Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom.


656 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7735-3247-2
DDC 305.896'071




Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University in Hamilton.


In Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom, Cecil Foster undertakes a phenomenological exploration of the underpinnings of culturally given notions of race and “Blackness” and their relationship to the political ideology of Canadian multiculturalism. In the historical context of Western—largely white European—thought, the modernist program to define and promote an ultimate and ideal “good” has failed to reconcile the aspirations of disparate racialized individuals and groups in the increasingly multiethnic environment of North America. Foster argues that the legacy of this dominant ethos, embodied in our desire for a just society in which avenues for self-actualization and participation in civil freedoms are equally open to all individuals, has become inextricably linked with its original association to “Whiteness.” In emerging black Caribbean states newer notions of creolization and hybridity have begun to inform a more complex and multivariate understanding of lived realities.


Foster’s work suggests that, in Canada, presuppositions supporting our inclusive vision of multiculturalism derive from a category of thinking he refers to as the “neo-mythic” register, reflective of our ideal wishes and aspirations. Our ideas about race, specifically blackness, are culturally derived and come from what he terms the ethno-racial register of knowing. It is in the dialectic between these two spheres where we are confronted with the apparent failure of our dream: that the lived experience of black bodies offers a counter-narrative of exclusion and marginalization. Thus, in this liminal state “indeterminacy” we are all currently in a situation of “epistemic Blackness,” where our dreams and realities are seemingly at odds.


However, Foster optimistically points out that, in this state, there is also the potential to exercise a “radical creativity” and “freedom” in the negotiation of identity and the quest for self-actualization, where we may yet refine and redefine our realities to more closely reflect our ideals. The failures of modernity should not necessitate the loss of the dreams of modernity, to promote the good for individuals and justice in society. Only in giving up can we fail.


Foster, Cecil., “Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,