ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Like Crusoe, the Savage Other should learn English but that we, the Masters, should not

bother to learn Spanish. We find no embarrassment in our own personal limitations or haughtiness.



Quality Education for Black & Brown

Undermined by Class Oppression & Public Intellectuals


By Rudolph Lewis


For the last 20 years or so, there has been much complaint about the shortcomings of Brown v. Board of Education. Henry Louis Gates and Cornell West engaged clumsily and recently in such a discussion for the NYTimes. It is such a damnable topic. For what is suggested is that the 1954 Supreme Court decision had the potential in one unfailing swoop to resolve three hundred so years of racial (and class) oppression.

Too much idle subsequent weight has thus been placed on the decision Brown v. Board of Education and the power of nine white men. Thus, every demagogue, white and black (paid or unpaid), has had a field day with this asinine argument about its potential to resolve America's race problem. The meaningful assertion of the decision was that racial supremacy is problematic in a democratic society and it should be gotten rid of with "all deliberate speed." 

That was a sound decision and a very progressive, if not revolutionary, one for 1954 and should be applauded as an occasion in which America’s best tried to correct a downward spiral. With that decision, the democratic ball began rolling uphill again toward the creation of a more egalitarian society.

From this judicial effort, we all have received some benefit, however unequal. Of course, what is troubling is that the benefits have been indeed unequal. Demagogic politicians and public intellectuals have done all they could to undermine the intent of the decision. To have expected otherwise of a society besotted with the heady drink of race and class hierarchies was to be naïve or supercilious.  Worse, to blame a less than perfect outcome on nine white men restrained by their own history and historical times seems damn right spiteful and absurd.

Such attacks are a distraction and a refusal to deal with the very real problems of our times and the means of ridding ourselves of them. At the core of these problems is our retention of certain mythologies with respect to race and class.

In matters of race and ethnicity we have moved scarcely from the perspective of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and his encounter with the Savage Other. Like our 18th-century counterpart, too many of us still think we have the right name (Master), the right color (non-black), the right language (English), the right religion (Christianity), and the right technology (shock-and-awe guns). As a matter of course, we expect sacrifices from the Savage Other that we do not demand of ourselves.

And we are ever ready to demean or murder the Savage Other to sustain our privileges, now called blithely, the American Way of Life.

Recently in Maryland the State Comptroller Donald Schaefer visited a MacDonald’s and raised a stink because a Hispanic employee, either had problems understanding Donald Duck’s English or that Donald had problems understanding the employee’s English. Later, Maryland’s Republican governor defended D. Duck on a white radio station by referring to “multiculturalism” as liberal bunkum and that America was a “melting pot.”

Like Crusoe, the Savage Other should learn English but that we, the Masters, should not bother to learn Spanish. We find no embarrassment in our own personal limitations or haughtiness.

If the Supreme Court has failed us it has never spoken to the question of class oppression and the need for the state and federal governments and corporations to provide all citizens with a sufficiency so that the “pursuit of happiness” can indeed be pursued. That revered institution has not yet liberated us from market forces and chance, and those who are lackeys of corporate power.

Class oppression has been ignored altogether especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. Thus we, too many of us, have made easy alliances with groups and corporations that are involved in the excessive exploitation of the weak and defenseless, at home and abroad. For instance, a Black entertainer like Tavis Smiley has no qualms seeking out a Wal-Mart to sponsor his PBS talk program, even though Wal-Mart is rabidly anti-union (read working class) and notorious for lowering wages wherever it sets up shop. Or, locally, there is the corporate empire of Johns Hopkins, with its hospital, which pays its so-called non-professional employees less than sufficient wages that do not allow their workers to secure health or welfare for themselves or their children.

Top money raiser for Harvard University, Skip Gates, America’s No. 1 Signifying Monkey, feels less compunction to criticize his sponsor Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, than he has in his attacks on poor working class blacks and their children.

Skip’s theme song, as it is with Tavis Smiley, always involves a morals attack on the black poor: “We need a revolution within the African-American community insisting on a change in attitude, behavior, and morals. Deferred gratification, staying in school, doing your homework, reminding people in a programmatic way that the blackest thing you could be historically was an educated man or an educated woman within the African-American community.”

But this theme has been used and overworked for centuries against the oppressed. It is the “Master’s Apology” for his own corruption. Skip’s projection is singular only in that it originates from a wealthy black man who finds himself on the money leash of corporate power. His attack dog position does not correct societal inequalities, but rather sustains them and provides a moral crutch for both racial and class oppression.

Explicably and simply, quality education and economics are linked like a child to its mother. Those children whose families have money and connection go on to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the other top universities. The rest of us have to struggle mightily, and many of us succeed, if not at the private schools, at the state universities and community colleges. But there is still too high a number of blacks, Hispanics, and even whites who do not get out of high school or are unable to attend night school. And this situation has much more to do with available financial resources than morals.

In my high school class of 1960, 85 of 200 received their diploma. I was not more moral than each of the 115 who either dropped out or failed. I was not even smarter than each of the 115. Though Mama and Daddy were former sharecroppers, they fortunately were able to create a stable enough environment and were sufficiently prosperous that they did not need whatever additional money I could produce to sustain the family. Those others of that 115 were not so fortunate and not so blessed.

So it was a matter of grace rather than morality. But the odds can be cut so that many more can receive the blessings of a high school education. There are numerous matters related to achieving a quality education, such as sufficient wages paid, availability of health and counseling resources, and comparable resources for urban schools now available in suburban or white schools. These issues related to quality education require both government and corporate commitment. In ducking them, both state politicians and public intellectuals, such as Cornell West, Henry Louis Gates, and others of that ilk, have failed us.

Fairness and sufficiency for the poor working classes (especially blacks and Hispanics) are hidden behind the mantra of low taxes for the well-off middle classes, the wealthy, and corporations. States have refused to provide comparable funds for urban schools, that is, for Black and Brown education.

To speak derisively of the morals of the poor is sheer hypocrisy when those in power and with means neglect their own ethical duties in deriding race and class prejudices and ignore the basic economic elements of both race and class oppression.

posted May 2004 

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The Education of Black Folks in the South: 1860-1935

Cornel West: An Editorial   Pass the Mic   Kam Williams Interviews Cornel West  Responses to Pass the Mic 

The Tavis Smiley Presidential Forum   The State of the Black Union 2009  Smiley vs. Sharpton 


*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

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#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

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#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 12 March 2012




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