Thursday, April 17, 2008

What to Do: Black Intellectuals and the Current Crisis

This morning at the local Starbucks, I settled in with my mocha to finish reading Houston Baker's "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era." I mentioned this book in my posting of April 15, 2008. I must say that my own perception of Baker's elitism has been radically altered by his interrogation and critique of Black neoconverservatives and centrists Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, John McWhorter, Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson, all of whom have always left a nasty film in my mouth when I read their works. And in the case of Gates--who has always been complimentary, kind, and gentle towards me--whose memoir, "Colored People," I distinctly recall putting down in sheer disgust for his glorification of a black segregated, racial past that was devoid of analysis. And I must admit, I have a huge problem with Black men marrying white women. Yes, I have unabashedly put it out there. I figure that if my highly successful father (and light-skinned to boot) could find a soul sister to marry, then so can every other doggone Black man in America. We are constructed by our family mileux, sorry.

But in no way does my own limiting personal narrative serve as a barometer for the mores of the race. However, I cannot discount what Baker also alludes to, and what my mother emphasized my entire life: no matter how you may benefit from the capitalist economy, no matter what price you set for your soul, you will never be an insider, do not elude yourself. My mother often referenced the plight of Jewish intellectuals and middle-class during the holocaust as a case in point of how I can never be more American than black, and my blackness and concerns about the black majority should always be central to my existence in this country.

As my father negotiated the complex and racist terrains of the Department of the Army, retiring at a very high rank befitting his energy and sacrifices, and as I was sometimes privy to his stories about the injustices of the bigotry and racism that he experienced, despite his success and the economic stability of my childhood, we were never permitted to forget our allegiances to and alliances with the black majority.

Hence my life has always been replete with relations with blacks from across the social and economic strata. Although I was quite privileged in my upbringing, I have always been disheartened, amazed, and taken aback by friends and in-laws who pejoratively talk about "those blacks who make us look bad," and how I need to "give that black stuff up." These are the same people that if my parents had embraced their neoconservative ideology, would not have been allowed to grace my mother's front steps let alone form an alliance with me.

I wonder how any black person in the U.S. can disavow himself of the plight of the black majority. I wonder how some of my former working class friends, whose introduction to the black professional class was through their association with my family, could ever utter that I need "to get over that black stuff," when in fact, their very success in Fortune 500 corporations, particularly the boys that I brought home, has much to do with my father's influences on their lives (one friend recently thanked my father for the impact that my father had on his success). And let us not talk about the papers I wrote, notes I took, textbooks that I read into tape recorders, to help these working-class boys(who are now corporate executives) pass their damn classes in high school and college. But now I'm being told by them to "give up on the black stuff." In essence, to disassociate myself with the plight of the black masses. However, if I had embraced these men's current ideology, perhaps they would have never passed those classes that I helped them pass under my own allegiance to blackness and believing that we must lift as we climb and give back to the race, for clearly these successful corporate executives rose from the ranks of the black majority.

I wonder now how these men function in their corporate lives. I ponder on thoughts of how many blacks these men have axed, canned, destroyed, and denied access under the guise of their neoconservative politics and disassociation with the black majority. I wonder how many of them reflect on the fact that the only reason why they can grace the halls of corporate America is because men like my father fought tooth and nail not only for affirmative action, but also for the right to access, upward mobility, and retention. I wonder how many of them embrace the fact while my father piled up rejection letters from the Fortune 500 and then, Big Eight accounting firms, that it was his resiliency, and the resiliency of other race men like him, who never turned away from America living up to her myth and creed of equality. The black corporate men of my generation are the direct beneficiaries of the work of men like my father. But these same men want me to give up on the black majority as they have undoubtedly given up on them.

So I am happy that Baker is calling some of us out. Thank God, I'm not one of the ones being called out. His argument is so persuasive that the black intellectual centrists and neoconservatives should pause and take note. But perhaps they won't, only time will tell as they capitulate to the U.S. capitalist demi-God that precipitates their wholesale betrayal of not only the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the plight of the black majority. Read and reflect.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post SISTA!!!

M. L. Simms said...


E. said...

Peace Michele,

I will be skipping to Borders to see what embers initiated THAT flame.

You know, I've been coming across this kind of dual-conscious mask of conniving my whole life.

But recently it has been so eye-opening.

Few examples:

1. A U-M black male professor who is also married to a white woman came to my job and was rude and condescending in the face of my admiring politeness that was originated from my thoughts on a lecture of HIS that I attended.

What a dope...he didn't even remember me. And I was so nice....if that was any of my boys they would've smacked him for acting so arrogant.....

I said nothing, let him go and soaked in the sting of that knowledge.

2. A black man in human resources has given me the run around more than once, on purpose, when helping me when have been simpler and more effective for both us.

3. One professor I know, a black man, refuses to communicate with me no matter what medium I chose to use. He simply ignores my communications. I actually like the guy....but I see him on campus walking around and laughing and joking with his white students. I got an A in his class too....

I could go on for days about these elitist sellouts. And this permeates the culture. Once a brother gets a job....he just becomes more and more critical, acting as a gateway and blockade instead of a nurturing force.

I realize one powerful point that you kept reiterating Michele, black men in the know have no respect for their elders and we won't even speak on our ancestors.

black men sit around hazing any brother that they can because his psyche can't stop his insatiable desire to be a man, the man or THE HEADMAN.

The separatism and elitism is as automatic as a direct deposit.

P.S. I feel you on black men marrying other women when they find their prosperity. Still, I'd rather they didn't bother if they're going to abuse another sister the way black men beat my mother all the way to the know what I'm sayin'?

M. L. Simms said...


Thanks for your comments. Let me know when you finish the Baker book so we can chat off line.

Mozart Guerrier said...

I've vaguely read west& dyson... I've mainly watched interviews&shows...why do you consider them neoconservatives? I personally have a distaste for Cosby's conservative rhetoric.