PHL 495, Independent Study: identity and the Legacies of Race

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FIRST READING: DUBOIS: THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK

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Chapter 1:


in chapter one, W.E.B DuBois begins with Black people as a problem, he says that when asked questions such as, " do not these southern
outrages make your blood boil?" He says that being a problem is a strange experience, and its strange even though he has been a problem his entire life. when he says Black people are a problem, i think he is referring to the fact that people tend to treat Blacks as less than, as a people of a lower class, breed, barbaric.
He later describes an incident in his childhood, where basically he discovers he is black. a girl in his school, a new comer her called her, refused to accept his card in class. all of the students had decided to exchange cards, maybe holiday cards, i thought about hallmark cards. he said that then everything changed for him, and that for a long time he was angry. he says that he eventually turned this anger into something positive. vowing to beat these people who hated him in everything, he wanted to know more, to run faster, to be better all around.

i dont quite understand the second sight, but i think it has to do with living as an American, as something different from living as a Black person. i think being an american is being white, and of course black is black. and maybe having to assimilate into this other culture while trying to stay rooted in a separate culture. a culture that has a long history, from africa, to slave history, to free black man history.

he then talks about being beat down mentally to the point where, black people will settle into the role created for them. and that the americans will agree and push for them to accept this less than attitude, this, i was told i would be nothing so i will be nothing attitude.

he ends by talking about change and freedom, and the steps that still need to be taken for black people to get where they need to be.
Clarissa Brown 2/4/09
[Clarissa--I won't add much to what you've said well here. One thing he is taking up is the common question in the early 20th century: How do we solve the Negro problem? (It's a question that is still asked, though in different ways...) And he turns it into a nice way of leaning into his problem: I am a negro and all I'm talked about is a problem. What does it mean to live constantly as a problem--living a problematic existence, living on the margins of society, never knowing quite where one stands. And the problem of living as a Negro (throughout the readings this semester, I'll just adapt the terminology of the author) is living both as an American and as a Negro--a double identity since the failures that happened after the first decade, which refers to the first ten years of reconstruction after the Civil War, when there much promise for Negros in the U.S. Blacks were elected to Congress and to other high offices. But that all soon ended. Northern troops left the South and the Jim Crow era, as it is now called, began. And then, as you write at the end, you begin to live as a problem, to be "beat down mentally" into the role given to one. ...Ok, over to you Christina... PG]

Chapter 2:

[Note how DuBois moves into this chapter by isolating the problem a little closer: "The problem of the twentieth century," he writes in the most famous line of this text, "is the problem of the color-line." Writing in 1900-1901, he would turn out to be all-too-right.]

okay, so I, Clarissa, will be doing this chapter and Christina will do the other two.
in this chapter he gave a lot of history about the years after the imancipation proclamation. he writes about the freedmen bureau and the efforts and non efforts of their time. the freedmen bureau and many other oragnizations attempted to create jobs and homes for the freedmen. he lists many of their endeavors and also talks about some of the things that went wrong. once the slaves were free, dubois says that conquest by conquest all of the freedmen in the area would flood into the north or to the army looking for shelter and for food. they came as families and most of the men were inlisted. they were inlisted in the south as well, but in the south they did not march, they were workers. there were many laws and policies that came into place around this time and a lot of the legislation was opposed by the masses. they feared that the freedmen with their free elementary schools were dangerous. dubois says that these people were right, but that any man with knowledge should be feared not just the black man. he ends this chapter by saying that even though the freedmens bureau aided the negro, they did not free them. the negro for dubois was not free even after the war. there were still injustices and many more issues needed to be attended to. he says that laws cripple the negro and in the south slavery had not ended. and that in parts of the south with more educated negros there was segregation still.
Clarissa Brown
[Clarissa--There's not much to add to your work here. This is, frankly, one of the saddest chapters in American writing and one of the saddest chapters in American history. The promise held out to the freedmen (we'll just use that and note that the concerns of women are left out) after the Civil War were many. In fact, the North had a political reason to empower the freedmen, since (a) it was, we should not forget, a means of revenge upon those who succeeded, and (b) it would empower the Republican party (irony of ironies) in terms of a national voting block. The actions, though, of Johnson and Grant, though, were horrifying in their result. They withdrew northern troops, cut funding for the freedmen's bureau, and the south descended into Apartheid. The South has never recovered from the war in that sense. The door opened and then slammed shut on civil rights for another hundred years. As we continue on in our readings, one thing that interests me is what is that one can do when there is racial strife and it some set of events comes to an end. how can there be reconciliation--i'm thinking of the imperfect-but-still-historic Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa in the 1990s. But perhaps there are other avenues for racial reconciliation, which should not be read to mean, as it seems to be the case for some writers, that blacks need to become more "white" or vice-versa].

