On the Contributions of John McClendon and Stephen Ferguson to the
APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience

By Ralph Dumain


First, on scope and definition: I am here reviewing the output of this one newsletter, which covers a limited number of authors and works on Black or African-American related philosophy. Note also that while African American Philosophy is a category of relatively recent invention, sometimes it is lumped in with the even newer category of Afro-Caribbean Philosophy or the older category of African Philosophy as a disciplinary phenomenon (1945- ) into the larger category of Africana Philosophy. One might question what these categories mean and the extent to which there is a real continuity and historical cross-referencing of the authors concerned, rather than an arbitrary lumping together of authors and writings, even of a variety of genres. There is also the question of whether these categories are merely descriptive of a region or demographic group or intellectual network, or meant to indicate something unique or intrinsic to the philosophizing so subsumed.

At some point, however, once a tradition is compiled and named, even if entirely arbitrarily and opportunistically, once it finds an academic niche with a developed citation pattern, it becomes a socially instituted category.

The title of the newsletter is fairly innocent and probably preferable to the most likely alternatives. First, it is not limited to Black philosophers as contributors to the field. Secondly, it does not presume the existence of a Black philosophy. While there are all types of Black experiences and experiences of Black people, from an historical, social standpoint, the title is legitimate: whatever philosophy is is being applied to the Black experience, or the Black experience is interrogating the philosophical tradition.

All this is not mere word-juggling on my part. There are radically different agendas in play in the philosophical conceptions behind the terminology.

One of the Newsletter’s co-editors, John H. McClendon III, is a Marxist-Leninist, as is his colleague Stephen C. Ferguson II. While there are worthy articles here and there by other authors, these two are the only ones who provide a broadly methodical, consistently anti-obscurantist and non-ethnocentric approach to the subject matter. Note that, aside from Ferguson’s articles and a book review by Floyd W. Hayes III on McClendon and Ferguson on sports, serious engagement with their ideas is not to be found.

McClendon’s approach to African American Studies and Philosophy

In “Black and White contra Left and Right? The Dialectics of Ideological Critique in African American Studies” McClendon states his dialectical materialist approach to Black Studies in opposition to both social constructivist/conventionalist and racialist approaches to race, both of which he deems idealist and bourgeois. The German lineage of dialectics, while not popular in the U.S.A., is nonetheless no stranger within the lineage of Black thought, from Charles Leander Hill to C.L.R. James to Eugene Holmes to Abram Harris to Franz Fanon to Martin Luther King Jr. to Angela Davis. (James’s scorn for linguistic philosophy is quoted.) McClendon favorably cites African scholars claiming that dialectical logic originates in Africa. (What does this mean? And are the rudimentary dialectical conceptions of ancient civilizations such as Greece and China even relevant to the modern world?) Several other thinkers are cited, with the suggestion of a rich history of dialectical thought. Yet given the ideological variety within McClendon’s list, can this be said to constitute a real lineage or tradition of dialectical thought? His larger point, though, is that contemporary Black thought in America is impoverished by comparison when it comes to the utilization of dialectical conceptions.

Cornel West comes in for some sharp criticism. Quoting West and Sartre, McClendon states: “West adopts the dialectical method in an ostensibly subjectivist manner. West, following in the Sartrean tradition, denies any ontological status to dialectics.” Both see Marxian dialectics as heuristic. This presumably abets West’s conventionalism. West identifies Du Bois with pragmatism, rather than dialectics. Pragmatism, however, in the Deweyan vein, was founded on the rejection of dialectics.  Hence West’s outlook is eclectic and incoherent.

The vacuous rhetoric and intellectual charlatanism of prophetic pragmatism (embodied in the very term!) really do stand in need of a sound thrashing, but this seems to me an odd way to go about it. [1] Aside from the lack of delineation of what is meant by dialectics, those who hold to dialectics, and even those who would lay claim to some form of “dialectical materialism” are by no means unanimous on the nature of dialectics, the relation of subjective to objective dialectics, the existence of a dialectical logic, or the dialectics of nature.

McClendon next explains the difference between internal and external criticism in ideological critique. William R. Jones, for example, engaged in internal criticism to explode Black liberation theology from within. External criticism, or ideological critique, issues from a fundamentally different conceptual basis from the object of criticism. McClendon delves into the question of critique in greater detail. It seems that “ideological critique” is not quite the same as what I think of as “ideology critique”, in which the concept of ideology is negative only; i.e. ideology = mystified consciousness. Rather, ideology seems to take both positive and negative meanings; that is, with the correct ideological perspective one criticizes an incorrect ideology. In any case, McClendon’s objective is the critique of bourgeois ideology, even when bourgeois ideology assumes the guise of an anti-racist critique.

