Vaughn Rasberry is an associate professor of English at Stanford University, where he teaches in collaboration with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. His teaching and research focus on African American literature, postcolonial theory, and philosophical theories of modernity. His first book, Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination, is forthcoming on Harvard University Press.
Race and the Totalitarian Century questions the notion that desegregation prompted African American writers and activists to acquiesce in the normative claims of postwar liberalism. Challenging accounts that portray black cultural workers in various postures of reaction to larger forces--namely U.S. liberalism or Soviet communism--this book argues instead that many writers were involved in a complex national and global dialogue with totalitarianism, a defining geopolitical discourse of the twentieth century.
During World War II and the Cold War, the United States government conscripted African Americans into the fight against Nazism and Stalinism. An array of black writers, however, deflected the appeals of liberalism and its anti-totalitarian propaganda in the service of decolonization. Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham, C. L. R. James, John A. Williams, and others remained skeptical that totalitarian servitude and democratic liberty stood in stark opposition. Their skepticism, Race and the Totalitarian Century contends, allowed them to formulate an independent perspective that reimagined the anti-fascist, anti-communist narrative through the lens of racial injustice, with the United States as a tyrannical force in the Third World but also as an ironic agent of Asian and African independence.