Monday, September 15, 2008
Baker, Houston A., Jr. BETRAYAL: HOW BLACK INTELLECTUALS HAVE ABANDONED THE IDEALS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA. New York: Columbia UP, 2008.
In black American life and culture a race man or race woman is one who dedicates his or her life and work to countering the lies, ideological evasions, and pretensions to “innocence” and “equal justice for all” that prop up America’s deeply embedded, systemic, and institutionalized racism. Race men and race women (which I consolidate, and at the same time, I think, usefully expand to the term “race people”) seek remedy for harms to the black body caused by the gospel and practice of white supremacy. Race people contest an ideologically inspired and profit-hungry white power structure that still maintains and reaps scandalous billions of dollars from a traffic in and enslavement of black bodies in the Americas. (Today’s slavery is disguised as criminal justice in the form of a vast American private prison-industrial complex.) Race people model themselves as sharers of a culture, cause, and community held to be of African descent and labeled variously “African,” “colored,” “Negro,” “black,” “Afro-American,” “African American.” These are the selfsame people the precociously brilliant poet-essayist Amiri Baraka hailed as “blues people.” Often patterning their labors after biblical prophets, race people commit themselves to a mobile, resounding, fierce redefinition of the state of race and the race in a troubled American nation. They do this in the very face of race’s most brutal exclusions. When they are granted or when they secure public voice, they use their forum to advocate the interests of what they define as “their race” at its majority level. Select black individuals may achieve fame—and a growing black middle class may work profitably at race-oriented and affirmative action–induced jobs. Elite blacks may even find themselves subjects for glossy, high-end magazines such as Ebony, Sports Illustrated, and Essence. But to state the unequivocal once again, the race reaps virtually no benefit from the bling of a black celebrity “elite” that is often more damning in its condemnation of the black American majority than white America at large. Where the majority is concerned, any real (consumable) public gains or advancement in America must provide nourishment for all; there must be a collective harvest. The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are rich in acknowledged commitment to the advance of the race as a whole, as well as to race as a valued and valuable category for the analysis of American life and history. . . . Read the whole extract here: http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13964-9/betrayal/excerpt.