Achille Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason leaves larger questions unanswered, but points the way. It examines the changing use of ‘blackness’ as a category in an increasingly post-Western world order, and it raises the concept of ‘black reason’ as the thinking around the category that shapes its use. The book provides a history of the category in practice, its origins in the needs of capital, Atlantic then global diffusion, and moments of its change in practice: abolition, decolonization, and Apartheid. This drives the analysis to the crux of today, where the relation of West and the world is being reworked, enabling both new racism and a search for a ‘common world’ beyond black reason. Mbembe suggests ‘Europe’s twilight has arrived, and the Euro-American world has not yet figured out what it wants to know about, or to do with, the Black Man’ (p.7).
Professor Appiah’s masterful Reith Lectures are amounting to a question, one the late Jacques Derrida put best: what is the meaning of “living together well”? Like his first lecture on religion, Appiah’s second and third lectures on the nation and race raise this question, but in a preliminary way, leaving the question itself untouched. In each lecture he argues these ideas are incoherent and he suggests we might find more open and less prejudicial ways of living together, without saying much about what that entails, beyond the vague notion that, as he puts it at one point, we can work it out.