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Monday, September 21, 2015

On a novel by Lance Jeffers


 

Racialized Morality in Lance Jeffers’ Witherspoon

 

                One main idea in my commentaries on African American literature pertains to how the traffic in race (or if you prefer, racial discourses in the United States) stands in defiance of the caution that scientific research would impose on discussions of human endeavors. [1] Obviously, the word “race” refers to a concept in classification schemes that lacks strong empirical backing; evidence from DNA tests, for example, challenges the legitimacy of casual talk about the concept.  From the perspective of modern science, “race” is a concept that has limited value. On the other hand, in the United States of America, “race” is a devastatingly powerful tool for achieving a virtual reality of unity, for maintaining various ideologies of power, and for keeping a nation bemused about how it is constituted.  Americans persist in speaking reductively of race in binary terms of black and white, especially in forms of mass communication that are blatantly political and in works of literature that critics argue are aesthetic.  In this sense, the concept of race has profound consequences for how we read what purports to be non-fiction and for how we read novels that are forthright in revealing their origins in a racialized matrix.  The most famous novel is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885); an example that is closer to our own time but virtually unknown is Lance Jeffers’ novel Witherspoon (1983).[2]

                Literary analysis, the thinking which obtains in our reading of literature, should ultimately see race as a social fiction that has metaphysical properties.  Race is imprinted in the consciousness of Americans.  It complicates our grasping of many things that are not overtly announced in American literature, particularly its moral dimensions.   The color coding of race is refracted in American literature through the ineluctable presence of the Other, the person who is different.  Toni Morrison used a most creative critical rhetoric to secure that point in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. The color coding can most effectively delude readers who protest that they are colorblind.  It is not an accident that if such readers seek to describe major American poetry, they tend to focus on examples marked by whiteness.  And I doubt it is an accident that Eric Sundquist’s study To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature does not have the term “morality” in its index. Nevertheless, it is impossible to have a serious discussion of American literature as a vast body of works without attending to the intersection of race and morality, even when “race” wears the mask of “ethnicity” or “multiculturalism.”

                It is conceivable that we might find instances of American literature that are devoid of race, but those instances would be the purest forms of science fiction. They would not be realistic.  Our guilt and our race-driven impulses dispose many American readers to prefer works that roll over them like water on Teflon rather than works that pinch human consciousness.  But non-trivial, realistic works from any culture do seem to bite moral consciousness.  Within the field of twentieth-century African American literature, it might be argued few writers have agonized more thoroughly about the nexus of morality and race, about racialized morality than Lance Jeffers (1919-1985).  Like Toni Morrison’s well-known Beloved, his novel Witherspoon makes us uncomfortable with our complacency.

                Best known as a poet and for his achievements in the collections My Blackness is the Beauty of This Land (1970), When I Know the Power of My Black Hand (1974), O Africa, Where I Baked My Bread (1977) and Grandsire (1979), his accomplishment as a fiction writer is not be slighted.  He did, after all, have his short story “The Dawn Swings In” published in The Best American Short Stories 1948.  In 1983, he published Witherspoon, a novel that keeps good company with ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens and Meridian by Alice Walker.[3]  Jeffers’ novel, which focuses on the protracted struggle of Reverend Lucius Witherspoon in deciding what is the right thing to do, stands up well among other realistic works set in the Civil Rights period.  It deals relentlessly with the human fragility and doubt that are so often effectively veiled by heroic public action.

                In broad outline, Witherspoon resembles an amplification of the plot sketched in Richard Wright’ s short story “Fire and Cloud, ” devoid of the specific  Marxist implications.  Like Wright’s Reverend Taylor, Jeffers’ Reverend Witherspoon has to face how moral considerations are positioned and repositioned in the American South by the inevitable presence of race. The major question in both works is “What is the right thing to do?”  Wright and Jeffers historicize the moral dilemmas by showing that they cannot be resolved outside the circle of American racial dynamics.  Both authors complicate matters by suggesting Christianity can render black male characters impotent, unable to commit necessary acts,  unless the characters radically and racially reinterpret  Christian belief and its moral imperatives. Taylor and Witherspoon are ministers, but the narrative constructions of their personalities, their psychologies, are remarkably different.  All African American preachers are not alike.  Jeffers and Wright defamiliarize the stereotype of the black preacher by portraying Taylor and Witherspoon as tormented individuals.  Jeffers focuses more strongly than Wright on complex depiction of the preacher’s conscience in the making of moral choices.  Witherspoon is a dramatic instance of how the writer’s poetic and aesthetic choices can triumph over the clichéd response readers are likely to give any novel that on the surface seems to be about civil rights and race relations.  Wright feared many readers of his story got off the hook by way of pity and tears.  Jeffers, on the other hand, throws readers into the pitiless depths of internally and externally determined morality, i.e., morality racialized.  Jeffers’ fictional strategies ensure that we grasp why the usual black/white dichotomy undermines claims for the universal and transcendent workings of virtue.

