Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

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.