The Contours Of Black Political Thought By Michael Dawson

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In “The Contours of Black Political Thought”, Michael Dawson attributes the development of a black “counterpublic” within the United States to “the historically imposed separation of blacks from whites throughout most of American history and the embracing of the concept of black autonomy (independence) as both an institutional principle and an ideological orientation” (Dawson, 27). This term and its classifications originate from key differences between the races in the ways that they perceive and experience their social and political worlds. While technically considered a part of the American public, black citizens have historically, and presently, been excluded from important discussions in the nation’s public sphere. As a result, this “counterpublic” …show more content…
This distinction can be seen as a central theme in the works of nearly all black political theorists as they attempt to explore the foundations and characteristics of African American political thought. One such author was Frederick Douglass, one of the most esteemed abolitionists and writers of his time, whose speech in 1852 entitled “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” exposed the hypocrisy of white citizen’s celebrations of their independence and freedom while denying the same rights to their slaves. Beyond just the issue of citizenship, this work exemplifies differences between the races that created and contributed to their conflicting political ideologies, namely the ways in which they identify with the nation and the values that each find significant enough to spur …show more content…
While most abolitionists based their claim for emancipation on moral grounds, decrying the treatment of African Americans as inhuman and unjust, Douglass framed his argument in the context of white men’s actions and values, choosing to point out the hypocrisy of white citizens in comparison. He does this by first retelling the story of American independence and the founding father’s fight for freedom from their oppressive rulers, commending these men for their willingness to stand against their government and for rights that they believed themselves to be entitled to, even when it was “unfashionable” to do so. From there, Douglass’ moves to the present, speaking of the disparity between modern American society and this revolutionary period, saying “their (the founding fathers) solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times” (Douglass, 11). By linking the struggle for colonial independence with that of black emancipation, Douglass presents the slave’s bondage as something that Americans can relate to and that their fathers had ideologically condemned, even though slavery continued under their new government. He continues this approach of pointing out American hypocrisy by commenting on the church's support of slavery within the United States, a betrayal of the humanitarian values that the institution is supposed to

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