West And Torgovnick Essay, Research Paper
West and Torgovnick: Manichean Ideologies
Both Cornel West and Marianna De Marco Torgovnick
discuss the idea of supremacy, Manichean theologies, and
authoritarian behavior in their essays. However, they deal
with these ideas differently and for different reasons. In
West?s essay, ?Malcolm X and Black Rage?, he explains Mal?
colm X?s views on how to transfer black rage in such a way
that it would reject supremacy. In Torgovnick?s essay, ?On
Being White, Female, and Born in Bensonhurst?, she writes
how her hometown held supremacist ideas and how this af?
fected her. West is still pursuing the goal of black free?
dom by looking into the past, especially Malcolm X?s writ?
ings. Whereas, Torgovnick kind of runs away from things and
refers to living in Bensonhurst as having ?simultaneously
choking and nutritive power. This difference is mainly due
because West wants to try to make things better, while
Torgovnick leaves her hometown feeling that she needs to
start things over.
Torgovnick writes about supremacist ideas in her cul?
tural background. For example, she says, ?Italian Americans
in Bensonhurst are notable for their cohesiveness and pro?
vinciality; the slightest pressure turns those qualities
into prejudice and racism? (Torgovnick 123). In other words
there is a lot of racism and prejudice, especially towards
blacks, in Bensonhurst. Torgovnick?s father also held
supremacist ideas. Her father reacted with indifference to
the death of a black man in Bensonhurst. As Torgovnick
? ?Oh, no,? my father says when he hears the news
about the shooting…He has no trouble acknowledging
the wrongness of the death…The explanation is right
before him but, ?Yeah,? he says, still shaking his
head, ?yeah, but what were they doing there?
Even though, he recognizes the wrongness of the death, he
says the blacks weren?t supposed to be there. His reason
for his death holds supremacist ideas, because here he is
being a racist. To say that blacks don?t belong in a cer?
tain neighborhood, is just like saying that they aren?t good
enough. Thus, Torgovnick father is being a racist.
Torgovnick?s hometown also holds Manichean ideologies,
which means to see things only as black and white, right and
wrong. In other words people who hold Manichean ideologies
usually don?t see things in between. She writes,
?Bensonhurst is a neighborhood dedicated to believing that
its values are the only values; it tends to towards certain
forms of inertia? (Torgovnick 124). Thus, the people of
Bensonhurst believe that any other values are wrong, and
their values are right. Here you can see how Torgovnick?s
hometown held Manichean ideologies because the people feel
that there values are the only right values. Any other
values would be viewed as unacceptable to the people of
Authoritarian behavior also exists in Bensonhurst. For
example, when she was entering high school, her parents and
counselor recommended a secretarial track despite her high
scores. Torgovnick writes, ?Although my scores are superb,
the guidance counselor has recommend the secretarial
track…My mother?s preference is clear: the secretarial
track…My father also prefers the secretarial track?
(Torgovnick 128). This is authoritarian behavior because
rather that asking Torgovnick which track she wanted to
follow, they wanted to choose it for her. Just because she
is a girl, they wanted to put her in a track that is below
Cornel West uses Malcolm X?s writings to explain su?
premacy, Manichean ideologies, and authoritarian behavior.
West agrees with most of Malcolm X?s ideas, however he
disagrees with Malcolm X?s rejection of black church and
music. West argues by using the metaphor of jazz that, ?an
improvisational mode of protean, fluid, and flexible dispo?
sitions toward reality suspicious of ?either/or? viewpoints,
dogmatic pronouncements, or supremacist ideologies? (West
119). In other words, to West the black church and black
music represents freedom, something that Malcolm X does not
In order to explain Manichean ideologies and authori?
tarian behavior, one must look at Malcolm X?s fear of cul?
tural hybridity. West writes,
?Malcolm X?s fear of cultural hybridity rests upon two
political concerns: that cultural hybridity downplayed
the vicious character of white supremacy and that
cultural hybridity intimately linked the destinies of
black and white people such that the possibility of
black freedom was far-fetched? (West 117).
Meaning that if blacks and whites are to share things
(cultural hybridity) whites will always have the advantage.
Therefore, blacks will never achieve total freedom. Malcolm
X saw this as a weakness, which does seem understandable.
However, Malcolm X fails to realize that if blacks are to go
off on their own, this would lead to supremacy and Manichean
ideologies. West says, ?Furthermore, the cultural hybrid
character of black life leads us to highlight a metaphor
alien to Malcolm X?s perspective…? (West 119). If blacks
are to go off on their own, this would lead to Manichean
ideologies; blacks against whites. As a result, there will
be no change in terms of racist views by whites and suprema?
cist behavior as each group begins to fight for control.
One can see how some of Malcolm X?s views can lead to su?
premacy, and Manichean ideologies.
West feels that Malcolm X?s best view is his notion of
psychic conversion. He writes, ?…we must preserve and
expand his notion of psychic conversion …These
spaces…-beyond the best of black music and black religion-
reject Manichean ideologies and authoritarian…? (West
119). West explains that Malcolm X?s notion of psychic
conversion will channel black rage to black humanity and
Both West and Torgovnick deal with supremacy, Manichean
ideologies, and authoritarian behavior. However, they have
different ways of dealing with things. Cornal West uses
Malcolm X?s writings to deal with these ideologies, while
Marianna De Marco Torgovnick does so by referring to her
hometown of Bensonhurst.