The Negro and the Jew / Négritude et Judéité
African Arts, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1968), pp. 26-123
“We do an injustice to African culture when we cling, like an oyster to its shell, to concepts which history has rendered obsolete. The concept of Négritude, a revolutionary one during the 1940-50's, today belongs in a museum of literary works.” 1
This judgment is rather severe for a concept which remains useful. I believe it could, however, benefit from a youth-giving and salutary precision by being remolded and broken down into three categories as I have done with the expression “Judaism.”
“The word Judéité invented and used by Albert Memmi seems to be the Jewish equivalent of “Négritude.’” In his book, Les Voies du Hassidisme, the author and essayist, Arnold Mandel, suggests that the word “Négritude” inspired me to coin the term Judéité 2.
It is possible that I may have been influenced in my own research on Judaism by the Blacks' search for their identity which resulted in the creation of the term Négritude, the crystallization of their hopes and concerns. The Jew's concern about or meditation on his own identity has historically preceded that of the black man and it remains the most important preoccupation of any Jewish intellectual. I have, however, been too engrossed by the awakening of subjugated peoples not to have been influenced by one or another of their discoveries about themselves.
I would only like to submit here that the results of my own intellectual discoveries could perhaps serve to modernize and more accurately define a methodological tool which is sometimes criticized by the new generation of blacks—after having received such profuse praise for its great usefulness.
I do not wish to dwell at length on the three concepts I have proposed and defined—Judéité, Judaicité and Judaism. When I decided to take inventory of myself as a Jew, I soon required a word which would express (to the exclusion of all other uses) the fact of being a Jew. I was both surprised and perplexed to find that such a word did not exist. To be more exact, there was the word “Judaism,” but it had too many different meanings to be used in any one specific and unequivocal way. I needed, therefore, to adopt or coin a specific word, so I invented the word, Judéité 3.
I must state that, without lessening the importance of the meaning of this term, my first aim was to satisfy a methodological need. Better tools were necessary before I could grasp the complex reality which still escaped me. It was only in trying to explain the reality of the phenomenon of the Jew, in studying all dimensions of the problem separately, that I was led to do the following:
- seek a definition for Judéité which would be as specific and as adequate as possible
- distinguish it from all other dimensions
- distinguish and define each dimension separately
The existence of various interpretations of the subjects covered by these definitions, inevitable for a grave historical phenomenon which has always provoked strong emotional reactions and divergent opinions, should be no reason for opposing the construction of such distinctions. On the contrary, one must structure such a disturbing and confusing subject matter. I am still not sure today that I have exhausted the three dimensions of the Jewish reality with these definitions. I readily accept criticism, but I am more convinced than ever that they had to be separated, in order to secure some idea of their specific natures.
It did not take me long to realize that the expression, Judaism, which embraced multiple meanings, was not only too complex and vague, but also too restricting and inefficient for objective and exacting research 4. The term referred at once to the traditional, religious and moral values which govern the collective life of the Jews, to any Jewish community (we speak of “French Judaism,” for example), to the membership of an individual Jew in his group, and to the Jew's degree of attachment to traditional beliefs. Since the Zionist movement, it has even come to mean a Jew's loyalty to Jewish values which may not be strictly religious. (The saying went: “The Judaism of Mr. So-and-So”.) Is it not evident, then, that it would be better to assign only one of these meanings to Judaism and find different terms for the others? A little order, even at the expense of a seeming loss of vocabulary, could not help but be salutory. It seemed to me, therefore, that the most adequate meaning for Judaism would be “the body of cultural and religious traditions.”
… Jews and the proper domain of the Jewish heritage
I immediately felt that we should seek greater precision in meaning when I tried to take a more complete inventory of the Jewish situation. Out of this body of cultural values should we not distinguish the religious heritage per se from the ethical prescriptions which form the moral philosophy of the Jews? Must all the new works of contemporary Jewish philosophers and essayists come under the heading of “Judaism?” Though these men may be said to cling to the cultural tradition, their findings are quite novel. It is a grave problem, at least for the specialist, to know the proper domain of the Jewish heritage. Does it have a clear-cut scope which makes it hostile to innovation? Should it embrace a dynamic and evolutionary course which, although enriching it, would also transform it over time?
