Deconstruction of Carmichael's Black Power Speech
Carmichael's Black Power Speech
Deconstruction of Carmichael's Black Power Speech
While the concept and rhetoric of Black Power was not essentially new, this speech by Carmichael brought the issue of black power and black consciousness into the forefront of the debate about racial equality in the United Stared. This paper will focus on a deconstruction of the speech by Carmichael in order to illustrate the social as well as the political ramifications that lie encoded in the text. In this regard the speech will be considered as an integral part of the larger deconstructive discourse that attempts to interrogate and oppose various forms of hegemony and the structures and institutions that tend to dominate the social and cultural environment.
It should be noted at the outset that the deconstructive endeavor deals with a radical interrogation of perceived constructs and ideologies that form part of the accepted worldview and reality matrix of society. This mode of interrogations is especially relevant to the power structure that perpetuates notions of racial and class differences and marginalization.
Deconstruction therefore interrogates the master narratives or the underlying structures that support the ideological superstructure of the society. In this sense, the speech given by Carmichael can be considered to be a deconstruction of the accepted mores and norms that support the white liberal view of racial inequality. Carmichael's text served to explore the fissures and the inconsistencies in this view. However, one should also bear in mind that the deconstructive moment is always open to further interrogation and this will also be applied to the stance that Carmichael takes in this speech.
The Deconstructive Approach to the Text
This speech is centered on the concept of Black Power. From Carmichael's perspective Black Power became an essential component of the liberation from white dominated hegemony and it meant " black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs [rather than relying on established parties]" (Biography: Stokely Carmichael). Frantz Fanon
One must also take into account the various influences and precursors to the concept of Black Power in Carmichael's text; for example the views of and Malcolm X In essence, the concept of Black Power during Carmichael's leadership became a central focus of radical black aspirations. It becomes, in short, a new ideology of black self-awareness and consciousness.
In his speech Carmichael challenges the orthodox version of Black freedom. His central theme that is reiterated in different ways throughout the speech is that black awareness can only achieved by those who have been oppressed and that white liberal views are intrinsically distorted by the institutional and cultural milieu in which they exist.
Analysis of the Speech
The stance that Carmichael takes in is very different to the accepted liberal notion that was promulgated by other activists. In this speech Carmichael adopts a deconstructive and seemingly radical approach in his analysis of the racial divide and racial inequality in America. The view expressed in this speech and in other works was radical in the sense that it in challenged the conventional liberal views of what should constitute black equality. In the speech, instead of theme of brotherhood and equality, Carmichael makes a case for difference. This in essence seems to contradict the message of human equality and the ideal of a non-racist society that was promulgated by Martin Luther King and others. It is however more in line with the view of Malcolm X This needs to be understood from a deconstructive analysis of the way that white perceptions of black freedom tend to perpetuate white hegemony.
The new direction that the speech emphasizes for the SNCC was one that in fact excluded whites in a sense and focused on the recognition of Black identity that was not mediated through the lens of white expectations and worldview. Furthermore, Carmichael became critical of other civil rights leaders who focused their attention of the concept of integration; whereas this speech encourages a form of separation and independence. For Carmichael, integration means acceptance by the white run institutions and ethos of the country, which is a denial of black identity; hence the call for Black Power. This different trajectory in the human rights movement will become clear for a brief analysis of the text of the speech.
In essence the direction that the speech announces can be seen as a movement away from or in opposition to a white ethos that determines the way ahead for Blacks. The concept of Black Power is indicative of a need for greater Black self-awareness and self-determination.
The above point regarding the role of difference as a determining factor in Carmichael's discourse is reflected in the very first lines of the speech: "Thank you very much. It's a privilege and an honor to be in the white intellectual ghetto of the West" (Stokely Carmichael: Black Power). The reference to the white ghetto of the mind is a prelude to his deconstruction of black liberation perceived from a white perspective.
Carmichael goes on to suggest that white views about black freedom are ensconced or entrapped in an institutionalized worldview that by its very nature cannot take black identity and aspirations into account. This is reflected in the implied criticism of the attenuated and myopic white perspective, "All criticism is a[n] autobiography" (Stokely Carmichael: Black Power).
The speech goes on to enlarge on the nature of black identity and the need for this identity to develop outside the framework of white hegemony. The stance that he was suggesting was one that would change the focus to emphasize black aspirations rather than white aspirations for blacks.
Throughout the speech he insists on black identity as opposed to white views of black identity. In order to express his point he deconstructs familiar liberal terms such as freedom and equality. For example, he states that the mindset and institutionalized nature of racism is endemic and ingrained in the society so that they cannot perceive the error of their ways. Words like freedom and equality ring hollow in an environment that cannot perceive or react adequately to inequality. In this regard he states that, "the officials and the population -- the white population -- in Neshoba County, Mississippi -- that's where Philadelphia is -- could not -- could not condemn [Sheriff] Rainey, his deputies, and the other fourteen men that killed three human beings. They could not because they elected Mr. Rainey to do precisely what he did; and that for them to condemn him will be for them to condemn themselves. (Stokely Carmichael: Black Power)
He goes on to uncover the fissures in white rhetoric about freedom and equality. "Seems to me that the institutions that function in this country are clearly racist, and that they're built upon racism" (Stokely Carmichael: Black Power). This in turn leads to a number of questions: "…how then do we begin to clear away the obstacles that we have in this society, that make us live like human beings? How can we begin to build institutions that will allow people to relate with each other as human beings?"( Stokely Carmichael: Black Power).
In this speech Carmichael articulates a new vision of black uniqueness and difference that is essentially in opposition to white liberal ideologies. In this regard we could mention WUNC or public representations of worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment. The ethos of reconciliation and equality that this represents is deconstructed by Carmichael's speech. Carmichael sees this white liberal ethos as not as being intrinsically bad but inadequate to deal with a society that is immersed in preconception about racism and duality.
The way ahead in terms of this speech would be for a radical questioning and change in the structure of society. The speech is in effect a deconstruction of institutionalized hegemony of the white, male centered worldview that was interrogated by Derrida and others. In other words, the white liberal is entrapped and hobbled by the fact that he exists within a social and institutional structure that by its very nature engenders and maintains racist and binary opposition and marginalization. This leads, for example, to the deconstruction of integration as a "thalidomide drug." As Carmichael states, the true fight is not for integration but "against white supremacy" (Stokely Carmichael: Black Power).
This view of the text is supported by Gallagher ( 2001) who states that "In the speech at Berkeley, Carmichael revealed a potential in discourse…a strategic rhetoric of Blackness" which involves a " & #8230;deconstruction and re-construction" of the discourse of racism (Gallagher, 200, p.1). In this light Gallagher goes to state that in the speech "…Carmichael argues that black people must engage in a psychological struggle for control of their own self-concept as well as systematic questioning of the values of society as a whole" (Gallagher, 200, p.149).The study also goes on to argue that Carmichael deconstructs terms such as freedom and integration to suggest that they can be used…