Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Bill Lawson

Committee Member

Stephan Blatti

Committee Member

Sarah Clark Miller

Committee Member

Thomas Nenon


In this dissertation I argue that Alain Locke's championing of African American art and culture was not merely an end in itself but rather a part of a broader strategy to vindicate black humanity. I argue that Locke's consistent attention to culture was an intentional move to utilize culture as a site of resistance against racist ideology. This move allowed for resistance on two fronts. First, prioritizing culture over biology allowed Locke to redefine race as a sociocultural phenomenon, effectively discrediting biological conceptions of race and their inherent biological determinism that dehumanized African Americans. Second, Locke's promotion of African American cultural products aimed to prove black humanity by showing African Americans to be producers of culture. I argue that for Locke race is a cultural product generated by the beliefs, values, practices and traditions of a group. Race is perpetuated over time through social, not biological inheritance. Locke was especially cognizant of how culture and the arts could contribute to racial formation. I argue that art is significant in Locke's vindication project in that it offers a way of redefining perceptions of black people by means of cultural products. These products support the vindication of black humanity by showing that black people are contributors to world culture. Further, I argue that Locke promoted African American cultural products as a means of engaging in cultural reciprocity with other groupsFinally, looking beyond vindication I examine the concepts of race conservation and post-racialism in light of Locke's conception of race and commitments to cultural pluralism. The debate over whether or not to conserve race typically been framed by W. E. B. Du Bois's essay "The Conservation of Races." Though Locke was a contemporary of Du Bois and offered his own race theory, he has been noticeably excluded from debates on race conservation. I argue that this exclusion is unwarranted. Drawing from his writing on race and culture I situate Locke within the debate. In closing I examine the concept of post-racialism and consider the question of conservation of the notion of race in a "post-racial" world.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.