One form of bourgeois critique is Afrocentricity. “The racial/racialist critique is constituted in a kind of dichotomized theoretical modus operandi, wherein Black intellectual/cultural paradigms stand contra white intellectual/cultural paradigms . . .” Charles W. Mills offers another approach in The Racial Contract, in which he criticizes contractarianism as white rather than bourgeois. [2] Cedric Robinson attacks Marxism as white from the allegedly external position of blackness. McClendon argues against the equation of Western thought with capitalism and white supremacy and against the notion that Marxism is external and alien to Black peoples. The real division, within and not between civilizations is left and right, not black and white. A dialectical, objective, scientific, materialist basis is necessary for the critique of white supremacy.

Next we find detailed case studies, the first, of Patricia Hill Collins, an exemplar of conventionalist epistemology in the service of social constructionism. Collins’ notion of knowledge is shown to be both subjectivist and contextualist, the context being the immediate context of a specific social position rather than the context of the structure and functioning of society as a whole, scientifically analyzed. [3] The failure to distinguish between religious and scientific knowledge claims is conspicuous. Collins fingers positivism as “Eurocentric masculinist epistemology.” She does not reject positivism in toto, and she also fails to identify it as bourgeois. She also conflates Marxism with positivism for its claim to objective truth.

Another issue that surfaces is the notion of race as a social construct, understandably opposing the notion of race as a natural category. But recognizing race as a social category would avoid simply dismissing it as a convention and occluding its reality in the organization of social production. The constructionist approach is favored in the leftish academy because it seems to foster an orientation towards active transformation, framed within a voluntarist perspective. However, such voluntarism amounts to a vague notion without substantive content. 

McClendon links race to Marxian value theory and emphasizes the material societal organization underlying racialism. “Recognition of white supremacy and racism as bourgeois ideology, in all of its theoretical complexities, presupposes comprehending the nature of bourgeois society in all of its material complexities.”

McClendon next tackles Black ideology and the notion of a Black social science. From the beginning of the movement for Black Studies in the ‘60s, Black nationalists criticized the established academy and its purported value-neutrality as essentially white and thus were bent on the manufacture of a Black ideology. This was quite different from Black critiques of the social sciences in the 1930s, that focused on their basis in bourgeois ideology rather than in supposed Whiteness. Even worse, former Marxists have since joined the ranks of the racialists.

“In conclusion, the philosophical task we face today in AAS is to uproot this dangerous ideological weed of racialism. How can we do this? We must use as our theoretical instrument the philosophy of dialectical materialism.” 

I do not find a clear indication of what constitutes dialectical materialism and how it is used as an instrument rather than just a declared philosophical position. (“Dialectical materialism” and “Marxism-Leninism” in McClendon’s work are apparently derived from Soviet Marxism, which has diffused throughout the world and shows up also in tendencies not tied to the pro-Soviet Communist parties.) Dialectics is not substantively explained, a task essential to understanding the dialectics of race, class, gender, and whatever social factors and identities come into play. This is an essential task, as the dominant trend in left bourgeois thought today, especially as purveyed by the Collins brand of feminism, is the debased concept of “intersectionality”, which merely serves the subject position of intellectual representatives of a demographic who don’t really represent anybody. [4]

However, though my route is somewhat different from McClendon’s, my conclusions are substantially the same. As Marxism is wiped from the intellectual scene, we are served the pauper’s broth of left bourgeois thought, of West, Mills, Robinson, Collins, of prophetic pragmatism, intersectionality, womanism, whiteness, and privilege politics.

In “The African American Philosopher and Academic Philosophy: On the Problem of Historical Interpretation” McClendon states that there is no published comprehensive history of African American philosophy. McClendon poses sets of empirical and conceptual questions that need to be addressed. The first set involves identifying the individuals, their education, the academic or nonacademic settings in which they worked, emphasis on teaching or research, their audience, their philosophical interests. The second set of questions involve the atemporality or historicity of philosophical questions and the relationship of philosophical work (defined how?) to broader intellectual history. Preconceived notions of African American philosophy skew anthologies and textbooks in particular directions and may even be taken by the unwary as canonical.  In confronting these issues we are inevitably led to metaphilosophy.

