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 Though the film purports to be “two nations” in Black America, what

we get in reality is Gates  lauding crass materialism and the self-

indulgent conspicuous consumption of wealthy blacks. One cannot

fail to note the overall pretentiousness of the entire project.



Books by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Colored People Our Nig / The African American Century The Bondwoman's Narrative  / Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man


The Trials of Phillis Wheatley "Race," Writing, and Difference  / Wonders of the African World


In Search of Identity  /  Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex  /  The Signifying Monkey


Cosmopolitanism / Identity and Violence / The Norton Anthology of African American Literature


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The Noise of Class Ideology 

in Gates’ Tour of the Rich & Famous  

Editorial by Rudolph Lewis


Henry Louis Gates’s America Beyond the Color Line promises more than it delivers. Clearly, this two-night “documentary” was directed toward voyeuristic white and black audiences interested in the houses and wealth of well-to-do blacks. But we probably should have suspected that Harvard’s P.T. Barnum of black entrepreneurial promotion would give African America the shaft.  

No conscientious African American who respects the memory of Dr. King or the activism of a Danny Glover or a Harry Belafonte could be satisfied with this PBS/BBC bunkum.

Gates interviews “successful” blacks in the South, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. He unsuccessfully attempts to establish the preconceived “fact” that blacks are half responsible for their own oppression and that presently the “green” of money is more significant than the color of race.

He constantly steers his narration away from conclusions drawn by many of those interviewed and reasserts again and again the “black problem” as being the behavior of the black underclass.

In the South, Morgan Freeman surprises Gates by his views of his native Mississippi and the South. Though racism remains, it is “more insidious” in the North, Freeman points out. Mississippi, Freeman explains, is his ancestral home and that five or six generations are buried there. So the South has an intimacy he cannot find elsewhere.

Gates then interviews the black mayor of Memphis Willie Herenton and Police Chief James Bolden. The emphasis remains on individual success of the few in the last thirty years since Dr. King’s assassination. He ignores however Memphis sanitation works, that group that King gave his life for at the Lorraine Motel.

Gates pilgrimages to the city of Birmingham and the King Memorial, then concentrates on a wealthy black family (husband and wife corporate lawyers) living in the gated Atlanta suburb of Sandston estates, where homes range from $300,000 to $800,000. We receive a tour of their opulent home. Their overall view is that their "empowerment" is the continuation of the civil rights movement on a  higher level, despite whatever "white" criticisms the poor might assert.

We receive a similar house tour in New Jersey of a black Wall Street broker and later the California mansions of Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones, and Nia Long. In California, Gates also visits Hollywood stars Samuel Jackson, Alicia Keyes, John Singleton, and Reggie Bythewood.

Up North, Gates interviews Colin Powell, Russell Simmons, Vernon Jordan, Franklin Rainesblack men of power in government or the corporate world.

Though the film purports to be “two nations” in Black America, what we get in reality is Gates lauding crass materialism and the self-indulgent conspicuous consumption of wealthy blacks. One cannot fail to note the overall pretentiousness of the entire project.

Because of the shortage of a broad critical analysis and a broad swath of black life, the audience for this film will not get the real state of black America, as Gates suggests that he is presenting. What is starkly absent in the film is the varied cultural and political life that actually exists in African America.

Gates limits the perspective of his audience to the black economics of a small sector of our community: corporate elites (e.g., Raines of Fannie Mae and Simmons the hip-hop mogul); government officials (e.g., Colin Powell and Memphis Mayor Herenton); and Hollywood movie stars (e.g., Samuel L. Jackson and Christ Tucker).

Though he wanted much to show the opulent wealth of black Hollywood, Gates was overwhelmed by the continued complaint by black actors of the problems and economics of race in filmmaking in America. He was especially startled by the stance of Reggie “Rock” Bythewood, director of Biker Boyz, his unwillingness to give in to the insistence of white Hollywood promoters to make the stars of his film white so that he could get $35 million funding rather than the $15 million funding if he used black film stars. That is, Rock was unwilling to sell out his principles in order to be the first to do such an action film.

There are two ways in which this Gates film could have been more representative and critically real of black life and culture and the white world outside.

One, Gates could have, during his Southern tour checked out Orangeburg, South, Carolina, as Joann Wypijewshi did in her “Black and Bruised” (NYTimes, 1/2/04). He could have recalled the Orangeburg Massacre, where at South Carolina State University three black college students were murdered by white Highway Patrolmen – “the first such use of force on an American campus.”

