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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 236

In My Father’s House is a collection of essays written over a period of about six years. When Kwame Anthony Appiah was writing these essays, there was much debate among African and African American writers about the status of race as a concept. The argument that racial differences are real and significant, which had long been used in the United States to justify segregation and unequal treatment, was being used by African American leaders and artists to defend affirmative action against those who saw no need for the continued existence of such programs in the face of the civil rights gains of the 1960’s. These leaders argued for the existence of distinctive African and African American forms of expression. At the same time, there was a growing body of what has been termed black public-sphere intellectual writing. Black writers with academic backgrounds, including Cornel West, Charles Johnson, bell hooks, Houston Baker, Jr., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., increasingly directed their debates on issues of race and identity toward a general, nonacademic audience. Though In My Father’s House, unlike the works of West and the other black intellectuals, makes little attempt to focus on the most controversial issues of black life in the United States, it does touch on the same ideas, and its cross-disciplinary approach makes it significant to a large, general audience interested in the importance of the idea of Africa in culture.

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A Father’s Influence

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

In My Father’s House opens with a brief autobiographical sketch in which Appiah presents his current work in terms not only of his own life but also that of his father, Joe Appiah. His father was a dedicated pan-Africanist and lawyer in Ghana who befriended Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana, when he was a young man and who broke with Nkrumah to form an opposition party. Appiah’s father never stopped working for African unity and cooperation but was completely untempted by racism. The title of Appiah’s work, In My Father’s House, part of a passage from the Bible (John 14:2) that concludes “In my father’s house are many mansions,” refers to the beliefs that Appiah’s father inculcated in him—that it is possible to believe in African unity without resorting to notions of race founded on anger or hatred and that there is no such thing as a monolithic African essence—core ideas that Appiah explores throughout the book.

The Concept of Race

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 300

Appiah begins with an examination of the racial beliefs of Alexander Crummell and W. E. B. Du Bois, two black Americans born in the nineteenth century (the former a role model for the latter) who worked for diasporic unity among people of African ancestry and who each eventually migrated to Africa. Appiah finds in Crummell’s thought an intrinsic racism, which assumes that race determines identity and which also saw Africa as a negative space, one in need of the enlightenment and culture that Americans of African ancestry could bring to the continent. By contrast, he finds in the writings of Du Bois an extrinsic theory of race, one that replaces the intrinsically determinative feature of biology with the extrinsically determinative feature of sociohistory. Taking his cue from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who saw the history of the world as the history of great peoples, Du Bois asserts that each race has a message for humanity and that the message of blacks was only beginning to be heard. Du Bois wants to move beyond the basic features of color and hair in his definition of African identity but ends up defining race only in terms of the suffering and...

(The entire section contains 3491 words.)

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