“The Case for Black Academic Recognition and the Significance of Intellectual Recognition and Reparations”

“The Case for Black Academic Recognition and the Significance of Intellectual Recognition and Reparations”

I begin this post with a preface. The goal of this post is not to initiate an intellectual battle or to make public enemies. Anyone who knows me personally also knows that I am a peaceable person and that I treasure sustaining friendship and good relationships, correspondingly. Yet as a writer and thinker and a person who is concerned about justice and equity in the world, I am not afraid to address conflicting intellectual ideas, cultural ideologies, and controversial issues—such as the pressing issues of social justice, unjust public policies, Police brutality, racial harmony and unity, anti-blackness, race concept, white supremacy, white privilege, economic inequality, the plot of the poor, the predicament of the economically-disadvantaged, the mistreatment of and oppression against women and the marginalized populations, etc.—deferring the common good and human flourishing in society and in the global village, respectively.

My ultimate aim in any of my academic and literary production is to seek and promote justice, truth, intellectual reparations, as well as to contribute to the improvement of the human condition in our society and in the world. Thus, the objective of this post is written within this line of thought and intellectual commitment. In sum, as a writer, I try to write with passion, zeal, and conviction. In this brief post, I would like to raise the issue of black academic recognition and the significance of intellectual recognition and reparations in the academia; however, there is another specific issue that I address in the subsequent paragraphs.

To move this conversation forward, allow me to bring your attention to this threefold question:

  1. Do honesty, integrity, and truth matter in intellectual production, scholarship, and the academia?
  2. Do writers and thinkers have a right to defend their intellectual property and claim what is rightful theirs?
  3. Do I have the right, legitimacy, and freedom to defend my work, ideas, and the value of my scholarship?

If I may ask other related questions:

A. Who determines those rights and freedoms?

B. Are those rights and freedom given or does one have to claim or fight for them?

C.Who has the power to shut down or silence certain individuals and academic productions, and recognize and promote other intellectual achievements?

Something I’ve realized early in my academic journey that the academia was not made for a guy like me: black, Haitian, and black male. I also understand that its structures and systems and its gatekeepers do not value the contributions of black scholars and thinkers to various academic disciplines and fields of knowledge. Certain people in the academia interrogate the value of black reason and epistemology. They also undermine the significance of faculty of color in making a difference in the lives of students and the various ways black and brown thinkers continue to challenge certain practices in the academia; these same individuals also overlook their commitment to human freedom and transforming the intellectual scene where they belong. These gatekeepers (Frankly, I do not know their full identity, but do know they’re here and not silent.) also underestimate the intellectual productions of black (especially black women scholarship) and brown scholars in their respective discipline and cognate areas. It is evident that some faculty of color make a habit to interrogate certain academic traditions and intellectual discourses, counter false narratives and metanarratives, and dismissing certain exclusive epistemologies and neo-colonial scholarships.

Moreover, a year ago, I wrote a Facebook post on “Haiti: Then and Now” about a new book on Jacques Roumain entitled “Jacques Roumain: A Life Of Resistance” by Patti M. Marxsen. In the description, the book/author/publisher claimed to be the first biography (in English) on the Haitian public intellectual and Marxist writer. The book was published on April 4, 2019 by Educa Vision Inc. (322 pages).

In my post, not only have I dismissed the exaggerated and false claim about this new book on Jacques Roumain; I informed the audience of “Haiti Then and Now” that two years ago, precisely on April 25, 2017, my book “Thinking in Public: Faith, Secular Humanism, and Development in Jacques Roumain” (496 pages) came out. My book is the most comprehensive study and intellectual biography on Jacques Roumain in the English language. It was published by Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. I also noted that in 1972 (republished in 1980), the eminent African American (woman) literary writer and biographer Carolyn Fowler (“Gerald”) published the “first biography” on Jacques Roumain in the English language. Dr. Fowler’s well-received and seminal work was published by Howard University Press; it was the product of her 1972 doctoral dissertation (“A Knot in the Thread: The Life and the Life and Work of Jacques Roumain”) at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, in the post, I also shared a list of the most important works and criticisms written on Jacques Roumain, both in French and English, that preceded both my work and Patti Marxsen.