To keep from unduly multiplying my initial working concept, I have included under the same heading all institutions which organize Jewish collective life and which stem from and influence its values. One must realize, however, that to speak and write more accurately about Jewish ideology and its works, and about the Jews—as individuals and as a group—who share this ideology and in various degrees live up to it, it is most important and urgent to consider the two facets separately.
In order to designate specifically the Jewish group, I selected the word, Judaicité. In making this selection, I also made a small discovery. I had a vague idea that this word already existed and that I need only attribute a single meaning to it. But the word was not to be found in any dictionary. I propose, therefore, that its status be “legalized.”
I suggest we retain this concept which I designate by the term, Judaicité, but leave it open for discussion. Bearing in mind the particular demographic physiognomy of the Jewish people, it is necessary to define the term both in a broad and a narrow sense. Judaicité would thus embrace the following:
- total Jewish population—the worldwide Judaicité
- each local Jewish community, in order to take into account the fragmenting of this Judaicité into multiple communities through the world (for example, the French Judaicité, the American Judaicité, etc.)
It is, however, essential that the demographic sense be preserved: Judaicité designates a group of Jews.
Judéité,then, would exclusively describe the manner in which a Jew is a Jew, subjectively and objectively—the way in which he feels Jewish and reacts to the condition of the Jew. As I previously stated, I had to invent an entirely new word to express an indisputably original fact.
Of course, if one pretends to adopt a sociological perspective, and more particularly, the perspective of the sociology of knowledge, the concept of Judéité cannot have an isolated existence. It would appear just as absurd for me to consider altogether separately Jewish values, which, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. They must be seen in light of Jews as a group, and more specifically, in light of the evolution of the socio-historical events which have shaped the particular destiny of the Jewish group. I would, therefore, state that Judaism comprises the ideology and the institutional framework of the Judaicité.
Judéité nearly always refers to—though perhaps not in completely explicit and conscious terms—the traditional Jewish values. Contrary to the word Judaicité, Judéité measures both objectively and subjectively the degree to which the individual belongs to the group. As the final element of the triangle, it is clear that membership in a group is rarely defined negatively by the act of mechanical solidarity in the face of danger. In belonging to a group, one always expresses recognition of its values to a certain degree 5.
Above all, I would like to state that Judéité varies in intensity and in composition from one individual to another. This is why my collaborators and I were able to talk about a “coefficient of Judéité.” 6 We have even attempted to state the factors which enter into such a calculation, though realizing that in using a mathematical
expression for a complex, hard-to-grasp reality we were treading on dangerous ground. Nevertheless, it is necessary to consider the Judéité of each subject separately 7.
In summing up, it appeared necessary to clearly separate the following distinct elements:
- the Jewish group, or Judaicité
- the values of the group, or Judaism;
- the degree to which the Jew participates in his group and shares its values, or Judéité.
I have already given a detailed account of these three concepts and the definitions below will serve as a matter of record:
“Judaicité consists of the body of Jews, i.e., in a broad sense, the total number of Jews throughout the world; in a narrow sense, a given group of Jews geographically situated (for example, the Judaicité of France or of New York).”
“Judaism is the group of Jewish doctrines, beliefs and institutions—standardized or not, written or oral. It is the set values and the organization which constitute and regulate the life of a Jewish group. Judaism also comprises Jewish culture in a broad sense—common customs, religion, philosophy, laws and art.”
“Judéité is the fact and manner of being a Jew—the objective sociological, psychological and biological characteristics which make a person a Jew; the way in which a Jew lives, his membership in the Judaicité and his place in the non-Jewish world.”
