The Dilemma of Nationalism: Another Excerpt from My Thesis

Im happy to have the luxury of a laptop... =)
I'm happy to have the luxury of a laptop... =)

From what he wrote, it is evident that Paul Robeson wrestled with the dilemma of an imported nationalism that Partha Chatterjee dealt with; whether or not the nationalism Paul Robeson was heir to reflected Western norms and understandings.11  Chatterjee suggests that nationalism is a European import, and for a colonized people to subscribe to nationalism is to accept the both the standard of progress and notions of superiority and inferiority that are based upon that of the great European powers.  Individuals like Robeson also had to consider whether to accept the model set forth by European thinkers.  The paradox lies in the fact that this appropriation of alien ideas serves to facilitate a rejection of “the alien intruder and dominator.”12 Paul Robeson resolves this paradox by advocating African- Americans’ mastery of ‘European machines’ while retaining the distinctiveness of their culture.  On January 5, 1935, in an article in the London Daily Herald, written two years before the CAA was founded, aptly titled “Negroes- Don’t Ape the Whites,” Robeson acknowledges that while the African- American must gain equal footing “on the white man’s own ground,” he must not “hide [his] true value under a false foreign culture, applied from the outside when, instead, [he] could encourage a graceful, natural growth from within.”13  He emphatically stated his pride in being African- American, and asserted that until the African- American learned to be true to himself or herself, he or she would never make a mark on this world.  In May 1935, Paul Robeson wrote in the London News Chronicle, “therefore, let us learn the world’s technique, but stick to our own arts,” advocating mastery of ‘European machines’ while at the same time retaining African- American culture.14


11 Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1986). pg 3-5

12 ibid. Chatterjee. 2

13 “Negroes- Don’t Ape the Whites,” Paul Robeson, Daily Herald, London, January 5, 1935, republished in the Chicago Defender on January 26, 1935 (Foner, 91) {pub. Foner, Philip S. Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918- 1974. (New York: Brunner/ Mazel Publishers. 1978)}

14 “I Want Negro Culture,” Paul Robeson, London News Chronicle, May 30, 1935, (Foner, 96)


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