Becoming Black

Creating Identity in the African Diaspora

Becoming Black

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: January 2004

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Becoming Black is a powerful theorization of Black subjectivity throughout the African diaspora. In this unique comparative study, Michelle M. Wright discusses the commonalties and differences in how Black writers and thinkers from the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, France, Great Britain, and Germany have responded to white European and American claims about Black consciousness. As Wright traces more than a century of debate on Black subjectivity between intellectuals of African descent and white philosophers, she also highlights how feminist writers have challenged patriarchal theories of Black identity.

Wright argues that three nineteenth-century American and European works addressing race—Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, G. W. F. Hegel’s Philosophy of History, and Count Arthur de Gobineau’s Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races—were particularly influential in shaping twentieth-century ideas about Black subjectivity. She considers these treatises in depth and describes how the revolutionary Black thinkers W. E. B. Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Frantz Fanon countered the theories they promulgated. She explains that while Du Bois, Césaire, Senghor, and Fanon rejected the racist ideologies of Jefferson, Hegel, and Gobineau, for the most part they did so within what remained a nationalist, patriarchal framework. Such persistent nationalist and sexist ideologies were later subverted, Wright shows, in the work of Black women writers including Carolyn Rodgers and Audre Lorde and, more recently, the British novelists Joan Riley, Naomi King, Jo Hodges, and Andrea Levy. By considering diasporic writing ranging from Du Bois to Lorde to the contemporary African novelists Simon Njami and Daniel Biyaoula, Wright reveals Black subjectivity as rich, varied, and always evolving.


“I would recommend [Becoming Black] as a reference book for scholars of the Black diaspora interested in understand Black subject formation” — Melanie Knight , Resources for Feminist Research

"Becoming Black is essential reading for scholars of the black diaspora who want a more rigorous understanding of the black subject formation in the Western philosophical tradition." — Rebecca Wanzo, Research in African Literatures

"Wright does a superb job of both exposing erroneous racial theories espoused for various reasons by reputedly intelligent individuals throughout literary history, and discussing the rationale that other scholars have used to dispute these same claims. . . . Highly recommended." — C.N. Ijeoma , Choice

With a focused eye on the Anglophone, Francophone, and Germanophone populations of the African diaspora, . . . Wright . . . ably challeng[es] assumptions in postcolonial and poststructuralist discourse. . . . The inclusion of works by black female theorists enriches the study, adding depth and much-needed flavor to the patriarchal canon. . . .Her solid introduction and epilogue frame five chapters of grounded research. — Lauranett Lee, Virginia Quarterly Review

“An important book for scholars of the African diaspora, Becoming Black puts the word ‘diaspora’ back into African American studies. There are bold new conversations here.” — Sharon Holland, author of Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity

“Becoming Black yields a complex and differentiated understanding of Enlightenment discourses on race and offers a framework for comparing the different models of subjecthood that underwrote the varying histories of colonialism and slavery. It is unique in that it brings Afro-German and Afro-French writings into dialogue with Afro-British and African American texts. There is no existing study of the African diaspora that brings such a range of national traditions together.” — Madhu Dubey, author of Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michelle M. Wright is Associate Professor of English at the University of Minnesota. She is a coeditor of Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Being and Becoming Black in the West 1

1. The European and American Invention of the Black Other

2. The Trope of Masking in the Works of W. E. B. Du Bois, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and Aime Cesaire 66

3. Some Women Disappear: Frantz Fanon's Legacy in Black Nationalist Thought and the Black (Male) Subject

4. How I Got Ovah: Masking to Motherhood and the Diasporic Black Female Subject 136

5. The Urban Diaspora: Black Subjectivities in Berlin, London, and Paris

Epilogue: If the Black Is a Subject, Can the Subaltern Speak? 229

Notes 233

Bibliography 261

Index 269
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3288-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3211-4
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