What is the relationship between the conceptual and empirical in philosophy? Ontological questions are generally considered to be conceptual, not strictly tied to specific empirical knowledge and given scientific theories, but which must take them into account and thus progress, or otherwise regress into idealist arbitrariness. The history of philosophy is inherently empirical as well as conceptual. Without more scrupulous attention given to the empirical dimension of African American philosophy, its conceptual formulation will suffer. Exploration of a specific philosophical question (here, “whiteness” is given as an example, oddly), like that of a scientific question, need not take into account past theoretical formulations, which can be left to the historians. But a general conception of African American philosophy cannot be legitimately established without first establishing its empirical history. Also, the progress of African American philosophy might be inhibited by repetition of the mistakes of the past.

McClendon offers a curious example. Marimba Ani’s Yurugu, which posits a metaphysical opposition between African and European philosophy, is a prime example of Afrocentricity. George G. M. James’s Stolen Legacy claims that Greek philosophy is just Egyptian philosophy plagiarized. But Ani, unlike other black intellectuals, took little note of his fellow Afrocentric James’s work, which in fact contradicts his own. (African vs. European philosophy contradicts the notion that European = African philosophy.) Certain critics of Afrocentricity ignore Ani and concentrate on James, as James’s view is at least consistent with the notion of the autonomy of Greek philosophy. If James turned out to be correct, then Ani’s viewpoint woud be as false as the that of the opponents of Afrocentricity, but would have also been part of the larger debate had Ani taken James into account.

This is not an argument one sees every day! I would classify it as an internal critique, as the appropriate external criticism would dismiss both of these obscurantists and all Afrocentric thought as crackpot metaphysics and mysticism. But McClendon’s exposition does demonstrate implications of positing a philosophical tradition, and in a fashion that would not have occurred to me.

When examining the deficient empirical basis of purported canons of African American philosophy, one notes the preponderance of nonacademic over academic philosophers. Examining certain anthologies, McClendon finds an absence of African American philosophers active prior to 1965. This absence is noticeable in James Montmarquet’s and William Hardy’s Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy and Tommy Lott’s African-American Philosophy: Selected Readings. (Lott’s anthology is comprised entirely of social and political thought, which should have been in the title rather than “philosophy”, as this is really a non-philosophical compilation.) Even in the section on Marxism in Lott’s book, the academic Black Marxist philosopher Eugene C. Holmes is absent. Given the exclusions imposed on Black professionals, the history of Black institutions of higher learning must also be taken into account. Historiography of philosophy done by Black philosophers also has a history, going back to 1889, when Rufus Lewis Perry published Sketch of Philosophical Systems. With the exception of Alain Locke, academic Black philosophers have been consigned to historical oblivion. Other philosophers at Howard University alone include Lewis Baxter Moore, Forest Oran Wiggins, Eugene C. Holmes, Winston K. McAlister, Joyce Mitchell Cooke, William R. Jones, and William Banner. McClendon elaborates on the bigger historical picture, which includes the institutional as well as the individual history. (Note the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentors at Morehouse on King’s perspective.) Then there is the roster of Black intellectuals who studied outside of the United States. I cannot reproduce McClendon’s detailed historical account here.

The balance of McClendon’s contributions to this Newsletter involve both detailed empirical history and conceptual analysis. His essays on Anton Wilhelm Amo and Charles Leander Hill,  Francis A. Thomas, and his two tributes to William R. Jones are primarily historical and biographical. (The article on Jones co-authored with Brittany L. O’Neal is also analytical.) McClendon’s essay on the television program White Shadow and comparable portrayals of black athletes is both historical and analytical. His review of Mark David Wood’s book on Cornel West is a critical analysis of Wood as well as of West.

McClendon on Angela Davis

Note that “Angela Davis: Marxist Philosophy, Patricia Hill Collins, and the Matter of Black Feminist Thought” is the one essay in which McClendon clarifies what he means by dialectics. McClendon wonders what happened to Davis’s Marxism: “By the time Davis offers her book review of Patricia Hill Collins in 1993, we discover her critical insights from Marx are glaringly absent.” First, expanding on the already mentioned critique of Collins, McClendon effectively eviscerates the subjective idealist foundations of her Black feminist epistemology. Radicalism disappears into identity-based liberalism. There is no way of demarcating a scientific materialist vs. a religious fideist approach to epistemology. But Davis praises Collins to the skies, lauding her Afrocentric feminist (standpoint) epistemology, anti-positivism, and eclecticism. Davis, like Collins, fails to qualitatively differentiate Black women intellectuals, effectively disappearing the central Marxist concern with class. 

