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Malcolm, Nigel I.
One more river to cross :
b the therapeutic rhetoric of race in the post-civil rights era
h [electronic resource] /
by Nigel I. Malcolm.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: The rhetoric of W.E.B. Du Bois contributed both to a sense of group failure among blacks and a sense of individual failure. Du Bois also created a need to explain the reasons for the failure of the group, as well as that of individuals within the group, specifically those within a segment of the black population deemed the talented tenth. Today the talented tenth is more generally spoken of as those occupying positions within the black middle class. Explanations for failure among blacks as a group are generally of two kinds. The first posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of the talented tenth to provide adequate leadership of the race. The second posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of American society to commit itself to establishing not only legal equality but also social, political, and economic equality for all Americans. Members of the talented tenth, not understanding that the root of the problem lies with the impossible situation Du Bois placed them in as saviors of the race begin to attribute perceived failures among blacks to American society. Instead of questioning Du Bois's goal and the possibility for complete 'racial uplift,' members of the talented tenth begin to question American society's commitment to realize the goals of the civil rights movement. Rather than optimism, one finds pessimism among blacks in the post-civil rights era. I examine Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robinson's texts as rhetorical discourses that respond to the notion of a debt owed to the race, and evidence a sense of group failure among blacks. I illustrate how David Payne's topoi of therapeutic rhetoric provide a context for understanding not only the arguments these authors make about the nature of failure among blacks, but also the possible solutions these authors pose as avenues for consolation and/or compensation.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
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Adviser: Carol Jablonski, Ph.D.
W.E.B. Du Bois.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
One More River to Cross: The Therapeutic Rhetoric of Race in the Post-Civil Rights Era by Nigel I. Malcolm A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Communication College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Ca rol Jablonski, Ph.D. David Payne, Ph.D. Navita James, Ph.D. Dan Bagley, Ph.D. Date of Approval: July 6, 2005 Keywords: rhetoric, race, David Payne W.E.B. Du Bois, Kenneth Burke Copyright 2005, Nigel I. Malcolm
Dedication This work is dedicated to my father, Lore nzo Malcolm, for being someone I can admire.
Acknowledgments This dissertation grows out of many years of study under th e tutelage of the finest teachers and scholars Ive had the privilege to know. My advisor, Dr. Carol Jablonski, encouraged me to embark on this project and always stood as a lighthouse guiding me to a distant shore. She gave willingly and abundantly of her time, even while away pursuing her own studies. My appreciation and admiration for her know no bounds. My committee members, Dr. David Payne, Dr. Navita James, and Dr. Dan Bagley are a dream team among academics. Dr. David Payne gave me his insights into therapeutic rhetoric, insights that provided a strong f oundation on which to build this study. I hope that this study opens the door to an even grea ter appreciation of th e possibilities inherent in his work. Dr. Navita James taught me more about race, class, and gender than I ever knew before. I hope one day to have as grea t an understanding of these issues as she possesses, and I thank her for sharing he r understanding with me. Dr. Dan Bagley brought a synergistic influence to the group that both sparke d creativity and expanded my imagination. I hope that each day I will c ontinue to see possibilities rather than limitations as a result of his teaching. I have so many people to thank that no amount of words will ever truly suffice. So in brevity I extend my sincerest gratitude to all of the professors, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates at the University of South Florida. Special thanks to the Florida Education Fund, my family, and especi ally my wife, Michelle Last, I thank God for making all things possible.
i Table of Contents Chapter One: Introduction 1 The Rhetorical Study of Failure 11 Relationship to Other Studies 16 Preview of the Analysis 25 Conclusion 29 Chapter Two: Rhetoric and Failure in the Analysis of Race 30 Rhetoric and the Audience 31 Rhetoric and the Rhetor 33 Therapeutic Rhetoric and Kenneth Burke 35 Therapeutic Rhetoric and Race 37 Chapter Three: The Self-Society Topos in Shelby Steeles The Content of Our Character and A Dream Deferred 49 A Rhetoric of Personal Adaptation 50 A Rhetoric of the Apocalypse 59 Conclusion 65 Chapter Four: The Past-Future Topos in Derrick Bells And We Are Not Saved and Faces at the Bottom of the Well 69 Constructing the Time-Line of Failure 72 Embracing the Apocalypse 86 Apocalyptic Tales 90 Conclusion 101 Chapter Five: The Spiritual-Mate rial Topos in Randall Robinsons The Debt and The Reckoning 103 Materialistic and Idealistic Failure 117 Conclusion 129 Chapter Six: Failure in the Rhetoric of Transformation 131 The Self-Society Topos and the Rhetoric of Shelby Steele 133 The Past-Future Topos and the Rhetoric of Derrick Bell 138 The Spiritual-Material Topos and the Rhetoric of Randall Robinson 142 Applying the Topoi of Failure to the Study of Race 146 Addressing the Field of Rhetoric 149 A New Frontier for the Field of Rhetoric 151
ii Postscript 153 Works Cited 154 Bibliography 159 About the Author End Page
iii One More River to Cross: The Therapeutic Rhetoric of Race in the Post-Civil Rights Era Nigel I. Malcolm ABSTRACT The rhetoric of W.E.B. Du Bois cont ributed both to a sense of group failure among blacks and a sense of individual failure. Du Bois also created a need to explain the reasons for the failure of the group, as we ll as that of individua ls within the group, specifically those within a segment of the black population deemed the talented tenth. Today the talented tenth is more generally spoken of as those occupying positions within the black middle class. Explanations for failure among blacks as a gr oup are generally of two kinds. The first posits th at the failure blacks experi ence as a group is due to the failure of the talented tenth to provide adequa te leadership of the race. The second posits that the failure blacks experi ence as a group is due to the failure of American society to commit itself to establishing not only legal equality but also social, political, and economic equality for all Americans. Members of the talented tent h, not understanding that the root of the problem lies with the impossible situation Du Bois placed them in as saviors of the race begin to attribute perceived failures among blacks to Am erican society. Inst ead of questioning Du Boiss goal and the possibility for complete r acial uplift, members of the talented tenth begin to question American societys commitment to realize the goals of the civil rights
iv movement. Rather than optimism, one finds pessimism among blacks in the post-civil rights era. I examine Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robinsons te xts as rhetorical discourses that respond to the notion of a debt owed to the race, and evidence a sense of group failure among blacks. I illustrate how Da vid Paynes topoi of therapeutic rhetoric provide a context for understa nding not only the arguments th ese authors make about the nature of failure among blacks, but also th e possible solutions th ese authors pose as avenues for consolation and/or compensation.
