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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un discours d’Aimé Césaire

by Aimé Césaire

A speech by Aimé Césaire: Négritude, Africa and Black History (Miami, 1987)

Translated Saturday 19 April 2008, by Patrick Bolland

Recalling a speech made in the United States on 26 February 1987, at the Hemispheric Conference of Black People of the Diaspora.
Négritude , a necessary revolt against the European feeling of superiority...

Négritude, a necessary revolt against the European feeling of superiority.

Négritude is the result of an active and attitude of the mind on the offense.

It is a summersault, a summersault of dignity.

It is a refusal, and I mean a refusal of oppression.

It is a struggle, that is to say, a struggle against inequality.

It is also a revolt. But a revolt against what? - I hear you ask. I am not forgetting that I am here at a cultural conference, here in Miami, that I choose to say this. I think one can generally say that, historically, Négritude has been a form of revolt, mainly against the global cultural system as it had been constituted during the last several centuries, a system characterised by a certain number of prejudices, of assumptions which generate a very strict hierarchy. In other words, Négritude has been a revolt against what I shall call European reductionism.

I am referring to the system of thought, or rather the instinctive tendency of an eminent and prestigious civilization, to abuse its very prestige to isolate itself, as Léopold Sédar Senghor would say, by reducing the concept of universality to its own dimensions; in other words, through its own categories.

One sees and has too often seen the consequences of this: cutting man off from himself, cutting him off from his roots, from the universe, from humanity and isolating him, once and for all, in a suicidal pride, if not in a rational and scientific form of barbarism.

But, you will tell me, a revolt which is only a revolt can only be a historical dead-end. If Négritude has not been a dead-end, it is because it led to another direction. Where has it led us? It led us to ourselves,

And in the process, after a long period of frustration, we, ourselves, were able to seize our own past and, through poetry, through our imagination, through novels, through works of art, perceive the intermittent flashes of our own possible future.

An earthquake of concepts, a cultural seismic phenomenon, all the metaphors of isolation are possible here. But the essential is that with Négritude, there was a beginning of the rehabilitation of our values by our own selves, of the deepening of our past by our selves, of a re-rooting of our selves in a history, a geography, a culture, all interpreted not as an backward-looking accent on the past, but as a reactivation of the past in order to overtake it.

Literature? – you ask.

Intellectual speculation?

Definitely. But neither the literature or intellectual speculation are innocent or inoffensive. And therefore, when I think of the independence gained by African nations in the 1960s, when I think of that great surge of faith and aspirations which seized a whole continent at the time — it’s true, I think of Négritude, since I think that Négritude played a role, and perhaps a capital role, a role of ferment and of cataclysm.

This reconquest of Africa itself has not been easy, the exercise of newly-gained independence brought on many avatars and sometimes disillusionment; you’d have to be blind to the history of humanity, the history of the emergence of European nations themselves, as recently as the 19th century, in Europe and elsewhere, to fail to understand that Africa, as well, had to pay its tribute, its debts at the time of such massive change.

But this isn’t the essential point. What is essential is that Africa has turned the page on colonialism and, in turning it, has contributed to inaugurating a new era for the whole of humanity.

Excerpt from Aimé Césaire’s speech on Négritude from Discours sur le colonialisme, Éditions Présence africaine, published in English as “Discourse on Colonialism”, Monthly Review Press 2000 (orig. 1950), ISBN 1583670254

Translator’s note: For more general information on “Négritude” (best English translation: “Blackness”), a term that Aimé Césaire was the first to use in 1934, readers might be interested in looking this up in Wikipedia:

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