Skip directly to content

Back to Black reviewed in the Guardian

on Fri, 06/22/2018 - 11:50

Black radicalism, Kehinde Andrews argues, is the most misunderstood ideology of the 20th century. And he’s right.

It has become a vague term, lazily employed to encompass everything from the black nationalism of WEB Du Bois or Martin Delany, the Pan-Africanism of Kwame Ture (AKA Stokely Carmichael) and the black Marxism of Amilcar Cabral to the self-sufficiency of Marcus Garvey and the cultural nationalism of the Nation of Islam.

The reasons for misunderstanding black radicalism are intertwined with the reasons it exists in the first place – black thought has been minimised, dismissed and treated with contempt.
If that has presented a kind of vicious cycle, with Back to Black Andrews is positioning himself as a key figure to break it with this lucid, fluent and lively journey through what is – or what he believes is wrongly alleged to be – radical black thought.

Having debated with Andrews myself – we first met on opposing sides of the argument over Obama’s legacy (under the former president, Andrews points out, “the structural position of African Americans actually declined”) – it reads much like a conversation with him in person.

He takes the reader on a rapid-fire tour of black intellectual traditions, dismissing them on the basis of their flaws with apparent ease. His attack, he recognises, “will likely bring howls of disapproval from the conscious community”.

Black nationalism is, he argues, doomed to fail. Black Marxism is a “fundamentally Eurocentric paradigm”. Garveyism wrongly reifies European ideas about race, and in a particularly searing passage, in which Andrews argues that “calling yourself an African, wearing Kente cloth and celebrating Kwanzaa is a lifestyle choice and not an achievement”, cultural nationalism is accused of promoting “faux unity” too.

It’s a compelling polemic, but patchy in places. I felt unsatisfied with Andrews’s treatment of Pan-Africanism, whose theoretical frameworks are conflated with the deeply flawed attempts at their implementation. And while he includes an important discussion on the gender politics associated with movements such as the Black Panthers, Back to Black does not do enough to reinsert the women who helped develop these ideologies – including, in the case of Pan-Africanism, key female figures from Egypt, Sudan, South Africa and Ghana.

Read full review here

Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century
Kehinde Andrews
Zed Books
ISBN 9781786992789
Hardback, £16.99

Contact Yale Representation for more information.