Interestingly, this morning (Tuesday, May 26, 2020) I received a strange and an unexpected message from Ms. Patti M. Marxsen, which I share below:

“Just a note to remind you, Celucien, that we are not friends. I’ll block or unfriend you today as I did not realize you were still receiving my FB posts. So just to be clear, any potential of a friendship of any kind was ruined when you and yr friends mobbed me on FB last year. During those days of insults–that you willingly participated in and encouraged–your supporters accused me of being a racist and a vampire, among other things, and you all worked hard to discredit my fine, meticulously researched, well-written biography of Jacques Roumain. So… please do not comment on any future FB posts of mine that you may come across. My FB friends are real friends and yr thoughts on anything I post are irrelevant.”

To respond to Marxsen’s note to me, first, I appreciate Marxsen’s biography on Jacques Roumain. It is a fine book that helps us to understand both the historical trajectories and the complex ideas of Roumain, as well as sheds tremendous light on Roumain’s Haiti. Second, it is a good addition to the existing scholarship on Roumain in the English language. Third, Marxsen’s work contributes to the importance of Haitian studies in English and in North America. Finally, I did not write my post on Facebook to jettison Marxsen’s book on Jacques Roumain. As a writer, I understand the hard work it takes to publish good, illuminating, and rigorous scholarship.

On the other hand, when I published my post on Marxsen’s new book, I was not attacking Marxsen’s personality or character nor did I support anyone who attempted to do so. (In fact, I have never met Patti Marxsen in person nor have I previously corresponded with her prior to writing the Facebook post.). Second, I do not remember anyone interacting with my post calling Patti a “racist” or accusing her of being a “vampire.” If those comments were there, they have accidentally escaped my attention. I sincerely apologize to Patti Marsxen. Third, the goal of my post was to seek intellectual justice and reparation, and to counter the false claim that Marxsen’s work was NOT the first biography on Roumain.

Prior to the publication of my biography and then Marxsen’s book on Roumain, many Haitian scholars and others have written very good and excellent biographies on Jacques Roumain. As scholars, it is important to recognize our intellectual antecedents, especially the value of good scholarship that preceded ours; this is just a common academic principle they teach us in graduate school. Unfortunately, it is an intellectual tradition in the Western academia to undermine and even silence the intellectual productions of black and brown scholars. As a black scholar, I believe it is both an intellectual and moral responsibility to recognize and promote the academic and intellectual works produced by faculty and people of color. It becomes a moral issue and a problem of intellectual integrity when our good works are not recognized, validated, and even silenced in the halls of the academia.

Finally, I would like to close this post with a thought I articulated in a previously-published article (“On Intellectual Reparations: Hegel, Franklin Tavarès, Susan Buck-Morss, Revolutionary Haiti, and Caribbean Philosophical Association,” Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.9, no.7, September 2016, pp. 167-175):

“Intellectual reparation is the right thing to do. Joseph Anténor Firmin once declared, “Il faut réparer au nom de la philosophie morale” (“We must repair in the name of moral philosophy.”) In the same line of thought like Firmin, Frantz Fanon, and Walter D. Mignolo, the Haitian scholar and sociologist Jean Eddy Saint Paul has exclaimed, “Il faut réparer au nom de la décolonialité, une manière de faire justice aux damnés de la terre. Il faut réparer au nom de la désobéissance épistémique conçue ici comme contre-poétique décoloniale” (“We must repair in the name of decoloniality, a manner of doing justice to the wretched of the earth. We must repair in the name of epistemic disobedience as conceived here as decolonial poetics.”) Intellectual reparation is morally, ethically, and academically justified.”

*** I make this post public because Ms. Patti M. Marxsen has blocked me on Facebook (I was not aware of that until today when she informed me.); I was going to send this note directly to her. In making my thought public, I hope someone will communicate this message to her.

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