Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

What's My Name

Black Vernacular Intellectuals

2003
Author:

Grant Farred

What's My Name

Understanding the full complexity of the black experience through the intellectual achievements of pop culture personalities

In this study of four citizens of the African diaspora—American boxer Muhammad Ali, West Indian Marxist critic C. L. R. James, British cultural theorist Stuart Hall, and Jamaican musician Bob Marley—Farred develops a new category of engaged thinker: the vernacular intellectual. He offers a vision of intellectual activity that is as valid in the boxing ring as in academia.

“What’s my name?” was the question Muhammad Ali asked to startle opponents by its audacity. Grant Farred has achieved a similar effort by explaining through the careers of four celebrated names, a new dimension to the overlapping functions of the intellectual. He presents the political thinkers C.L.R. James and Stuart Hall in an arena of popular engagement shared equally by Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley. If the combination seems unorthodox, it makes for a very rewarding experience.

George Lamming, author of In the Castle of My Skin

Whom does society consider an intellectual and on what grounds? Antonio Gramsci’s democratic vision of intelligence famously suggested that “all men are intellectuals,” yet within academic circles and among the general public, intellectuals continue to be defined by narrow, elite criteria.

In this study of four celebrated citizens of the African diaspora—American boxer Muhammad Ali, West Indian Marxist critic C. L. R. James, British cultural theorist Stuart Hall, and Jamaican musician Bob Marley—Grant Farred develops a new category of engaged thinker: the vernacular intellectual. Extending Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual, Farred conceives of vernacular intellectuals as individuals who challenge social injustice from inside and outside traditional academic or political spheres. Muhammad Ali, for example, is celebrated as much for his dazzling verbal skills and courageous political stands as for his pugilistic talents; Bob Marley’s messages of liberation are as central to his popularity as his lyrical and melodic sophistication. Neither man is described as an intellectual, yet both perform crucial intellectual functions: shaping how people see the world, oppose hegemony, and understand their own history. In contrast, the careers of C. L. R. James and Stuart Hall reflect a dynamic blend of the traditional and the vernacular. Conventionally trained and situated, James and Hall examine racism, history, and the lasting impact of colonialism in ways that draw on both established scholarship and more popular cultural experiences.

Challenging existing paradigms, What’s My Name offers an expansive and inclusive vision of intellectual activity that is as valid and meaningful in the boxing ring, the press conference, and the concert hall as in academia.


What's My Name

Grant Farred is an associate professor in the Literature Program at Duke University. He is the author of Midfielder’s Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (2000) and editor of Rethinking C. L. R. James (1996).

What's My Name

“What’s my name?” was the question Muhammad Ali asked to startle opponents by its audacity. Grant Farred has achieved a similar effort by explaining through the careers of four celebrated names, a new dimension to the overlapping functions of the intellectual. He presents the political thinkers C.L.R. James and Stuart Hall in an arena of popular engagement shared equally by Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley. If the combination seems unorthodox, it makes for a very rewarding experience.

George Lamming, author of In the Castle of My Skin

Grant Farred’s book is about the emergence, influence, and political power of what he identifies as black vernacular intellectuals. Farred’s is an important argument, which opens up many critical questions.

New West Indian Guide

What's My Name

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Thinking in the Vernacular

1. Muhammad Ali, Third World Contender
2. C. L. R. James, Marginal Intellectual
3. Stuart Hall, the Scholarship Boy
4. Bob Marley, Postcolonial Sufferer

Notes
Permissions

Index