1 Chapter One Introduction W.E. B. Du Boiss 1903 essay entitled The Talented Tenth provides a foundation for a sense of group failure among black s. Du Bois argued for an intellectual aristocracy that would elevate the position of blacks in America. Du Bois looked not to the masses for social uplift but to the elite for stable stewardship of a race aspiring to take its place in the Western world. He believed th at a tenth of individuals within the black community had the ability to lift the race from its position at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Du Bois emphasized the role black men would pl ay in the elevation of the race. He argued, "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men ( Writings 842). It was his belief that the tale nted Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth saving up to their vantage ground (847). The talented tenths role was not only to provide leadership but also to separate the wheat from the chaff within the black community. They were obligated to reverse th e effects of slavery a nd in so doing justify their own place at the top of th e social hierarchy among blacks. Du Bois held contempt for the idea that leadership arose from the bottom of the social hierarchy. He refuted arguments to the contrary in stating, Was there ever a nation on God's fair earth civilized from the bottom upward? Never, it is, ever was and ever will be from the top downward that culture filters" (847). The talented tenths place at the helm was unquestionable for Du Bois. All others had failed to steer a proper course. He noted that history supported his views because for two hundred and fifty
2 years that black serf toiled at the plow and yet that toiling was in va in (846). Instead of finding hope in the many, Du Bois found it in th ose like himself, college educated men. Yet Du Bois observed, It is safe to say th at the Negro has not one-tenth his quota in college studies (858). For Du Bois, white so ciety served as an example of what blacks were denied because of slavery. The failu re of blacks to educate themselves and establish a cadre of leaders who would make blacks as a group the equal of other races was evident for Du Bois. Du Boiss The Talented Tenth Memorial Address in 1948 not only revisited his advocacy of the talented tenth but also contri buted to a sense of individual failure among blacks. In this speech, Du Bois spoke of hi s own naivet regarding individuals within the talented tenth. He admitted, "I assume d that with knowledge, sacrifice would automatically follow. In my youth and idealism, I did not realize that selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice" (In The Future of the Race 161). He went on to speak of the ways in which the talented tenth might use the plight of the Negr o people to their own advantage. Individuals woul d use the Negro masses as leverage to pursue their main objective of uplifting themselves. He state d, My Talented Tenth, I could see, might result in a sort of interracial free-for-a ll, with the devil taking the hindmost and the foremost taking anything they could lay hands on" (162). Individuals within the talented tenth had failed to live up to Du Boiss expe ctations; therefore he sought to re-write the script he authored in his youth. Du Bois reconceived his notion of the tale nted tenth focusing particularly on what he termed the guiding hundredth. He observe d, "This would be an actual numerical one hundredth of our race: a body large enough really to represent all. Yet small enough to
3 insure exceptional quality; if screened for inte lligent and disintereste d planning" (174). Du Boiss distrust of the masses initially led him to place his faith in ten percent of the Negro population. Now the failure of his chos en few led him to seek solace in ten percent of the talented tenth, or one percent of all Negroes. Du Bois also created a need to explain the reasons for the failure of the group as well as that of individuals w ithin the group, specifically t hose within a se gment of the black population deemed the talented tenth. To day this group is more generally spoken of as those occupying positions within the black middle class. Middle class blacks, trapped within Du Boiss rhetorical legacy, find it necessary to offer up explanations for group failure. Explanations for failure among blacks as a group are generally of two kinds. The first posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of the talented tenth to provide ad equate leadership of the race. The second posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of Ameri can society to commit itself to establishing not only legal equality but also social, political, and economic equality for all Americans. The first of these two positions is demonstrated in the work of Carter G. Woodson. Carter G. Woodson in The Miseducation of the Negro (1933) put forth his own response to the race problem and the ability of the talented tenth to solve it. Woodson agreed with Du Bois that slavery had done gr eat harm to the Negro people, halting their advancement and keeping them in a state of physical and mental bondage. He argued that the shackles of slavery were not taken off following the Civil War as the amendments to the Constitution suggest. Rather oppression took on new forms as both state and federal laws ensure d continued discrimination agai nst blacks. According to
4 Woodson, slavery evolved into segregation which is the most far-reaching development in the history of the Negro since the enslavemen t of the race. In f act, it is a sequel to slavery (102). Woodson emphasized mental slavery in hi s work, arguing that an inability to think for themselves crippled blacks more th an anything else. Blacks were educated to imitate whites and their ideals to the extent that the talented tenth of which Du Bois wrote was of little value to the masses of black pe ople. One did not find in Woodson the faith that Du Bois initially placed in whites. To the contrary, Woodson displayed a profound skepticism about the motives of whites in educating blacks. He argued, The Negros mind has been all but perfectly enslaved in that he has been trained to think what is desired of him (24). Furthermore, It is an injustice to the Negro, however, to miseducate him and suffer his manners to be co rrupted from infancy unto old age and then blame him for making mistakes which such guidance necessitates (125). Woodson believed that for blacks to be truly free they must come to understand their own history and in doing so they would come to understand themselves. He wrot e that, Instead of cramming the Negros mind with what others have shown that they can do, we should develop his latent powers that he may perform in society a part of which others are not capable (151). Woodson saw the talented tenth and thei r leadership of blacks as counterproductive. They led blacks astr ay and engaged in politics as usual for their own benefit. He argued, The Negro should be a figure in po litics, not a tool for politicians (182) and called for a level of political sophistication that went beyond pa rty politics. In his view, Any people who will vote the same ways for three generations without thereby
5 obtaining results ought to be ignored and dise nfranchised (183). The Negro should use his vote rather than give it aw ay to reward the dead for some favors done in the distant past (183). Yet this is precisely what the black leadership in th is country did, and in many ways still does. In Race Matters (1993) contemporary writer Cornel West also offered a critique of the talented tenth. West observed, Mos t present-day black political leaders appear too hungry for status to be angry, too eager for acceptance to be bold, too self-invested in advancement to be defiant (38). He lament ed that as a group, The present-day black middle class is not simply different than its predecessorsit is more deficient and to put it strongly, more decadent (36). The talented tenth and the guiding one hundredth fail to provide solutions to the problem s of most blacks. Instead, theyve grown more adept at looking after their own interests. Du Boiss rhetoric leads members of the ta lented tenth to become pessimistic with regard to the ability of blacks as a group to live the American dream. It engenders a questioning of American societys commitment to equality for all. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West wrote of the contemporary state of black Am erica and in particular the status of the talented tenth in their book, The Future of the Race (1996). Gates borrowed a line from Dickens in noting, If it is the best of times for the black middle classthe heirs of Du Boiss Talented Tenthit is the worst of times for an equally large segment of our community (xii). He con tinued, We, the members of Du Boiss Talented Tenth, must accept our historical resp onsibility and live Kings credo that none of us is free until each of us is free (xvii). Yet despite his appeals to both Du Bois and King, Gates was unable to reconcile the Darwinia n state of affairs im plicit in the creation
6 of a talented tenth; that some blacks woul d succeed while others would fail. West, however, came closer to th is observation in stating: Du Bois's heralded Talented Tenth wi ll by and large procure a stronger foothold in the well-paid professional managerial sectors of the global economy and more and more will become intoxicated with the felicities of a parvenu bourgeois existence. . The significant secondary e fforts of the black Talented Tenth alone in the twenty-first century will be woef ully inadequate and thoroughly frustrating . As this Talented Tenth comes to be viewed more and more with disdain and disgust by the black working poor and ve ry poor, not only class envy but class hatred in black America will escalate--i n the midst of a more isolated and insulated black America. This will deepen the identity crisis of the black Talented Tenth--a crisis of survivor's guilt and cultural rootlessness . We will see anguish and hedonism intensify among much of the Talented Tenth. (110) He concluded, In the end, Du Boiss Enlighten ment worldview, Victorian strategies, and American optimism failed him (111). A similar statement could be made about West, who offers little more than a jeremi ad for those who care to listen. Du Boiss rhetoric eventually led members of the talented tenth to reassess slavery and segregations hold over the prospe cts for advancement among blacks. If the efforts of the talented tenth are not enough to overcome the obs tacles of slavery, and even segregation, then some are led to believe th at failure among blacks is predetermined. The locus of the problem according to Du Bois was slavery, and many contemporary scholars echo his viewpoint. Yet the failure of the ta lented tenth to uplift the race has caused some to argue in favor of reparations as a solution to the problem of the color line. Boris
7 Bittker in The Case for Black Reparations (1973) examined the issue of reparations for African Americans from a legal standpoint. What makes Bittkers work interesting is his narrow focus on reparations for Jim Crow segr egation rather than the usual emphasis on slavery. He observed, "This preoccupation with slavery, in my opinion, has stultified the discussion of black reparations by implying that the only issu e is the correction of an ancient injustice, thus inviting the reply that the wrongs were committed by persons long since dead . ." (9). Bittker did not resolve the reparations issue in his work, but instead hoped to stimulate a dialogue on the subjec t. Yet as Randall Robinson noted in The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (2000) nearly thirty years later, Bittker was unsuccessful in his attempt to stimulat e debate among his contemporaries (203). The call for a discussion of reparations took on new life in the early 1990s as it moved from marginal to mainstream among blacks. Randall Robinson brought the discussion into the twenty-first century with th e publication of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks Robinson took as his subject Am ericas black holocaust and its ramifications in contemporary America. Some might balk at the use of the term holocaust, but Robinson did not He wrote that Anywhere from ten to twenty-five million Africans died in slave ships en route from Africa to the Americas (33). Many more died as a result of slavery, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow segregation. For those who survived, their lives were often stripped of meaning, or devoid of the potential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The historical and present victimizat ion of blacks was a primary focus of Robinsons work. He referred to blacks as victims noting that No race, no ethnic or religious group, has suffered so much or so l ong a span as blacks have and still do . .
