America continues its tap dance around the reality of race. Sadly, Blacks participate in the charade, albeit for vastly different, though equally fallacious reasons.
Whites downplay the primacy of race but maintain race-based power under the mythical guise of America as a melting pot. For Blacks, downplaying race remains a misguided attempt to assimilate. However, on the color continuum, it's still the closer to White, the better, rendering assimilation an exercise in futility. Race matters a great deal in America; Whites' (and foolish Blacks') rhetoric to the contrary, notwithstanding.
Law Professor Derrick Bell's penetrating analysis is a primer on the implications of the continuing significance of race. His observations shed light on seldom discussed aspects of the complex issue. Bell argues that racism is so ingrained in American life that no matter what Blacks do to better their lives they will not succeed as long as the majority of Whites do not see their own well-being threatened by the status quo. He reminds us that Blacks in bondage managed to retain their humanity and faith that pain and suffering were not the extent of their destiny.
Bell points out that America's veiled dogma of race-based progress fails those who have been marginalized: Blacks, the poor and others whom the myth ignores must call for national action that incorporates their experience. They must find inspiration in the lives of oppressed people who defied death as slaves and freed men, insisting on their humanity, despite society's consensus that they were an inferior people. He argues poignantly that Blacks can only de-legitimatize racism by "accurately pinpointing it as the center, not the periphery, in not only their lives, the lives of Whites and all others."
Bell asserts that Blacks must first recognize and acknowledge (at least to themselves) that their actions are not likely to lead to immediate or transcendent change. For him, only then can that realization lead to public policy less likely to worsen their condition, and more likely, to remind the nation the that they are determined to constantly challenge its power.
Professor Adolph Reed also raises provocative questions on the need for greater unity in combating racist policies, especially because of the devolving state of the "Black community." He argues that a cohesive Black collective is a myth, necessary after the Civil War to present a semblance of unity. The leadership class defined specific Black interests, named themselves leaders, and were assumed to be so by Whites, a phenomenon that is still with us.
According to Reed, egalitarianism appealed to both the civil rights movement and capitalism because it raised no questions about capitalism. Rather, it stressed the immorality of racism and segregation and how they were obstacles to economic progress. But Black opposition was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it. Reed's suggestions for remedying the situation include breaking Black elites' control over ideas in the Black community, critiquing so-called Black agendas in order to transcend Black leaders serving their own interests exclusively, and recognizing the diverse interests in Black communities.
Dr. Cornel West's Nihilism in Black America is a corollary to his seminal essay, Race Matters. In it, he points out that Blacks initially struggled against racism in enslaved circumstances of a new world, and argues that (apart from racism), the major enemy of Black survival in America is the loss of hope and absence of meaning. He maintains that the genius of Blacks' forbearers was to create powerful buffers to counter "the demons of helplessness, meaningfulness and lovelessness," adding "Black people have always been in America's wilderness in search of a promised land...but many Blacks now reside in a jungle with a cutthroat mentality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope."
These scholars forcefully articulate the need for Blacks to debunk internalized, debilitating myths that race is no longer a significant factor in their lives. The need for Black unity is at the heart of all efforts to internalize the positive core values and strength of their forbearers; despite massive denial, race matters, and sadly, Blacks are complicit in its continuing primacy. They must shed the twin burdens of victimization and futile dependence on others requiring renewed commitment and courage- prerequisites for the magnitude of change necessary to make a real difference. If race really didn't matter, Blacks could join George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and ride smugly off into the sunset.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail