Inquiry Essay

The inquiry essay is designed to teach both the writer and the reader something valuable about a chosen topic, as well as about the nature of search and discovery. Unlike the conventional research paper in which the writer usually assumes a detached and objective stance, this essay allows you take an active role in your research by constructing a record of your path of inquiry.


The inquiry paper will be written in 5 sections. The sections are:

  1. Introduction (1-2 pages)

Before conducting any formal research, write a section in which you explain to the reader what you think you know, what you assume, or what you imagine about your topic before you conducted your research. Discuss what you hope to find out about it through your inquiry, and predictions about what you will find during your research.

  1. Research Process/Methods (1-2 pages)

This section should tell the story of your research. Write about your inquiry in a narrative or storytelling form, relating the story of what you did to research and what you learned in the process. Discuss what questions guided your research. Do not feel obligated to tell the reader everything, but highlight the information you uncovered that was crucial to your hunt and that contributed to your understanding of the information.

  1. Results (1-2 pages)

In this section you will document the research you discovered on your own and how this research relates to your research questions. Think about the following when crafting this section:

  • What are the sources you were able to find?
  • What arguments do these sources make? What is the value of the source’s argument? What are its limitations?
  • How relevant were these sources to your research questions? How do they relate to and answer your research questions?
  1. Implications and Additional Research (1-2 pages)

What are the implications/applications of this research? How might this information be used? What additional research might need to be conducted about this topic? What questions do you still have? What else might you need to know that you were not able to learn through this inquiry?

  1. Reflection (1-2 pages)

Now that you are finished researching and have found answers to your questions, reflect upon the discoveries you made and the questions that remain to be resolved. Were you surprised by things you found out about your topic or yourself? How might your research experience have changed you and your future?

  1. Documentation (Works Cited):

Your final draft will incorporate research you conducted independently. The essay must include at least six sources total.

you shoud read the following.

Cornel West, “The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual,” Critical Quarterly 29 (4) (1987), 39-52.

The peculiarities of the American social structure, and the position of the intellectual class within it, make the functional role of the Negro intellectual a special one. The Negro intellectual must deal intimately with the white power structure and cultural apparatus, and the inner realities of the black world at one and the same time. But in order to function successfully in this role, he has to be acutely aware of the nature of the American social dynamic and how it monitors the ingredients of class stratifications in American society. Therefore the functional role of the Negro intellectual demands that he cannot be absolutely separated from either the black or white world.

Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967) The contemporary black intellectual faces a grim predicament. Caught between an insolent

American society and an insouciant black community, the African American who takes seriously the life of the mind inhabits an isolated and insulated world. This condition has little to do with the motives and intentions of black intellectuals; rather it is an objective situation created by circumstances not of their own choosing. In this meditative essay, I will explore this dilemma of the black intellectual and suggest various ways of understanding and transforming it.

On Becoming a Black Intellectual

The choice of becoming a black intellectual is an act of self-imposed marginality; it assures a peripheral status in and to the black community. The quest for literacy indeed is a fundamental theme in African-American history and a basic impulse in the black community. But for blacks, as with most Americans, the uses for literacy are usually perceived to be for more substantive pecuniary benefits than those of a writer, artist, teacher, or professor. The reasons some black people choose to become serious intellectuals are diverse. But in most cases these reasons can be traced back to a common root: a conversion-like experience with a highly influential teacher or peer that convinced one to dedicate one’s life to the activities of reading, writing, and conversing for the purposes of

individual pleasure, personal worth, and political enhancement of black (and often otheroppressed) people.