8 (8). According to Robinson, black achievement on both the African and the North American continent is denied. For that reason, he sought to address the absence of African and African-American history in Amer ica, and the ramifica tions of this void on the black psyche. To set afoot a new and whole black woman and man, we must first tell the victims what happened to thembe fore and after America was new (7). Robinson argued that it is necessary for black s to realize their st atus as victims if they are to be made whole again. Still, th is realization is only a starting point in the discussion of reparations. Blacks must also make whites acknowledge that they benefit from the racial injustice of both the past a nd the present. Robinson aimed to give both blacks and whites an understand ing of the victimization that blacks endured in the past, and many still endure in the present. His em phasis on victimization hearkens back to Du Boiss belief that the poor status of blacks as a group is directly rela ted to the institution of slavery and its effects on black life. The institution of slavery ended at the close of the civil war, yet the practice of racism continued during segregation. In the post-civil rights era some scholars question whether racisms hold over American life can ev er be broken. Derrick Bell argued in his work And We Are Not Saved (1987) that racism in American society is permanent. Bell argued throughout his work that racism was fundamental to both the establishment and the maintenance of American society. He saw racism as a permanent feature that could not be overcome. The struggles of the ci vil rights movement brought some advancement for blacks but did not bring substantial equality with whites. Civil rights legislation brought legal equality to blacks but did little to bri dge the economic divide that separates them from whites. Yet the failure of the ci vil rights movement to create economic parity
9 is often seen as proof that bl acks lack initiative rather th an the entrenched nature of inequality in American society. This lead s some scholars to question whether Americans are truly committed to establishing equality or simply wish to eliminate only the grossest vestiges of discrimination. The true aims of Americans are placed under the microscope in Joe Feagins Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, & Future Reparations (2000). Feagin sought to make a case for reparations through an exhaustive account of Americas racist practices. It is the historical grounding of his work that sets it apart from other texts. Bittkers work examined the constitutionality of reparations, searching for legal precedent that might provide a foundation fo r a case. Robinson utilized a narrative approach, centering his argument primarily in the existential effects of racism on black life. Feagins work, in contrast, examined history in painstaking detail from the early colonial days to the present. Much empha sis is also given to the founding fathers creation of what Feagin believed to be a racist constitution. According to Feagin: It appears that few whites have ever envisaged for the United States the possibility of a truly just and egalitarian democracy gr ounded solely in respect for human rights. Certainly the founders did not conceive of such a possibility even in the long run. (266) Feagin concluded that the base of the U.S. sy stem must be replaced if systemic racism is to be removed, just as the sinking foundation of a dilapidated building must be replaced (258). Yet this conclusion is subject to debate as well as its premise that systemic racism is still a fundamental part of the U.S. society.
10 While others have explored the dete rminative effects of racism on black advancement, I shall concern myself with an influential segment of the black population. I contend that members of the talented te nth, not understanding th at the root of the problem lies with the impossible situation Du Bois placed them in as saviors of the race, attribute the perceived failures of members of their race to American society. Instead of questioning Du Boiss goal and the possibility for complete racial uplift, members of the talented tenth prefer to question American societys commitment to the goals of the civil rights movement. Rath er than optimism, one finds pessimism among blacks in the post-civil rights era. Du Boiss rhetorical legac y, his initial advocacy of a talented tenth, has led to a degenerative communication spiral of both accusation and denial that threatens the possibility for dialogue between blacks and whites regarding the issue of race. In order to better understand relations betw een blacks and whites, and what in the words of Randall Robinson America owes to blacks, we must fi rst examine the relationships blacks have with each other. What do blacks, as Du Bois and Robinson suggest owe each other, and in what ways does this notion of debt contribute to a conversation among blacks centered on failure? The notion that some blacks owe other blac ks a debt underlies Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth. Members of the talented tenth are both leaders of the race, and debtors to the race. Yet the possibility that this debt can go unpaid means that both blacks as a group and individual members of the talented tenth can harbor a sense of failure. The failure of the many can be attributed to the failure of the few to uplift them. Yet why should members of the talented tenth have a sense of failure when if judging from
11 objective factors such as their level of education, income and social status many appear successful? I contend that the answer rests in the no tion of debt which is fundamental to Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth. If as lead ers of the race, members of the talented tenth are debtors to the race and respons ible for its uplift, then the failure of the talented tenth to achieve the goal of racial uplift can generate a sense of failure for individuals within the group. This failure can be experienced as a personal one. Communication scholar David Paynes work on the therapeutic rhetoric of failure provides us with a way to better understand what is happening among blacks in this instance. Paynes framework for understanding failure posits th e existence of two different types of individual failure: idealistic failures and materialistic failures. In the next section I will discuss this aspect of Paynes theory in relation to W.E.B. Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth. The Rhetorical Study of Failure Payne suggests that there are at least two types of failures that we deal with as individuals: idealistic failure and materialistic fa ilure. Idealistic failu re occurs where the failure results from comparing oneself with unattained ideals (Communicating in the Context of Failure 23) even when an indivi dual may possess all the trappings of success in the eyes of others. The second type of failure, materialistic failure, occurs when social judgments are made by comparing cond itions against what they are supposed to be, what is normal, not against an ideal, or even necessarily what conditions ought to be (23). Individuals may place this judgmen t of failure on themselves or it may come from others. Payne believes that we can see ourselves as idealistic failures and also as
12 materialistic failures (24). Taking Paynes obs ervations one step furt her, I suggest that individuals can see themselves as idealistic fail ures because of the materialistic failures of others. That is, people may see themselves as idealistic failures if they believe that they are responsible for other persons in our societ y who are deemed materialistic failures. Payne notes the connection between idealis tic and materialistic failure within an individual, yet I believe that a connection can also exist between the idealistic sense of failure within one individual and the materia listic failure of anothe r. The idea of a talented tenth suggests and in some ways manda tes that the talented tenth have a sense of idealistic failure so long as members of the underclass are materialistic failures. Parents may see themselves as idealistic failures due to the materialistic failures of their children. Yet Du Boiss rhetorical magic was to make members of the talented tenth have a sense of idealistic failure for individuals they may have never even met. The ability of Du Boiss rhetoric to reve rberate over time in the hearts and minds of the talented tenth points to the persuasive power of his theory of social uplift. According to Payne, Given the function of theo ry to reflect and perpetuate certain values of individuals and/or the social order, the persuasive effects of theory should not be overlooked (37). The idea of the talented tenth is a theory of how progress occurs within social groups in society. Yet th is theory is accepted as doctrine among many individuals and therefore is se ldom questioned. We understand that theories are meant to help us explain the world, and even to pred ict events, yet we sometimes forget that theories can be proved wrong. The power of Du Boiss theory is that many members of the talented tenth treat it as if it were a la w of social uplift with as much explanatory power as any law found in physics or chemistry.