In our most simplistic readings of the drama of twentieth-century civil rights struggles, we may mistakenly conclude that it was moral superiority  (the non-violent resistance strategies Martin Luther King, Jr. and others adapted from the praxis of Gandhi) that won the fight. This is but one part of a complicated history of struggle.  For Lance Jeffers, however, it was right action chosen by individuals rather than right action chosen by groups that was crucial.  It is  because Lucius Witherspoon is not portrayed as a melodramatic hero that our engagement with the particulars of racialized morality can be so intense in reading the novel.  The novel’s deepest  unsettling question is: How is a black man to behave?  By Witherspoon’s own measure, the daring men and the defiant men (Willie Armstrong, Corwul and others) are models of black manhood. These men are, like the God of the Old Testament, men of war; they do not imitate the meek Christ of the New Testament.  Witherspoon’s  own moral growth results in accepting the dangers of obligation, in burying the dead with dignity (in the face of threatened white mob action) and in assisting a rebel marked for certain death to escape and find relative safety in Atlanta, Georgia.  Witherspoon’s growth depends very much on recognizing the essential impotence of conventional “wisdom in the South in the time of temper and temperament and terror”(78).  He has to recognize the immorality of pragmatic compromise and how Reason, abstracted from the concreteness of a situation, does not necessarily underwrite or validate morality.  Witherspoon would be untrue to himself if he were  to assume moral decisions can be made outside the parameters of the concrete.

In partial support of this assertion, I offer two observations that Lance Jeffers made about the function of literature and David Theo Goldberg’s description of how race and morality are symbiotic in American society, a description made ten years after Witherspoon was published.  In the essay “The Death of the Defensive Posture: Toward Grandeur in Afro-American Letters” (1970), Jeffers proposed:

The black writer of the seventies, battling to free his people, will continue the noble tradition of his predecessors: to face down hell and see through it and beyond it in the name of man.  But the black writer of the seventies will go even further.  He will explore the unexplored continent of himself and his people, will seek out the hidden caves and springs of beauty and hell, will seek out the hell and the complexity within his bones and with the viscera of his people.  He has had the courage to stand fast  before the American hell; now he will further explore, without flinching, his own nature and the nature of his people, unafraid of what he will find, disregarding the negative response of any man.  Self-discovery is painful; the black writer will not shrink from the pain of self-discovery”(259-260).

                In “To Sharpen the Sword of Our Struggle” (1983), the keynote address for the fifth and last National Conference of Afro-American Writers at Howard University, Jeffers contented that this hell-facing literature would be moral.

Good literature is moral.  And immoral or amoral literature is wretched and failed literature, however fluent, however polished, however it attracts the praise of the white literary establishment, which is essentially racist, whose perceptions and principle and goals are quite different from ours.  For good literature is moral, and the morality of good literature is not degeneracy, however cloaked in polish, however dramatic; the morality of good literature is the cause of human evolution, external and internal; and, to Blackfolk, the cause is also political power which effectively seizes respect (7).

                Against Jeffers’ poetic and idealist formulations about morality, exploration, and the work of fiction, one should place David T. Goldberg’s cool and rational description in Racist Culture of how the modern moral order seems to function:

As Hobbes noted, a moral order permits those expressions it does not explicitly prohibit.  In the case of discriminatory exclusions it can be conclude more strongly that what the moral order fails explicitly to exclude it implicitly authorizes.  The moral formalism of modernity establishes itself as the practical application of rationality, as the rational language and the language of rationality in its practical application.  Modernist moralism is concerned principally with a complete, rationally derived system of self-justifying moral reasons logically constructed from a single basic principle.  But in ignoring the social fabric and concrete identities in virtue of which moral judgment and reason are individually effective, in terms of which the very content of the moral categories acquires its sense and force, moral modernity fails to recognize the series of exclusions upon which the state of modernity is constituted.