The way in which one becomes a black intellectual is highly problematic. This is so because the traditional roads others travel to become intellectuals in American society have only recently been opened to black people—and remain quite difficult. The main avenues are the academy or the literate subcultures of art, culture, and politics. Prior to the acceptance of black undergraduate students to elite white universities and colleges in the late sixties, select black educational institutions served as the initial stimulus for potential black intellectuals. And in all honesty, there were relatively more and better black intellectuals then than now. After a decent grounding in a black college, where self-worth and self-confidence were affirmed, bright black students then matriculated to leading white institutions to be trained by liberal, sympathetic scholars, often of renowned stature. Stellar figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, E. Franklin Frazier, and John Hope Franklin were products of this system. For those black intellectuals-to-be who missed college opportunities for financial or personal reasons, there were literate subcultures—especially in the large urban centers—of writers, painters, musicians, and politicos for unconventional educational enhancement. Major personages such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin were products of this process.
Additional Obstacles

Ironically, the present-day academy and contemporary literate subcultures present more obstacles for young blacks than those in decades past. This is so for three basic reasons. First, the attitudes of white scholars in the academy are quite different from those in the past. It is much more difficult for black students, especially graduate students, to be taken seriously as potential scholars and

intellectuals owing to the managerial ethos of our universities and colleges (in which less time is spent with students) and to the vulgar (racist) perceptions fueled by affirmative-action programs which pollute many black student-white professor relations.

Second, literate subcultures are less open to blacks now than they were three or four decades ago, not because white avant-garde journals or leftist groups are more racist today, but rather because heated political and cultural issues, such as the legacy of the Black Power movement, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the invisibility of Africa in American political discourse, have created rigid lines of demarcation and distance between black and white intellectuals. Needless to say, black presence in leading liberal journals like the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review is negligible—nearly nonexistent. And more leftist periodicals such as Dissent, Socialist Review, the Nation, and Telos, or avant-garde scholarly ones like Diacritics, Salmagundi, Partisan Review, and Raritan do not do much better. Only Monthly Review, the Massachusetts Review, Boundary 2, and Social Text make persistent efforts to cover black subject matter and have regular black contributors. The point here is not mere finger-pointing at negligent journals (though it would not hurt matters), but rather an attempt to highlight the racially separatist publishing patterns and practices of American intellectual life which are characteristic of the chasm between black and white intellectuals.

Third, the general politicization of American intellectual life (in the academy and outside), along with the rightward ideological drift, constitutes a hostile climate for the making of black intellectuals. To some extent, this has always been so, but the ideological capitulation of a significant segment of former left-liberals to the new-style conservatism, and old-style imperialism has left black students and black professors with few allies in the academy and in influential periodicals. This

hostile climate requires that black intellectuals fall back upon their own resources—institutions, journals, and periodicals—which, in turn, reinforce the de facto racially separatist practices of American intellectual life.

The tragedy of black intellectual activity is that the black institutional support for such activity is in shambles. The quantity and quality of black intellectual exchange is at its worst since the Civil War. There is no major black academic journal; no major black intellectual magazine; no major black periodical of highbrow journalism; not even a major black newspaper of national scope. In short, the black infrastructure for intellectual discourse and dialogue is nearly nonexistent. This tragedy is, in part, the price for integration—which has yielded mere marginal black groups within the professional disciplines of a fragmented academic community. But this tragedy also has to do with the refusal of black intellectuals to establish and sustain their own institutional mechanisms of criticism and self-criticism, organized in such a way that people of whatever color would be able to contribute to them. This refusal over the past decade is significant in that it has lessened the appetite for, and the capacity to withstand, razor-sharp criticism among many black intellectuals whose formative years were passed in a kind of intellectual vacuum. So besides the external hostile climate, the tradition of serious black intellectual activity is also threatened from within.

The creation of an intelligentsia is a monumental task. Yet black churches and colleges, along with white support, served as resources for the first black intellectuals with formal training. The formation of high-quality habits of criticism and international networks of serious intellectual exchange among a relatively isolated and insulated intelligentsia is a gargantuan endeavor. Yet black intellectuals have little choice: either continued intellectual lethargy on the edges of the academy and

literate subcultures unnoticed by the black community, or insurgent creative activity on the margins of the mainstream ensconced within bludgeoning new infrastructures.
Black Intellectuals and the Black Community

The paucity of black infrastructures for intellectual activity results in part, from the inability of black intellectuals to gain respect and support from the black community—and especially the black middle class. In addition to the general anti-intellectual tenor of American society, there is a deep distrust and suspicion of black intellectuals within the black community. This distrust and suspicion stem not simply from the usual arrogant and haughty disposition of intellectuals toward ordinary folk, but, more importantly, from the widespread refusal of black intellectuals to remain, in some visible way, organically linked with African-American cultural life. The relatively high rates of exogamous marriage, the abandonment of black institutions, and the preoccupation with Euro- American intellectual products are often perceived by the black community as intentional efforts to escape the negative stigma of blackness or are viewed as symptoms of self-hatred. And the minimal immediate impact of black intellectual activity on the black community and American society reinforces common perceptions of the impotence, even uselessness, of black intellectuals. In good American fashion, the black community lauds those black intellectuals who excel as political activists and cultural artists; the life of the mind is viewed as neither possessing intrinsic virtues nor harboring emancipatory possibilities—solely short-term political gain and social status.

This truncated perception of intellectual activity is widely held by black intellectuals themselves. Given the constraints upon black upward social mobility and the pressures for status and affluence among middle-class peers, many black intellectuals principally seek material gain and

cultural prestige. Since these intellectuals are members of an anxiety ridden and status-hungry black middle class, their proclivities are understandable and, to some extent, justifiable. For most intellectuals are in search of recognition, status, power, and often wealth. Yet for black intellectuals this search requires immersing oneself in and addressing oneself to the very culture and society which degrade and devalue the black community from whence one comes. And, to put it crudely, most black intellecuals tend to fall within the two camps created by this predicament: “successful” ones, distant from (and usually condescending toward) the black community, and “unsuccessful” ones, disdainful of the white intellectual world. But both camps remain marginal to the black community —dangling between two worlds with little or no black infrastructural bases. Therefore, the “successful” black intellectual capitulates, often uncritically, to the prevailing paradigms and research programs of the white bourgeois academy, and the “unsuccessful” black intellectual remains encapsulated within the parochial discourses of African-American intellectual life. The alternatives of meretricious pseudo-cosmopolitanism and tendentious, cathartic provincialism loom large in the lives of black intellectuals. And the black community views both alternatives with distrust and disdain—and with good reason. Neither alternative has had a positive impact on the black community. The major black intellectuals from W.E.B Du Bois and St. Clair Drake to Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison have shunned both alternatives.

This situation has resulted in the major obstacle confronting black intellectuals: the inability to transmit and sustain the requisite institiutional mechanisms for the persistence of a discernible intellectual tradition. The racism of American society, the relative lack of black community support, and hence the dangling status of black intellectuals have prevented the creation of a rich heritage of

intellectual exchange, intercourse, and dialogue. There indeed have been grand black intellectual achievements, but such achievements do not substitute for tradition.

I would suggest that there are two organic intellectual traditions in African-American life: the black Christian tradition of preaching and the black musical tradition of performance. Both traditions, though undoubtedly linked to the life of the mind, are oral, improvisational, and histrionic. Both traditions are rooted in black life and possess precisely what the literate forms of black intellectual activity lack: institutional matrices over time and space within which there are accepted rules of procedure, criteria for judgment, canons for assessing performance, models of past achievement and present emulation, and an acknowledged succession and accumulation of superb accomplishments. The richness, diversity and vitality of the traditions of black preaching and black music stand in strong contrast to the paucity, even poverty, of black literate intellectual production. There simply have been no black literate intellectuals who have mastered their craft commensurate with the achievements of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, or Reverend Manuel Scott—just as there are no black literate intellectuals today comparable to Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, or Reverend Gardner Taylor. This is so not because there have been or are no first-rate black literate intellectuals, but rather because without strong institutional channels to sustain traditions, great achievement is impossible. And, to be honest, black America has yet to produce a great literate intellectual with the exception of Toni Morrison. There indeed have been superb ones—Du Bois, Frazier, Ellison, Baldwin, Hurston—and many good ones. But none can compare to the heights achieved by the black preachers and musicians.

What is most troubling about black literate intellectual activity is that as it slowly evolved out of the black Christian tradition and interacted more intimately with secular Euro-American styles and forms, it seemed as if by the latter part of the twentieth century maturation would set in. Yet, as we approach the last few years of this century, black literate intellectual activity has declined in both quantity and quality. As I noted earlier, this is so primarily because of relatively greater black integration into postindustrial capitalist America with its bureaucratized elite universities, dull middlebrow colleges, and decaying high schools, which have little concern for or confidence in black students as potential intellectuals. Needless to say, the predicament of the black intellectual is inseparable from that of the black community—especially the black middle-class community—in American society. And only a fundamental transformation of American society can possibly change the situation of the black community and the black intellectual. And though my own Christian skepticism regarding human totalistic schemes for change chastens my deep socialist sentiments regarding radically democratic and libertarian socioeconomic and cultural arrangements, I shall forego these larger issues and focus on more specific ways to enhance the quantity and quality of black literate intellectual activity in the U.S.A. This focus shall take the form of sketching four models for black intellectual activity, with the intent to promote the crystallization of infrastructures for such activity.
The Bourgeois Model: Black Intellectual as Humanist

For black intellectuals, the bourgeois model of intellectual activity is problematic. On the one hand, the racist heritage—aspects of the exclusionary and repressive effects of white academic institutions and humanistic scholarship—puts black intellectuals on the defensive: there is always the

need to assert and defend the humanity of black people, including their ability and capacity to reason logically, think coherently, and write lucidly. The weight of this inescapable burden for black students in the white academy has often determined the content and character of black intellectual activity. In fact, black intellectual life remains largely preoccupied with such defensiveness, with “successful” black intellectuals often proud of their white approval and “unsuccessful” ones usually scornful of their rejection. This concern is especially acute among the first generation of black intellectuals accepted as teachers and scholars within elite white universities and colleges, largely a post-1968 phenomenon. Only with the publication of the intimate memoirs of these black intellectuals and their students will we have the gripping stories of how this defensiveness cut at much of the heart of their intellectual activity and creativity within white academic contexts. Yet, however personally painful such battles have been, they had to be fought given the racist milieu of American intellectual and academic life. These battles will continue, but with far fewer negative consequences for the younger generation because of the struggles by the older black trailblazers. State of Siege

On the other hand, the state of siege raging in the black community requires that black intellectuals accent the practical dimension of their work. And the prestige of the status, as well as the skills and techniques provided by the white bourgeois academy, render it attractive for the task at hand. The accentuation of the practical dimension holds for most black intellectuals regardless of ideological persuasion—even more than for the stereotypical, pragmatic, American intellectual. This is so not simply because of the power seeking lifestyles and status-oriented dispositions of many black intellectuals, but also because of their relatively small number, which forces them to play

multiple roles vis-à-vis the black community and, in addition, intensifies their need for self- vindication—the attempt to justify to themselves that, given such unique opportunities and privileges, they are spending their time as they ought— which often results in activistic and pragmatic interests. The linchpin of the bourgeois model is academic legitimation and placement. Without the proper certificate, degree and position, the bourgeois model loses its raison d’être. The influence and attractiveness of the bourgeois model permeate the American academic system; yet the effectiveness of the bourgeois model is credible for black intellectuals only if they possess sufficient legitimacy and placement. Such legitimacy and placement will give one access to select networks and contacts which may facilitate black impact on public policies. This seems to have been the aim of the first generation of blacks trained in elite white institutions (though not permitted to teach there), given their predominant interests in the social sciences.