13 We need theories to help us make sens e of the world and our place in it especially when things are not going as we believe they should be. According to Payne, Problems of individual identity which are represented as a bifurcation of subjective and social realities are likely to be experienced as failures in the lives of individuals. When this happens, there are persuasive techniques which maintain or repair the failed identities and psychological theory legitimates these procedures by relinking id entity and world. (40) Linking Paynes observation with an understa nding of Du Bois leads me to see a connection between personal identity and group id entity in society. How I see myself as an individual may differ from how societ y views me as a member of a group. The theory of the talented tenth calls for me to take my inner reality and through the force of action make objective reality correlate with it by changing the status of my group in society. Du Boiss theory of the talented tenth provides a sense of purpose in the world for not only Du Bois but for others as well. Payne writes, when looked at as a remedy for failure in individual identity and failure in so cial identity (a condition described in both cases as a need for integration), images of collectivity which may appear to dissolve the individual are really a form of super-individualism (44). The members of the talented tenth can in fact be seen as super-individuals. Du Bois pushes to create others like himself in the talented tenth. If as Payne s uggests, Personal disunity accompanies a lack of social support, and in this case the individual empl oyed persuasion as a means of gaining social support so as to achieve personal unity (46), then Du Boiss confession in
14 The Souls of Black that his sense of self is divided may be a catalyst for the creation of the talented tenth. According to Du Bois: It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, th is sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt a nd pity. One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconc iled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." (45) Du Bois creates the idea of a talented tenth as a solution to the probl em of the color line, which is experienced as a problem for blacks as individuals within a social group. The group initially provides a justifi cation for Du Boiss own place in the world as much as he provides its members with the same sense of place. What we are dealing with here is a pr oblem of identity. Payne observes that transforming ones identity is extremely difficult even when one is motivated by inner wishes and goals, and one cannot expect for it to be any easier to a ccomplish this miracle through purely verbal means wit hout a life-context that makes such changes a matter of survival (47). Surely for Du Bois and others the problem of the co lor line provides this context. If as Payne suggests, when looking for the therapeutic func tion of rhetoric, one must consider the uses of persuasion whic h serve the self in a situation where an individual must adapt to c onditions beyond his or her immedi ate control (48), then for Du Bois segregation is the situation that calls forth a need for therapeutic rhetoric. Rhetoric by itself, however, is not enough to create effective persuasion. According to Payne, the enactment of pers uasion itself is crucial to the event of
15 persuasion (49). There is a need for the talented tenth to do so mething to make Du Boiss persuasion effective. In The Talent ed Tenth Memorial Address Du Bois notes in part the failure of his rhetoric due to a l ack of action by members of the talented tenth. His repeated calls for a talented tenth, and subsequently a guiding one-hundredth (ten percent of the tenth), to do something are attempts to make the rhetoric believable. Other rhetors have reiterated Du Boiss initial call over time in an attempt to make the rhetoric believable not only for others but for themselves as well. Faith in this case comes through works. Yet over time Du Bois lost faith in the idea of the talented tenth, and the group that embodied it, because he did not se e enough works in others. Failure existed within the group despite Du Bo iss own best efforts to s how himself to be both an example and an agent of change. This has important implications for our understanding of how rhetoric actually works. Payne writes, It is the technique of persuasion which is legitimated in actual experience, not the truth of th e specific appeal, and this prepares the audience for future persuasion long after the specific issues have cha nged (53). In relation to the rhetoric of the talented tenth, Paynes poi nt leads me to an interes ting observation. Du Bois abandoned this technique over time. Neve rtheless, subsequent generations of the talented tenth, as members of the rhetorically constituted group, attempt to re-legitimate the technique for themselves and others. Ev idence of this is displayed in Henry Louis Gates and Cornel Wests book The Future of the Race According to Gates and West: A central part of our mission as teachers is to analyze, and reinterpret for our generation, the great writings of the black past, showing how they continue to speak to us today . We two 'grandchildre n' of the group of intellectuals Du Bois
16 dubbed 'the Talented Tenth,' have sought to think through--and critique--Du Bois's challenge of commitment to service that, we deeply believe, the formally educated owe to those who have not benefited from the expanded opportunities afforded by the gains in civil rights and its concomitant, the programmatic attempt to fulfill America's commitment to equal opportunity, popularly known as 'affirmative action.' (viii) The power of Du Boiss rhetorical magic is evidenced in its reiterations through subsequent generations even after he abandone d the idea. Yet in order for the magic to work effectively on those who repeat the incant ations a sign of some sort is necessary. Repeatedly, members of the talented tenth call on those within the group to do the necessary work of social uplift and in so doing give them a sign that the rhetoric is effective. Yet at the same tim e, repeated calls are themselves signs that a sense of failure exists both for blacks as a group, and for individuals within the talented tenth. Relationship to Other Studies The failure of blacks rhetorical effo rts has great importance not only for our understanding of race relations but also for our understanding of the possible limitations of rhetoric. According to Karlyn Kohrs Ca mpbell, all rhetorical theories make the ontological assumption that man is, by nature, su bject to and capable of persuasion (97). Nevertheless, some theorists such as Mark McPhail are beginning to question this assumption as well as doubt the possibility th at humans are willing to overcome divisions of race that have economic and social implications.
17 Blacks have utilized many strategies in their attempt to create identification between Americans of different hues. Kirt W ilson notes the failure of blacks attempts to use imitation as a means to gain equality following emancipation. While for whites the strategic use of imitation as a means to pers onal growth and societal advancement was an accepted and encouraged practice in society, the use of imitation among blacks met with less favorable results. While black rhetors su ch as Frederick Douglass encouraged blacks to imitate whites, whites began treating black imitation as a sign of inferiority noting that blacks were skilled imitators, but their imitation did not alter their individual or collective subjectivity (96). According to Wilson, With slaverys abolition, the claim that blacks would evolve th rough imitation largely disappear ed from public dialogues about race (96). Whites saw Black imitation as an instinctive, primitive habit that hindered rather than advanced the races evol ution (97). In the end, whites opinions about black imitation supported a belief that B lacks should not receive equal civil rights, because they could not be assimilated into the dominant culture without destroying the very culture that absorbed them (98). To protect against this i nvasion, the nineteenth centurys white majority chose to interpret black imitation as a sign of difference rather than similarity (99) thus solidifying division rather than supporting blacks attempts to create greater identificati on between the two groups. Division rather than identification perm eated American society for some time as whites resisted blacks rhetorical efforts to gain equality. Waldo Braden critiques the rhetoric of civil rights op ponents in Mississippi from 19541964 and notes that the state represented a closed society in which outsi de influences were re sisted and moderation on the civil rights issue within Mississippi was suppressed. He notes that while the White
18 Citizens Council spread fear and intimidation at the grassroots . in public statements . their leaders repeatedly avowed their abhorre nce to lawlessness (338). State officials maintained a positive and unyielding stance (3 44) that was also in line with the White Citizens Councils resistance to civil rights (351). The net result was to increase conformity, and of course, sacrifice for the system (350). While supporting states rights many rhetor s have worked against the interest of the nation. Wayne Flynt critiques the discour se of various civil rights opponents noting the ways in which their rhetoric not only supported segregation but also undermined the democratic process. Like Ar istotle, Flynt finds fault with persuaders who appeal to the audiences emotions in an attempt to short ci rcuit the auditors normal critical facilities (40). Flynt attributes the violence of the Birmingham crisis in 1963 to this rhetoric, observing that even when respected rhetors stated that they did not support direct violent action their critiques of inte gration and support of continue d resistance to equality for blacks left audience members with little ch oice other than violence once other measures failed (53). White resistance to black equality has been both overt and covert. The latter having just as much impact on blacks effort s to create identification as the former. Lisbeth Lipari critiques the ways in whic h studio executives at Columbia Pictures negated Lorraine Hansberrys attempts to address the problem of the color line in the screenplay adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun Lipari notes that Hansberrys attempts to address issues of race in the screenplay in ways that went beyond those seen in the original play were covertly resisted as a means to sustain the cultural production of whiteness (81). Hansberrys at tempts to use film as a medi um to speak truths through
