Title

Anti-Blackness in Enlightenment Thought & the Limitations of W.E.B. Du Bois

Lead Author Major

English

Format

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor Name

Jeffrey Hole

Faculty Mentor Department

English

Abstract/Artist Statement

Race is perhaps the most devastating social construct of human history. The concept of blackness evokes ideas of inhumanity, evil, and barbarity, and yet this categorization hovers calamitously over a group of human beings. It denies the full personhood of those who lack the mythologized purity of whiteness. The problem of blackness sees its foundational moment in the Enlightenment period. Enlightenment thinkers, from Hume to Kant, from Jefferson to Voltaire, employing a brand of rationalism meant to justify racially based slavery and degradation, classified black people as less than whites and slightly above animals. This research presentation will examine the ways in which Enlightenment thinking has retained its power in the present. It will simultaneously explore how a movement ostensibly predicated on human rights managed to legitimately curtail the definition of personhood to white men alone. Despite the ideas of human equality embodied in America’s founding documents and the formal equality black people receive today, the problem of blackness very much remains. This troubling race concept has been perpetuated to modern times in oftentimes deceptively invisible, but still powerfully impactful ways, invalidating the possibility of a post-racial society.I will use texts of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois to address the problematic nature Enlightenment thinking poses for a 19th century black intellectual who desires to theoretically demonstrate their humanity. Du Bois attempted to dissolve the rational basis for racism while simultaneously evoking the very ideology that is predicated upon the verity of a racial hierarchy. However, his move was necessary in his time, creating the possibility for more radical modes of thought today.

Location

DeRosa University Center, Room 211

Start Date

21-4-2012 1:00 PM

End Date

21-4-2012 5:00 PM

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Apr 21st, 1:00 PM Apr 21st, 5:00 PM

Anti-Blackness in Enlightenment Thought & the Limitations of W.E.B. Du Bois

DeRosa University Center, Room 211

Race is perhaps the most devastating social construct of human history. The concept of blackness evokes ideas of inhumanity, evil, and barbarity, and yet this categorization hovers calamitously over a group of human beings. It denies the full personhood of those who lack the mythologized purity of whiteness. The problem of blackness sees its foundational moment in the Enlightenment period. Enlightenment thinkers, from Hume to Kant, from Jefferson to Voltaire, employing a brand of rationalism meant to justify racially based slavery and degradation, classified black people as less than whites and slightly above animals. This research presentation will examine the ways in which Enlightenment thinking has retained its power in the present. It will simultaneously explore how a movement ostensibly predicated on human rights managed to legitimately curtail the definition of personhood to white men alone. Despite the ideas of human equality embodied in America’s founding documents and the formal equality black people receive today, the problem of blackness very much remains. This troubling race concept has been perpetuated to modern times in oftentimes deceptively invisible, but still powerfully impactful ways, invalidating the possibility of a post-racial society.I will use texts of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois to address the problematic nature Enlightenment thinking poses for a 19th century black intellectual who desires to theoretically demonstrate their humanity. Du Bois attempted to dissolve the rational basis for racism while simultaneously evoking the very ideology that is predicated upon the verity of a racial hierarchy. However, his move was necessary in his time, creating the possibility for more radical modes of thought today.