The basic problem with the bourgeois model is that it is existentially and intellectually stultifying for black intellectuals. It is existentially debilitating because it not only generates anxieties of defensiveness on the part of black intellectuals; it also thrives on them. The need for hierarchical ranking and the deep-seated racism shot through bourgeois humanistic scholarship cannot provide black intellectuals with either the proper ethos or conceptual framework to overcome a defensive posture. And charges of intellectual inferiority can never be met upon the opponent’s terrain—to try to do so only intensifies one’s anxieties. Rather the terrain itself must be viewed as part and parcel of an antiquated form of life unworthy of setting the terms of contemporary discourse.

The bourgeois model sets intellectual limits, in that one is prone to adopt uncritically prevailing paradigms predominant in the bourgeois academy because of the pressures of practical

tasks and deferential emulation. Every intellectual passes through some kind of apprenticeship stage in which she/he learns the language and style of the authorities, but when she/he is already viewed as marginally talented she/he may be either excessively encouraged or misleadingly discouraged to examine critically paradigms deemed marginal by the authorities. This hostile environment results in the suppression of one’s critical analyses and in the limited use of one’s skills in a manner considered legitimate and practical.

Inescapable Model

Despite its limitations, the bourgeois model is inescapable for most black intellectuals. This is so because most of the important and illuminating discourses in the country take place in white bourgeois academic institutions and because the more significant intellectuals teach in such places. Many of the elite white universities and colleges remain high powered schools of education, learning, and training principally due to large resources and civil traditions that provide the leisure time and atmosphere necessary for sustained and serious intellectual endeavor. So aside from the few serious autodidactic black intellectuals (who often have impressive scope but lack grounding and depth), black intellectuals must pass through the white bourgeois academy (or its black imitators).

Black academic legitimation and placement can provide a foothold in American intellectual life so that black infrastructures for intellectual anxiety can be created. At present there is a small yet significant black presence within the white bourgeois academic organizations, and it is able to produce newsletters and small periodicals. The next step is to institutionalize more broadly black intellectual presence, as the Society of Black Philosophers of New York has done, by publishing journals anchored in a discipline (crucial for the careers of prospective professors) yet relevant to

other disciplines. It should be noted that such a black infrastructure for intellectual activity should attract persons of whatever hue or color. Black literary critics and especially psychologists are far ahead of other black intellectuals in this regard, with journals such as the Black American Literature Forum, the College Language Association, and the Journal of Black Psychology.

Black academic legitimation and placement can also result in black control over a portion of, or significant participation within, the larger white infrastructures of intellectual activity. This has not yet occurred on a broad scale. More black representation is needed on the editorial boards of significant journals so that a larger black intellectual presence is permitted. This process is much slower and has less visibility, yet, given the hegemony of the bourgeois model, it must be pursued by those so inclined.

The bourgeois model is, in some fundamental and ultimate sense, more part of the problem than the solution in regard to black intellectuals. Yet, since we live our lives daily and penultimately within this system, those of us highly critical of the bourgeois model must try to subvert it, in part, from within the white bourgeois academy. For black intellectuals— in alliance with nonblack progressive intellectuals—this means creating and augmenting infrastructures for black intellectual activity.
The Marxist Model: Black Intellectual as Revolutionary

Among many black intellectuals, there is a knee-jerk reaction to the severe limitations of the bourgeois model (and capitalist society)—namely, to adopt the Marxist model. This adoption satisfies certain basic needs of the black intelligentsia: the need for social relevance, political

engagement, and organizational involvement. The Marxist model also provides entry into the least xenophobic white intellectual subculture available to black intellectuals.