Chapter 3:

[You should visit the Encyclopedia of Africana Studies (I think that's the title) through the library's online resources to make sure you know at least a bit about the historical figures he mentions, especially Booker T. Washington]

Throughout chapter three, Dubois criticizes Booker T. Washington and how his program promotes a "submission of silence" for equal political and civil rights for blacks. Washington encouraged blacks to be compromising and cooperate with not immediately demanding the same voting rights or equal opportunity as the whites and by doing so, have the blacks be involved in developing the economy and recovering from the Civil War. His program appealed to North (who was supporting the reconstruction in the South) because not only did it provide a peaceful means of compromising with the South, but also the North was tired of the racial problems and wanted to earn money from investments in the South. Because of the majority's desire to embrace Booker T. Washington's program, the voices of those individuals that originally wanted to see change and a difference now, eventually silenced their opinions due to the overpowering consent.

Dubois does not believe what Washington calls for is right because it is recognizing an inferiority and difference between the blacks and whites. What Booker T. Washington asks blacks to do in his program, is temporarily forfeit their demands for equal political powers, civil rights and the opportunity to gain a higher education for their future generations. Therefore, by doing so, Dubois concludes that not only will following the program result in submission and a quick fix on problems, but it will also establish a distinct social class for blacks in which they are compared to as inferior and less than what a white man could measure up to. Dubois doubts that compromising is the better and quicker answer to gaining the rights. Not enough focus on political progress hinders the economic development of the nation. The pressures of what society as a whole wants pressures blacks into conforming to Washington's program.

I believe that what Washington argues shackles down the black man's voice and opportunity to establish his social and political right in society. Blacks should not voluntarily give up their demands on the promise that eventually, when the economy gets back to where it is more stable, that they can start fighting for their rights. If blacks wait and do not secure their opportunity to act at the moment when things are still debatable, then when the time comes to start, it might already be too late as social order, beliefs and opportunities towards blacks become cemented. Self-respect can be earned when blacks demonstrate their abilities and not falter under the pressures forced upon them.

- Christina Lu
[Christina--This is a good synopsis of what DuBois is saying. It is a precursor to the rivalry (I hesitate to call it that, but fair enough) between Malcolm X ("by an means necessary") and Martin Luther King, Jr. ("I have a dream") in the 1960s. The analogy is unfair, since certainly MLK, Jr. was not trying to slow black progress, though it should be noted that Malcolm X and many others thought that his non-violent approach had the effect of slowing progress. Ultimately, it's hard not to read DuBois with sympathy, though over the years, we've received a couple of articles at Philosophia Aficana (the journal I help edit) saying that Washington was more radical but publicly was aware that in a situation of violence, one must progress step-by-step given that more would lead to mass killings, as indeed it did anyway.--PG]

Chapter 4:


Dubois depicts his past as a teacher in Tennessee and how to measure progress in chapter four. He talks of how he remembers in particular, a woman in her twenties, with energy and eagerness to learn, named Josie. After Dubois got his license as a teacher, the hunt for finding a school to teach at challenged him. Although he finally found and was accepted to teach at a school, Dubois mentions the motif of "the Veil" and how it acts as a separating divide. The "awful shadow of the Veil" fell as the white teachers ate first and then Dubois ate by himself for dinner, and then again, the Veil was present between blacks and opportunity. The Veil symbolizes perfectly the dividing factors towards blacks and whites. The Veil is not invisible but see-through, because it is see-through it represents how discrimination and criticism pressures blacks into accepting their social inferiority. Although whites and others cannot be blatantly and clear about their racism, the fact is, racism has not disappeared (invisible); therefore, the Veil accurately captures how there is a divide between whites and blacks and the opportunities that stand between equality.

W.E.B. Dubois revisits the same school that had no real desks for the students and backless boards with borrowed teacher's chairs and sees progress. He learns that Josie has toiled herself to death and the hardships of life has struck many of his former students. To his surprise, Doc Burke was successful having an additional seventy-five acres added to his farm. However, despite the progress that has occurred, Dubois recognizes that progress is "necessarily ugly."

