Betrayal

Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era

HOUSTON A. BAKER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bake13964
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  • Book Info
    Betrayal
    Book Description:

    Houston A. Baker Jr. condemns those black intellectuals who, he believes, have turned their backs on the tradition of racial activism in America. These individuals choose personal gain over the interests of the black majority, whether they are espousing neoconservative positions that distort the contours of contemporary social and political dynamics or abandoning race as an important issue in the study of American literature and culture. Most important, they do a disservice to the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who have fought for black rights.

    In the literature, speeches, and academic and public behavior of some black intellectuals in the past quarter century, Baker identifies a "hungry generation" eager for power, respect, and money. Baker critiques his own impoverished childhood in the "Little Africa" section of Louisville, Kentucky, to understand the shaping of this new public figure. He also revisits classical sites of African American literary and historical criticism and critique. Baker devotes chapters to the writing and thought of such black academic superstars as Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Hoover Institution senior fellow Shelby Steele; Yale law professor Stephen Carter; and Manhattan Institute fellow John McWhorter. His provocative investigation into their disingenuous posturing exposes what Baker deems a tragic betrayal of King's legacy.

    Baker concludes with a discussion of American myth and the role of the U.S. prison-industrial complex in the "disappearing" of blacks. Baker claims King would have criticized these black intellectuals for not persistently raising their voices against a private prison system that incarcerates so many men and women of color. To remedy this situation, Baker urges black intellectuals to forge both sacred and secular connections with local communities and rededicate themselves to social responsibility. As he sees it, the mission of the black intellectual today is not to do great things but to do specific, racially based work that is in the interest of the black majority.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51144-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: LITTLE AFRICA
    (pp. 1-16)

    The first home I remember was in “Little Africa.” Little Africa was in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a seemingly endless tangle of unpaved streets and makeshift houses isolated in the deep west end of the city. It was a bleak compound of blackness where white faces were as rare as unicorns. Everyone did some kind of work. But their jobs were usually under the radar of anything resembling a decent, living wage; jobs were part-time, nonunion, unregulated, one-shot seasonal, or domestic moneymakers. Paychecks and their nets were as unpredictable as English weather.

    Little Africa was not cohesively working class in...

  5. JAIL: SOUTHERN DETENTION TO GLOBAL LIBERATION
    (pp. 17-44)

    Bull connor was in a quandary. On Good Friday, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. planned to get himself arrested.

    As public safety commissioner, the last thing Connor wanted was Easter drama. The Bull had been hoping the Birmingham Civil Rights campaign would soon dissipate. Project C, as it was called (for “confrontation”) was off to a slow start, despite its aggressive name. But if Dr. King were arrested tensions might quickly escalate.

    Connor’s hope for a quiet end to the campaign was not idle. Despite the fire and evangelical passion of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth—the pastor of Birmingham’s Sixteenth...

  6. FRIENDS LIKE THESE: RACE AND NEOCONSERVATISM
    (pp. 45-70)

    In the bright wake of the recounting of King’s revolutionary legacy, I call to mind the historical, social, and political developments in the United States that paralleled the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Chroniclers of our liberation struggle—their eyes resolutely focused only on the prize of victory—have sometimes read Civil Rights as the only game in town. They have analyzed the movement as unparalleled—a commanding solo performance on the nation’s social and political stages. Notions of a nonpareil black Civil Rights activism emphasize the movement’s primacy in network and broadcast news, as well as the forging...

  7. AFTER CIVIL RIGHTS: THE RISE OF BLACK PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS
    (pp. 71-98)

    For centuries, black men and women have placed race at the forefront of their labors. Often, they have had no choice. The categorical imperatives of race (its structures of dominant white and subordinate black operations) are still everywhere apparent in the United States, from the deep apartheid of residential housing to the starkly racialized gulag of the nation’s private prison-industrial complex. Where initiatives on behalf of the black majority are concerned, race people are as essential today as they were on that Good Friday when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was locked behind bars in Birmingham. There are always dread...

