Sartre, phenomenology and the subjective approach to race and ethnicity in Black orpheus

Philosophy and Social Criticism 27 (3):91-103 (2001)
While Appiah and Soyinka criticize racial essentializing in Sartre and the Negritude poets, Sartre in Black Orpheus interprets the Negritudinists as employing a phenomenological, anamnestic retrieval of subjective experience. This retrieval uncovers two ethical attitudes: a less exploitative approach toward nature, and a conversion of slavery’s suffering into a stimulus for universal liberation. These attitudes spring from peasant cultural traditions and ethical responses to others’ race-based cruelty, rather than emanating from mystified ‘blackness’. Alfred Schutz’s because-motive analysis, a process of narrative self-constitution, renders plausible these linkages the Negritudinists draw between themselves and peasant or slave ancestors. Such narratives, customarily constructed in common sense by European- and African-Americans, regularly involve mythic elements, serve laudable ethical purposes and require continual theoretical critique by anthropology, genetics and ethics. Theory, though, plays only a critical, corrective role for subjective, anamnestic recoveries of racial and ethnic identity, and it can never replace them
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