What I think Dubois tries to convey this chapter is that there must be sacrifices made in order to finally reach the Progress and equality that is demanded.
Christina--yeah, the reason I had you both read this chapter is because it does cover the important notion of the "Veil"--an important motif that DuBois would use for the remainder of his career. His metaphors are powerful--from the color line, to the "Veil," to---well, others are escaping me right now. I have a question for both of you: What did you make of the use of the snippets of musical notation at the beginnings of the chapter? Why do you think DuBois included them? What does it say about his thinking of the ways in which African Americans present their ideas that might not fit into the classical rubric you find in white writers of the time?
- Christina Lu



Conclusion:





(NOTE THAT I'VE SHIFTED THE READINGS AROUND A BIT. OUTLAW DISCUSSES DUBOIS'S ESSAY, SO I MOVED THAT FIRST. AND I HAVE YOU READING THREE CHAPTERS FROM OUTLAW'S ESSAY. I'M GOING TO CANCEL DUBOIS'S "WHAT IS AFRICA TO ME?" TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE EXTRA OUTLAW READINGS.)

SECOND READING: "THE CONSERVATION OF RACES" BY W.E.B. DUBOIS


DuBois talks a lot about other races and having unity and divisions between peoples. he talks about how in this country there are two etremely different races that have met, and tension was inevitable. then he asks what the real meaning of race is. he talks about the problems with defining race because hair texture doesnt fit with skin color and things like that. he says scientist of his time had established three great races, the white, yellow, and black. he the goes to history being the history of groups not individuals.
i first noticed in this reading that DuBois looks at the idea of african americans, being first americans or being a negro first. talks about the fact that





THIRD READING: ON RACE AND PHILOSOPHY BY LUCIUS T. OUTLAW

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Introduction: "On Race and Philosophy":

In the introduction of "On Race and Philosophy," Lucius Outlaw discusses how race & ethnicity are "results of ongoing projects that are definitive of human sociality." Outlaw makes clear that he does not have any expectations to ever have racism completely eliminated and goes on further to say that one race usually dominates over the other. He claims that the most issues of race and ethnicity circle around two main concerns: the social hierarchy of the different races and the struggles and attempts to denunciate against acts of racism & "ethnocentrism." Outlaw questions how humans throughout history form their own social groups that are distinguished by "biological and sociocultural" characteristics that each member shares with others. There seems to be a problem with knowledge and how the miseducated do not fully understand the complexity and interrelatedness of the different races. For Lucius we must
endow race and ethnicity with very high and honorable significance.

Outlaw repetitively acknowledges, approves of and believes in W.E.B. Dubois and his ideas of applying philosophy to interpret the relationships between different races. He wants to take Dubois's approach and learn from past lessons that we need to "survey the whole question of race in human philosophy." Dubois notes that not only are there the apparent physical distinctions between races, but there are also deeper differences that derive from their spiritual being and psychi. He defines race with a biological aspect, yet what binds the people together are "the meaning-systems and agendas constitutive of shared cultural life-worlds." Therefore, for Dubois, Outlaw makes clear that there are no physical characteristics is sufficient enough to characterize a race.

Towards the end of the introduction, Outlaw start to explain how he believes there are not real "pure" races or a complete set of unique characteristics that belong to a certain group. Each group's survival tactics and how to maintain their identity leads to how Lucius concludes that the consideration of philosophizing has shifted to philosophizing generally. There is a reason that today we are not all "light khaki" skin toned from intermixing with all other races.


- Christina Lu




FOURTH READING: "THE CONCEPT OF RACE" BY K. A. APPIAH


K.A. APPIAH
K.A. APPIAH


In Appiah's "the Concept of Race," he discusses mainly about labeling people with colored skin as blacks and then how that label has an effect on their identity and how they might act. He starts by saying that there's a "massive consensus" for not only blacks but whites that are labels as "black" or "whit" to know that is who they are. This label shapes they way people think of themselves & operate as an "identification" process. It has not only social but psychological effects on those that are being labeled. Along with the label comes a bunch of sterotypes that we group together for certain races and ethnicities. The expectations that follow after labeling someone contribute to how that person would conform "to the script for that identity" and then be what is expected of them from that label. Ian Hacking says that by labeling people, we come to invent & make up what ther actions and characteristics should entail ("making up people). This is the problem that Appiah brings up. This labeling not only confines blacks to try to behave the way their label tells them to, but also that we're "making up people."

