Awakening to Race
Individualism and Social Consciousness in America
Awakening to Race
Individualism and Social Consciousness in America
Jack Turner has written a bold and provocative book. In his deft hands, appeals to personal responsibility become the basis for a robust democratic individualism attuned to the ugliness of racism, rather than a conservative justification that leaves racial inequalities in place. Awakening to Race is American political thought at its best.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Princeton University
Does individualism have anything to offer the struggle for racial justice? Awakening to Race offers a resounding yes! Jack Turner’s book punctures the myths of American individualism that have helped to sustain racial hierarchies and advances fresh interpretations of self-reliance and personal responsibility stripped of their dishonesty. His writing embodies the spirit of the democratic citizen he finds in the work of Emerson, Thoreau, Douglass, Ellison, and Baldwin: rigorous in its questioning of present conditions, compassionate, and intensely engaged.
Lawrie Balfour, University of Virginia
In Awakening to Race, Jack Turner carves up American thought with a clean, theoretical scalpel, shredding the dangerous myths of individualism and self-reliance through which so many Americans still think about race. We desperately need these reminders of how many of our greatest writers, from Douglass to Baldwin, have prepared us for our enduring racial agony, if only we could wake up from our mythic slumber. An extraordinarily smart and timely book.
David W. Blight, Yale University, author of American Oracle
Jack Turner has canvassed a remarkable range of sources to develop a profoundly revisionist take on individualism, a theme absolutely central to the nation’s founding and which has ongoing—in fact heightened—relevance in the ‘postracial’ age-of-Obama United States. Turner both makes a convincing case that individualism as a central American value needs to be recaptured from the right and demonstrates that the rich tradition of American political thought does indeed provide us with the necessary conceptual resources for doing so.
Charles Mills, Northwestern University
“Exercised by claims that race no longer matters as a bar to full participation in US society, Jack Turner writes a lively scholarly polemic seeking to move beyond ‘simplistic debates pitting advocates of self-reliance and personal responsibility against analysts of historical inheritance, structural constraint, and inequality of opportunity.’”
"Turner’s work is thoughtful, bold, and a refreshing framework in which to rethink American political thought surrounding issues of race."
Teachers College Record
"Don’t let the size of this slim volume fool you: Awakening to Race is chock-full of fresh insights and original arguments regarding individualism and race in the American democratic tradition. Individualism in America often takes atomistic forms that are antithetical to a rich sense of the social constitution of the self. For that reason, individualism often is viewed as antithetical to a critical consciousness of how race and white racism operate. In Awakening to Race, Jack Turner boldly takes the bull of American individualism by its horns. He argues that the rhetoric of individualism can be used against, rather than in service of, an allegedly colorblind society in which independent, post-racial individuals pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The result of Turner’s skillful intervention into American political philosophy is to take back individualism from conservative forces and refashion it into a progressive tool for racial justice movements. . . . My only criticism of this book is that it ended."
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Journal of American Philosophy
"There is much to admire in Awakening to Race. The writing is lucid and lively; the erudition is impressive yet unobtrusive; the readings of particular texts are densely packed with insights; and the overall argument is intelligently crafted. By directing renewed attention to these and other worthy constituents of the democratic individualist tradition, the book could accomplish a notable good work in persuading progressive advocates of justice across color lines that they need not reject the nation’s individualist heritage. . . . [Turner] performs a valuable service in commending to our attention the authors of his democratic individualist tradition, from whom we all—whites and blacks, racial liberals and racial conservatives—might gain renewed inspiration."
American Political Thought
"Turner is the consummate scholar. The corpuses of Emerson, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Ellison, and Baldwin are generously interpreted and then deployed to great effect for the purpose of reconstructing the American individualist doctrine. . . . Turner's ability to wrangle the works of these unsystematic, and sometimes philosophically nearly inscrutable, thinkers for the purpose of this reconstruction is itself a great feat. What strikes one as even more impressive is that he is able to find common conceptual ground between prewar white intellectuals and post–World War I black artists and activists for the purposes of doing what none of them did in any discrete sense: provide a theory of responsibility for racial inequality."
"Much of the force of Turner’s argument comes from his ability to deploy his chosen authors to expose the hypocrisy of prevailing fictions around American individualism. . . . On one level, this makes Turner’s study especially revelatory for audiences steeped in the rhetorical tradition of atomistic American individualism and ‘'the bootstraps philosophy’' that simply cannot be sustained against the authors and evidence marshaled in Awakening to Race. Furthermore, the book’s lucidity makes its argumentative power available to undergraduate audiences and general readers unfamiliar with individualism in black. . . . An admirable achievement."
Contemporary Political Theory
"A judicious intellectual history."
Perspectives on Politics
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Awakening to Race
Racial Injustice and Individualist Ideals
The Problem of Acknowledgment
From Emerson to Baldwin
A Usable Past?
Talking to Strangers
Chapter 2. Self-Reliance and Social Responsibility
The Idea of Complicity
Self-Reliance and Complicity
Action and Citizenship
Self-Reliance and Justice
Democratic Individualist Responsibility
Chapter 3. Self-Help and Social Structure
Liberal Democracy, Properly Understood
Chapter 4. Race and Democratic Individuality
Democratic Individuality in Black
Diagnosing White Supremacy
Love, Fraternity, Gender, and Democracy
Awakening to Power
Chapter 5. Democratic Reconstitution
Creative Individuality, Radical Responsibility
The White Innocence of American Liberalism
Speech and Self-Understanding
Democratic Individualism Revisited
Chapter 6. A New Individualism
All That Beauty