  8. HAVE MASK, WILL TRAVEL: CENTRISTS FROM THE IVY LEAGUE
    (pp. 99-126)

    In 2004 the comedian Dr. William Henry (Bill) Cosby Jr. sparked a public furor when he remarked to an assembly commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education decision: “I can’t even talk the way these people talk. . . . ‘Why you ain’t, Where you is?’ . . . Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads.” Cosby was referring, of course, to black youth in America. The comedian provoked further vitriol when he responded to the outrage his remarks occasioned (voiced principally by black Americans) in Chicago a few months later. In July 2004 at the Rainbow/PUSH...

  9. A CAPITAL FELLOW FROM HOOVER: SHELBY STEELE
    (pp. 127-156)

    It is difficult to imagine a young Shelby Steele (in 2007, a senior research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California) agreeing with the late black journalist George Schuyler that opportunities for Afro-Americans in the United States are legion. Schuyler, a staunch black conservative, insisted (without irony) that blacks in America have access to the “best schooling, the best living conditions, the best economic advantages, [and] the best security” in the world.¹ When Steele was growing up, he found scant evidence to support Schuyler’s claims.

    Steele grew up in a bleak working-class suburb of Chicago. His school...

  10. REFLECTIONS OF A FIRST AMENDMENT TRICKSTER: STEPHEN CARTER
    (pp. 157-172)

    In afro-american lore, one of the best stories of the trickster concerns a slave who claimed he could foretell the future.¹ It turns out he had devised secret peepholes and monitoring devices while he worked as a house slave among white folks. Overhearing and overseeing their comings and goings, he was always on top of their agendas and could thus “predict” what they were going to do. Well, it seems the slave’s master was so convinced by the slave’s prophecies that he was willing to wager a substantial sum with a neighboring plantation owner. They agreed to hide something under...

  11. MAN WITHOUT CONNECTION: JOHN MCWHORTER
    (pp. 173-196)

    In losing the race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (2001) John McWhorter set out in no-nonsense fashion to discredit the notion that systemic white American racism is alive and well. While not going so far as to claim racism has been completely eradicated, McWhorter asserts that what remains of it is merely “residual.” Since the sustaining legal conditions of racism’s existence were exterminated by acts of Congress in the mid-sixties, he argues, notions of white racism as a barrier to black advancement in America really hold no intellectual or historical weight. Black America’s urban ghetto malaise, for McWhorter, is a product...

  12. AMERICAN MYTH: ILLUSIONS OF LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
    (pp. 197-202)

    Myths are grand stories cherished by groups of people. They are sacred cultural texts that explain the origins of nations, contain accounts of heroism, and draw vivid portraits of people of thought and courage. Myths renew nations in times of crisis. They also serve as information blackouts during bad times, keeping disastrous revelations at bay with songs of national glory. Myths are at their keenest when they proclaim, and imaginatively project, valued national cultural ideals, such as filial piety or colorblind justice, as existing realities. The Greeks had their dauntless, eloquent, and shrewdly inventive Odysseus. The Romans countered with Aeneas...

  13. PRISON: COLORED BODIES, PRIVATE PROFIT
    (pp. 203-212)

    It is one thing to pretend that money and market opportunities exist in abundance for all Americans. Such myth and fantasy is a remainder of our Puritan origins and pilgrim wanderings in the wilderness. It is quite another matter, however, to close one’s eyes to what today seems our greatest national domestic disaster and disgrace: the phantasmagoric, revenue producing gulag that is our nation’s private prison-industrial complex. This gulag is a direct outcome of the Reagan/Bush compromise that devastated life in the United States like a plutocratic neutron bomb. The Reagan and Bush administrations (as well as Bill Clinton’s) deregulated,...

  14. CONCLUSION: WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
    (pp. 213-218)

    It is tempting in our technologically plugged-in era with its studied absence of attention to the plight of those farthest down to believe America is doing OK. We long desperately to believe our battles against the entrapments, denigration, and dangers of American racism have been won. This is understandable. Our diminished economic, educational, military, and diplomatic power to unilaterally affect global turns of events is dispiriting. Who among us does not wish to believe we Americans are doing OK at home? We can scarcely envision victory over future generations abroad, so why not, with a dulling amnesia, declare democracy a...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 219-226)
  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 227-232)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 233-242)