McClendon proceeds to a critique of other critiques of Davis. He targets the essay “Notorious Philosopher: The Transformative Life and Work of Angela Davis” by Judith Mary Green and Blanch Radford Curry for use of loaded language like “homogenizing universalisms” and “essentialism” in postmodernist and pragmatist terms to discredit Davis’s Marxism. McClendon does not approve of their criticism of Davis’s political loyalties involving the USSR and Cuba along with their coded objections to her Marxism-Leninism. Here is where I part company with McClendon, but otherwise I agree with McClendon’s exposure of Green’s and Curry’s legerdemain.

Note that McClendon objects to these two affirmatively linking Davis’s politics to pragmatism, thus misidentifying the Marxist concept of practice. I will return to this question of theory and practice momentarily.

McClendon also finds Joy James’s critique of Davis wanting in labeling Davis an elite intellectual but failing to examine her commitment to Marxism.

McClendon’s critique is perceptive as far as it goes, but there are further questions to be raised about Angela Davis. Not discounting her political commitments and travails, or her work on race, class, and gender, I find only one work of hers that is strictly philosophical, and exemplary as well. The initial installment of her Lectures on Liberation, delivered in 1969, later published when she was on trial for her life, was absolutely pioneering in its linkage of Marx and Frederick Douglass. [5] She never had the opportunity to continue, subsequently fired by Reagan and company and proceeding down the hazardous road we all know. Philosophy as such seems to drop out of her purview. Was this merely circumstantial, a result of preoccupation with prison reform, persecution by the police/legal state apparatus, etc.? How did Davis reconcile in her own mind what she learned from Adorno and Marcuse while embracing not only the Communist Party, but its committant linkage with the Soviet bloc? Is it possible that decades of membership in the CPUSA blunted her philosophical development, that theory was occluded by practice in an anti-intellectual country and in a theoretically deficient political party, thus leaving her vulnerable in a post-Soviet world to what “activism” has been reduced to today? This is not to cast aspersions on the seriousness of her political engagements, but if we concern ourselves with her theoretical interventions, there is more to think about than the simple abandonment of Marxism-Leninism, which itself has always been infected by vulgar pragmatism under a theoretical guise.

McClendon on Kwame Nkrumah

Finally we come to McClendon’s two articles on Nkrumah. “On Assessing the Ideological Impact of Garveyism on Nkrumaism: Political Symbolism Contra Theoretical Substance”  is both historical and analytical. McClendon reviews Nkrumah’s educational trajectory and the motivations behind Nkrumah’s formulation of Consciencism. The point of departure is a critique of the misuse of a seemingly favorable quote by Nkrumah about Garvey to demonstrate an affinity between two political philosophies that are in actuality antithetical.

 “Kwame Nkrumah’s Materialism contra Representative Realism” is a response to an article by Parker English, arguing contra English that Nkrumah’s dialectical materialism is incompatible with Senghor’s idealist Negritude (even with modifications), which in its positing of European and African essences, essentially correlates with collaboration with imperialism.

Parker proposed that Consciencism be aligned with representative rather than direct realism. McClendon argues that Nkrumah’s philosophy is that of dialectical materialism and does not come out of empiricism in any of its varieties, and that Nkrumah’s materialism can no way be reconciled with Senghor’s idealist Negritude. English deploys Whewell’s concept of consilience to promote if not to conclude that the notion that Nkrumah and Senghor can be reconciled and subsumed into a common philosophy on the basis of representative realism. McClendon argues that such consilience would have to operate ontologically, and that the philosophies of Nkrumah and Senghor are mutually exclusive, as are their politics. The only commonality between the two is that they both err with respect to physics. Lenin’s perspective on materialism is part of this discussion.

So far so good, but with McClendon’s treatment of Paulin Hountondji, whom English had introduced into his argument, something goes awry. McClendon is perplexed by Hountondji’s failure to find scientific socialism intrinsically connected to materialism. This failure is alleged to be a corrolary of Althusser’s idealism. Note though that the original quote in English translation is:

 “[it] is just as arbitrary to found socialism on materialism as on idealism, as arbitrary to found oligarchy on idealism as on materialism (or on any other metaphysical system for that matter). Our political choices stand on their own feet...if they need justification, it must be political justification, belonging to the same level of discourse and not to what is the completely different (ex hypothesis) level of metaphysical speculation.”

