Talk:African American literature

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 Definition The body of literature produced in the USA by writers of African descent. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup category Literature [Editors asked to check categories]
 Subgroup category:  African American
 Talk Archive none  English language variant American English

Removed during Cleanup

Langston Hughes, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1936
Richard Wright, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1939
File:Ellison ralph.jpg
Ralph Ellison circa 1961
Toni Morrison (circa 1977)

Deleted section:Balkanization

Quoted material:

Despite these views, some conservative academics and intellectuals argue that African American literature only exists as part of a balkanization of literature over the last few decades or as an extension of the culture wars into the field of literature.[1] According to these critics, literature is splitting into distinct and separate groupings because of the rise of identity politics in the United States and other parts of the world. These critics reject bringing identity politics into literature because this would mean that "only women could write about women for women, and only Blacks about Blacks for Blacks."[2]

People opposed to this group-based approach to writing say that it limits the ability of literature to explore the overall human condition and, more importantly, judges ethnic writers merely on the basis of their race. These critics reject this judgment and say it defies the meaning of works like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, in which Ellison's main character is invisible because people see him as nothing more than a Black man.[3] Others criticize special treatment of any ethnic-based genre of literature. For example, Robert Hayden, the first African-American Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, once said (paraphrasing the comment by the black composer Duke Ellington about jazz and music), "There is no such thing as Black literature. There's good literature and bad. And that's all."[4]

end quoted material
This section seems to me to be really mainly a summary of a number of right-wing attacks on the field of study of African-American literature from people who feel for extrinsic reasons that it is not legitimate. There is no such disagreement among literary critics, no "opposing view" to the proposal that Af-Am literature is a legitimate field. The criticisms of "identity politics" should be moved to an entry on Identity politics, where both sides of that debate can be described, but the fact that American conservatives object to Af-Am Literature, or Women's Studies, or other such fields isn't to my mind a fact about these fields, but a fact about American conservatism, and should be discussed there. Russell Potter 15:29, 20 April 2007 (CDT)

I lack the time to persuade you of this, Russell, but I'm going to have to disagree with you. Criticisms of an entire field, regardless of where they come from, are germaine (though needn't necessarily be detailed at great length) to an article about that field. Would you also say that a feminist critique of science is irrelevant to some articles about science, because such a critique "isn't a fact about these fields"? I would disagree quite strongly with that, too. This is merely being consistent with CZ:Neutrality Policy. That's all I'm going to say for now. I'll have to let your conscience be your guide for now, unless others want to take up the issue, but I don't have time to debate the point. --Larry Sanger 15:36, 20 April 2007 (CDT)

Well, Larry, it seems to me that it's one thing to have a mention in an entry critical of the entire field of study that the entry describes, and another to devote a substantial section to such a view.
Should we then have a section in articles about (say) evolution, detailing how fundamentalist Christians believe it's all wrong, and the world began 4,400 years ago? Should we have a section, say, in an article about Feminism, that gives at some length Rush Limbaugh's views that they are "Feminazis"? Or, as I am arguing, should such views be briefly described and summarized, but then linked to a main discussion in articles such as Young Earth Creationism or American conservatism? I do not think that the neutrality policy in fact says that we should set aside space within main-entry articles for those who argue that the field or subject of the article is completely illegitimate, unless of course this criticism is so large, significant, or influential that it has become noteworthy.
A good way of doing this would be to do as old print Encyclopedias, also expert-edited, used to do: let each subject have the obligation and right to set forth the consensus views of that subject -- so Biology would be written from the point of view of the current state of knowledge of experts in Biology. Criticisms that denied accepted Biological knowledge could and should be referenced, but their main entries ought to be in the knowledge-base fields from whence they came; a Religion editor, for instance, would know far more about Creationism than most Biologists.
What we have in the Af-Am article is an artifact of the worst of the Wikipedia -- 90% of this entry comes straight outta WP -- where some conservative ideologue had set the main entry up to appear as though there is some large and significant body of thinking that says African-American literature is a "Balkanized" field which props up politically-suspect notions of Identity Politics. That may indeed be the view of some conservatives, but it is not the view of any significant number, or of any influential members, of college faculty, literary critics, and other scholars. The disproportionate amount of space it gets in the WP entry is one of the problems typical of their system, which gives experts in the field no more voice than any other person with an axe to grind and time on their hands.
None of this is to say that there are not important debates within Af-Am studies as to how the field should be conceived, and even from some relatively conservative scholars such as, say, Stanley Crouch. But these internal debates, which do belong within the article, are to my mind quite different from the external debates (should this field even exist?) which, though they should be mentioned here, come from entirely outside the field and range of literary criticism as a profession and field of expertise.
At any rate, that's why I moved this section to the Talk page, rather than just deep-sixing it, because I thought that the question should be discussed by the Editors and Authors who are working on this entry/in this field, who may very well not agree with my reasoning, or might form a consensus that a section of this sort *does* belong here. That's the way, I think, to hone an accuarate readable article, which due to the input of many voices, is far more likely to be consistent with our CZ:Neutrality Policy, from which I quote:
"Some brief, unobtrusive pointer might be apropos, however. E.g., in an article about the evolutionary development of horses, we might have one brief sentence to the effect that some creationists do not believe that horses (or any other animals) underwent any evolution, and point the reader to the relevant article. If there is much specific argumentation on some particular point, it might be placed on a special page of its own."
Russell Potter 17:09, 20 April 2007 (CDT)


The definition currently says "produced in the USA by writers of African descent." But this would exclude the work of expatriate Americans. For example, James Baldwin produced much of his work in France, Switzerland, and Turkey; similarly, Richard Wright. Could Editors or other CZ authors please comment on whether it would improve the definition to say something like "produced by American writers of African descent"? Bruce M. Tindall 17:13, 24 November 2010 (UTC)

  1. Theodore Dalrymple, "An imaginary 'scandal'," The New Criterion 23, no. 9 (May 2005); Richard H. Brodhead, "On the Debate Over Multiculturalism," On Common Ground , no. 7 (Fall 1996), (accessed July 6, 2005).
  2. Dalrymple, "imaginary 'scandal'." (accessed July 6, 2005).
  3. Paul Greenberg, "I hate that (The rise of identity journalism),", June 15, 2005 (accessed July 6, 2005).
  4. Biography of Robert Hayden (accessed August 25, 2005).