in common. Discussionsof power relationships between the colonizer and the colonized are sometimes similar to studieson slavery and relationships between masters and slaves. The current reality, within the UnitedStates and so called ³Post-colonies,´ of lingering forms of discrimination and racism towardsminority populations bridges these two studies together through a joint target on neocolonialism.Critical of current American educational policy, prominent black feminist bell hooks states, ³I believe that black experience has been and continues to be one of internal colonialism´ (148). Aneed to ³decolonize´ the mindset of contemporary America fuels current efforts in reclaimingand recovering ³minority´ history and literature. New sociological and literary approaches tohistory (Hazel Carby¶s Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-AmericanWoman Novelist, for example) become useful methods for reclaiming the past and forgingculturally sensitive paradigms for the future. Critics like Henry Louis Gates, Barbara Christian,Ella Shohat and Homi Bhabha become connected through a need to ³talk back.´*Map taken from The New World Border (1996) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña
Race and Multiculturalism in Academia: Writing Back 
 
 
 
A
frican American Studies and Postcolonial studies in the Academy similarly flesh out suchissues as representation, essentialism, and nationalism. Under the rubric of these disciplines,literature and literary theory often become vehicles for social commentary. While nation- makingand redefining ³nation,´ along with the blurring between public and private spaces are amongcommon themes, critics in both fields are quick to point to the dangers of hastily dismissing thisliterary work as ³political.´ Gates writes of a need to dispel the myth of alleged primacy o³Western tradition´ over the ³so-called non-canonical tradition such as that of the Afro-American.´ Especially conscious of the dangers of essentialism in his The Signifying Monkey,Gates studies the need ³to create a new narrative space for representing the recurring referent of Afro-American literature, the so called Black Experience´ (xx, 111). Similarly critical of essentialism, Homi Bhabha, a prominent Cultural Studies and Postcolonial critic, connects thetwo fields together as he remarks ³The intervention of postcolonial or black critique is aimed attransforming the conditions of enunciation at the level of the sign . . . not simply setting up newsymbols of identity, new µpositive images¶ that fuel an unreflective µidentity politics¶´ (247).Bhabha even conducts a detailed reading of Toni Morrison¶s Beloved in the introduction to TheLocation of Culture.Scholarship does indeed overlap in interesting ways between these two fields. Much in the sameway Toni Morrison¶s Playing in the Dark analyses and enumerates the ways in which whiteselfhood in literary America is further constituted by objectifying ³black´ presence, EdwardSaid¶s Orientalism seeks ³to show that European culture gained in strength and identity bysetting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self´ (3). ³Race,´Writing and Difference (1986), edited by Henry Louis Gates includes prominent postcolonialcritics like Gayatri C. Spivak and Abdul R. JanMohamed. In fact, a more recent anthologyedited by Gates, entitled Identities, is co-edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah, a scholar of Afro-American Studies who has also written on postcolonial theory. Such examples of overlap inscholarship compels us to reconsider deeper questions of the politics of reading and writing, theapplicability of scholarly methods which enhance an understanding and emphasis on culturallysensitive modes of carving out scholarly discourse.
 
G
ender
 
T
he intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender politics has produced provocative discussions inthe works of bell hooks, Barbara Christian, and Shirley Anne Williams (to name a few AfricanAmerican feminist critics) as well as in the work of Gayatri Spivak and Chandra T. Mohanty.Patriarchy often becomes a metaphor, a trope of power imbalance and the culprit for the ills of colonialism and neocolonialism. bell hooks states in Outlaw Culture, ³For contemporary criticsto condemn the imperialism of the white colonizer without critiquing patriarchy is a tactic thatseeks to minimize the particular ways gender determines the specific forms oppression may takewithin a specific group´ (203).*Alongside this obvious intersection of marginalized positions comes the risk of totalizing.Barbara Christian, in the ³Race for Theory´ which cautions against essentialist constructions of  black womanhood, compares the dangers of an overly prescriptive ³black feminism´ to the³monolithic, monotheistic´ Black Arts Movement of the 1960¶s and 70¶s. Chandra Mohantyurges against the same sort of over-hasty practice in the growing discourse on Third Worldfeminism. Discussions of class are similarly called for in both fields of study. Interestingly,hooks comments upon what she sees as an overlooked problem in cross- cultural feministdiscussion in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. She states, ³We often forget thatmany Third World nationals bring to this country the same kind of contempt and disrespect for  blackness that is most frequently associated with white imperialism´ (93).*Photograph entitled ³Sisterhood´ (1994) by Lyle Ashton Harris/ Ike Ude taken from The Factof Blackness, ed. Alan Reed, 1996

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