Volume 27, Issue 3, Fall 2005
Kimberly K. Smith
What is Africa to Me?
Wilderness in Black Thought from 1860 to 1930
The concept of wilderness found in the black American intellectual tradition poses a provocative alternative to the preservationist concept. For black writers, the wilderness is not radically separate from human society but has an important historical and social dimension. Nor is it merely a feature of the external landscape; there is also a wilderness within, a vital energy that derives from and connects one to the external wilderness. Wilderness is the origin and foundation of culture; preserving it means preserving not merely the physical landscape but our collective memory of it. But black writers also highlight the racial essentialism that infuses both their own and traditional American concepts of the wild, giving us greater insight into why the wilderness celebrated by preservationists can be a problematic value for racial minorities.