Orangeburg, the center of a county with a 61 per cent black population, suffers a 14.5 percent unemployment and an average wage of $8.72. Outside “the city limits . . . are vast medical complexes and factories making ibuprofen, sterile tubing, and more lawnmowers and garden tractors than anywhere in the world.” Democratic officials only come here when they want to be certain of a black audience.

“More than 27 percent of the county’s households survive on $15,000 a year or less, a condition of persistent poverty that ensnares so much of the South, especially the rural Black Belt. For some, the drug business is a way out, [one] can spot the ‘movin’ on up’ homes that drugs bought. . . . African Americans make up 30 percent of South Carolina’s population but 70 percent of its prisoners, one out of 13 black men in South Carolina is barred from voting because he is in prison, on probation or on parole; nationwide the rate is one in 8. And everyone says it: the poor have been written off. The poor, the state, the South.”

Joann Wypijewshi could have also added forcefully that the national political parties, Republicans and Democrats, have also “written off” the black poor.

Second, instead of an uncritical boosting of corporations, Gates might have interviewed David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More American Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (Review by Michael Pakenham, "Is the United States a culture of liars cheats and thieves?"The Sun, 1/18/04). Callahan could have made clear that the corporate world was no ethical haven in which Dr. King or any upright African American would feel fully comfortable. King would have shaken his head “ in disgust—disgust at the bloated pay checks, the gilded perks, and most of all the pervasive lying by CEOs.” In 2001, Sears paid $62.6 million “alone to avoid criminal prosecution in deceptions solely on automobile battery sales.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, commercial law firms  began a revolution in which they overbilled clients and exploded clerical charges. “Only car dealers, CEOs and stockbrokers are trusted less than lawyers,” Callahan writes. Doctors are also high on the list that the pubic distrusts. They operate “profit centers,” in which they tout and prescribe “unproven and even demonstrably useless herbs and other spurious medications for large profits.” Those professionals who get “caught and prosecuted get extremely light sentences, and serve light sentences, and serve them in minimum-security facilities.”

Callahan concludes: “The actions of the Winning Class sends a message to the Anxious Class. The message isn’t just that the world is unfair, and the rich can get away with murder. It’s that people who cut corners get ahead.”

But Gates knows this lesson well, his film on Africa and now on African America both “cut corners” and Gates, seemingly, with the help of his promoters, gets ahead.

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Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., Ph.D. (born September 16, 1950) is an American literary critic, educator, scholar, writer, editor and public intellectual. He was the first African American to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his teaching, research, and development of academic institutions to study black culture. In 2002, Gates was selected to give the Jefferson Lecture, in recognition of his "distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities." The lecture resulted in his 2003 book, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley.

As the host of the 2006 and 2008 PBS television miniseries African American Lives, Gates explored the genealogy of prominent African Americans. Gates sits on the boards of many notable arts, cultural, and research institutions. He serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, where he is Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Michael Kinsley referred to him as "the nation's most famous black scholar."[1] However he is criticized as non-representative of Black people by prominent African-American scholars such as Molefi Asante, John Henrik Clarke, and Maulana Karenga. . . .

On July 16, 2009, Gates returned home from a trip to China to find the door to his house jammed. His driver attempted to help him gain entrance. A passer-by called police reporting a possible break-in and a Cambridge police officer was dispatched. The resulting confrontation resulted in Gates being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.The incident spurred a politically charged exchange of views about race relations and law enforcement throughout the United States. The arrest garnered national attention after the President declared that the police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates. The President eventually extended an invitation to both Gates and the officer involved to share a beer with him at the White House.[24]

On March 9, 2010, Gates claimed on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he and Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer in the Cambridge incident, share a common ancestor.Wikipedia

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on DVD

DVD Description of  America beyond the Color Line

Henry Louis Gates Jr. travels the length and breadth of the United States to take the temperature of black America at the start of the new century. Gates visits the East Coast, the deep South, inner-city Chicago and Hollywood to explore the rich and diverse landscape, social as well as geographic.

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DVD Description of African American Lives

Renowned scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., W.E.B. DuBois professor of the Humanities and chair of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, takes Alex Haley’s Roots saga to a whole new level. Using genealogy and DNA science, Dr. Gates tells the personal stories of eight accomplished African Americans, tracing their roots through American history and back to Africa. Participants include Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Mae Jemison, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey.

