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Léopold Sédar Senghor was born in Senegal in 1906, and was a politician, poet and post-colonial theorist.  He was president of Senegal from 1960 to 1980.  He was a well-known writer and theorist who, together with Aimé Césaire of Martinique and Léon Damas of Guyana, spearheaded the Négritude movement which began in the 1930s.  Most of his theories were first conceived in the 1920s and 1930s, and his work is an early attempt to create a consistent theory of modern African writing.  Through his contribution as theorist on Négritude, Senghor has had a profound influence on African literature and on post-colonial discourse, and was also influential in the Afro-American Black consciousness movement.

Négritude can probably best be defined as a black sense of solidarity as a group, as well as a belief in the unity and excellence of a universal black culture.  Négritude was born out of a response to white cultural domination, in order to reassert black identity.  In all of Senghor's writing he posits a distinctive African culture based on specifically African rhythms and images. 

In Senghor's arguments for decolonisation, he cites the necessity for a re-education process for both black and white, in that both need to reconsider the conditions under which white came to have certain meanings (usually associated with dominance and superiority) and black came to have other meanings associated with a disadvantaged position in relation to whites.  However, other theorists have noted that within Senghor's assertions he adopted stereotypes which reflected European prejudice.  For example, that black culture is something that is seen as emotional rather than rational.

Senghor's theories have been described as essentialist in that he argues that the Negro possesses an essence that is unique and separate from other races, and that the Negro can make a distinct contribution to a hybrid universal culture.  However, first the Negro must regain his identity and the white world must recognise his values and cultural heritage.  Therefore, when Senghor writes of the relationship between Europe and Africa, he argues for the relationship to be one of symbiosis, rather than one dominating the other.  Négritude also claims a distinctive African view of time-space relationships, ethics, metaphysics, and an aesthetics which separates itself from European taste and style.  Unfortunately, as pointed out by Wole Soyinka, this has also meant that it risks being reincorporated into a European model in which it functions only as the antithesis of the thesis of white supremacy, rather than the model of symbiosis as envisioned by Senghor.  Therefore, Négritude can be seen to remain within the parameters of the essential binary nature of the western philosophical tradition.

 

 

Simon and Delyse Ryan ACU National