The notion that any social formation or doctrine can be founded on a metaphysical system is itself an incorrect formulation. Could Hountondji have in mind Stalin’s nonsense about historical materialism as an application of dialectical materialism? McClendon is concerned that Althusserian “reasoning about ideology and science makes rendering the notion of a scientific ideology as problematic at best.”

McClendon states: “The critical link here is precisely that materialism founds scientific socialism.” The notion of founding I find nonsensical. No philosophy founds anything of an empirical nature, but a system of thought with empirical content can be philosophically criticized as to its structure, ontological commitments, and epistemic justification. The political correlate is the question of comprehension vs. obscurantism, but even so, even the fight against obscurantism does not provide per se a “theoretical guide to practical struggle.”  It contributes to an orientation in social theory that clarifies the nature of the struggle. Materialism is useful as an orientation in the service of critique, not the propagation of a doctrine. The entire history of Soviet Marxism-Leninism as a doctrine is an unmitigated disaster.

While McClendon finds Nkrumah consistent with Marx/Engels’ The German Ideology and Lenin’s notion of scientific ideology, I must point out that nowhere does Marx endorse a positive notion of ideology, nor does Engels anywhere that I recall; for them the notion of a “scientific ideology” would be an absurdity. Because Nkrumah states that philosophy is an instrument of ideology, Hountondji (an Althusserian) alleges that Nkrumah illegitimately instrumentalizes philosophy. Based on this objection, Hountondji would thus sequester philosophy from a role as “theoretical guide to practical struggle.” I find McClendon’s argument quite muddled, as opposed to the clarity with which he otherwise rebuts English and explicates the irreconcilable differences between Nkrumah and Senghor.

The very notion of a “scientific ideology” is misguided. This horrid concoction of Soviet Marxism guts the only conception of ideology worth considering, i.e. ideology as mystified consciousness. Marxism intellectually is essentially an approach to analysis and critique, and not about the propagation of a doctrine. Doctrine of any kind, however rationalistic in its tenets, can and does function ideologically, that is, in a mystifying fashion.

McClendon does have a sophisticated argument as to why philosophy matters politically. Whatever the initial motives and ideologies have motivated the masses to embark on revolutionary transformation . . .

“. . . their resolute and persistent engagement in socialist revolution mandates they obtain proletarian class-consciousness as the enduring substance behind their commitment. This elevation of theory, ideology, and consciousness is, in fact, founded on a greater comprehension of reality (i.e., the Marxist materialist ontology is the basis for scientific understanding). Affective commitments must be founded on cognitive awareness (scientific comprehension) of objective problems/conditions and their associated tasks.”

This greater comprehension of reality has never been achieved among the masses anywhere in the world. All that has been propagated is doctrine, which its proponents themselves never fully understood, and which has functioned in a formulaic, ideological fashion in the pejorative sense.

Had Nkrumah written a book entitled something like Introduction to Dialectical Materialism, limiting its scope to the exegesis of materialist philosophy, his work would have been unobjectionable. But for Nkrumah to take on the role of a charismatic savior figure—Nkrumah as Osagyefo—and to cement a charismatic dictatorship via branding the superfluous pseudo-concept of Consciencism, which adds nothing of value to a materialist philosophy, however sound otherwise, is to engage in the propagation of ideology at its worst. This is the essence of what bothers Hountondji about Nkrumah. And if the artifice of a fake philosophical doctrine like Consciencism is held to be indispensable, there is further proof that the establishment of socialism in a backward third world country is an impossibility.

The balance of McClendon’s essay is devoted to the questions of direct realism, representative realism, and categorial conversion which are in contention. McClendon dissects English’s mistaken attribution of direct realism to Nkrumah. I will not reproduce the details of the analysis here. Interestingly, Nkrumah links the categorical conversion of body to mind to Frege and logical grammar. McClendon refutes English’s charge that Nkrumah fails to distinguish between what is true of science and what is true of language. Nkrumah’s errors lie elsewhere. Finally, McClendon counters English’s straddling of the fence between materialism and idealism.