Thus, Goldberg can insist persuasively that “the colonizing of the moral reason of modernity by racialized categories has been effected for the most part by constituting racial others outside the scope of morality” (39).  In short, the Other conjured in the European imagination after the Enlightenment is banished from the realm of morality and has no entitlement to make moral decisions, except in some unspeakable realm of existence.

                I link Jeffers’ poetic vision of what good fiction should do with Goldberg’s vexed description of European moral hegemony in order to re-establish the grounds on which Frantz Fanon discussed “racism and culture” in 1956.  From the angles of psychology and cultural anthropology, Fanon was so accurate about the systemic nature of race and racism as permanently linked theory and practice. I will try to make my point in language less convoluted than that used by Jeffers and Goldberg.

                Witherspoon as a novel articulates the title character’s moral agon externally in just the frame of impossibility that Goldberg sketches.  The frame of impossibility also has psychological consequences that have to be dealt with in a writer’s construction of character. The geography of the American South is the site for Witherspoon’s making of moral choices, but Witherspoon’ s agency is not constrained by that geography.  The ultimate site wherein his moral agency is operative is his mind as that is represented in the novel.  His mind and his will are not imprisoned by the terms of exclusion implicit in what Goldberg describes as the modern moral order.  His agency operates in a frame of African American moral values that have long struggled to be more than verbal assertions or confirmations of a flawed Western moral order of things.  Close attention to how decisions about good and evil have been depicted in African American novels that fit into the modes of realism in fiction does invite us to consider what racialized morality ordains.

 

 What Jeffers makes his readers face, rather brutally, is that African American morality, historically understood, sometimes supplements and sometimes opposes the announced values of Western morality.  African American morality is often stronger because it is constituted more in action than in language.  Within the African American frame it is the doing rather than the saying that counts.  The testing of accountability, which I take to be one of the objectives Jeffers had in mind as he thought about good literature, is remarkably conducted in the person of the black preacher Witherspoon. The novel exploits the African American  tradition of Christian critique that was powerful in fiction and non-fiction until the last two decades of the twentieth century.  Why and how it has now diminished is a topic for a different lecture.

                I have deliberately not made a plot summary of Witherspoon or mentioned the special moral anxiety Witherspoon must deal with regarding adultery.  I do not want to spoil the reading of Witherspoon, the thrill of discovering exactly what Jeffers meant when he used the wording “facing down hell.”  My remarks are an invitation to test through one’s own reading how this virtually ignored novel gets at the matter of racialized morality. One clue for discovery, I will say, is in Witherspoon’s recognition of his double in the man he is helping to escape certain death at the hands of a lynch mob and in his reconciliation of his outer and inner selves.

                In Witherspoon, Jeffers was trying to deal with why race and racial problems are positioning agents in the making of moral judgments.  He succeeds very well in tantalizing readers to ask why many characters in our racially complex American literature might be called ethical criminals.[4] Witherspoon is indeed a novel that should be reprinted and made available for critical reading.

WORKS CITED

Goldberg, David Theo.  Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.

Jeffers, Lance.  “The Death of the Defensive Posture: Toward Grandeur in Afro-American Letters.” The Black Seventies. Ed. Floyd B. Barbour. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1970. 253-263.

____________. “To Sharpen the Sword of Our Struggle.” SAGALA No.4 (1984): 4-11.

____________. Witherspoon.  Atlanta: George A. Flippin Press, 1983.

 

 



[1] Even within the hard sciences, “race” can be a minor issue. Irresponsible use of the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database by people who do work in genetics can  produce ethical arguments regarding “racial profiling” or use of genetics in the service of racial predictability.  See Newsome, Melba. “The Inconvenient  Science of Racial DNA Profiling.” Wired, October 5, 2007. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/207/10
 
[2] Twain made the racialized matrix quite explicit in describing Huckleberry Finn’s crisis of conscience regarding his agency in assisting the fugitive slave Jim. The crisis is brought to a clear focus in Chapter XVI when Huck feels extreme guilt for doing the wrong thing in helping Jim to escape slavery and equal guilt for doing the right thing in lying about Jim’s racial identity to save him from being captured by slave catchers. Thus, Twain exposed the hypocrisy of Christianity and the institution of slavery.
[3] It is noteworthy that Witherspoon is not mentioned in Bernard W. Bell’s The Contemporary African American Novel  (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), in The Cambridge History of African American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) or in Thadious M. Davis’ Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011)
[4] For a provocative discussion of this subject, see Hayes, Floyd W.”The Paradox of the Ethical Criminal in Richard Wright’s Novel  The Outsider: A Philosophical Investigation.” APA Newsletter 11.1 (Fall 2011): 16-22.

