Critique of Black Reason ("Critique de la raison nègre"), by Achille Mbembe

1 min

Critique of Black Reason ("Critique de la raison nègre"), by Achille Mbembe

In his essay Critique of Black Reason, Cameroon thinker Achille Mbembe explores contemporary imaginaries while questioning the European idea of "Blackness", a historical construct linked to the concept of race.

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A post-colonialist thinker

Born in 1957 in Cameroon, Achille Mbembe moved to Paris in 1982 to continue his studies at the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne. A Doctor of History and recipient of a DEA in political science, he has published numerous essays on contemporary Africa, combining history, sociology and political philosophy (On the Postcolony (“De la postcolonie”) in 2000; Out of the Dark Night (“Sortir de la grande nuit”) in 2010; Critique of Black Reason in 2013).


A major post-colonialist figure, the Cameroonian thinker teaches around the world, from Columbia University in New York to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he is now Director of Research.


The modern construction of "Blackness"

Historically, the black man has been reduced to the status of an object for the purposes of global trade and domination. In the thinking of modern European societies, the figure of the "Black Man" has been associated with the concept of "race", with the aim of justifying the exploitation of black populations. A human exploitation culminating in the slave trade, colonisation and Apartheid.


In Critique of Black Reason, Achille Mbembe questions European thinking and proposes to end the principles of submission which "Blackness" and "race" represent.


Fighting against Black reasoning

Borrowing its title from Emmanuel Kant’s work Critique of Pure Reason (1781), in which the German philosopher analyses the limits of human reason, here Achille Mbembe aims to deconstruct the concept of "race" which has resulted in so many human tragedies.


According to him, the black man must free himself from European racism, but without falling into thinking based on identity and difference advocated by the “négritude” thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor.


In the wake of Frantz Fanon’s post-colonial thinking, which denounced the internalisation of “Black reason,” the Cameroonian writer continues the work begun in his previous books, On the Postcolony and Out of the Dark Night, in which he elaborated the concept of “Afropolitanism”, an awareness of a mix of identity and culture.


A global perspective

From slavery in America to the colonisation of Africa, including the Apartheid policy of racial segregation, officially abolished in South Africa in 1991, Achille Mbembe examines the relationships of domination between the Western world and black peoples, while discussing the collapse of European supremacy in the new world order.


In this way, the Cameroonian thinker invites us to reconsider global geography in order to find a path towards a common humanity.


In 2013 this large-scale project won the Prix Fetkann for Memoir for its contribution to Republican principles and its value as a memoir for the global South.

The Institut français and the project

Critique of Black Reason (“Critique de la raison nègre”) has been translated into Spanish and Romanian with the support of the Institut français.


Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the dissemination of French language humanities worldwide. 


Achille Mbembe is one of the founders of the Dakar Thought Workshops, which have become an essential event in the African intellectual scene and are supported by the Institut français.


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