To sum up: McClendon has effectively provided rich historical information on the history of African American philosophy and the nature of its institutionalization. He has effectively confronted the barrage of obscurantism in this field, often coupling his analyses with concern whether or how something fits within the tradition of Marxism-Leninism.

Ferguson’s approach to African American philosophy

Given the centrality of C.L.R. James as a 20th century intellectual and the range of his work, I will have to defer discussion of James and Ferguson’s two pieces in the Newsletter for another occasion.

Ferguson provides an example of his methodology in his article on teaching Hurricane Katrina, relating this catastrophe to race, class, theodicy, and atheism. Ferguson outlines how he teaches his students a Marxist-Leninist perspective on religion, combined with the fundamental issue of theodicy inspired by black religious humanist William R. Jones, Jr., author of Is God a White Racist?.  Not only does Ferguson cite Marx and Lenin, but he adduces a neglected secular humanist strain in Black thought that can be counterpoised to religious idealism. This strain includes such figures as Richard B. Moore, Hubert Harrison, J. A. Rogers, George S. Schuyler, Walter Everette Hawkins, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Eugene C. Holmes, C. L. R. James, and Kwame Nkrumah. Given the paucity of public expression of Black atheism (although Black atheist activism is increasingly visible in recent years on blogs, in social networking, and even in some news media) and the noxious saturation of Black public intellectual life by religiosity, it is refreshing to see the nonbeliever’s perspective expressed.

William R. Jones’s overall philosophical methodology is extensively elaborated in the Newsletter. George Yancy’s interview with Jones is most revealing. The reasoning behind Jones’s rejection of Afrocentrism is most interesting. While Jones’s motive and angle of attack for injecting the Black experience into professional philosophy is understandable and laudable, I draw back on the notion of a Black philosophy. I find Jones’s conception of philosophy rather narrowly focused.

The tribute to Jones by McClendon and Brittany L. O’Neal is one of the two richest of the Newsletter’s homages. From their detailed exposition I gained an appreciation I would not have had otherwise for the strategic importance of exploding Black theology from within.

Otherwise, among the many tributes to Jones the big payoff for me is Ferguson’s article. Linking Jones to Ludwig Feuerbach nails Jones’s philosophical perspective. [6] In addition to highlighting the limitations or transitional nature of Jones, Ferguson highlights Jones’s wider applicability. Ferguson places Jones in the top rank of his influences, but he also reminds us that Jones can be deployed across the board to combat liberation theology wherever it surfaces.

Ferguson’s review of Lewis Gordon’s anthology An Introduction to Africana Philosophy is a breath of fresh air in several respects. Ferguson criticizes the selectivity of Gordon’s anthology and the tendentious view of Africana philosophy it supports. Given Gordon’s stated views, Ferguson responds: “Africana philosophy would appear to be nothing more than critical race theory.” He notes that Black philosophers need not and have not confined themselves to the subject matter of the Africana experience. Furthermore: “Gordon fails to recognize the categorical difference between intellectual history and the history of philosophy.” (This failure is ubiquitous.) Philosophy “to some degree possesses its own internal history which is not to be submerged in general intellectual history.” Gordon’s failure to make the distinction skews his selection process, favoring non-philosophers over professional philosophers in the service of racial vindicationism. Another conspicuous failure is the omission of Black philosophers’ engagement with the natural sciences. Gordon’s bias is also manifest is his omission of Marxism, save for Cedric Robinson’s ethnocentric falsification of Marxism, Gordon’s mention of Angela Davis, and Gordon’s false labeling of C.L.R. James under the pseudo-category (my designation) of Afro-Caribbean thought. [7] Ferguson finds valuable material in Gordon’s anthology, but condemns the omission of Paulin Hountondji. There are minor quibbles to be had with Ferguson’s review, but Ferguson supplements Gordon’s offerings with a number of valuable references.


In addition to offering the most sustained and elaborated metaphilosophical approach to the subject matter, McClendon and Ferguson are the only contributors to this Newsletter who have assiduously exposed the obscurantism rampant in Black or Africana Studies.