19 pictures in ways her play could not were subverted. Alt hough studio executives allowed the author to pen her screenpl ay, they carefully controlled which elements of her text would be filmed and the context under which an imagined white audience would interpret various scenes. Even in instances in which blacks had the appearance of free speech one finds that in actuality not all black rhetors were given the opportunity to be heard. Garth Pauley notes differences of opinion within first, the civil rights movement, and within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SN CC), regarding appropriate responses to the rhetorical situation represented in the Ma rch on Washington specifically and also to racism generally. Pauley explains the context for John Lewiss address and how substantial changes in his speech were made prior to its delivery at the March on Washington. The ability of SCLC and ot her civil rights organizations to alter the meaning and goals of Lewiss original text points to thei r ability to not only control the civil rights agenda but also weaken organizations such as SNCC by subverting the groups consensus decision-making model. The success of SC LC and other civil rights organizations efforts to thwart SNCCs attempt to publicly break with the established civil rights agenda illustrates the success of the talent ed tenth in re-asserti ng their dominance over those who support the masses as a source of leadership. Pauleys critique notes differences in ideals and goals. Pauley observes: During its own time and in American memory, the March has stood as a shining symbol of unity and hope. For many it symbolizes what was right with the
20 American civil rights movement . To others, however, the March symbolized what was wrong with the civi l rights movement. (337) Pauleys critique illuminates divisions within the movement, the ways in which division was suppressed at the March on Washington, and alludes to the consequences that stemmed from this action. Divisions suppressed at the March on Washington became evident in the rhetoric of young SNCC activists. Charles Stewart examines the ways in which Stokely Carmichael used rhetoric to push for change within the civil rights movement. Tired of the slow pace at which change was taking place, Carmichael brought new meaning to blacks demands for Freedom Now by imbui ng younger blacks with a desire for Black Power. According to Stewart: The unrealistic dreams of perfect social orders that permeate social movement rhetoric heighten expectations and dema nds that remain only dreams after years of struggle and suffering. Frustration build s within new generations of activists who become increasingly disaffected with the social movement establishments which preach messages of patience and gra dualism, the rhetorical staple of the institutional opposition. (430) In short, what Stewart points out is that unrealistic dreams lead to interpretations of actions and situations as failures. It is this sense of failure that Carmichael articulated within the civil rights movement. Stewart observes that a crucia l sign of the fissure within the civil rights movement came in June 1966 when a small contingent of activists, including King and Carmichael, picked up James Merediths march for free dom. Carmichael chose this moment to
21 announce SNCCs break with the SCLC and many other civil rights organizations. In introducing the civil rights movement and the world to the phrase Black Power, Carmichael made plain the division civil rights leaders suppre ssed at the March on Washington. Celeste Condit and John Lucaites write that the leaders of the civil rights movement quickly rejected bot h the sounds and principle of black power. By the middle 1970s, however, the notion of black pow er had been adopted by most activists, although it came to mean different things to different people (194). Yet according to Robert Scott, Black Power rhetoric is itself a sign of the failure to achieve integration. Scott critiques Black Power rhetoric and argues that it is violent, justificatory of selfdefense measures on the part of blacks, and points to the need for whites to accept its fundamental justification as real (97-98). After over a century of rhetoric stretchi ng from the pre-civil war era to the postcivil rights era, race still divides black and white Ameri cans. Both presidents and protestors attempt to lay claim to the past as a means to sway audien ces in the present. John Murphy explores the ways in which former President Clinton uti lized the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a means to addr ess a largely black audience on November 13, 1993. What is interesting to note is that Mu rphy points out the ways in which Clinton not only utilized Kings rhetoric but also spoke in his voice as a means to rebuke blacks for the moral anarchy that has engulfed th e poorest [black] neighborhoods since Kings death (71). The perceived fa ilure of blacks is addressed fr om other quarters as well. John Pauley II notes that at the Million Man March, Louis Farrakhan sought to call Americans, both black and white, to atone for th eir sins. Farrakhan told blacks that they are spiritually dead but that he has been se nt to give them new life (Reshaping Public
22 Persona 525) if they will purify themse lves and accept the responsibility to call America and the world to repentance (527). The need for therapeutic cleansing, and resi stance to it, are bound up in the debate over the issue of repara tions. Jacqueline Bacon examines the ways in which advocates of reparations and opponents of reparations cons truct very different histories and favor contrasting methods of remembering the nations history, particularly when it involves oppression guilt and responsibility. Bacon u tilizes Mark McPhails concepts of implicature and innocence to discuss the ways in which many blacks and whites diverge in their understanding of Americas pa st and its influence on the present. One of the interesting points in Bacons article for the purposes of this research is when she notes the divisions that exist between blacks on th e issue of reparations. She points out that Randall Robinson engages in a po litics of implicature, while Shelby Steele assists whites in engaging in a politics of i nnocence. Robinson would agree with the idea that if structural institutions take thei r power from and depend upon the society that creates them the responsibility for the harm th ey inflict is communal (182). Steele, in contrast, would fall into the camp of opponent s of reparation [who ] do not deny the sins in the nations past, but they suggest that they should be left behind (182). Rhetorical scholars often focus on discussions and contr oversies that take place between blacks and whites as blacks protest for freedom and justice. What is not examined as frequently are the discussions blacks have with other blacks whether in person or via literature as to how blacks should pursue freedom and justice in America. Bacon contrasts Robinsons rhetoric with that of opponents like David Horowitz. Yet would not a close reading of
23 Robinsons arguments in relation to Steeles arguments about black progress in American be equally fruitful to our understandi ng of race? The field of rhetorical studies is often slow to recognize the potential benefits of studying blacks rhetorical efforts. Enrique Rigsby notes the failure of rhetorical studies as a field, and rhetorical critics as practitione rs to address African American discourse as a topic worthy of study on a continual basis. He observes the paucity of research until the late sixties and states, It seems ironic that communicat ion scholars seem to have discovered the rhetoric of African Americans only when angry black men and women took to the streets (193). In the seventies to mid-eighties criticism of African American rhetoric virtually disappeared from print, with only a few exceptions (193). Rigsby calls for critics to make African American rh etoric a recognized part of scholarship in our field, not merely an occasional outburst (194). For Rigsby, our disciplines lack of rhetorical studies emphasizing African American rhetoric is a curious footnote that raises interesting questions (198). That Rigsby coul d note such failures in 1993 shows the lack of interest rhetorical critics have shown to what Du Bois deemed the twentieth-centurys main issue: the problem of the color line. Th e extent to which critics in the twenty-first century will address this problem remains to be seen. According to some critics the efforts of blacks to address the problem within the field of communication are unsuccessful to date. Ronald Jackson II notes not only the failure of African American theories of comm unication to be utilized in mainstream texts but also the failure of African Americans to become a more central part of the field. According to Jackson, African American theory -building exists, but it is often treated as though it is invisible or insigni ficant (50). Furthermore, African American scholars
24 also have been rendered invi sible (53) in the absence of any written mainstream valuation of African American th eories and historical relevanc ies . . (51). For Jackson, it is very important to have paradigms and approaches produced by, for, or about African Americans (51) though the first two weigh heavily in his critique. He believes that members of a given ethnicity or gender are best suited to render the most accurate accounts (54) of their own condition. He concludes that the major project confronting the African American intellectual is libera ting the masses of ignorance and negative selfevolvement (60). One scholar who has attempted to lib erate not only the masses but also the intelligentsia is Mark McPhail. Mark McPhail now questions the desire of rhetors to move away from a rhetoric of complicity towa rds a rhetoric of coherence. He writes: Today, I am less sure than I was ten year s ago that any form of rhetoric can remedy what W.E.B. Du Bois believed was the greatest misunderstanding of the twentieth century, the probl em of the color line. Indeed, I am beginning to wonder if race can be adequately addressed as a rhetorical problem at all. If the solution to the problem of the color line is, as Golden and Rieke suggest, psychiatric instead of persuasive, then we must seriously reconsid er if racism is a problem that can be remedied by rational discourse, or if it is a social pathology which expresses itself in a politics of innocence and an ideology of denial. ( The Rhetoric of Racism Revisited 199) In the end, race calls into question fundamental assumptions about the nature of rhetoric and those who both employ and are subject to it.