Now let us construct the parallel between Négritude and Judéité. It is interesting to note that my situation as a Jew strikes me as being similar to that of the Blacks. My problem was to describe, delineate and define my personality as a Jew, i.e., my relationship to the collective personality of the group to which I belong. The Jewish group was subjected to a particular condition—a condition of oppression. From such a situation arise difficulties which must be objectively analyzed. Illusions exist, in part the product of the accusations of others but also of the rejection of self and the invention of other myths to counteract the accusations. These illusions are also born in part—and this is a more serious problem—of an objective and atypical condition which far differs from that of a people who are masters of their own destiny and for whom the relationship between religion and culture, for example, is of an altogether different style 8. The concept of Négritude, on the whole, responded to the same need for definition, delineation and description: the term provided a recognition of the black man's uniqueness, summing it up in one convenient word. It was a concept which proposed to be the standard bearer for a movement of self-liberation and self-realization.
It is not surprising that a concept which endeavored to expressand illustratethe situationof the black man—his riches, his deficiencies, his revolts and his aspirations—should reflect at the same time the complex problems of definition. A brief perusal of authoritative texts signed by the inventors and actual defenders of the term Négritude uncovers the same intense emotionalism and confusion, the result of a vocabulary covering a myriad of meanings.
Aimé Césaire, who, to my knowledge,was the inventor of the word Négritude, sought above all to suggest an approximate definition in a magnificent poeticl anguage. It was L. S. Senghor who attempted to define the term more vigorously. He defined Négritude as:
“The body of cultural values of the Blacks as they find expression in their lives, institutions and achievements.” 9
This parallels my strict definition of Judaism: a word which expresses the cultural and religious traditions which men continue to espouse today—and not the men themselves or the groups to which they belong. Furthermore, when Senghor states, “Our one thought has been to accept this Négritude and having lived it to make it meaningful,” he furnishes the equivalent of Judéité, i.e., the way of living and coping with one's values.
However, when the organizers of the Dakar conference spoke of themselves as “The General States of Négritude” (Alioune Diop) they apparently used the word Négritude to mean “an assembly of men,” and a completely representative one at that. The proof is that discussion did indeed center around this usage of Négritude, which would be the equivalentof the word Judaicité.
When another of the organizers declared that one must “defend Négritude and render it illustrious,” it was not understood whether he meant men or values—probably values this time. What corresponds better to this idea than the official title of the gathering, “The Festival of Negro Arts?” This appellation is itself quite limited, however, if we agree that culture is not exclusively summed up in the arts. This would be especially true of the Negro culture, for the organizers spoke of “Negro humanism” and its contribution to the “civilization of the universal” (Senghor). Let us at least admit that there is here an ambiguity between men and culture.
Let us not construct our methodology too naively. Négritude, in a more or less confused fashion, does mean all these things—the group of black men as a whole, their values, and the participation of each man and each black group in his world and in its values. We are not dealing with three tightly closed drawers whose contents must not be mingled: I made this point forcefully enough when I spoke of the conceptual trilogy concerning the Jew. Is it not all the more necessary, therefore, to possess adequate tools to uncover each perspective—to uncover each operationof the black man's existence?
We can, however, clearly see why the younger generation of whom I spoke above experiences such anxiety and anger. “There is so much talk about Négritude and black humanism,” they exclaim with indignation, “that values are making people forget about men.” All blacks do not live in free nations, and in the new black nations all blacks are far from being socially free. This situation materialized in some cases with the complicityof the colonizers and in others after they had left. But the fact remains that today “Negroes are exploiting Negroes.” “Today we live in the era of the Tshombes.”
The appearance of nations in large sectors of the black world has undeniably diminished the negative feelings towards the black man, just as the foundingof the State of Israel has fortunately reduced the negative feelings towards the Jews—so much so that certain very forgetful Jews doubt that they ever existed. The inhabitants of Senegal and the Ivory Coast, who are now mastersof at least their political destinies, insist only on the positive aspects of black art and values. We can easily understand why. They wish to retain only the affirmative and glorious side of Négritude.But if it is true that oppression of the black has diminished, it has not altogether disappeared. Such a euphoric attitude may show a lack of concern, and seem premature and somewhat offensive to all those for whom Négritude remains more of a burden than a source of happiness. The dissatisfaction which numerous participants experienced at the Dakar festival stems from this kind of attitude. The Festival displayed another version of the conflict between rich and poor peoples, but this time both were black. Thus, one understands why the organizers preferred simply not to invite certain blacks the South Africans, for example, or even the Guineans or the Cubans. These peoples would probably have obstinately insisted on the negative aspects of the black man's condition today.