Something quite interesting that Appiah brings up is whether or not we can choose to identify with one of our labels. He gives the example of other contemporary identity labels such as: female and mail, gay, lesbian, yellow, American etc. Appiah emphasizes how you can choose the weight of how much the label may effect your life, that you can shape & adapt your life around the identity. Therefore, you can choose not to take the label of being bisexual, Jewish or whatever it may be, so long as you are willing to do what it takes to hide that part of yourself. Blakcs are demanding society to resist the stereotypes & labels against them. For them to be respected as black, Appiah feels that they need to be able to refuse to assimilate to the white norms and deal with attacks on their dignitiy.

The important thing for us to realize is that not all races & ethnicities have a single culture that black people don't have a shared culture by definition of jazz, hip-hop. Those things are culturally marked as black and whether or not someone that is African American may be knowledgable in that area does not matter. There is not one specific manner in which ALL blacks should behave by the label we associate to them.

Appiah criticizes DuBois on all his attempts to define what race is. For Appiah, you can't define race & will not be successful in geting anything because it is so mysterious. In addition, racism then cannot be explained without first understanding the race concept.

- Christina


The other point to note is that the notion of ethnicity is largely ignored by Appiah. He argues that race is "scripted," and that what one does as part of a race is not "natural," but "scripted" by the powers that be of society--remarks close to what Fanon will say. The question is whether this problem is the same for ethnicity--that is, the historical way in which a people become a community and would seem to choose to use certain cultural practices. "Racial scripting" is certainly pernicious, but the question, as some critics have argued, is whether or not the same follows for ethnic self-scripting. But yes, good points Christina--PG

FIFTH READING: BLACK SKIN/WHITE MASKS BY FRANTZ FANON


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Introduction

In the introduction of Black Skin, White Mask, we are first given a problem, that problem being stupidity. Then he follows with a line that really makes you think: a Black is not a Man. Meaning that a man can be Black, but Black can not be a man. It’s a color, it’s a descriptive word. He says that man needs saving from himself, and that man is confused and has been dispersed. He says that man is doomed and the beliefs or truths they live by, will be destroyed one by one. I think he says this because the truths that some hold are completely ridiculous, such as one race being superior over the others. he says that it is important to “unleash the man”. I think he means that we have to get out of race, stop dividing ourselves by color. He says that in this book he will discuss the white man, and his need to be superior, is need to be titled man or what all men should be like, and the black man who wants to be “white” or educated, accepted, wealthy, proper…

He also talks about black men and the need to prove themselves to white people. They need to show how intelligent they are, and how equal they are to the white man.

He asks, how we can break this cycle of self hate and glorification? He then says black men only have one destiny in this world and that is to be white, which is shocking, but seems to be true because “white” is the norm.

Next, it is said that this essay is about the psychological state of man. He says that in order to dis-alienate the black man we have to be aware, as a whole, that they are alienated in the first place. He says that in this essay he will attempt to look at many of the mental attitudes the black man develops in the face of white society.

In the first three chapters he will discuss the black man in modern times, and in the latter chapter he will discuss the being of black men. He will also talk about the black man and his struggle to find his identity his place, in a society that he will never fully be a part of because of his skin color.

Fanon's major claim in this chapter is that the Black man is "not." What he means by that, I think, is well described above. If we say there is no "essence" to being black, then to black means, literally, nothing. Now the other problem that he identifies, though, close to what DuBois argues, is that blacks experience an inferiority complex--constantly identifying themselves in terms of their white masters (he's writing in the French colony of Martinique). Also crucial to this chapter

Chapter 1

Fanon starts by saying that the black man has two dimensions: one with his fellow blacks, the other with the whites. He says that black men behave differently when they are with their brothers than when among white people. He blames this on colonial undertaking (Being apart of a group of islands colonized by the French). Following this he says that when one speaks that individual becomes a part of a culture. The problem the black Antilleans face is that by speaking French they assimilate into the white culture, they become white, or move towards whiteness. He puts it very simply by saying when they learn French the closer they get to becoming a true human being. “we are fully aware that this is one of man’s attitudes faced with being. a man who possesses a language possesses as an indirect consequence the world expressed and implied by this language” (pg2). Possessing a language is equivalent to holding power, and as a white man, with his own language, French, he possess power that the Antillean wants. Because they were colonized the Antillean’s lost their own culture and was absorbed into the French culture. This colonization also gave the people an inferiority complex. And now that they have been colonized it is important for them to become as similar to the main land as possible. It is now a priority to fit in, to be like those who took their original culture and created something else, a mix of the two. They must become white.