25 Preview of the Analysis This study examines the ways in which Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robinson use rhetoric to cope w ith actual or perceived failure in the post-civil rights era. Two books from each author are analyzed: Shelby Steele. (1991). The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America Shelby Steele. (1998). A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America Derrick Bell (1987). And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice Derrick Bell (1992). Faces at the Bottom of the We ll: The Permanence of Racism in America Randall Robinson. (2000). The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks Randall Robinson. (2003). The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other Shelby Steele is a black conservative w ho believes that many blacks have failed to live up to their end of the so cial contract with whites. If Martin Luther Kings Jr.s dream has been deferred, then it is because African-Americans have sought to renegotiate the meaning of that dream in a way that runs contrary to the ideal of a colorblind society. Derrick Bell has given up on the dream. As a founder of critical r ace theory, he offers trenchant critiques of white American resist ance to equality for African-Americans. Randall Robinson urges white Americans to liv e up to the dream by granting reparations for slavery and segregation to African-Americans. These authors represent an important range of thought on the African -American political spectrum.
26 Shelby Steele combines his degrees in political science, sociology, and English, to offer insight into various aspects of race relati ons in American society. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a contribut or to many widely read publications. Along with his success as a writer, Steele al so won an Emmy award in 1991 for his documentary, Seven Days in Bensonhurst Steeles The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America published in 1991, was a New York Times bestseller, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. According to The Wall Street Journal it is One of the best books on race in America to appear in the past 25 years. In 2003 it was number 35,813 on Amazon.coms sales rank list, and number 41,120 on Barnes and Nobles online sales list, twelve years after p ublication. In April, 2005 it was number 62,508 on Amazons list, and number 139,008 on Barnes and Nobles list. A Dream Deferred, The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America published in 1998, was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2003 it was number 51,734 on Amazon.coms sales rank list, and 100,307 on Barnes and Nobles online sales rank list five years af ter publication. In April, 2005 it was number 291,728 on Amazons list, and number 392,691 on Barnes and Nobles list. Derrick Bell is a law professor and a founder of critical race theory. Hes served as Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as well as Deputy Director of the Office of Civil Rights. He was the first tenure d black professor at Harvard Law School, and Dean at the Oregon School of Law. Bell left both positions in response to faculty hiring decisions. He is currently a visiting profe ssor at the New York School of Law, and a well-known writer on the subjects of race and class in American society.
27 In this study I examine Bells And We Are Not Saved published in 1987, and his national bestseller, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism published in 1992. And We are Not Saved was number 140,355 on Amazon.coms sales list in 2003, and was 127,433 on Barnes and Nobles online sales list. This is a notable achievement considering that these numbers represent the works popularity sixteen years after its initial publ ication. In April, 2005 it was number 142,007 on Amazons list, and number 120,442 on Barnes and Nobles li st. Bells national bestseller, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism was number 51,532 on Amazon.coms sales rank list in 2003, and number 49,359 on Barn es and Nobles onlin e sales list eleven years after its publication. In April, 2005 it was number 135,967 on Amazons list, and number 65,986 on Barnes and Nobles list. Randall Robinson has worked on both the inte rnational and domestic front in the fight for social justice. He played an instru mental role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He is the founder of TransAfri ca, an organization that seeks to influence U.S. foreign policy. He also plays a key role in the movement for reparations to AfricanAmericans in the United States. I include The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, as a text for analysis in this study, along with Robinsons follow-up book, The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other published in 2003. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks published in 2000, is a seminal text for those seeking to understand the resurgence of this movement in the 1990s. The Debt is a national bestseller. The online retailer, Amazon.com, ranked th e book at 24,642 on its sales ra nk list in 2003. Barnes and Nobles online component, ranked the book at 14,880 on its sales rank list in 2003. In April, 2005 the book was number 277,413 on Amazons list, and number 76,512 on
28 Barnes and Nobles list. The book also topped Essence magazines non-fiction bestseller list for 2001, and was number seve n on their list in 2003. It was also represented as a listeners pick for National Public Radio s summer reading list, along with the Ralph Ellisons, Invisible Man and The Autobiography of Malcolm X among other notable selections. The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other was number 87,046 on Amazon.coms sales rank list in 2003, and number 78,119 on Barnes and Nobles online sales list. Considering the large volume of books each of th ese retailers provides these numbers represents considerable sales. In April 2005 the book was number 42,310 on Amazons list, and number 186,879 on Barnes and Nobles list. I believe that the popularity and critical acclaim of th e six texts I selected, in conjunction with a rhetorical critique utilizing Paynes themes of consolation and compensation and their corresponding topoi, sheds light on African-American mens responses to failure in the pos t-civil rights era. African-American men have faired less well than African-American women since the civil rights era. There is value in understanding how African-American men, especi ally those characterized as members of the talented tenth, respond to th e issue of group failure given this turn of events. In some ways this study provides a counterpart to Greesons, The Recovery of Race in America (1995) in which he focused heavily on the responses of African-American women to crisis after the civil rights era. Focusing on a single gender may have its benefits, as men and women may have different responses to failure.
29 Conclusion Understanding Du Boiss rhetorical legacy and its impact on the shape of blacks rhetorical efforts is imperative if we are to understand the ways in which blacks seek to cope with failure in the post-civil rights era. A perception of failure exists for both blacks as a group and members of the black middle class char ged with leading the group forward. Opening the paper today I saw a syndicated column from William Raspberry of the Washington Post The title of the column read, Will black middle class show others the way up? Raspberry proceeded to discu ss the various indications for failure among blacks as a group and stated that we black s who have achieved some success can, and Im convinced we must (help other blacks suc ceed). He continued, Those of us who have found our way out of poverty and despair need to remember those who abetted our escapeand do what we can to lead others to economic, social, and political safety. Yes, Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth is a live and well. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of rhetoric that although Du Boiss fait h in the idea waned he could not take back the hold his words had over others in his tim e. Today, over one hundred years later, his words have a powerful grip over the shape black rhetoric takes in our time. In the next chapter, I will explore in more detail the rhetorical dimensions of failure and their import for understanding race discourse.