The young people who revolted against this wholesale euphoria tried to condemn it as totally as those they tried to praise it. If to affirm the positiveness of black values veils the negative counterpart, the black man's misery, then these pseudo-values must be denounced: “a culture looking to the past;” “a petrified past.”
“The tom-toms of the Césaire-Senghor variety of Négritude rumble like cracked cauldrons.” The High Commissioner from Dahomey makes his final statement, “Négritude will either be a liberating force or it will be nothing.” In his bitter revolt against the black condition, the American Negro writer, Leroi Jones, contests the existence of any black culture: “There is no black culture.”
It is a serious step for a non-black to interfere in one of the most stirring and grave internal conflicts that face a black man today. If I allow myself to speak up it is not only because I believe in the virtues of rationalism even in the most heated debates. It is simply because, let me repeat, it seems interesting to compare the conditions of the Blacks with that of the Jews. The use of methodology, which greatly helped me to clarify the concept of Judaism, may be able to provide similar help for the concept of
Négritude, althoughit might be necessary to shatter the concept of Négritude as I had to do for Judaism.
Négritude, therefore, is still largely a negative concept, and it must be recognized as such or it will create rather than clarify mysteries.It would be premature, today, for a black man to end his self-rejection.But would it not also be catastrophic to reject in one clean sweep all black values, whether they belong to the past or are in the process of creation, simply because the condition of the black man remains miserable? 10 We realize the impending danger when we read the declaration of the High Commissioner from Dahomey who states that Africa will need “the hammer of the laborers before the chisel of the sculptor . . . Africa will sing her most beautiful song only when she will be free!” He may not be entirely wrong, but it is a question of two completely different,if interrelated, levels which must not be confused. It is vital to begin differentiating immediately among: cultural values of the different black communities be they past, present or future; their different socio-political problems; the way in which each black approaches these values; the way he lives up to them and contests them; and finally how he reacts to his community—conforms to it or rejects it. Is it not urgent to name and define separately the Négrité, the Négrisme, and the Négritude?
Négrité would comprise the body of black groups and peoples.
Négrisme would consist of all the traditional and cultural values of the black people.
Négritude would be strictly used to define the way in which a person who is black feels he is black: his sense of belonging to a group of men, and his loyalty to the group's values.
I do not pretend to satisfy complex methodological needs within these few pages; they belong as much to the realm of epistomology as they do to that of the sociology of knowledge. It is sufficient to have indicated a direction for future research, and at the same time, to have contributed an argument to the hypothesis that there is a certain similarity between most conditions of oppression.
I add in passing that the same need, born of a similar confusion, exists in the Islamic world. The same term, Islam, refers variously to those who believe in the religion of Mohammed, to the religion itself and the ethical values which generally accompany it. Would it not also be timely to differentiate between these meanings?
The parallels I have drawn between the conditions of Negritude and Judeite do not, of course, lessen the specificity of each term and of its contents, primarily because the differences between the conditions and the traditions of the two situations are extremely important. The oppression of the Jew is not the same as that of the black man or of that of the colonized. The oppression of the individual black is not the same as that of the group of blacks. Armed with these common tools and schemes, the blacks must conduct their own inventories. I can only suggest how to differentiate the contents of the word Negritude, or more exactly, of each sense of Negritude. If my proposal is accepted, and Negritude is defined only as the degree of participation of each black in the collective personality of the group, the concept would be an essentially dynamic one, subject to several variables. What would be the role each time of the positive and negative aspects? Can one describe and at the same time calculate a coefficient of Negritude patterned after the coefficient of Judeite?
We will also see that the negative-positive dialectic which was so important to each type of Négritude becomes a subject of lesser concern when we speak of Négrisme, i.e., black cultural values.
Strictly speaking, a given culture cannot be negative, it can be insufficient, obsolete, ill adapted to new needs, even contradictory and dispersed geographically, and diluted by the different influences it has been subject to, but it can never carry a minus sign. This is what kept me from speaking of the negativity of Judaism, Negritude or Islam: an absurdity. I have distinguished instead between tradition and culture. Such a distinction makes it possible to see oneself in the perspective of one's fidelity to the past or to adopt a functionalist attitude with respect to values. It also becomes possible to adopt or reject relatively religious, ethical or aesthetic norms, just as it becomes possible to want to go beyond them out of a desire to re-create rules and achievements to better adapt them to moder man. The existence of variation in the point of reference makes it possible to overcome the “problem”of all or nothing, of total acceptance or absolute rejection.
In my opinion, the most important step toward resolving these heady problems is a task of clarification, of constructing distinctions. Only this approach will provide or the splitting up of a single erroneous and stifling term into the several component parts of the black man's condition. (Christians did not accidentally replace the concept of Christianism early in their history with the term Christianity; and the decision proved to be a beneficial one to them.)
The black man must retain the right to question his tradition just as he must have the right to keep his distance with respect to his group. To do so, he needs to be able to isolate the tradition itself from the way of life organized around it, which is the same as that he needs to be free to accept or reject it, or take whatever part he wantsofit.Heneedstobeabletoaffirmhimselfwithout being smothered either by tradition or by his group. Nor must his spirit of rebelliousness be quelled. He needs to be able to reject parts of himself without being obliged to totally deny his heritage. To do all this we must furnish him with adequate tools.
Critics may find my terms awkward and propose others themselves. I do not exclude the possibility at all. The concepts, on the other hand, strike me as being indisputable, however they be named 11. I will not deny that these be but useful. When all concepts may temporarily black peoples succeed, for example, in constitutingtheir own independent nations, the word Négrité because of its specific nature may disappear, melting unidentifiably into the more general word “humanity.” Despite the appearances, the concept of Négrité identifies fundamentally not a racial group but a group which suffers the same conditions, conditions of oppression hidden by the mythical question of race 12. Négrité is nothing more than the ethnic response of the Blacks to the ethnic accusations of the White. We can find the same global response—probably a temporary one also—among most colonized peoples who become, themselves, racist by reaction, maintaining a pseudo-ethnic solidarity among themselves by continually feeding the self-esteem and by rejecting colonizer on racist grounds.
The concept even of Negrisme may finally be rejected itself as arbitrary and useless. It is possible to speak of a world wide community of black culture. What has become today of Senghor's “black humanism” in a world where Blacks number among the Moslems, Christians, Protestants, Animists, and Jews? Does this term do more than refer to a skin color? For the last few years most black leaders have emphasized the unique geographical grouping of all black peoples, Africa, to try to go beyond or enrich an ethnic reference which had become too specific and too restricting.They seemed not to know whether Africa should remain a poetic myth linked to the past or become a political program. Malcolm X, the dissenting leader of the Black Muslims in the United States, seemed to be envisaging, just a short time before his death, a veritable converging of the worldwide Négrité upon the African homeland.
And Africa, the Mother, is an extraordinarily fertile subject of inspiration for the similar dreams of Aimé Césaire, French West Indian poet. But, I repeat, it is still up to the Blacks themselves to specify what their relationship is to the real or mythical Africa, as well as to specify the factors which influence their condition. The moment they begin speaking of a common community of culture, whether it be real or imaginary, they need a precise word to designate the concept.
If one day it becomes necessary to reclassify the terminology I will not be astonished, nor will I regret the move: I believe in the dynamism of all human groups and of all human conditions. This means that I also believe in the dynamic nature of concepts, even to their periodic death and replacement.
This text was written during the summerof 1966 to be printed in a series on the Sociology of Knowledge published by the Editions Anthropos, Paris. Just before I submitted the manuscript to the Editors, President Leopold Sedar Senghor kindly expressed an interest in my suggestion that the term negritude be redefined and eventually split into several terms. This was to have been submitted to the Congress of Africanists (Second Session) in Dakar, in December 1967.