Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America

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Verso, 1999 - Social Science - 282 pages
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For a decade and a half, since she first appeared in the Birmingham Centre's collective volume The Empire Strikes Back, Hazel Carby has been on the frontline of the debate over multicultural education in Britain and the US. This book brings together her most important and influential essays, ranging over such topics as the necessity for racially diverse school curricula, the construction of literary canons, Zora Neale Hurston's portraits of "the Folk," C.L.R. James and Trinidadian nationalism and black women blues artists, and the necessity for racially diverse school curricula.

Carby's analyses of diverse aspects of contemporary culture are invariably sharp and provocative, her political insights shrewd and often against the grain. A powerful intervention, Culture in Babylon will become a standard reference point in future debates over race, ethnicity and gender.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Dispatches from the Multicultural Wars
3
White Woman Listen Black Feminism and the Boundaries
67
Feminism and the Politics
93
The Liberal Bourgeoisie and Racial
100
A Tale of Two Women
116
Reinventing HistoryImagining the Future
129
Proletarian or Revolutionary Literature? C L R James
135
Multiculture
219
The Racism behind the Rioting
229
The Blackness of Theory
232
Civil War and Reconstruction
237
The Multicultural Wars Part One
245
The Multicultural Wars Part Two
256
The Politics of Cultural Identity
264
Acknowledgments
273

The Historical Novel of Slavery
146
On Zora Neale Hurstons Seraph on the Suwanee
160
Schooling in Babylon
189

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About the author (1999)

Hazel V. Carby is a British-born critic of African American literature. Stuart Hall and other scholars affiliated with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in England where she studied during the 1970s informed her work. In Reconstructing Womanhood (1987), Carby focuses on the fiction and journalism of African American women writing from the mid-to-late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. She demonstrates that African American women of that period articulated a distinctive black feminist discourse and politics in response to the sexism of American culture and the racism of the white feminist movements that arose to combat that sexism. She suggests that the racism of white feminist theory has resulted from a failure to see whiteness as a racial (and historical) category, rather than as a universal (and ahistorical) norm. The latter, Carby claims, would guarantee that all women, regardless of differences of race, are "sisters in struggle" because they share an essential femininity or experience of oppression. Carby urges African American feminists to avoid the same mistake by assuming that all African American women share some universal experience of black femininity and oppression that is expressed in the black female literary tradition as a black female aesthetic. The production of an essential black literary tradition or literary aesthetic always necessitates the suppression of differences, including the different aesthetics that may arise in response to different experiences and histories. Carby argues that the current African American literary canon is the product of just such a suppression, because it highlights texts that focus on and even romanticize black southern, rural culture at the expense of northern, urban, working- and middle-class black culture. She calls for a reevaluation of the output of such authors as Nella Larsen and Jessie Redmond Fauset, whose work has been dismissed or ignored because it does not participate in the perpetuation of the myth of "the folk.