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DVD Description of  Wonders of the African World

Africa is a continent of magnificent treasures and cultures--from the breathtaking stone architecture of 1,000-year-old ruins in South Africa to an advanced 16th century international university in Timbuktu. However, for centuries, many of these African wonders have been hidden from the world, lost to the ravages of time, nature and repressive governments. Uncover the richness of these African Wonders with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as he explores the many cultures, traditions and history of the African continent.

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In Search of Our Roots:

How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past”

 By Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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Remarks by the President and the First Lady at Presentation of the National Medal of the Arts and the National Humanities medal.—November 5, 1998—THE PRESIDENT: Near the beginning of this century, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted a "black tomorrow" of African American achievement. Thanks in large measure to Henry Louis Gates, that tomorrow has turned into today. For 20 years he has revitalized African American studies. In his writing and teaching, through his leadership of the Dream Team of African American scholars he brought together at Harvard, Gates has shed brilliant light on authors and traditions kept in the shadows for too long. From "signifying monkeys" to small-town West Virginia, from ancient Africa to the new New York, Skip Gates has described the American experience with force, with dignity and, most of all, with color. Ladies and gentlemen, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Applause.) The Medal is presented.)—clinton6

The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1989)
Colored People: A Memoir (1994, memoir)

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The Fiery Trial

Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

By Eric Foner

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln's evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for colonizing freedmen overseas almost to war's end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era's turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, prodded--and sometimes willing to be prodded--by abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms.

But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war's upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps.—Publishers Weekly

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Lincoln on Race and Slavery

Edited By Henry Louis Gates and Donald Yacovone

Generations of Americans have debated the meaning of Abraham Lincoln's views on race and slavery. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and supported a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery, yet he also harbored grave doubts about the intellectual capacity of African Americans, publicly used the n-word until at least 1862, and favored permanent racial segregation. In this book—the first complete collection of Lincoln's important writings on both race and slaveryreaders can explore these contradictions through Lincoln's own words. Acclaimed Harvard scholar and documentary filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presents the full range of Lincoln's views, gathered from his private letters, speeches, official documents, and even race jokes, arranged chronologically from the late 1830s to the 1860s.

Complete with definitive texts, rich historical notes, and an original introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this book charts the progress of a war within Lincoln himself. We witness his struggles with conflicting aims and ideas—a hatred of slavery and a belief in the political equality of all men, but also anti-black prejudices and a determination to preserve the Union even at the cost of preserving slavery. We also watch the evolution of his racial views, especially in reaction to the heroic fighting of black Union troops.

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Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000

By Adam Fairclough

Better Day Coming is intended, in author Adam Fairclough's words, as "neither a textbook nor a survey, but an interpretation" (p. xiv) of the circuitous struggle for racial equality pursued by African Americans and their occasional allies between 1890 and 2000. Chronologically organized, the narrative moves from an evaluation of the hard-pressed, contending forces vying for ascendancy in the black South at the nadir to the interwar period and well beyond, into the urban cauldron of the northern ghettoes at the high point of the Black Power movement. Fairclough brings to his project a fluent understanding of the shifting institutional configurations of opposition to Jim Crow and a keen sensitivity to the ways in which the efforts of those who fought it were hampered, circumscribed, and occasionally crushed by the pressures of operating in a society formally committed—for most of the period under discussion—to aggressive defense of the racial status quo.

Fairclough's "basic argument" seems at first glance uncontroversial: that "although blacks differed . . . about the most appropriate tactics in the struggle for equality, they were united in rejecting allegations of racial inferiority and in aspiring to a society where men and women would be judged on merit rather than by race or color" (p. xii). But his ultimate aim is more ambitious: he sets out to rehabilitate the accommodationist tradition represented by Booker T. Washington which, though "apparently unheroic," in the author's view "laid the groundwork for the militant confrontation of the Civil Rights Movement" (p. xiii).—h-net

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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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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent

U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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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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update 29 February 2012




Home  The Du Bois-Malcolm-King

Related files:  Noise of Class Ideology  Responses to Skip Gates'   The Talented Fifth   Master of the Intellectual Dodge   Gates the Birth Encarta Africana 

 The Fire Last Time   Cleaver and Gates  Lincoln on Race and Slavery   Skip Gates and the Talented Fifth  Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man 

Master of the Intellectual Dodge