Nonetheless becoming white does not bring acceptance because one are still black. Your skin is different our accent is different, but even if you speak perfect French you are still black. Fanon says it is a psychological phenomenon that consists in believing the world will open up as borders are broken down. He then talks about the Antillean wanting to escape his home land and join the white people, escape his people, to join another. again showing how the black man is always trying to prove himself, be better than the white man, be the white man.

Next he talks about the Antillean coming home from his trip to france. Now the Antillean is different, he wont speak creole, or he doesn’t understand it anymore, and everyone who is waiting for his return wants him to mess up. They watch and wait for him to fail. Jealousy? But this man who has returned is completely different, he either tries to pretend he has not changed, “lowers” himself to fit in with the natives. Or he flaunts his new education and language, acting as if his friends and family are now beneath him, because he has found whiteness. This educated man Fanon says, feels more inferior that the non educated black man. Because the educated man realizes his faults and is constantly striving to be better do more.

Next he talks about the identity and the black peoples, “Antilleans who get annoyed at being taken for Senegalese. It’s because the Antillean is more “evolue” than the African--- meaning he is closer to the white man. He says that this issue goes from the street to the work place. Its sickening, but very true that with the black culture that instead of praising ach other for our accomplishments we throw them in others faces. He tells a story about the military and one group of blacks saying that the other because they came from a different island was more savage than them. He then presents a theory, saying the black man is just a child. Like a little boy who gets a new fire truck, he wants to show everyone his new toy, but only he can touch it. He will drive it past you, exaggerating his movements so you can see him, but don’t get too close, because your not his friend so why would he let you play with his new fire truck?

I like what he said about intelligence and how intelligence saves no one because intelligence was used to exterminate groups. He then switches to how white men communicate with black men, how they dumb it down for black men. But they feel that they are relating, but really it is just plain disrespectful.
Something that I can definitely relate to is not knowing ones culture, when I interviewed to get into USD, I was asked about my culture, and I couldn’t answer. Fanon says that the black man has no culture, no long history that he can call his own, and that is why perhaps black men now strive so hard to prove their importance to the world. To prove that they have a real history.

In this chapter he focused a lot on the black man trying to escape himself. The Antillean is not satisfied with his life on the island, he must go beyond himself, which I am not sure is a good or bad thing. Forgetting who you are and treating everyone you “knew” as if they were beneath you is never good, but wanting to be better seems fine. Unless, you ask why you are not good enough in the first place? Is it because someone told you that you weren’t good enough?




Chapter 3


Reading chapter three was very confusing. In the beginning of the chapter, we are introduced to the problem of the man of color's fascination with the white woman. Fanon says that, when the black man gains a white woman, he also gains whiteness, he gains acceptance, and he gains power. He is now worthy of white love, which I guess is better than love in general.

He then talks about a man Jean Veneuse, who was abandoned by his parents, and around three or four came to Europe. Fanon calls him a European, but also says that he is still Black, or Negro. He follows with saying that he doesn’t understand his race and the Europeans don’t understand him. This man as I understand him to be from reading the chapter is a brilliant man, but one who cannot over come his past.

Fanon first starts the conversation about this man, by letting us know that he is in love with a white woman, and this white woman loves him. The problem is he needs acceptance. Even though he knows this woman loves him and he knows it he still needs acceptance from the white man. But he only gets this acceptance, by denouncing his blackness, which is impossible. The white man, who gave him this acceptance, says to him that he is virtually white anyway, so there is not a problem, he can have this woman. He can have her because he is not a savage Negro. He is a cultured European man.

So now, he gives up his blackness, but things still aren’t right, because he still needs to be called, to feel truly wanted by this white woman. So she tells him to come, but then he is still uncertain, he asks himself does he want her because as a black man he feels he needs to take revenge on the white man for everything he has done to him. So to get this revenge he should take what is valuable to the white man, what in the past would have meant death, the white woman. He asks himself if he really loves her, or is it lust for revenge. Or is it to prove something, to escape his blackness, to rid himself of himself?

Then Fanon switches gears and he says this man is a neurotic. And that he will never have any functioning relationships because he is so afraid of being abandoned by everyone. This causes him to stay to himself, have low self esteem, and to question everyone and their intensions. All of this is due to his environment and how he the responds to that environment.

