Black France, Black America: Engaging Historical Narratives


Abstract During the first quarter of the 20th Century a small group of black intellectuals, artists, and musicians abandoned the United States for Paris. The rumor was that the French did not believe in racist theories – that France offered blacks social and economic opportunities not available in the States. This paper critically examines that narrative as well as North America’s melting pot legend – an expression of the promise of America made popular in 1909 by playwright Israel Zangwill. The stories that we tell about ourselves as a nation are important because our moral sentiments are frequently a product of these narratives. They influence our vision of populations and their circumstances. They serve as starting points for philosophical investigation and critical self-reflection. My intent is not to prove these stories or narratives false but rather, to illustrate how their widespread acceptance has affected people’s abilities to recognize, understand, and responsibly address compelling and complex racial problems. What I recommend is the need for an on-going, comprehensive, and critical examination of socially dominant historical narratives.


Historical Narratives; Assimilationism; Multiculturalism; Debt Peonage; Negrophilia; Ethic of Care

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