What then might one hope for in supplementing or diverging from a classic Marxist-Leninist approach to philosophy incorporating the “Black experience”? From time to time I have seen engagements on the part of Black philosophers with figures of the Frankfurt School, though some have apparently moved on to greener pastures. I recall references to Marcuse and Habermas. I cannot recall an in-depth engagement with Adorno, the most profound philosopher within that orbit of the most profound philosophers of the 20th century, and whose concept of the “culture industry” is more applicable today than ever. It is important not only to counter the academic infatuation with pop culture garbage (which now extends to professional philosophers!), but to grapple with the radical change in cultural content and the experience of group identity in an era in which generations are raised from birth in a social environment saturated with media culture and electronic interactivity. Also, given the partial or complete assimilation of a small subset of Black Americans into mainstream society, or more accurately, socialization in a multiracial, multiethnic, media-saturated environment in which their cultural orientation and interests, if not identity, can no longer be recognized as identifiably “Black,” there are questions to be posed which could at most only have been vaguely dreamed of by generations brought up in the United States in the era of segregation. There is even one prominent intellectual figure who, though he has spoken and written about racism, has taken on a public role not defined in any way by race: Neil de Grasse Tyson, who by now may have become the world’s most famous scientist. What is the future of identity, and the future of philosophy, given the current state of American society and the crises it faces? Marxism as a developing critical approach probes more widely and deeply than Soviet-derived or other historical versions of Marxist-Leninist doctrine, but also more deeply than the fashionable left bourgeois theories that serve to legitimate specific subject positions, “represented” by theorists entirely submerged in commodity logic; because all other social justice issues cannot be completely understood without dissecting the capitalist system as a whole.


[1] See my two critiques of Cornel West.

[2] Contrast Mills’ recent work with his excellent article on Marx’s conception of ideology.

[3] There is no end to the proliferation and compounding of identities, each in turn engendering complaints of marginalization by the others. See the essays of Karl Maton.

[4] Ditto for the infantilism of “privilege” politics, based on the empty accusatory and confessional posturing of middle class professionals. When Marxism was a going concern and there was such a thing as labor politics, the conceptual content and political purpose of the notion of privilege was more substantial. For contrast with the increasingly cartoonish posture of privilege politics and Whiteness Studies, see the pioneering Marxist work of Theodore W. Allen.

[5] This work has been anthologized more than once, most recently in a new critical edition of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

[6] I have compared Jones to the Young Hegelians, but see all my blog posts on Jones at http://reasonsociety.blogspot.com/search/label/William%20R.%20Jones.

[7] The direction taken by The C.L.R. James Journal, subsuming James under the fictitious category of Afro-Caribbean Philosophy, an entity that James would surely have rejected, is a particularly noxious distortion of his legacy. It should also be noted that, while James was indeed a Marxist and a highly heterodox devotee of Lenin, for the duration of his adult life James detested Soviet Marxism-Leninism and all its incarnations in the Communist parties of the world.


All references to McClendon, Ferguson, and Hayes, and to George Yancy’s interview with William R. Jones, are to articles in the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience. http://www.apaonline.org/?blacks_newsletter

John H. McClendon III (in chronological order):

“Black and White contra Left and Right? The Dialectics of Ideological Critique in African American Studies,” vol. 2, no. 1, Fall 2002.

An Essay-Review of Mark David Wood’s Cornel West and the Politics of Prophetic Pragmatism; vol. 2, no. 1, Fall 2002.

“Introduction to Drs. Anton Wilhelm Amo and Charles Leander Hill,” vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 2003.

“On Assessing the Ideological Impact of Garveyism on Nkrumaism: Political Symbolism Contra Theoretical Substance,” vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 2003.

“My Tribute to a Teacher, Mentor, Philosopher and Friend: Dr. Francis A. Thomas (March 16, 1913 to September 17, 2001);” vol. 3, no. 1, Fall 2003.

“The African American Philosopher and Academic Philosophy: On the Problem of Historical Interpretation,” vol. 4, no. 1, Fall 2004.

“Kwame Nkrumah’s Materialism contra Representative Realism,” vol. 5, no. 1, Fall 2005.

“Angela Davis: Marxist Philosophy, Patricia Hill Collins, and the Matter of Black Feminist Thought;” vol. 10, no. 1, Fall 2010.

“The Black Athlete and the White Shadow: The Matter of Philosophy of History and the Problem of the Color-line,” vol. 11, no. 1, Fall 2011.

“Dr. William Ronald Jones (July 17, 1933 - July 13, 2012): On the Legacy of the Late ‘Dean’ of Contemporary African American Philosophers,” vol. 12, no. 2, Spring 2013.

With Brittany L. O’Neal: “William R. Jones and Philosophical Theology: Transgressing and Transforming Conventional Boundaries of Black Liberation Theory,” vol. 13, no. 1, Fall 2013.

