Old attitudes on race still enslave
A black journalist argues that African-Americans must stop blaming racism for their plight
Modern racism is - to say the least - a complex subject, and books on race relations can be expected to suffer from a degree of confusion and contradiction. But Debra Dickerson outdoes herself in "The End of Blackness."
Dickerson is a successful black journalist who argues that in America blacks have become their own worst enemies, entrenched in a racialized identity. Too many blacks are obsessed with the ghosts of racism, she says. This is the rationale for their widespread support for such people as of O.J. Simpson and Marion Barry.
A wide-ranging critique of history and pop culture, "The End of Blackness" fancies itself a source book for black Americans to liberate themselves, but rather than a guidebook, Dickerson has stitched a patchwork quilt, full of ragged edges.
She acknowledges, for instance, that the true history of black accomplishment in America has been mangled and suppressed. "Who can blame blacks," she asks, "for wondering when the literal truth will suffice?" But despite this, elsewhere she expresses shock: "How dare blacks today not feel like Americans?"
This pattern of contradiction continues. She defends identity politics, noting that blacks, like all groups, have the right to collectively defend their interests. But she characterizes blacks' tendency to vote Democratic as a knee-jerk reaction, not a practical political choice. She harangues an excess of Afrocentrism, but compliments a young generation of "hip-hop intellectuals" who promote pop-culture Afrocentrism.
These problems are endemic to her quirky thesis. Dickerson is of the school that believes the traditional civil rights movement has exhausted itself. Her alternative plan is the book's most controversial assertion: "Blacks must consciously give up on achieving racial justice."
It isn't that she doesn't believe racism still exists. "The real disparities between whites and blacks in the healthcare, mortgage, and insurance industries are so glaring, one cannot bear listing them," she writes. One chapter details the pernicious influence of white privilege and white power structures.
But why then, a reader must ask, would blacks (or whites) want to "give up" on correcting disparities in health and housing? Why "end blackness" rather than developing a positive concept of blackness? Why "give up" rather than work harder and with more intellectual sophistication at dismantling racism?
One would think that "The End of Blackness" would insist upon the shared responsibility of all Americans to overcome their sectarian interests. Instead, the book acknowledges that black Americans receive the short end of the stick but claims that black acrimony over the situation is unpatriotic. Apparently, the status quo will remain the status quo. The onus rests on blacks to forgo high expectations of parity and full integration. Expecting less, they will achieve more, she suggests, particularly if they play the system.
Admittedly, focusing too much on white racism is self-destructive. But how much is too much? "Blacks must look inside themselves," she writes, "and decide they're tired of being the designated losers." Blacks should "move forward toward a conscious and comfortable citizenship." But what about the dream of transforming American society?
"The End of Blackness" has a provocative veneer that has garnered high-profile radio and television appearances for the author, but the book itself will leave whites, blacks, liberals, moderates, and conservatives with too many unanswered questions. Sometimes obnoxious, sometimes perceptive, sometimes coarse, and oftentimes witty, it suffers from the very confusions it seeks to critique.
• Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and critic in Charleston, S.C.