August 20, 2013

"The United States is not a nation of black and white people. Any fool can see that white people are not really white, and that black people are not black."

Wrote Albert Murray in his 1970 book "The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture."
America, he maintained, “even in its most rigidly segregated precincts,” was a “nation of multicolored people,” or Omni-Americans: “part Yankee, part backwoodsman and Indian — and part Negro.”

The book also challenged what Mr. Murray called the “social science fiction” pronouncements of writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who he said had exaggerated racial and ethnic differences in postulating a pathology of black life. As Mr. Murray put it, they had simply countered “the folklore of white supremacy” with “the fakelore of black pathology.”
Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote a New Yorker article called "King of Cats" about Murray (and Murray's close friend Ralph Ellison), which said:
"Both men were militant integrationists, and they shared an almost messianic view of the importance of art.... In their ardent belief that Negro culture was a constitutive part of American culture, they had defied an entrenched literary mainstream, which preferred to regard black culture as so much exotica — amusing perhaps, but eminently dispensable. Now they were also defying a new black vanguard, which regarded authentic black culture as separate from the rest of American culture — something that was created, and could be appreciated, in splendid isolation."
Murray died last Sunday at the age of 97. The quotes above come from the NYT obituary. You can read the New Yorker article, from 1996, here.

ADDED: Speaking of culture, why wasn't this man in the forefront of American culture all these years?

16 comments:

sykes.1 said...

Considering that the US is more segregated now than 50 years ago, and that racial antagonism is high and increasing, and that the racial divide is now at least three ways and maybe four ways (with the addition of Asians and Hispanics), Murray's comments are risible.

bpm4532 said...

Lib/prog/dems won't be satisfied until we reach full Bulworth - and where the same clothes, think the same thoughts, and do everything alike.

Oso Negro said...

Whatever else the man may have believed, I am right there with him in the ardent belief that Negro culture is a constitutive part of American culture. Perhaps the cultural achievements of Negroes in America are the sweet fruit of the bitter tree of our history.

Veronica Windholz said...

Why wasn't Murray at the forefront of culture?
That's a fine question, Ann.

America doesn't seem to care for Murray's kind of (high) culture anymore ...

He was a great writer---in the rhythms of his writing at least as much in its content. The obit makes him into an essayist, but he was mostly a writer of fiction, and definitely not a polemicist. For Murray, it was about art, not about politics and certainly not about racial politics. He wasn't interested in that.

I had the pleasure of working with him nearly forty years ago [!}, when I was a pipsqueak in publishing, on his autobiographical novel Train Whistle Guitar. He was also a kind and lovely human being--gentle, funny, interested, engaging, and fully alive to the rhythms of life.

Perhaps his work will be rediscovered someday.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Veronica.

"Perhaps his work will be rediscovered someday."

May this be that day.

Pettifogger said...

"why wasn't this man in the forefront of American culture all these years?"

We are the poorer for that not being so.

southcentralpa said...

Why wasn't he in the forefront all these years? Integration doesn't pay for Jesse Jackson's mistress(es), race hustling does.

southcentralpa said...

Or, to borrow a courtroom expression, I'll rephrase.

If Murray was at the forefront of culture, it would mean the "diversity" industry would have to find productive jobs.

AaronS said...

When you see yourself as an interest group you see everyone as an interest group. When you see yourself as an individual you see everyone as individuals. Shall I say that art is a communication between individuals. And thus no surprise that someone with a messianic interest in it would see people that way above all else.
Now who thinks of themselves as part of an interest group? Well, who is obsessed with ethnicity and race? The government and higher ed.

Hagar said...

The Selma generation of Blacks and the Freedom Riders generation of whites are about to die off, and they are afraid of being forgotten.

"But dat Ol' Man River, / He jes' keeps rolling along!"

traditionalguy said...

Murray was a realist in a world lead astray by polemicists.

Murray simply pointed out that culture does not follow skin color. Culture in America follows Reformed Christian beliefs, education level and shared sports that create a loyalty and trust among neighbors.

Inga said...

Interesting how much easier it is to marginalize a group of people when you see them as an homogenous group, but one oh so different than your group. We have all shades if skin here from many different groups of people, European, Indian, Asian, African, Arab, Native American. It's not " libs/progs/dems that wish people were all alike, we celebrate and accept the difference and yet are able to see that we are all Americans.

David said...

"why wasn't this man in the forefront of American culture all these years?"

Too positive. Too hopeful. Too optimistic. Not enough victimization.

William said...

I can't tell the difference between a Shiite and Sunni Mislim, but there are many who consider the differences profound enough to justify mass murder. In Rwanda, the endomorphs' resentment of the ectomorphs was so embittering that hundreds of thousands of them were murdered. In Cambodia some people were summarily executed because they wore glasses or had uncallused hands......Perhaps there is a strength to America's great diversity. We don't get bogged down in the narcissism of small differences. These small differences seem to inspire the most murderous of rages.

Unknown said...

Steve Sailer posts that Murray was a retired Air Force major - not mentioned in the NYT obit.
http://isteve.blogspot.ca/2013/08/albert-murray-rip.html

paul a'barge said...

Big shout out to Henry Louis Gates Jr. ... if you think I/we envision an American reality thriving without you in it ... you're correct.