A Critical Evaluation of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s Concept of Negritude

Complete project


Title Page i
Certification ii
Dedication iii
Acknowledgement iv
Table of Contents v
1.1 Background of the Study 1
1.2 Statement of the Problem 3
1.3 Purpose of the Study 4
1.4 Significance of the Study 4
1.5 Scope of the Study 4
1.6 Methodology 5
1.7 Literature Review 5
End Note 13
Life, work and Influence 14
The socio-political atmosphere of his time 18
Effects of Colonialism on Senghor 21
End Note 24
Concept and Origin 26
Negation as Affirmation of Being 32
Negritude and Black Struggle 37
Negritude as Racism 44
End Note 49
Relevance of Negritude as an Ideology 52
Critique of Negritude as Racism 60
Personal Reflection 61
End Note 68
Bibliography 69

1.1 Background of the Study
“Philosophy generally reflects the socio-political situation of its time and place. Socio-political situations generally raise many questions in the minds of people and thus give rise to reflection and philosophizing”.1
Leopold Sedar Senghor is undoubtedly the most important philosopher to have come out of Francophone African, which comprises West Africa, East Africa and North Africa. For this reason, in order to appreciate the philosophy of any philosopher, it is very important to know the socio-political situation from which the philosophy arose.
L.S. Senghor was a prominent figure in the liberation of Africa from the strong-hold of colonialism. Colonialism is an all-encompassing attack on the political, legal, cultural, economic and social realms of African existence, leading to a massive and decisive take-over of the African spaces. The primordial effect of this take-over was the destruction of African identity, that is, to destroy what makes the Africans truly Africans and to make the Africans slave in the mental and physical realms of their lives. This has certainly led to African lost of identity and present day identity crisis in African continent. A lot of African scholars have been discussing this wholesome effect on African psychic. Some have indeed proffered solutions. One of these is L.S. Senghor with his philosophy of Negritude. It is to examine Senghor’s interpretation of man’s inhumanity to man that we decided to carry out this project titled: “A Critical Evaluation of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s concept of Negritude”.
At the heart of Senghor Negritude was the liberation of the Africans, African personality and cultural domination of the West. L.S. Senghor’s concept of Negritude will be critically evaluated. In doing this, the essay will be calibrated into four chapters.

1.2 Statement of the Problem
The central problem of this project is if Senghor’s Negritude was actually an anti-racist – racism. The problem the work attempts to solve is the question of the relevance and contribution of Senghor’s Negritude and to what extent did it actually respond to the European ideology.

1.3 Purpose of the Study
The purpose of study is to critically evaluate the concept of Negritude as conceived by L.S. Senghor and its contribution to development in Africa liberation. And finally, the merits and demerits of this concept will be exposed.

1.4 Significance of the Study
The significance of this essay will lie in its critical evaluation of the conception of Negritude as proffered by L.S. Senghor. The importance of this essay will also lie in its portrayal of the workability or non workability of L.S. Senghor’s theory of Negritude.

1.5 Scope of the Study
For clarity and effective research, I have limited the scope of this discourse to the Senghor’s concept of Negritude.

1.6 Methodology
In the course of this work, two methodologies will be employed simultaneously. The methods include the analytic method and the critical method. The analytic method will enable a better simplification, clarification and explanations where necessary. The critical method in the other hand, will enable us to look out for the lacunas in the philosophy to be examined and dish out philosophical praise, knocks and blows when necessary, so as to effectively dwell on them to make our contributions and arrive at reasonable conclusion.

