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Beyond Black & White: Transforming African American Politics. – book reviews

In the twenty-nine years since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr., which marked the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the
ascendancy of conservatism as the dominant force in national politics,
many scholars and intellectuals have struggled mightily to explain
“what has happened” to Black people. As the millennium approaches,
academia, and we as a society, have been confronted with the issue of
racism and have sought to re-examine those public policies which have
directly impacted the quality of the Black American experience.

What works and what doesn’t work in this context largely depends on
whose ideology or social/political perspective is applied. The
conservatives feel that affirmative action, welfare and “big
government” don’t work. But the liberals argue that welfare prevents
children from starving, affirmative action provides opportunity and the
government is just as large as is necessary to finance all the claims
for federal services and subsidies. Even among the Black
intelligentsia, there are ideological schisms and conflict in the
establishment of a national agenda for African Americans.

In his new book, Beyond Black and White: Transforming African
American Politics, Dr. Manning Marable provides only a glimpse into the
struggle for “the souls of black folk.” Marable, in the first sentence
of the preface, cautions the reader that the book is only a collection
of political and social essays written between 1991-95. This may
account for two major flaws in the book: one, that some of the
political analysis is overcome by events; and two, the serious lack of
any thematic cohesion in the overall work.

The book is divided into three broad categories: Politics of Race
and Class; African American Leadership; and Beyond Black and White, a
term which the author never fully explains. As the reader moves from
one essay to another, one gets the sense of a lack of a compelling or
unifying theme that would tie the various chapters together into a
single vision of the Black experience. What the book does provide is
more like a snap shot of various aspects of race, history and politics,
along with some intellectual musings on Black leadership in the
Post-Civil Rights era.

Marable begins with a number of sociopolitical observations of the
ramifications of Reaganism and of the conservative realignment which
occurred in the 1980s. The most interesting of these is Marable’s
assertion that Reaganism has provided cover for reactionary and fascist
elements within our society.

“Reaganism has permitted and encourage[s] the involvement of
blatantly racist and anti-Semitic forces in the electoral arena…the
ideological ‘glue’ in the appeals of these formations to low to
middle-income whites is racism and…the inevitable social by-product
of the ultra-right’s mass political mobilization is terrorism and
increases violence.”

The unleashing of these forces have given rise to increased racial
hostility, “angry white men,” retrenchment on affirmative action,
journalist Pat Buchanan’s “cultural wars,” attacks on all immigrant
policies, the militia movement, and bombings or the threat of bombing
of federal property.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Marable laments the end
of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. He asserts that the movement
failed not because it moved far to the left, but because it didn’t move
far enough. He has singled out Ron Brown as the central player in
getting Jackson to endorse President Clinton and remain in the ranks of
the Democratic Party.

“Jackson’s refusal to launch an independent (left social-democratic)
group which could contest elections with both parties created the
political space which permitted the [Democratic Leadership Council] and
Clinton to seize the offensive.”

Brown was fast-tracked to chair the i Democratic Party and served as
Secretary of Commerce before his death, while Jackson subsequently
moved back to Chicago and increasingly appears to be out of the loop
regarding national politics. Additionally, it should not be lost on any
political observer that Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan also
moved swiftly into the void left by Jackson.

In the world according to Marable, Black conservatives are dismissed
out of hand as neo-accommodationists, the direct descendants of Booker
T. Washington. In this context, Marable warns against “symbolic
presentation.” One of the lessons learned from the Clarence
Thomas/Anita Hill controversy is the development of new concepts of
racial identification. “So the argument that…the professional
successes of individuals within the African American elite benefit the
entire community is no longer valid.”

Marable overuses the imperative as a rhetorical device for driving
his conclusions home. For example: “We must begin the process of
redefining Blackness…”; “The Black freedom movement must revive
itself…”; “…Black activist and the American left must be willing to
go beyond the ideological limitation of liberal integrationism.” This
book is filled with these “must” statements which, although they may
sound profound, fail to provide a detailed process of implementation. :

The author presents a Black intelligentsia which is divided into
three ideological camps. There are: the inclusionists, which Marable
dismisses as having bankrupt notions of integration, theoretical
limitations and programmatic contradictions; the nationalists, which he
similarly waves off as promoting a social agenda that is a quarter of a
century out of date; and the transformationists, who advocate a
“radical multicultural democracy” and who, it seems to Marable, promote
the true and correct social theory.

