Black History and Black Identity: A Call Book Review

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Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography. Book by W.D. Wright; Praeger

Wright, W.D. Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography. New York:

Praeger, 2002, pp. 247.

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What does it mean to be a Black historian? The Professor Emeritus of History at Southern Connecticut State University W.D. Wright takes up this challenge in his new book on Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography. Wright argues that too often, the history of Black Americans has been diluted by combining it with histories of Afro-Caribbean people, or of treating blackness solely as a race or geographic category. By grappling with the definition of what constitutes Black as opposed to African history, Wright structures his book around giving a survey of past histoiographical efforts and failed ways of defining what constitutes the unique nature of Black history. Wright is uniquely qualified to do this, having been a professor of history through the creation of Black studies within the modern university curriculum. He concludes that while "the subject of Black history in America became an accepted academic discipline in the 1960s," and its origins stretch well back to the beginning of the century and W.E.B. DuBois' seminal work on the Souls of Black Folk, its popularity from the 1970s into the 1990s on college campuses across the nation did not clarify in terms of what constitutes the academic discipline of Black studies. Wright's book is unique in provocative in that he stresses definitions, even linguistic definitions are virtually important in understanding Blackness -- a controversial yet ultimately fascinating approach.

TOPIC: Book Review on Black History and Black Identity: A Call Assignment

Today, Wright states, even after decades of controversy there is still a struggle to understand "who Black people have been and who they presently are in America. Are they Africans, Afro-Americans, African-Americans, Blacks, blacks, Black Americans, or black Americans? This question and these many possible identities for Black people in America, all of which are in use, indicate, emphatically, that historical research and writing have not cleared up this matter." In his quest to 'clear things up,' although critical of previous Black scholarship, Wright admits his enduring debt to those who came before him, including W.E.B. DuBois in particular. It is DuBois' definition of Black culture as the only true uniquely American culture, spanning from jazz to soul food to the literature of 'otherness' and a 'double consciousness' versus an American Black identity confused with Africanness that Wright pays tribute to -- he calls himself a DuBois sociologist as well as a historian of Black studies.

Rather than an Afro-centric perspective, Wright says his own book takes a Black-centric perspective of modern history, and states that Black people in the United States "are distinct and different from all other black people on this planet, and are not to be mistaken for any other black people."Too much of an obsession with African heritage, as admirable as such self-identification and curiosity may be, Wright believes, can conceal the fact that Black people are Americans as well as of African descent. Thus his book "endeavors to answer these two questions; namely, by arguing, based on historical evidence and sociological analysis that Black people are to be described as Black, Blacks, and Black Americans." The once privileged politically correct term of African-American or Afro-Americans is deemed confusing and misleading by Wright.

Wright's work was originally written in 2003, and in terms of the recent election of Barak Obama it is almost irresistible to wonder if he would have written his book in 2008, how the election of what might be called the Kenyan-American Barak Obama to office. After all, Obama is the child of an African-American man and a Caucasian woman -- however, Obama's experience may act more as testimony to the veracity of Wright's challenging thesis. Despite his mixed race heritage, and not being the child of slaves, Obama was still 'read' as Black growing up by his peers and teachers, and although he was raised by a white mother and grandmother. His formative experience was defined by the struggles of fitting in as an intellectual and literate Black man growing up on the South Side of Chicago, a man who wanted to go to law school yet still be accepted on the streets during pick-up games as a fellow basketball player by other young Black men.

Wright's thesis is challenging to those scholars who, however well-intentioned, might sentimentalize and essentialize African identity. After all,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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