1.7 Literature Review
The first book to be reviewed is “Negritude as Hermeneutics: A Reinterpretation of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s philosophy” by J. Obi Oguejiofor published in 2009. His article argues against what it regard as the uncritical characterization of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s concept of “Negritude” in terms of ethno-philosophy, a derogatory term employed in contemporary African philosophy to describe philosophy that is communal, and which can be sieved out from such genres as proverbs, wise sayings, and myths. It reviews the background and the contents of Negritude, including its metaphysics and its epistemology of emotion. It calls attention to Senghor’s ideas about communalism and his universalism seen in his theory of the civilization of the universal, and concludes that Senghor’s negritude is the outcome of a particular and personal interpretation of his experience of the African condition, and is therefore eminently hermeneutical.2
Abiola Irele in Journal of Modern African Studies titles: Negritude – Literature and Ideology,3 says the literature of negritude is dominated by the collective consciousness of the black writer as members of a minority group which is subordinated to another and more powerful group within the total political and social order. The literary preoccupations of the movement revolve around this central problem, the negro predicament of having been forced by historical circumstances into a state of dependence upon the West, considered the master society and the dominating culture. According to Irele, the literary themes of Negritude can be seen as a counter-movement away from this state: they constitute a symbolic progression from subordination to independence, from alienation, through revolt, to self-affirmation.
The third book to be reviewed here is by Bentley Le Baron, titled: “Negritude: A Pan-African Ideal?”4. B. Le Baron in his article says, Negritude has always been a literary-cultural movement, a movement more potent in the realm of intellect and idea than in terms of concrete political activity, and it might even be argued that its net effect is more detrimental than helpful to the pan-African aim of political union on a continental scale. According to Le Baron, both Pan-Africanism and Negritude has origins outside the African continent, in Europe and the new world; both gained impetus during the 1940’s and 1950’s from reaction against different aspects of the experience of colonial subjugation; and each in various ways, derives substance in today’s context from the political, economic and psychological problems of an underdeveloped continent facing a highly competitive world. Obviously, the two patterns of thought will have numerous points of overlap, but they also have points of conflicts and when the ideas seek objectification in political organization, the conflicts tend to become acute. His aim is to examine Negritude within a pan-African frame of reference, especially problems and conflicts. In particular, he wanted to discuss racism, political union, ambivalence toward the white (or European? Or non-African?) world, and mystical overtones.
The next work to be reviewed is a work done by Leopold Sedar Senghor himself, titled: “Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century”5. According to Senghor, during the last thirty or so years that we have been proclaiming negritude, it has become customary, especially among English-speaking critics to accuse us of racialism. This is probably because the world is not of English origin. Negritude is an inferiority complex; but the same word cannot mean both racialism and inferiority complex without contradiction. No, Negritude according to Senghor is none of these things. It is neither racialism nor self-negation. Yet it is not just affirmation; confirmation of ones being. Negritude is nothing more or less than what some English-speaking Africans have called the African personality. It is no different from the “black personality” discovered and proclaimed by the American New Negro movement. Perhaps our only originality, since it was the West Indian Poet, Alme Cesaire who coined the word Negritude is to have attempted to define the concept a little more closely: to have developed it as a weapon, as an instruments of liberation and as a contribution to the humanism of the twentieth century. But, what is Negritude?
Ethnologists and Sociologists today speak of different civilizations. It is obvious that peoples differ in their ideas and their languages; in their philosophies and their religious, in their customs and their institutions, in their literature and their art. Who would deny that Africans, too, have a certain way of conceiving life and of living it? A certain way of speaking, singing and dancing; of painting and sculpturing and even of laughing and crying. Nobody, probably; for otherwise we would not have been talking about “Negro art” for the last sixty years, and Africa would be the only continent today without its ethnologists and sociologists. Senghor asked, what then is Negritude? It is as you can guess from what precedes – the sum of the cultural values of the black world; what is, a certain active presence in the world, or better, in the universe. It is, as John Reed and Clive Wake called it, a certain “way of relating oneself to the world and to others”. Yes, according to Senghor, it is essentially relations with others, an opening out to the world, contact and participation with others. Because of what it is, Negritude is necessary in the world today: It is a humanism of the twentieth century.
The last book to be reviewed here is a book by J. Obi Oguejiorfor, “Philosophy and the African Predicament”6. This book is a timely addition to the literature on the interrelated issues of the nature and direction of African philosophy. The author examines the question of the use of philosophy in Africa. In doing this, he questions the conventional assumption that philosophy can offer a special understanding of human affairs which differs from the knowledge provided by the non-philosophical disciplines. He contends that the use of philosophy lies not in the insight of philosophers or the content of their works as such, but in the practice of philosophy itself, particularly its critical spirit which makes it an implacable enemy of dogmatisms.

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