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We Who Are Dark

We Who Are Dark

The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity

Tommie Shelby

ISBN 9780674025714

Publication date: 09/15/2007

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African American history resounds with calls for black unity. From abolitionist times through the Black Power movement, it was widely seen as a means of securing a full share of America's promised freedom and equality. Yet today, many believe that black solidarity is unnecessary, irrational, rooted in the illusion of "racial" difference, at odds with the goal of integration, and incompatible with liberal ideals and American democracy. A response to such critics, We Who Are Dark provides the first extended philosophical defense of black political solidarity.

Tommie Shelby argues that we can reject a biological idea of race and agree with many criticisms of identity politics yet still view black political solidarity as a needed emancipatory tool. In developing his defense of black solidarity, he draws on the history of black political thought, focusing on the canonical figures of Martin R. Delany and W. E. B. Du Bois, and he urges us to rethink many traditional conceptions of what black unity should entail. In this way, he contributes significantly to the larger effort to re-envision black politics and to modernize the objectives and strategies of black freedom struggles for the post-civil rights era. His book articulates a new African American political philosophy--one that rests firmly on anti-essentialist foundations and, at the same time, urges a commitment to defeating racism, to eliminating racial inequality, and to improving the opportunities of those racialized as "black."


  • Shelby's aim is to show that one can achieve a robust form of black solidarity without a commitment to black identity. He identifies robust solidarity as entailing: identification between group members, shared values or goals, group loyalty and mutual trust. I think the arguments that he offers that all these elements of robust solidarity are possible without the sort of distinctive black identity required by collective identity theory are compelling. This is important, because many people take it for granted that the pursuit of solidarity entails the need for identity. In articulating the necessary analytic distinctions, Shelby makes the kind of contribution that I believe is characteristic of the most useful philosophical interventions in African American studies (and in many other fields): he shows that there is conceptual space for more options than the current debate presupposes.

    —K. Anthony Appiah, author of The Ethics of Identity


  • Tommie Shelby is Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University. In addition to Dark Ghettos he is the author of We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity and coeditor with Brandon M. Terry of To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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