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Theorizing Black Statecraft

A guiding principle of black political theory and postcolonial thought, to use Audre Lorde’s famous dictum: the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. As a result, scholars wanting to challenge and decolonize the canon and its concepts tends to disavow turns to the state in black politics because these efforts imply a form of false consciousness, blacks fighting for freedom and liberation are tricked or fooled by European concepts and ideas. They are conscripts, not agents. The disavowal of “statist impulses” across the history of black postcolonial politics in the United States and the Caribbean has the consequence of leaving turns to the state undertheorized. In this dissertation, I argue that a reinterpretation of black state-making is necessary to disclose the complicated nature of black politics in a world organized by racism. Reconceptualizing and expanding anticolonial politics and principles, this dissertation combines original archival research and interpretative methods of textual analysis to theorize black statecraft across three key figures: Toussaint Louverture, Frederick Douglass, and C.L.R. James. I position these thinkers as black statecraft thinkers that hold together both the critique of the destructive power of the state with liberatory visions of the state. This study offers a conceptual framework for understanding statist impulses across the tradition of black political thought including the black radical tradition. These thinkers bring into view the relationship the state has with freedom in its vision of the new state to be built. By undervaluing the state and statecraft as a topic worthy of investigation, scholarship in political theory ignores the ways in which these black statecraft thinkers provide alternatives and should be seen as part of the black radical tradition. Through an investigation of how these theorists of black statecraft engage with and theorize the state, we are better able to reflect on the areas of political contestation reshaping the way certain concepts like the state and freedom, to name a few key concepts explored in this study, are understood, and mediated. These black political thinkers provide great reflections for what we are fighting for, to give content to the kind of political-social community we seek to build upon principles of freedom, equality, and justice.