“Race is defined as one group of the populations constituting humanity.” (Coon 62)
Since the 1970’s, the conclusion has been stated that race is a social, cultural and political concept based largely on superficial appearances. The notion of race’ is so emotionally charged that objective discussion of its significance in relation to social problems is extremely difficult. There are three theories that have been very significant in re-defining the term “race” throughout their composition. This essay attempts to define the current North American concept of “race” among the African American culture and other racial notions that have been created throughout the configuration of the Post-Modernist, Feminist and Post-Colonial theories.
Post-Modernism is a complicated term, one that has only emerged as an area of study since the mid-1980’s. Post-Modernism, by it’s very nature, is virtually impossible to come up with one single definition, though, Post-Modernism in it’s totality is the movement in arts, music, literature and drama which rejected the past Victorian ideas of “modern”. The movement contributed to the realization that art has no single meaning and overturned the problems with culture and language boundaries that cut away at art’s meaning, worth and truth. Today, the state of mind of the human world is called Post-Modernism, since it is a multi-cultural era. Racial Post-Modernism calls attention to those understandings that are shared across the boundaries of class, gender and race. To take racism seriously, one must consider the plight of the underclass people of color, a vast majority of whom is black. For African Americans Post-Modern conditions have been and are characterized by continued displacement and despondency. There is increasing class division and differentiation, creating a significant black middle-class concerned with racism to the degree that is poses constraints on upward social mobility. However, this is also building a vast and growing black underclass that embodies a kind of walking rejection that manifests pervasive drug addiction, alcohol abuse, homicide and suicide. (Biddiss 17). Now, because of de-industrialization, we also have a devastated black industrial working class. I am referring to a sentiment of tremendous hopelessness. Very few African American intellectuals have talked, or written, about Post-Modernism. In J.F. Loytard’s book “the Post-Modern Condition”, he confronts the lack of recognition of black presence that much Post-Modernist theory reinscribes and the resistance on the part of most black people to hearing about real connections between Post-Modernism and black experience. (Loytard 24). The overall impact of the Post-Modern condition is that many other ethnic groups now share with black people a sense of deep alienation, despair, uncertainty and a loss of a sense of grounding, even if these emotions are not learned by shared circumstance. Despite the fact that society is becoming more diverse and we are becoming more tolerant of different cultural, religious and racial groups in society.
In the 1960’s, feminism created a voice for all females of different races, colors and ethnic groups. The feminist theory was based on the desire for social and political reforms, as well as to unite women in order to change a woman’s position in society. It was not an all-round encompassing political and social movement, since it blatantly excluded “minority” groups such as black women, lesbians and lower working class women; thus, narrowing feminism and feminist theory down to a small group of elite white women. Many of the “recruits” found by early feminists found feminism and the feminist theory unresponsive to their lived experiences. These feelings were primarily felt because white Middle-class College educated women dominated the issues, responses, methods and ways of talking, which had been classified as “feminism” and they did not portray experiences of non-white women or women of lower class. (Tong 56). There was a realization on the part of middle-class white feminists that these feminist groups needed to include “all” women, and thus started the attempts to recruit non-middle class, non-white, non-straight women into the movement. In the construction of the Feminist Theory, one important level needs to be considered: the element of false universalisation. According to Jane Flax, the definition of false universalisation is the “drawing of a generalization that falsely assumes and does not mark the race, class, gender or sexual orientation of the group being discussed. Applying a set of assumptions about a group to all members of that group.” (Flax 21). The second wave of feminism in 1964, prohibited employment discrimination on the bias of sex as well as race, religion and natural origin. (Flax 24). A liberation movement was formed called the New Left, which focused on the liberation of black women. As a result of this second wave, feminist theory paid little attention to race, class and sexuality, but focused mainly on women’s oppression on the basis of gender. Gender equality should have been a move by all members of a specific gender for reform, it should not have been exclusive to a specific group. Both first wave and second wave movements failed to unify all women, it perhaps caused an irreparable drift between race, social and class groups and that could be the explanation for the many varying feminist theories of today.
There was a shift in attitudes in the 1990’s towards Post-Colonist writers, as seeing themselves as working away from European-derived influences, which have no regard for various ethnic nations. (Barry 193). Post-Colonial literature describes a wide variety of experiences set in the context of mixed societies which themselves represent many different ethnic groups. (Ashcroft 2). New doors have been opened with Post-Colonialism literature, exposing a world previously ignorant of African traditions such as storytelling. (Ashcroft 8). Post-Colonial theory, like a stage for a theatre, is useful as a stage for previously un-hired actors to present their varied roles. Too much has changed to simply revert to the old ways of life. New problems exist and will continue to do so unless one can learn to deal with them in the modern context. Blaming Post-Colonial syndrome on the ills of developing countries sentence those countries to continue in their state of hardship. Rewinding the clock to prevent colonialism from occurring is impossible, so these countries must look at each issue now, in the modern context, as a separate problem to attack. (Saro-Wiwa 89) Yet, for people to act responsibly, they must first have a certain level of understanding for the situation that faces them. However, because Post-Colonialism and exposure to Western culture causes so many changes in African societies, people were thrust into new experiences which they could not comprehend with the guidance of the old traditions. African societies must look inward to find remnants of colonialism which continue to harm their nations, and perhaps, find those which are advantageous in the New World they have been thrust into. (Saro-Wiwa 72) Part of the danger of the term Post-Colonialism stems from people’s disregard for their situation. People prefer to blame other groups perhaps even Post-Colonialists, for their problems and rarely comprehend that they can only help themselves.
Together, the Post-modernist, Feminist and Post-Colonial theories comtributed to the evolution of the definition of “race”. These theories surpassed ethnic and cultural boarders and brought about a whole new way of approaching music, art, literature and society. Peaceful co-existence and co-operation, must start from what is the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, apathies or sympathies – it must be rooted in self-transcendence and by harmony within and with others.