 

Racialized Morality in Lance Jeffers’ Witherspoon

 

                One main idea in my commentaries on African American literature pertains to how the traffic in race (or if you prefer, racial discourses in the United States) stands in defiance of the caution that scientific research would impose on discussions of human endeavors. [1] Obviously, the word “race” refers to a concept in classification schemes that lacks strong empirical backing; evidence from DNA tests, for example, challenges the legitimacy of casual talk about the concept.  From the perspective of modern science, “race” is a concept that has limited value. On the other hand, in the United States of America, “race” is a devastatingly powerful tool for achieving a virtual reality of unity, for maintaining various ideologies of power, and for keeping a nation bemused about how it is constituted.  Americans persist in speaking reductively of race in binary terms of black and white, especially in forms of mass communication that are blatantly political and in works of literature that critics argue are aesthetic.  In this sense, the concept of race has profound consequences for how we read what purports to be non-fiction and for how we read novels that are forthright in revealing their origins in a racialized matrix.  The most famous novel is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885); an example that is closer to our own time but virtually unknown is Lance Jeffers’ novel Witherspoon (1983).[2]

                Literary analysis, the thinking which obtains in our reading of literature, should ultimately see race as a social fiction that has metaphysical properties.  Race is imprinted in the consciousness of Americans.  It complicates our grasping of many things that are not overtly announced in American literature, particularly its moral dimensions.   The color coding of race is refracted in American literature through the ineluctable presence of the Other, the person who is different.  Toni Morrison used a most creative critical rhetoric to secure that point in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. The color coding can most effectively delude readers who protest that they are colorblind.  It is not an accident that if such readers seek to describe major American poetry, they tend to focus on examples marked by whiteness.  And I doubt it is an accident that Eric Sundquist’s study To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature does not have the term “morality” in its index. Nevertheless, it is impossible to have a serious discussion of American literature as a vast body of works without attending to the intersection of race and morality, even when “race” wears the mask of “ethnicity” or “multiculturalism.”

                It is conceivable that we might find instances of American literature that are devoid of race, but those instances would be the purest forms of science fiction. They would not be realistic.  Our guilt and our race-driven impulses dispose many American readers to prefer works that roll over them like water on Teflon rather than works that pinch human consciousness.  But non-trivial, realistic works from any culture do seem to bite moral consciousness.  Within the field of twentieth-century African American literature, it might be argued few writers have agonized more thoroughly about the nexus of morality and race, about racialized morality than Lance Jeffers (1919-1985).  Like Toni Morrison’s well-known Beloved, his novel Witherspoon makes us uncomfortable with our complacency.

                Best known as a poet and for his achievements in the collections My Blackness is the Beauty of This Land (1970), When I Know the Power of My Black Hand (1974), O Africa, Where I Baked My Bread (1977) and Grandsire (1979), his accomplishment as a fiction writer is not be slighted.  He did, after all, have his short story “The Dawn Swings In” published in The Best American Short Stories 1948.  In 1983, he published Witherspoon, a novel that keeps good company with ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens and Meridian by Alice Walker.[3]  Jeffers’ novel, which focuses on the protracted struggle of Reverend Lucius Witherspoon in deciding what is the right thing to do, stands up well among other realistic works set in the Civil Rights period.  It deals relentlessly with the human fragility and doubt that are so often effectively veiled by heroic public action.

                In broad outline, Witherspoon resembles an amplification of the plot sketched in Richard Wright’ s short story “Fire and Cloud, ” devoid of the specific  Marxist implications.  Like Wright’s Reverend Taylor, Jeffers’ Reverend Witherspoon has to face how moral considerations are positioned and repositioned in the American South by the inevitable presence of race. The major question in both works is “What is the right thing to do?”  Wright and Jeffers historicize the moral dilemmas by showing that they cannot be resolved outside the circle of American racial dynamics.  Both authors complicate matters by suggesting Christianity can render black male characters impotent, unable to commit necessary acts,  unless the characters radically and racially reinterpret  Christian belief and its moral imperatives. Taylor and Witherspoon are ministers, but the narrative constructions of their personalities, their psychologies, are remarkably different.  All African American preachers are not alike.  Jeffers and Wright defamiliarize the stereotype of the black preacher by portraying Taylor and Witherspoon as tormented individuals.  Jeffers focuses more strongly than Wright on complex depiction of the preacher’s conscience in the making of moral choices.  Witherspoon is a dramatic instance of how the writer’s poetic and aesthetic choices can triumph over the clichéd response readers are likely to give any novel that on the surface seems to be about civil rights and race relations.  Wright feared many readers of his story got off the hook by way of pity and tears.  Jeffers, on the other hand, throws readers into the pitiless depths of internally and externally determined morality, i.e., morality racialized.  Jeffers’ fictional strategies ensure that we grasp why the usual black/white dichotomy undermines claims for the universal and transcendent workings of virtue.