30 Chapter Two Rhetoric and Failure in the Analysis of Race To say that rhetoric is th erapeutic is to acknowledge th e ways in which it orients both groups of people and individu als to situations. It provid es us with a way of being that can do so many things. It enables us to come to terms with our past, or simply to cope with our present. It enables us to dream of a better futu re that makes present difficulties seem small in comparison. Without some form of ther apeutic rhetoric life would be unbearable. We do not always succeed in our endeavors and we require a means to understand our failures. We respond to failure with therapeutic rhetoric. It provides us with what Kenneth Burke called equipment for living. Equipment is a fitting word as without it we are naked, disarmed, left defenseless against the travails of life. When we experience the droughts, the floods, the frosts of life, rhetoric is always there to keep us alive. Therapeutic rhetoric is the brea th of life for without it we di e. It preserves our spirit and enables us to live each day whether cloudy or gray. When failure occurs individuals often respond with some form of therapeutic rhetoric. In this chapter I di scuss various themes of therapeutic rhetoric that are germane to my study. First, I discuss rhetorics influence on the audience (others). Second, I discuss rhetorics influence on the rhetor (s elf). These are not necessarily mutually exclusive but they do provide two main dist inctions. Third, I discuss Kenneth Burkes contribution to our understanding of therapeu tic rhetoric, specifically his notion of
31 rhetoric as equipment for living. Last, I di scuss the ways in which therapeutic rhetoric can inform a discussion of race in American society noting the work of Aaron David Greeson, Dana Cloud, and David Payne. In this study I utilize Paynes topoi of failure as a means to understand the ways in which Randall Robinson, Derrick Bell, and Shelby Steele express discontent with the pace or absence of racial progress in the post-civil rights era. Rhetoric and the Audience In discussing rhetorics influence on th e audience Stephen Depoe critiques the therapeutic uses of nostalg ic appeals in Edward Kennedys 1980 address to the Democratic National Convention. Although Depoe notes the failure of Kennedys attempt to garner support for specific polic ies which would recreate past conditions in the present and future (186) Kennedy nonethele ss succeeded in inviting his audience to share in the nostalgic remembra nce of liberal policies and pers onalities of the past (183). Depoes essay points out the ways in which nostalgic rhetorical appeals perform a therapeutic function when the speaker attempts to stimulate nostalgic reminiscing in an audience in order to reduce anxi ety and to strengthen group id entity and cohesion (185). He concludes, that the rela tionship which a community form s towards its past directly influences its decisions in the present (187). Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we rarely let go of the past or the individuals who fill it. Steven Goldzwig and Patricia Sullivan examine the ways in which print media help the American public cope with the as sassinations of both politicians, and social movement leaders. They argue that print media perform a
32 therapeutic communication func tion in which the newspaper editorial eulogy is an enduring mass-mediated rhetorical vehicle that continues to help us cope with the loss of national public figures (126). Print media engage in both epideictic and deliberative rhetoric in order to heal breaches in th e moral order and in the political order following assassinations (141). Furthermore, t he news editorials seem to mount efforts to assuage both the sense of communal guilt and the lingering fears over the future of the republic (141). Goldzwig and Sullivan see the newspaper editorial eulogy as a significant form of therapy in an age do minated by electronic communication (142). An electronic medium such as televisi on can also serve a therapeutic function according to Leah Vande Berg. Vande Berg examines televised commemorations of the J.F.K. assassination as pilgrimages social me mbers take via media. According to Vande Berg these pilgrimages are therapeutic in nature. They allow the public to both remember the slain president as well as th e better times he represented. Journalisms living room pilgrimages recreate or perhap s just perpetuate a self-serving ongoing national need for redressive, therapeutic mechanisms through which the communitas and Camelot can be restored (62). Vande Bergs study shows the ways in which media can perform a therapeutic communi cation function by allowing the public a means of redress through memory (48). Film also serves as a medium for therapeutic communication. It can help individuals cope with the past as well as the present as Da vid Payne illustrates. Payne critiques the therapeutic rhetoric of The Wizard of Oz He notes the ways in which its rhetoric formulates situati ons and problems for characters and audiences, and shows how characters succeed or fail in the solutio ns they adopt (The Wizard of Oz 28).
33 According to Payne, texts can influence the way an audience member sees the world or sees his or her individual position in and problems with the world (29). The films rhetoric provides audiences with an unders tanding of how young gi rls become women, of how cowardly lions become men, so that view ers can cope with failure and survive and the ups and downs of their ow n lives. Payne writes of The Wizard of Oz : The entire film can be viewed as a therapeutic episode wherein a typical adolescent feeling of alienation from adu lts becomes the prelude to an experience and treatment of adult transformati on. The narrative experience vents the adolescent desire for adve nture and adult power. Yet does so safely with the assurance of success. (32) In short, it makes us feel good about ourselves and more optimistic about our lives, thus providing a much desired curative for the individuals of our culture (38). Rhetoric and the Rhetor It is possible that as much could be said about the ego function of protest rhetoric. This aspect of protest rhetoric remained ignored until Richard Gregg brought it to the attention of rhetorical scholars. In his essay Gregg notes the failure of rhetorical scholars to examine the ego function of rhetoric ( 71). Scholars concerns with the pragmatic functions of discourse as a means for speakers to gain the adherence of listeners to their requests/demands, may cause scho lars to ignore the possibil ity that the primary appeal of the rhetoric of protest is to the protestors themselves, who feel the need for psychological refurbishing and affirmation (74). Gregg contends that rhetorical scholars assumptions that protest rhetoric needs to be rational is false (89). In focusing
34 on the ego-function of rhetoric, Gregg states th at it seems to thwart the idealized kind of problem discussion we like to see on the publ ic stage (85). Instead, protestors often engage in ego-building rhetoric that affirms the identity of not only an individual rhetor but also those to whom he or she may act as a surrogate thus accomplishing the ego identification of a number of selves (75) Although Greggs focus on the ego-building function of rhetoric sheds li ght on the therapeutic functions of rhetoric, Aaron Greeson challenges his assumption that protest rhetoric is irrational. Aaron Greeson illustrates the failure of rhetorical critics to fully account for the significance of protest rh etoric. Many critics dismissed pr otest rhetoric as irrational when it deviated from accepted conventions. Richard Gregg later argued that protest rhetoric could perform an ego-function even if it wa s irrational. Greeson finds fault in both these positions noting th at protest rhetoric often has a lo gic of its own, one that is meant to disrupt conventional standa rds of knowledge and rationalit y. Protest rhetoric often aims to achieve group formation for the subordinated (othered) individuals, to give them a different epistemology from that of th e oppressor group, and potentially achieve a dialogue with the oppressor group/system on ce subordinated individuals have created their own group/system. Rhetorical critics ha ve generally been unable to see this logic because their own ethnocentric vision impedes recognition of th e rhetors inner logic (Minority Epistemology 254). Greeson attemp ts to give critics a means for asking questions which acknowledge the po ssibility of a micro-systemic logic (254) that differs from the macro-systemic pers pective on the acceptable form of protest (254) most critics share.