I will assume that as a black man, because he was abandoned originally by his family, sent to a boarding school in Europe where he was left alone during breaks because he had no home to go to, and as a young boy never feeling that he fit in with the white Europeans, or black people because he grew up European, the constant uncertainty created a man who would forever be tormented by it. He will never be able to feel comfortable in his own skin, he will never know himself and no one will ever understand him.

I don’t know if I am reaching but that’s what I got from this chapter



Chapter 5

This chapter was difficult to read through, but I found that for the majority of the time Fanon was talking about an incident or many encounter he had where he was seen as a lesser human because he was black. In the opening paragraph he calls him self an object among other objects, as if to say he were a kept thing. A thing, not a person, but a thing. He then goes into ontology saying that for colonized people there is an impurity, a flaw that does not allow an ontological explanation for the black mans being for other. He didn’t go too much further into ontology, but he says that the lack of knowledge about the lived experiences of the black man do not allow ontological explanations. So you can not explain the being of a black man as it is while ignore his experiences. This is because the black man must be black, and black in relation to the white man. So he would have two “beings”. I took this as the black man having two worlds, the world where he is a black man, and a second world where he is a black man in relation to the white man. So in the second world his nature depends on the white man.
He talks about laboratories looking for cures for blackness, like skin color is a disease.
He then brings us to a story of a little boy with his mother who seems to be almost amazed that he exists; he keeps yelling, “look a negro!” as if they were at a zoo looking at caged animals. He says that he wants to laugh at the people watching him, but he felt he couldn’t laugh. In all this he talks about how blacks are depicted in movies, books, history. They are cannibals, ignorant, and savage people. But he says all he wants to be is a man, not black or white but a man, in a world where we are all just people. He says that he doesn’t want to get rid of our individual histories and origins because these are important characteristics of men. He goes back to his story, and the mother of the little boy tells her son to be quiet so he doesn’t make the negro angry… the she says to Fanon, don’t pay attention to the boy because he doesn’t realize that he is as civilized as they are. “The Negro is an animal, the Negro is ugly, and the Negro is wicked (pg93)”. Fanon makes a list of all the things someone could possibly say a Negro is, and then talk about the little boy who noticed the Negro trembling, the little boy becomes afraid, he actually says he thinks the Negro is going to eat him. But fanon is trembling because it’s cold outside. The mother of the child comments on how handsome the Negro is like he is a shirt in a window display, Fanon responds to her by saying, fuck you, madame.
Next he talks about not being able to be a man in the white world. He says that in this society men are told to behave like men, but that because he is black he is told he must behave like a black man. He says that this world told him to stay in line and make himself scarce. To be invisible, to be less than a man, to act like a child.
“The Jew is not liked as soon as he has been detected. But with me things take on a new face. I’m not given a second chance. I am over determined from the outside. I am a slave not to the “idea” others have of me, but to my appearance. (pg95)”
most of this chapter discusses being seen as less than because of his skin. he talks about constantly being hated, and how he has had thoughts about a people who were just slightly tan. this would happen by mixing races, and to keep diluting the race until it was no more. he ends the chapter with blackness as a disability. in this chapter he told a story about a soldier, and this soldier told Fanon's brother to think of his color as he thought of his stump. he says that they are both casualties.




Conclusion


The conclusion was about questioning and how the black man should not live for the past but see how he can change the present and future. Fanon say that life is a constant battle, or struggle for freedom. Fanon talked about everyone being equals and that one being is never more important than the next. And he ends with a prayer to God, saying he hope to always be a man who questions.










SIXTH READING: THE ETHICS OF IDENTITY BY K.A. APPIAH


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Chapter 1

In the first chapter of Appiah’s Ethics of Identity, he talks about the question of who we are and how that is linked to the question of what we are. Appiah discusses various aspects of identity, showing that if society assumes people to fit certain models such as race, religion or sexuality, we will script their lives. By scripting their lives, we not only stereotype people under what labels they fit under, but we also, the person that is being stereotyped will live up to what is expected of them and therefore, reinforce the generalizations given to them.

