Our senses are currently whip-driven by a feverish new pace of technological change. The activities that mark us as human, though, don’t begin, exist in, or end by such a calculus. They pulse, fade out, and pulse again in human tissue, human nerves, and in the elemental humus of memory, dreams, and art, where there are no bygone eras. They are in us, they can speak to us, they can teach us if we desire it.… In fact, for Westerners to look back on 1900 is to come full face upon ourselves in 2000, still trying to grapple with the hectic power of capitalism and technology, the displacement of the social will into the accumulation of money and things. “Thus” (Karl Marx in 1844) “all physical and intellectual senses (are) replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses, the sense of having.” We have been here all along.
The late Robert Bone had a socialist background which impelled him to study African-American history and literature long before those subjects became fashionable. From the 1950s on his pioneering work in this field included The Negro Novel in America (1959) and Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story (1975). He had planned, and partially researched and written, a study of the Chicago African-American Renaissance of the 1930s and later. When his health began to fail, he gave his notes to Richard A. Courage, author of many articles on African-American narrative and visual arts. Courage completed Bone’s research, and the result is a compelling book which will be a standard in its field for many years to come.
Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures.
Many Americans who have failed to look deeply into the career of Martin Luther King, Jr. hold false assumptions about him. One is that he was a moderate solely focused on achieving civil rights for American Negroes (his terminology), and that he had a dream about a country where, as he said in August 1963, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Another is that he held to this vision of working within the system and building interracial harmony—”let us not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred”—until the spring of 1967, when for some inexplicable reason the train flew off the tracks. In his (in)famous Riverside Church speech on April 4, 1967, King came out forcefully against the war in Vietnam, defended the National Liberation Front as a voice for people seeking independence from forces like the United States (whose leaders he accused of saying one thing and doing another), and called for a “radical revolution in values” that put poverty and people ahead of “things.” By the time the sanitation workers struck in Memphis one year later, King seemed to have gotten back on track with a more or less traditional labor support role, albeit a critical one, as the spiritual motivator of the strikers.
Roger N. Lancaster, Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011), 328 pages, $24.95, paperback.
In The Shadows of Youth, Andrew Lewis demarcates the work of various activists, white and black, during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. It is part of Lewis’s thesis that the efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and other groups were too often overshadowed by those of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and that the individual sacrifices made by a number of workers…. the extent…[of the] alliances…[between] black and white radicals were crucial in a number of settings outside the Deep South and…, in various locales, these alliances made a critical difference in the kinds of results that were obtained. The focus of the alliances…was often on activity that was driven less by nationalist concerns (from a black point of view), and more by concerns best thought of as generally leftist, and specifically Marxist, in origin. Thus the Black Panthers, for one, started off with a statement of purpose that spelled out their desire to work with a number of oppressed peoples, and that featured extensive reference to other persons of color groups as well as to the white working class.
One of the most powerful metaphors in critical education literature is “the school to prison pipeline.” The phrase conjures a vivid, unambiguous image, the meaning of which few would debate: poor and black and brown children being sucked into a vortex from mainstream educational environments and heaved onto a conveyor belt carrying them onto a one-way path toward privatized prisons, where the economic outcome of under-education and discipline is most evident.… Excessive discipline is often a critical first step out of schools for select youth—black boys, in this case—who disproportionately find themselves in prison. Being designated as disabled nudges the other foot out of the schoolhouse door.
Although the student body in the United States is becoming more and more diverse, the teaching staff is strikingly homogenous… [W]hile many legislators may be unaware of the role of cultural competence, i.e., the ability to relate to diverse cultures, in teaching children in the United States, those who are on the ground in classrooms and schools everyday recognize its importance.… Education consultant Ruby Payne [—a self-proclaimed expert on the “mindset of poverty”—] represents one particular response to the culture clashes in the classroom. Her widespread success at once highlights the salience of race and class inequities, and speaks to the absence of practical educational strategies to confront them.
Throughout U.S. history, the “truths” [Thomas] Jefferson declared as axiomatic [in the Declaration of Independence] have hardly been evident in the lives of many “Americans,” certainly not in the lives of the two hundred or so slaves Jefferson held on his plantation.… [The recurring] contradiction between ideal and reality is the root of a continuing struggle over what the United States is to be as a nation.… For black people especially, this contradiction has been most persistent and destructive in “education.”
Manning Marable, who died last April 1, aged sixty, was the quintessential radical academic/activist. A friend of Monthly Review for many years, he wrote numerous articles for the magazine and chapters for Monthly Review Press books. Manning was a committed Marxist and socialist. He unflinchingly engaged with issues of race and class, most recently working with younger artists of color organizing for social change as a founder of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network.… In MR‘s July-August 1995 issue Marable posed this challenge: “Americans continue to perceive social reality in a manner which grossly underestimates the role of social class, and legitimates the categories of race as central to the ways in which privilege and authority are organized. We must provide the basis for a progressive alternative to an interpretation of race relations, moving the political culture of black United States from a racialized discourse and analysis to a critique of inequality which has the capacity and potential to speak to the majority of American people. This leap for theory and social analysis must be made if black United States is to have any hope for transcending its current impasse of powerlessness and systemic inequality.”