In our most simplistic readings of the drama of twentieth-century civil rights struggles, we may mistakenly conclude that it was moral superiority  (the non-violent resistance strategies Martin Luther King, Jr. and others adapted from the praxis of Gandhi) that won the fight. This is but one part of a complicated history of struggle.  For Lance Jeffers, however, it was right action chosen by individuals rather than right action chosen by groups that was crucial.  It is  because Lucius Witherspoon is not portrayed as a melodramatic hero that our engagement with the particulars of racialized morality can be so intense in reading the novel.  The novel’s deepest  unsettling question is: How is a black man to behave?  By Witherspoon’s own measure, the daring men and the defiant men (Willie Armstrong, Corwul and others) are models of black manhood. These men are, like the God of the Old Testament, men of war; they do not imitate the meek Christ of the New Testament.  Witherspoon’s  own moral growth results in accepting the dangers of obligation, in burying the dead with dignity (in the face of threatened white mob action) and in assisting a rebel marked for certain death to escape and find relative safety in Atlanta, Georgia.  Witherspoon’s growth depends very much on recognizing the essential impotence of conventional “wisdom in the South in the time of temper and temperament and terror”(78).  He has to recognize the immorality of pragmatic compromise and how Reason, abstracted from the concreteness of a situation, does not necessarily underwrite or validate morality.  Witherspoon would be untrue to himself if he were  to assume moral decisions can be made outside the parameters of the concrete.

In partial support of this assertion, I offer two observations that Lance Jeffers made about the function of literature and David Theo Goldberg’s description of how race and morality are symbiotic in American society, a description made ten years after Witherspoon was published.  In the essay “The Death of the Defensive Posture: Toward Grandeur in Afro-American Letters” (1970), Jeffers proposed:

The black writer of the seventies, battling to free his people, will continue the noble tradition of his predecessors: to face down hell and see through it and beyond it in the name of man.  But the black writer of the seventies will go even further.  He will explore the unexplored continent of himself and his people, will seek out the hidden caves and springs of beauty and hell, will seek out the hell and the complexity within his bones and with the viscera of his people.  He has had the courage to stand fast  before the American hell; now he will further explore, without flinching, his own nature and the nature of his people, unafraid of what he will find, disregarding the negative response of any man.  Self-discovery is painful; the black writer will not shrink from the pain of self-discovery”(259-260).

                In “To Sharpen the Sword of Our Struggle” (1983), the keynote address for the fifth and last National Conference of Afro-American Writers at Howard University, Jeffers contented that this hell-facing literature would be moral.

Good literature is moral.  And immoral or amoral literature is wretched and failed literature, however fluent, however polished, however it attracts the praise of the white literary establishment, which is essentially racist, whose perceptions and principle and goals are quite different from ours.  For good literature is moral, and the morality of good literature is not degeneracy, however cloaked in polish, however dramatic; the morality of good literature is the cause of human evolution, external and internal; and, to Blackfolk, the cause is also political power which effectively seizes respect (7).

                Against Jeffers’ poetic and idealist formulations about morality, exploration, and the work of fiction, one should place David T. Goldberg’s cool and rational description in Racist Culture of how the modern moral order seems to function:

As Hobbes noted, a moral order permits those expressions it does not explicitly prohibit.  In the case of discriminatory exclusions it can be conclude more strongly that what the moral order fails explicitly to exclude it implicitly authorizes.  The moral formalism of modernity establishes itself as the practical application of rationality, as the rational language and the language of rationality in its practical application.  Modernist moralism is concerned principally with a complete, rationally derived system of self-justifying moral reasons logically constructed from a single basic principle.  But in ignoring the social fabric and concrete identities in virtue of which moral judgment and reason are individually effective, in terms of which the very content of the moral categories acquires its sense and force, moral modernity fails to recognize the series of exclusions upon which the state of modernity is constituted.

Thus, Goldberg can insist persuasively that “the colonizing of the moral reason of modernity by racialized categories has been effected for the most part by constituting racial others outside the scope of morality” (39).  In short, the Other conjured in the European imagination after the Enlightenment is banished from the realm of morality and has no entitlement to make moral decisions, except in some unspeakable realm of existence.