Transformation is an eclectic mixture of social theories including:
militancy, socialism trade-unionism, feminism, internationalism – to
name a few. It is “an approach toward politics and social dialogue
which is pluralistic, multicultural and non-exclusionary,” according to
Marable, who concludes, “In short, we must go beyond Black and white,
seeking power in a world which is increasingly characterized by broad
diversity in ethnic and social groupings.”

It is difficult to see how transformation as described by the author
can succeed where other social theories and political actions have
failed. Even Marable states that the collapse of “world socialism” and
the ascendancy of conservatism in Europe and the United States have
caused, to a great extent, a retreat from the transformationist

Beyond Black and White hardly lives up to its billing as a global
vision of a new social agenda. Rather, it presents a narrow and
somewhat leftist view of race and politics offering another opinion to
the bonfire of theoretical musings.

Grants & Awards

American University’s College of Law has been awarded $250,000 from
the Ford Foundation, $334,299 from the International Center for Women’s
Research, and $10,000 from the Inter-American Development Bank to equip
Latin American Law professors and women’s advocates with teaching tools
and materials needed to integrate a gender and human rights perspective
into Latin America’s legal education system.

Florida Memorial College has been awarded a $47,000 grant from the
U.S. Department of Education for professor Dr. Telahun Desalegne to
conduct a two-year pre-college Mathematics Enrichment Summer Project
(MESP). The program is designed to provide minority and physically
disabled students with a firm foundation in mathematical concepts while
building their confidence to succeed in math oriented courses.

Morris Brown College has been awarded the following: $100,000 from
The Coca-Cola Foundation to endow the Coca-Cola Presidential Scholars
Program; $100,000 from General Motors to support the Morris Brown
College Dual Degrees Engineering Program; $100,000 from the 6th
Episcopal District to support general operating expenses; $65,000 from
The Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation, Inc. for general scholarships;
$50,000 from The UPS Foundation for ten students participating in The
UPS Community Service Scholarship Program; $50,000 from BellSouth to be
used as an unrestricted fund; $50,000 from Nations Bank to support
Morris Brown College Nations Bank Scholars Program; $27,500 from The
Statler Foundation for scholarships, national society memberships,
travel, recruitment, brochures and supplies for Scholars Restaurant;
and $10,000 from Burger King for the Mary B. Jordan Endowed Chair in
Catering in the Hospitality Administration Department.

The University of South Florida has been awarded $1 million from the
St. Petersburg Times to fund a number of scholarships, guest lectures
and library improvements on the St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses. The
gift was matched by $750,000 from the state of Florida.

The Phillip Morris Companies, Inc. have launched an $800,000
initiative to encourage non-traditional students to enter the teaching
field. Extending the Bridge: Community Colleges and the Road to
Teaching will support collaborations between university schools of
education and community colleges that will encourage and prepare people
of color and non-traditional students to enter teaching. The grant
recipients received the following: Rancho Santiago/California State
University at Fullerton, $100,000 Miami-Dade Community College/Florida
International University, $100,000; Cowley County Community
College/Wichita State, $96,000; Middlesex Community College, $100,000;
Rockland Community College, $100,000; University of Rochester, $52,000;
Rio Grande Community College/University of Rio Grande, $43,000; Shelby
State/University of Memphis, $100,000; Piedmont Community
College/University of Virginia, $100,000.

Compiled by Maya Matthews Submissions to the column should be sent to:

Black Issues In Higher Education, Attn: Maya Matthews, 10520 Warwick
Avenue, Suite B-8, Fairfax, VA 22030 e-mail: [email protected]

Dr. Melvin C. Terrell is the vice president for student affairs at Northeastern Illinois University

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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