John Stuart Mill discusses how individuality doesn’t conduce to the social good. He argues for freedom of expression and that people can find the truth more often and easily if we allow our opinions to be tested in public debate. That is to say, for Mill, freedom allows people to develop their individuality and discover truth. Mill values the “enterprise of self creation” (6). He talks about a butler named Mr. Steven’s and how he chose his mode of life, fully aware of any alternatives and other opportunities. Mr. Steven’s “sense of dignity” (something all humans have) and is values center more on decorum, good manners and formality. While he values this because they are part of his life and make up the world that he has chosen to identify with, we may not. That is to say, because he identifies to be a butler and we identify to be someone else, we have different values and senses of dignity. Mill goes on to say that having a plan of life is a way of incorporating different things into your values. He makes clear that this plan is not like an engineer’s plan or some concrete map of all the things going on in our lives, more mutable sets of aims that can be adjusted to everyday choices and long term ambitions.

Appiah discusses how there are two main ways of looking at what shapes our individuality: authenticity or existentialist. The vision of authenticity deals with the idea of finding yourself and discovering by reflecting or paying attention to your surroundings. In this picture, what matters is that you are true to who you already are, assuming there are no influences that distort you. However, the existentialist picture emphasizes the notion of existence preceding essence. This view concerns itself more with choice because it assumes that we exist first and then have the decision to choose what to exist as after. Appiah concludes how neither view is right and that there is something wrong with them both. With authenticity, a problem arises because it suggests that we have no choice or decision in who we are and the lack of creativity that is given to us since it is assumed that we are fixed by our nature. Regarding the existentialist picture, criticisms attack how there seems to only be creativity and a lack of things that we can respond to to form our construction of ourselves. This is because identity is constructed in response to facts outside of ourselves, things that are beyond our choices.

Individuality presupposes sociability and the fact that humans are social creatures. Humans are all part of broader collectivities (collective identities that are response to something outside ourselves). This is what gives us the “loose norms or models” that give us scripts (22). Only collective identities have scripts, for example, there are no “African Americans independent of social practices associated with the racial label” (23). Identity is another source of value that has patterns built into it.


- Christina



Chapter 3

The main focus that Appiah discusses further in chapter three is about scripting and how that affects one’s identity. The chapter starts with the Robbers Cave study in Oklahoma City and how two separate groups of boys that were fairly acquainted with each other started forming labels and grew more passionate about their group over the other. They were called the Rattlers and the Eagles. It started with just competing against each other in sports such as tug of war or baseball but then the tension between both groups grew to the point where capture the flag turned into shredding or burning the flag or raiding each other’s cabins. Respect for the other group was completely shattered and the competition flared. It all started “with the self-assigned labels of the two groups” (63). These labels are what each boy on either side identified with and grew a strong connecting to. The stereotypes that were given to the group, Eagles being “sissies” “cowards” or “little babies” and the Rattlers being “poor losers” and “bums.” The point is even if the boys beforehand did not have any of those characteristics, the labeling and scripting of what they are suppose to be, shapes their identity. It shapes how they will act because not only are the labels of “sissies” etc given to them, but they chose to accept or further, act upon those labels.

The Cave study leads to how cultural identities arise as not the cause of but the consequence of conflicts between one group and another group. “Identity allegiances can be easily conjured into being” is the moral of the experiment with the boys from Robbers Cave.

“Identity” then, refers to features such as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion or sexuality and in another sense, reflects the conviction of who he/she truly is. As Ian Hacking dubs it, “kinds of person” means men, gays, Americans and also professions you choose to identify with such as philosophers, psychologists, butlers etc. Actions of a person are conceptually shaped because what you do intentionally is dependent on what you think you are doing. What we expect out of a psychologist or butler is a recognizable identity because we have expectations about their actions in that role. Those expectations that we have depend on our assumption of intentionally conforming to those expectations.

When labels are given to people, the ideas about the features of each label have not only social but also psychological effects. The ideas influence the way people conceive of themselves and their identity. The labels function like a way of identification. Identification is a process through which individuals shape their projects.

Appiah continues on and gives a structure of every collective identity and how it has to have an availability of terms / labels to be given. Another element that is important is a social identity that is internalized from the labels given to the people. Therefore, the identification has a strong narrative dimension. People will fit their life stories into certain patters of what is “supposed” to happen. The third and final element that is needed for a social identity is the existence of patterns of behavior toward that label that is given. Therfore, when someone is classified as a “B” they have an association with a social conception of what “B’s” are, are identified as “B” and treated as a “B.”

One important thing to recognize is that there are instances where you can choose whether or not to play a certain conventional role but there are also circumstances in which you have no control over such as gender, race or sexual orientation.

- Christina

Chapter 4





Chapter 5