Our new global “frontiers” or “contact zones” come into view more noticeably in the Black Atlantic that links African Americans with West Africans in W. E. B. Du Bois’s and Zora Neale Hurston’s twentieth-century narratives and thus far still proposes the boundaries separating Euro-American from African-American cultural traditions in the United States. W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk All through his long career and its many different phases, W. E. B. Du Bois continually criticized the United States for following imperialist aims both at home and abroad.
He as well is one of the few modern American thinkers to recognize U. S. imperialism to be different from earlier forms of Eurocolonialism and to antedate significantly the Spanish-American War. For Du Bois, U. S. imperialism initiates in slavery and depends on racism to legitimate colonial practices of territorial conquest, economic power, and psychological defeat. Du Bois understands U. S. slavery to be particularly modern, to the extent that it is footed on particular racial distinctions he argues were unknown in earlier forms of serfdom and enslavement.
He may well agree regarding the persistence of human unkindness throughout history, however he sees it deployed in a different way in the modern period. In the modern work of colonial domination and its methodical, therefore imperial, application to peoples defined thereby as “other,” Du Bois judges the United States to have taken the lead. Du Bois’s theory of racial imperialism is intensely contemporary on the economic roots of all imperialisms. However Du Bois comes the closest of the American intellectuals critical of U. S. imperialism before World War II to understanding U. S.
imperialism as a neoimperialism of the postmodern sort we at present relate with the political control of spheres of influence, the corporate manipulation of foreign cultures to create new markets, as well as the exportation of American lifestyles by way of such cultural products as literature and film. For the reason that Du Bois understood race and class to be the critically related fictions by which modern nations justified the unfair distribution of wealth and consequently power, he viewed with special lucidity the extent to which cultural work was indispensable to colonial hierarchies both at home and abroad.
For this very reason, Du Bois as well understood the power of culture to combat imperialism by challenging such hierarchies and building influential coalitions of the oppressed to resist domination. As Du Bois grew older and angrier regarding the unrecognized involvement of the United States in colonial ventures around the world, particularly in Africa, Latin America, and at home, he authorized an increasingly rigid economic thesis that is both rudely Marxist and inquisitively blind to the enthusiastic imperialism of the Stalinism he espoused.
This turn in Du Bois’s career has often distracted scholars from the delicacy of his earlier discussions of the United States as an imperial power and its novel use of culture to disguise and naturalize its practices of domination. Given the propensity of even America’s most energetic modern critics to localize its imperialism in such specific foreign ventures as the Spanish-American War and the general myopia of Americans until quite lately in regard to the imbrication of U. S. racism and imperialism, Du Bois is a precursor of contemporary cultural and postcolonial criticisms of the role culture has played in disguising the imperialist practices of the United States. Wrong as Du Bois was about Stalinism and in his predictions of the predictable victory of socialism in the twentieth century, his persistence on connecting cultural analyses to their economic consequences as well ought to be heard by contemporary cultural critics.
Particularly in his writings before the mid-1930s, Du Bois as well experimented with a combination of literary, historical, sociological, and political discourses that might work together as a “counter-discourse” to the fantastic narrative of U. S. ideology. The multigeneric qualities of The Souls of Black Folk is methodically modern in its respective challenges to conventional modes of representation, this works as well involve an implicit critique of the privileged and intentionally inaccessible oratory.
Determined to challenge hierarchies of race, class, and gender, Du Bois understood how powerfully social authority depended on forms of cultural capital traditionally unavailable to African Americans. Du Bois understood from his earliest works that African-American intellectuals and artists would have to offer alternative cultural resources to challenge such subjective however entrenched powers Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s criticism of racial and gender hierarchies in the United States and in our foreign policies toward other nations, particularly in the Caribbean, presents another variation on the cultural response to U. S. imperialism. Unlike W. E. B. Du Bois, Hurston does not constantly and rigidly condemn U. S. intervention in the economic, political, and social spheres of other nations, although she obviously connects domestic racism and sexism with neoimperialist foreign policies, particularly those directed at Third World countries.
As well Hurston does not romanticize modern or historical Africa, although she argues constantly for the recognition of how African cultural influences have contributed considerably to the artistic, intellectual, as well as social achievements of African-Americans. In a similar manner, Hurston refuses to romanticize colonized peoples as solely victimized by their conquerors; she goes to substantial lengths to illustrate how the process of decolonization, in Haiti, for instance, has too often brought tyrants to power who have rationalized their injustices on grounds of national sovereignty plus strident anti-colonialism.
Hurston condemns all the tyrannies she witnesses, and she therefore estranges herself from U. S. nationalists of various sorts, African nationalists, and Communist critics of U. S. imperialism. At the same time, Hurston often appears to universalize the thesis that “power corrupts. ” in a way that trivializes concrete solutions to the problems she identifies in the United States and the Caribbean.
Thus far behind Hurston’s contempt for arbitrary power, whether wielded by white or black tyrants, and her disrespect for those who render righteous their own victimization, there is Hurston’s strong commitment to democratic rule and her conviction that solidarity among different victimized peoples will both authorize them and effect appropriate social reforms. These reforms include for Hurston an end to racial and gender hierarchies and the extension of economic opportunities to underprivileged groups, both within the United States and internationally.
The utopian model for such social reforms is a truly democratic society in the United States, in spite of Hurston’s consistent criticism of social inequalities in the United States footed on race and gender. On the one hand, Hurston alleged that Euro-American culture, society, and psychology had much to learn from African-American forms of knowledge and experience; in her utopian moments, she imagines white America transformed and redeemed by such knowledge.
On the other hand, she implicit the prevalence of a white ideology that treated much of African-American knowledge as “backward,” “superstitious,” and “primitive,” while whites turned these very characteristics into aspects of an exoticized and fashionable “negritude. ” What some critics have referred to as Hurston’s “coding” of her narratives must be understood as her primary mode of narration, whose intention is to transform attitudes and feelings, together with preconceived ideas, rather than only “hiding” her intentions to protect her benefaction.
Learning to read the “double consciousness” of Hurston’s coded narratives is itself a way of transgressing the boundary separating African American from white American, even as it respects the social and historical differences of the racism that has yet to be overcome. “Mules and Men” is frequently treated together for generic reasons, for the reason that it is major instance of Hurston’s work as folklorist and anthropologist. This book is as well interpreted by some critics as using literary techniques that foresee Hurston’s major fiction.
It is the premeditated forgetting of this history of tangled fates and therefore of cultural realities that Hurston condemns in the official histories of the United States and that we ought to class as an imperative aspect of U. S. cultural imperialism. Hurston did not reject firmly the idea of the United States as “global policeman” or the prospect of U. S. foreign policies, particularly in the Caribbean, contributing to democratic ends. In this regard, she was by no means unusual among majority and minority U. S. intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s.
Hurston understood the ongoing racism and sexism in the United States as forms of colonial domination, which needed strategies of resistance that at times, complement more open anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles around the world. Never did she puzzle the realism of social stratifications by race, class, and gender with her ideals for democratic social, legal, as well as human practices. Furthermore it is the conflict between Hurston’s strategies for enlightening and resisting such oppression at home and abroad and her ideals for the spread of democratic institutions, particularly as they are represented by the promise of U.
S. democracy that often contributes to the opposing quality of her political judgments or the impression of her apolitical stance. Hurston’s politics are frequently bound up with her own personality as a progressive, “new Negro,” exemplifying urban sophistication and specialized education, who sought to connect the rural and Afro-Caribbean heritage of African Americans with their modern future. References: W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Greenwich, Conn. , 1961), 42-43. Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (NewYork: Harper-Collins, 1990), p. 294
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