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Black Radical Enigma

Amiri Baraka, The Essence of Reparations (Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi Publishers, 2003), 44 pages, paper $15.00.
Amiri Baraka, Somebody Blew Up America and Other Poems (Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi Publishers, 2003), 57 pages, paper $15.00.
Jerry Gafio Watts, Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual (New York: New York University, 2001), 604 pages, cloth $50.00.
Harry T. Elam, Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2001), 208 pages, cloth $55.00, paper $20.95.
Komozi Woodard, A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1999), 352 pages, $49.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.

At seventy years of age, Amiri Baraka is no stranger to controversy. From his pioneering stage plays to his legendary journalistic assaults on mainstream black politicians and former allies alike, Baraka has often inhabited the space between trenchant critique, radical honesty, and venomous rhetoric. His 2002 appointment as poet laureate of New Jersey and the subsequent demands for his resignation by everyone from then-Governor James McGreevy to Elie Wiesel again placed Baraka in the limelight. This latest firestorm stemmed from his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which reminds us of America’s history of domestic anti-black terrorism but also alludes to the cyberspace conspiracy theory alleging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon possessed prior knowledge of the September 11 terrorist attacks and forewarned Jewish employees at the World Trade Center | more…

From Racial to Class Apartheid: South Africa’s Frustrating Decade of Freedom

The end of the apartheid regime was a great human achievement. Yet the 1994 election of an African National Congress (ANC) majority-with Nelson Mandela as the new president-did not alter the enormous structural gap in wealth between the majority black and minority white populations. Indeed, it set in motion neoliberal policies that exacerbated class, race, and gender inequality. To promote a peaceful transition, the agreement negotiated between the racist white regime and the ANC allowed whites to keep the best land, the mines, manufacturing plants, and financial institutions. There were only two basic paths that the ANC could follow. One was to mobilize the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, use a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stop the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The other was to adopt a neoliberal capitalist path, with a small reform here or there, while posturing as if social democracy was on the horizon | more…

Preface to the Jubilee Edition of The Black Souls of Black Folk (1953)

The Blue Heron Press Jubilee edition of The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1953. In 1949 Du Bois had purchased the plates to the book, which was then out of print. At that time, during the anticommunist hysteria, it was extremely difficult to keep in print or to publish works that raised fundamental questions about U.S. society. In 1952, best-selling novelist Howard Fast had his latest novel Spartacus turned down by his usual publisher and by every other he turned to-presumably, because of his association with the Communist Party as well as the incendiary nature of his novel, which was about a revolt against slavery, albeit in antiquity. Fast’s only choice was to publish the book himself. Devising his own imprint, Blue Heron Press, he solicited orders by direct mail and finally had enough so that he could print 50,000 copies. This self-published book became a best-seller, and with the proceeds Fast reissued a number of his earlier historical novels | more…

Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the U.S.

How “free” was the black freedman in 1863? He had no clothes, no home, tools, or land. Thaddeus Stevens begged the government to give him a bit of the land which his blood had fertilized for 244 years. The nation refused. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner asked for the Negro the right to vote. The nation yielded because only Negro votes could force the white South to conform to the demands of Big Business in tariff legislation and debt control. This accomplished, the nation took away the Negro’s vote, and the vote of most poor whites went with it | more…

Disablement, Prison, and Historical Segregation

The story of disablement and the prison industrial complex must begin with a trail of telling numbers: a disproportionate number of persons incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are disabled. Though Census Bureau data suggest that disabled persons represent roughly one-fifth of the total population, prevalence of disability among prisoners is startlingly higher, for reasons we will examine later. While no reliable cross- disability demographics have been compiled nationwide, numerous studies now enable us to make educated estimates regarding the incidence of various disability categories among incarcerated persons. Hearing loss, for example, is estimated to occur in 30 percent of the prison population, while estimates of the prevalence of mental retardation among prisoners range from 3 to 9.5 percent | more…

Subverting A Model

Vijay Prashad,The Karma of Brown Folk(University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 248 pages, $25 hardcover.

The Karma of Brown Folk is essentially addressed to two audiences and is surprisingly successful in being readable by both. Its primary audience is the “desi”—men and women of South Asian descent living in the United States. This widely dispersed group of some fifteen million first and second generation immigrants is often referred to as a model minority—untroublesome, hardworking, entrepreneurial, conservative, clannish, and family oriented. In approaching these countrymen the author’s freely avowed purpose is a subversive one. He wants to destroy the image by re-forming the fact behind it | more…

Race and Class in the Work of Oliver Cromwell Cox

Oliver Cromwell Cox’s Caste, Class, and Race was first published in 1948 by Doubleday, which, in line with the anti-leftist imperatives of the time, almost immediately let the book go out of print. Fortunately, it was reissued in 1959 by Monthly Review Press, which has enabled subsequent generations to read Cox’s extraordinary text. Indeed, I discovered Cox through Monthly Review’s Modern Reader paperback edition in 1970; coincidentally, that was also the year of the only occasion on which I heard him speak, at the annual meeting of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists, the black social scientists’ group | more…

SNCC: What We Did

2000 marks the fortieth anniversary of the southern sit-in movement, the emergence of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, and the founding of its most dynamic component, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). We believe it is important to look back at the achievements of those courageous men and women, both to celebrate their struggle and to learn from their experience. The following article is adapted from a talk originally given last summer at a seminar far college and university teachers, on the history of the civil rights movement at Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies.—Eds. | more…

Overcoming Racism

Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about the racism of white workers. Unfortunately, little has been said or written about how white working-class racism can be overcome. In this essay, I examine a prison uprising in which black and white convicts struggled with racism and overcame it to a surprising degree  | more…

Socialist Register 2003: Fighting Identities

Socialist Register 2003: Fighting Identities

Why do racial, religious, ethnic and national identities have such purchase on the lives of so many people, and why are they still at the center of so many major conflicts at the beginning of the twenty-first century? What form is racism taking amidst the inequalities, refugees and mass migrations of today’s global capitalism? How does the American state—as both the manager of the world capitalist order and as the embodiment of an all-too-often chauvinist national identity—fit into the picture of ‘Fighting Identities’? | more…

The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906–1960

The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906–1960

Undoubtedly the most influential black intellectual of the twentieth century and one of America’s finest historians, W.E.B. Du Bois knew that the liberation of African Americans required liberal education and not vocational training. He saw education as a process of teaching certain timeless values: moderation, an avoidance of luxury, a concern for courtesy, a capacity to endure, a nurturing love for beauty. At the same time, Du Bois saw education as fundamentally subversive. This was as much a function of the well-established role of education—from Plato forward—as the realities of the social order under which he lived. He insistently calls for great energy and initiative; for African Americans controlling their own lives and for continued experimentation and innovation, while keeping education’s fundamentally radical nature in view. | more…

Discourse on Colonialism

Discourse on Colonialism

This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights and Black Power and anti-war movements. | more…