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There comes a time when the only thing that one can do is admit defeat. Standing at the tail end of a Black Studies movement established as part of the articulation of anti-segregationist, anti-colonialist African and African American political and cultural insurgencies, one is made painfully aware of a sort of necessary and inevitable social and professional marginalization structuring the everyday existence of the so-called black scholar. The broadly imagined ethical outlines of even the most valued projects of black intellectualism continue as ornamental, overly moralistic, never quite fully valid aspects of the industry / government / education complex that we decorously name the American University. Accommodated in ever more brightly colored, if distantly placed and institutionally vulnerable, houses, the Black, African, Africana scholastic project has only the most limited means by which it might affect a sort of inchoate articulation. When times are good and the funding secure the history, thought, and culture of the peoples of the African Diaspora might be taken as a sort of reiteration of the central conceits of American and European cultural and intellectual orthodoxy. A single red/brown/yellow/blue face appearing intermittently in recruitment brochures or faculty lounges boastfully reminds us of the meritocratic liberalism that presumably underwrites the basic structures of our most cherished educational and intellectual institutions. More impressive still, the scholar of Black Studies might make great use of an apparently never too tired for service "plus one" account of black subjectivity in which the most traditional ideas of universalism, cosmopolitanism, and western modernity are presumably broadened and deepened through the indication that some representative black individual "was there." And when times are lean and narratives of scarcity rub harshly against notions of open-minded largesse one might enact again and yet again a sort of hysterically ineffectual theatrical rebellion, identifying the many always easy to uncover moments of racialist hostility and insensitivity that are among the most profoundly resilient aspects of American and European society.


This article was originally published in Callaloo, Volume 38, Number 3, Summer 2015. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press. DOI:



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