The Marxist model privileges the activity of black intellectuals and promotes their prophetic role. As Harold Cruse has noted, such privileging is highly circumscribed and rarely accents the theoretical dimension of black intellectual activity. In short, the Marxist privileging of black intellectuals often reeks of condescension that confines black prophetic roles to spokespersons or organizers; only rarely are they allowed to function as creative thinkers who warrant serious critical attention. It is no accident that the relatively large numbers of black intellectuals attracted to Marxism over the past 60 years have yet to produce a major black Marxist theoretician with the exception of C.L.R. James. Only W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction (1935), Oliver Cox’s Caste, Class, and Race (1948), and, to some degree, Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967) are even candidates for such a designation. This is so not because of the absence of black intellectual talent in the Marxist camp but rather because of the absence of the kind of tradition and community (including intense critical exchange) that would allow such a talent to flower.

In stark contrast to the bourgeois model, the Marxist model neither generates black intellectual defensiveness nor provides an adequately analytical apparatus for short-term public policies. Rather the Marxist model yields black intellectual self-satisfaction which often inhibits growth; it also highlights social structural constraints with little practical direction regarding conjunctural opportunities. This self-satisfaction results in either dogmatic submission to and upward mobility within sectarian party or pre-party formations or marginal placement in the bourgeois academy equipped with cantankerous Marxist rhetoric and sometimes insightful analysis

utterly divorced from the integral dynamics, concrete realities, and progressive possibilities of the black community. The preoccupation with social structural constraints tends to produce either preposterous chiliastic projections or paralyzing pessimistic pronouncements. Such projections and pronouncements have as much to do with the self-image of black Marxist intellectuals as with the prognosis for black liberation.

It is often claimed “that Marxism is the false consciousness of the radicalized, bourgeois intelligentsia.” For black intellectuals, the Marxist model functions in a more complex manner than this glib formulation permits. On the one hand, the Marxist model is liberating for black intellectuals in that it promotes critical consciousness and attitudes toward the dominant bourgeois paradigms and research programs. Marxism provides attractive roles for black intellectuals—usually high visible leadership roles—and infuses new meaning and urgency into their work. On the other hand, the Marxist model is debilitating for black intellectuals because the cathartic needs it satisfies tend to stifle the further development of black critical consciousness and attitudes.

The Marxist model, despite its shortcomings, is more part of the solution than part of the problem for black intellectuals. This is so because Marxism is the brook of fire—the purgatory—of our postmodern times. Black intellectuals must past through it, come to terms with it, and creatively respond to it if black intellectual activity is to reach any recognizable level of sophistication and refinement.
The Foucaultian Model: Black Intellectual as Postmodern Skeptic

As western intellectual life moves more deeply into crisis and as black intellectuals become more fully integrated into intellectual life—r into “the culture of careful and critical discourse” (as the late Alvin Gouldner called it)—a new model appears on the horizon.

This model, based primarily upon the influential work of the late Michel Foucault, unequivocably rejects the bourgeois models and eschews the Marxist model. It constitutes one of the most exciting intellectual challenges of our day: The Foucaultian project of historical nominalism. This detailed investigation into the complex relations of knowledge and power, discourse and politics, cognition and social control compels intellectuals to rethink and redefine their self-image and function in our contemporary situation.
Rampant Xenophobia

The Foucaultian model and project are attractive to black intellectuals primarily because they speak to the black postmodern predicament, defined by the rampant xenophobia of bourgeois humanism predominant in the whole academy, the waning attraction to orthodox reductionist and scientific versions of Marxism, and the need for reconceptualization regarding the specificity and complexity of African-American oppression. Foucault’s deep antibourgeois sentiments, explicit post- Marxist convictions, and profound preoccupations with those viewed as radically “Other” by dominant discourses and traditions are quite seductive for politicized black intellectuals wary of antiquated panaceas for black liberation.

Foucault’s specific analyses of the “political economy of truth”—the study of the discursive ways in which and institutional means by which “regimes of truth” are constituted by societies over space and time—result in a new conception of the intellectual. This conception no longer rests upon

the smooth transmittance of “the best that has been thought and said,

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