Thinking While Black

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Thinking While Black

Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation

By Daniel McNeil

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This uniquely interdisciplinary study of Black cultural critics Armond White and Paul Gilroy spans continents and decades of rebellion and revolution.

Drawing on an eclectic mix of archival research, politics, film theory, and pop culture, Daniel McNeil examines two of the most celebrated and controversial Black thinkers working today. Thinking While Black takes us on a transatlantic journey through the radical movements that rocked against racism in 1970s Detroit and Birmingham, the rhythms of everyday life in 1980s London and New York, and the hype and hostility generated by Oscar-winning films like 12 Years a Slave.

The lives and careers of White and Gilroy—along with creative contemporaries of the post–civil rights era such as Bob Marley, Toni Morrison, Stuart Hall, and Pauline Kael—should matter to anyone who craves deeper and fresher thinking about cultural industries, racism, nationalism, belonging, and identity.

Praise

“A must-read for all committed to a critically engaged approach to the study of race, inequality, and counter-cultural musings. Daniel McNeil offers a lucid, smart, well-written, and wonderfully novel contribution to twenty-first-century Black studies scholarship. It is truly a superb reflection on the deep histories of Black Atlantic intellectual thought.”

– Kamari Maxine Clarke, distinguished professor of Transnational Justice and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto

“Daniel McNeil has written an insightful, deeply informed account of transnational Black intellectual thought and cultural critique told through the entanglements of two contrasting figures, British cultural theorist Paul Gilroy and American film critic Armond White. A nuanced, intriguing, and provocative read.”

– David Theo Goldberg, distinguished professor of Comparative Literature and Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

“Daniel McNeil has undertaken a heroic endeavour. Through the low-end frequencies of his own soulful voice, he has reminded us of something we once had: a genuine open-air forum for intellectual reflection on the politics of popular culture. Paul Gilroy and Armond White are ideal characters for the drama of ideas McNeil presents on the page, driven by noble commitments yet deploying an uncompromising zeal in their aesthetic judgments. Thinking While Black is a hell of a book, and it just might offer us the chance to break out of our current hellish predicament in the world of cultural criticism.”

– Dhanveer Singh Brar, lecturer in Black British history, University of Leeds (UK)

“McNeil has created an expansive chronicle of Black history and pop culture in both the US and UK over the past 50 years, and a powerful story about sameness, difference, and shared sense of purpose that is destined to become an invaluable resource in contemporary cultural studies.”

– Kenneth Montague, founder and director of Wedge Curatorial Projects

“A thoroughly original account of two mavericks of Black public intellectualism who, while vastly different in tone, temperament, and politics, are both witness to the complex, ludic, and ultimately loving promise of the Black radical archive. Thinking While Black is a testament to deep anti-racist political yearnings that are challenging but not contrarian, strident but not polemical, errant but not wayward, and utopian but never naive. A serious book by a serious thinker.”

– Sivamohan Valluvan, author of The Clamour of Nationalism: Race and Nation in Twenty-first-century Britain

“With insurgency as an analytical anchor, Thinking While Black is an impressive study of how Black intellectual life is generated through hopeful contestations. Offering a deep reading of provocations offered by Paul Gilroy and Armond White, this text beautifully historicizes the soul rebel as a figure of capacious and rigorous critique that seeks out promising and fantastic futures.”

– Katherine McKittrick, author of Dear Science and Other Stories and Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle

Thinking While Black provides a critical assessment of two prominent cultural critics. In comparing and contrasting Paul Gilroy and Armond White, McNeil avoids hagiography in his thoughtful, scholarly, and yet accessible appraisal of the two influential intellectuals from two different sides of the ‘Black Atlantic.’ The result is an insightful reflection on the politics and aesthetics of cultural criticism.”

– David Austin, author of Dread Poetry and Freedom: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution and Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex and Security in Sixties Montreal

“In Thinking While Black, Daniel McNeil explains why the radical approaches inherent in the intellectual journeys of Gilroy and White matter, re/constructs the sociocultural contexts within which each emerged, and examines the processes and consequences of their evolutions from ‘young soul rebels’ into ‘middle-aged mavericks.’ His attentive and meticulous analysis of the ambitions, accomplishments, and trajectories of these two Black thinkers complicates any simple categorization of Black intellectualism.”

– Michele A. Johnson, professor, Department of History, York University

Contents

PREFACE
1. THEORIES IN MOTION: Mapping the Roots and Routes of a Rebel Generation
2. BLACK AND BRITISH: A Lived Contradiction
3. A MOVIE-STRUCK KID FROM DETROIT: Going Deeper into Movies
4. SLAVE-DESCENDANTS, DIASPORA SUBJECTS, AND WORLD CITIZENS: Paul Gilroy’s Historical Sensibility
5. ENLARGING THE AMERICAN CINEMA: Armond White vs. the Straight Middle-Class White World (and the Black Bourgeoisie)
6. MIDDLE-AGED, GIFTED, AND BLACK: Structures of Feeling in the Black Atlantic
CODA: Guess Who’s Coming to the Awards Dinner
NOTES
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
INDEX