Stephen C. Ferguson II (in chronological order):

“C. L. R. James, Marxism, and Political Freedom;” vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 2003.

An Essay-Review of John H. McClendon’s C. L. R. James’s Notes on Dialectics: Left-Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism?; vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 2005.

“Teaching Hurricane Katrina: Understanding Divine Racism and Theodicy,” vol. 7, no. 1, Fall 2007.

Review: Lewis Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy; vol. 9, no. 1, Fall 2009.

“On the Occasion of William R. Jones’s Death: Remembering the Feuerbachian Tradition in African-American Social Thought,” vol. 12, no. 2, Spring 2013.

Review of McClendon and Ferguson:

Hayes, Floyd W., III: Review: John H. McClendon III and Stephen C. Ferguson II, Beyond the White Shadow: Philosophy, Sports, and the African American Experience; vol. 12, no. 2, Spring 2013.

William R. Jones and George Yancy:

“The Honor Was All Mine: A Conversation with William R. Jones” with George Yancy, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring 2013.

Other authors:

Allen, Theodore W. The Invention of the White Race, introduction by Jeffrey B. Perry. 2 vols. 2nd ed. London; New York: Verso, 2012. (Vol. 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control. Vol. 2: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America.) See also Jeffrey B. Perry web site: http://www.jeffreybperry.net.

Davis, Angela. Lectures on Liberation. Los Angeles; New York: National (United) Committee to Free Angela Davis, 1971. 24 pp. Reprint of initial lectures for Davis’s ‘Recurring Philosophical Themes in Black Literature’ course at UCLA in Fall quarter of 1969. http://archive.org/details/LecturesOnLiberation

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself: A New Critical Edition, by Angela Y. Davis, including her “Lectures on Liberation.” San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010.

Dumain, Ralph. “Cornel West and Marxism: An Incomplete Review.” 2007/2010.  http://www.autodidactproject.org/my/cornel2-marxism.html

____________. “Cornel West’s Evasion of Philosophy, Or, Richard Wright’s Revenge,” AAH Examiner [The Newsletter of African Americans for Humanism], vol. 6, no. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 3-6. http://www.autodidactproject.org/my/cornel1.html

Hountondji, Paulin J. African Philosophy: Myth and Reality, translated by Henri Evans and  Jonathan Rée; introduction by Abiola Irele. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. (1976, original French publication.)

Jones, William R. Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology. New York: Doubleday, 1973.

Maton, Karl. “Popes, Kings and Cultural Studies: Placing the Commitment to Non-Disciplinarity in Historical Context,” in Cultural Studies: Interdisciplinarity and Translation, edited by S. Herbrechter   (Amsterdam: Rodopi, in press at time of draft). Draft, 2002. (Printed version may differ slightly from this text.) http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/PKCS.html

__________; Moore, Rob. “Historical Amnesia.” Draft, 2002. http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/matonha.html

Mills, Charles W. “‘“Ideology” in Marx and Engels’ Revisited and Revised,” The Philosophical Forum, vol. XXIII, no. 4, Summer 1992, pp. 301-328.

Draft 18 May 2014
Final sentence added & 2 sentences revised 17 October 2014
© 2014 Ralph Dumain

SOURCE: Dumain, Ralph. “On the Contributions of John McClendon and Stephen Ferguson to the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience,” APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, vol. 14, no.2, Spring 2015, pp. 5-12.

Note: The co-editor made a few changes in the final version (offsite), eliminating from this draft only a few complimentary remarks about him.

APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience
Issues, selected contents, comments by R. Dumain

Cornel West's Evasion of Philosophy, Or, Richard Wright's Revenge
by Ralph Dumain

Cornel West and Marxism: An Incomplete Review
by R. Dumain

African Philosophy, Politics, and the Division of Labor
by R. Dumain

Crisis in Philosophy: The Black Presence” (1974) by William R. Jones

Black Folk and the Struggle in “Philosophy” by Lucius T. Outlaw

On the "Not Necessarily Atheist" Nature of Kwame Nkrumah's Philosophical Consciencism
by Alexander Wooten

Popes, Kings & Cultural Studies: Placing the commitment to non-disciplinarity in historical context
by Karl Maton

Historical Amnesia” by Karl Maton & Rob Moore

Privilege — The Intersectionality Game

100 Years of C.L.R. James

Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe Study Guide

American Philosophy Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Ideology Study Guide

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