                I link Jeffers’ poetic vision of what good fiction should do with Goldberg’s vexed description of European moral hegemony in order to re-establish the grounds on which Frantz Fanon discussed “racism and culture” in 1956.  From the angles of psychology and cultural anthropology, Fanon was so accurate about the systemic nature of race and racism as permanently linked theory and practice. I will try to make my point in language less convoluted than that used by Jeffers and Goldberg.

                Witherspoon as a novel articulates the title character’s moral agon externally in just the frame of impossibility that Goldberg sketches.  The frame of impossibility also has psychological consequences that have to be dealt with in a writer’s construction of character. The geography of the American South is the site for Witherspoon’s making of moral choices, but Witherspoon’ s agency is not constrained by that geography.  The ultimate site wherein his moral agency is operative is his mind as that is represented in the novel.  His mind and his will are not imprisoned by the terms of exclusion implicit in what Goldberg describes as the modern moral order.  His agency operates in a frame of African American moral values that have long struggled to be more than verbal assertions or confirmations of a flawed Western moral order of things.  Close attention to how decisions about good and evil have been depicted in African American novels that fit into the modes of realism in fiction does invite us to consider what racialized morality ordains.

 

 What Jeffers makes his readers face, rather brutally, is that African American morality, historically understood, sometimes supplements and sometimes opposes the announced values of Western morality.  African American morality is often stronger because it is constituted more in action than in language.  Within the African American frame it is the doing rather than the saying that counts.  The testing of accountability, which I take to be one of the objectives Jeffers had in mind as he thought about good literature, is remarkably conducted in the person of the black preacher Witherspoon. The novel exploits the African American  tradition of Christian critique that was powerful in fiction and non-fiction until the last two decades of the twentieth century.  Why and how it has now diminished is a topic for a different lecture.

                I have deliberately not made a plot summary of Witherspoon or mentioned the special moral anxiety Witherspoon must deal with regarding adultery.  I do not want to spoil the reading of Witherspoon, the thrill of discovering exactly what Jeffers meant when he used the wording “facing down hell.”  My remarks are an invitation to test through one’s own reading how this virtually ignored novel gets at the matter of racialized morality. One clue for discovery, I will say, is in Witherspoon’s recognition of his double in the man he is helping to escape certain death at the hands of a lynch mob and in his reconciliation of his outer and inner selves.

                In Witherspoon, Jeffers was trying to deal with why race and racial problems are positioning agents in the making of moral judgments.  He succeeds very well in tantalizing readers to ask why many characters in our racially complex American literature might be called ethical criminals.[4] Witherspoon is indeed a novel that should be reprinted and made available for critical reading.

WORKS CITED

Goldberg, David Theo.  Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.

Jeffers, Lance.  “The Death of the Defensive Posture: Toward Grandeur in Afro-American Letters.” The Black Seventies. Ed. Floyd B. Barbour. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1970. 253-263.

____________. “To Sharpen the Sword of Our Struggle.” SAGALA No.4 (1984): 4-11.

____________. Witherspoon.  Atlanta: George A. Flippin Press, 1983.

 

 



[1] Even within the hard sciences, “race” can be a minor issue. Irresponsible use of the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database by people who do work in genetics can  produce ethical arguments regarding “racial profiling” or use of genetics in the service of racial predictability.  See Newsome, Melba. “The Inconvenient  Science of Racial DNA Profiling.” Wired, October 5, 2007. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/207/10
 
[2] Twain made the racialized matrix quite explicit in describing Huckleberry Finn’s crisis of conscience regarding his agency in assisting the fugitive slave Jim. The crisis is brought to a clear focus in Chapter XVI when Huck feels extreme guilt for doing the wrong thing in helping Jim to escape slavery and equal guilt for doing the right thing in lying about Jim’s racial identity to save him from being captured by slave catchers. Thus, Twain exposed the hypocrisy of Christianity and the institution of slavery.
[3] It is noteworthy that Witherspoon is not mentioned in Bernard W. Bell’s The Contemporary African American Novel  (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), in The Cambridge History of African American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) or in Thadious M. Davis’ Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011)
[4] For a provocative discussion of this subject, see Hayes, Floyd W.”The Paradox of the Ethical Criminal in Richard Wright’s Novel  The Outsider: A Philosophical Investigation.” APA Newsletter 11.1 (Fall 2011): 16-22.

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