35 Therapeutic Rhetoric and Kenneth Burke Some critics however have recognized the rhetors inner logic and what rhetoric could do not only for addressed others but al so for the addressed self. Kenneth Burke observed that rhetoric could ha ve an influence on the rhetor and in so doing serve as equipment for living ( The Philosophy of Literary Form 293). Burkes work, Counterstatement contains a series of essays that are fruitful in understanding literature as equipment for living. In his essay Thr ee Adepts of Pure Literature Burkes purpose is to make an argument about the prospects fo r pure literature through a discussion of the Flaubert, Pater, and De Gourmont. Yet a singl e sentence stands out for me as a marker of Burkes developing ideas about therapeutic rhet oric. In his discussion of De Gourmont, Burke writes An author who lives most of his life in his head must perform his transgressions on paper (24). Burke will elaborate on this idea in A Rhetoric of Motives but here in one sentence we find the seed of a great idea. Burke implies that there is a difference between De Gourmonts life, a nd the lives he lived on paper through his fiction. Nevertheless, De Gourmonts ficti on provided him with equipment for living. Burke points up the idea that it is possible for one to live th rough art, especially art of ones own making. We can be different people for better or for worse. We can lead different lives that may be quite different than those we expe rience in the real world. Literature can function as a virtual reality that may in fact be just as dear to some as the one inhabited by creatures of flesh and blood. In Burkes essay Psychology and Form he notes that form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite (31). Burke is providing his idea of what a work of art should do, but in doing so he is also
36 telling us what a rhetor should do. If rhetoric can inform, persuade, or please, then in this case there is a focus on the latter. Pleasure, which is therapeutic, is connected to the use of the right form in art. Yet even in the course of persuading an audience we would still use a similar form as Monroes Motivated Sequence suggests. In either case what is most notable is that rhetoric works on indivi duals on some level whethe r it gets us to feel something, or to do something. Deriving either pleasure, or a means to act in the world, both constitute equipment for living whether we are bohemians or activists. Furthermore, Burke notes The method most natural to th e psychology of form is eloquence (37), and eloquence is a sign of good rhetoric whether pleasing or persuasive. Burke goes further than this in stat ing that because form and eloquence are synonymous, eloquence thereby becomes the esse nce of art . in short all of the emotions we experience in life proper as nonartists, are simply the material on which eloquence may feed (40-41). Art, at least in the great periods when it has flowered, was the conversion or transcendence, of emo tion into eloquence, and was thus a factor added to life (41). Burke shows us that th ere is not only a linkage between art and life, but also that art adds something to life. Rhetoric, then, is therapeutic; it adds someth ing of value to life. It allows us to confront life, and in good times to enjoy life. Literature can provi de us with equipment for living ( The Philosophy of Literary Form 293) as it enables us to size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspond ingly various attitudes (304). In short, Everything is medicine (293) and rhetor ic is the medicine we symbol-using animals devise to help us get through lif e. A man can be his own audience, insofar as he, even in
37 his secret thoughts, cultivates ideas or images for the effects he hopes they may have upon him . . ( A Rhetoric of Motives 38). Therapeutic Rhetoric and Race The potential relationship between therap eutic rhetoric and race remains for the most part unexplored. Though individuals such as Richard Gregg note the ego-function of protest rhetoric, Aaron Gr eeson is a pioneer in exploring the therapeutic aspects of rhetoric for members of a raci al minority group. In his work The Dialectics of Betrayal Aaron Greeson examines the ways in which so cially oppressed groups articulate rhetorics of betrayal. He defines betr ayal as a unilateral breaking of faith, oneness, affinity or trust with one another (viii). The broken bonds he writes about in hi s case studies deal with gender and class solidarity among black s. These case studies illustrate the problems of sacrifice and viol ation of sacrifice (spoiled s acrifice) among the socially oppressed (viii). According to Greeson, breaks in a sh ared firstness code and a shared societal/secondness code lead members of socially oppressed groups to articulate rhetorics of betrayal. The shared firstness c ode asks that minorities as individuals make sacrifices for the socially oppressed group. Individual advancement should be concomitant with group advancement and should not take precedence over it. The shared societal/secondness code pertains to the expectation (in more or less democratic/egalitarian societies) that just ice and fairness will reign in an admittedly unequal situation (14). The pr oblem is that neither the sh ared firstness code nor the shared societal/secondness code is ever adhered to by all members of the minority or
38 majority group. This results in a paradox of liberation for members of minority groups as the individual is expected/and frequently de sires) to attain his personal liberation and that of the oppressed collect ivity but finds that intracoll ectivity and external forces combine to render this goal conflictive if not virtually impossible (18). The tension between these expectations resu lts in assertions of betrayal when the individual is believed to ha ve placed his or her own advancement ahead of the groups advancement. Other individuals come to be lieve that their attempt at sacrifice is therefore spoiled. Spoiled sacr ifice engenders negative reacti ons toward an individual or group. The two examples Greeson notes are black mens apparent betrayal of black women, and black academics who place the im portance of class before race in discussions of black advancement in U.S. society. Greesons study of sacrifice and spoiled s acrifice is useful in understanding how socially oppressed groups both conc eptualize and articulate failur e. Rhetorics of betrayal in regard to gender and class both have root s in failures stemming from the civil rights movement. The paradox of liberation, when applied to both gender and class, helps to illuminate current discussions of failure in the post-civil rights era. Since the civil rights movement both black s and whites have engaged in recovery rhetorics. In his work The Recovery of Race in America Greeson subsumes rhetorics of betrayal, consolation, failure, and self-healing under then umbrella term recovery rhetorics. He defines recovery rh etorics as those that illustrate: (1) A motive to recover something perceived as lost through viol ation, failure or betrayal.
39 (2) The use of narrative to describe a disc overy with inferred relevance for both ones own and the others ability to deal better with duplicity and uncertainty, and an implicit invitation to identify with and accept the liberative powers of that discovery. (5) The specific losses and narratives he explores are white Americans loss of moral hegemony and Black Americans loss of the my th of racial homoge neity (ix). I will focus on the second narrative, Black Americans loss of the myth of racial homogeneity as it is germane to my study. Greeson argues that the racial bond between black men and women was weakened following the civil ri ghts movement. The primary culprits for this occurrence were black male sexism and racial contradictions (45). Greeson asserts that black male abandonment of black women was made possibl e via a rhetoric of personal choice. This rhetoric dramatized contradictions in interracial intimacy and undermined the ideology of Black liberation and its Black is beautiful rhet oric (45). Greeson faults black men for not remaining loyal to black women. Much of his work focuses on the responses of black women to this weakened sense of solidarity. The problem I have with Greesons book is that in the name of the collective he rejects individualism. Accord ing to Greeson, Black use of personal-choice rhetoric led to a violation of essentialist ideologies pr omoting racial identity and collusion (45). Furthermore, the pursuit of self-interest encourages a neglect of historically real collective oppression in the raci al, economic, and political sphe res (46). Greeson faults individuals for violating e ssentialist ideologies that in many ways supported the collective bond he seeks to repair. He posits historical oppression as more important
40 than present opportunity. The reason for this is that he believes it is more difficult to move from the racial group to the dominant group on equal terms if the groups have yet to reach collective parity ( 96). Therefore, from Grees ons perspective, individual attempts at advancement will most likely result in failure, and/or betrayal of the racial group. Greesons focus on black recovery rhetoric amounts to a series of laments on the part of black women over black male failures. Black men are castigated and exist only as subjects to explain black women s choices to seek interracial relationships as well. These black women no longer choose to remain loyal to a racial bond that is already broken. What is interesting is that Greeson finds fau lt with black womens narratives as much as he does with black mens rhetoric of persona l choice. The only thing that would satisfy Greeson is a reconstruction of the racial bond that he believes once existed. According to him, The old stories have lost their power to unify and transcend the differences of tribe and temperament. The journey is not quite over. In fact, we may need a new middle passage; a new basis for kinship and mutual care (33). Greesons study of recovery rhetoric is itself a form of recovery rhetoric. Greesons study led him to understand recove ry rhetoric in terms of topoi. His use of topoi confirms the logic of commonplace themes to which individuals will turn to as they create narratives in response to a rhetorical situat ion. Greeson conceptualized his book as a rhetorical study of lo ss and recovery (ix). This lo ss is indicative of failure and the topoi allow individuals to engage in a recovery project. Recovery projects provide people with ways of being relate d and connected to something and someone
41 larger than I or me (3). The topoi of recovery rhetoric: myth, messianism, magic, and mysticism, accomplish this goal. In Coping with Failure, David Payne argued for a ther apeutic rhetoric in which themes of consolation and compensation, along with various topoi, accounted for potential responses to failur e. The topoi of recovery rhetoric Greeson posited are different from those Payne conceptualized, but display elements of Paynes self-society, past-future, and spiritual-m aterial topoi. The differen ce between Greesons topoi and Paynes is that the latter di splay dialectical relationships whereas Greesons topoi: myth, messianism, magic, and mysticism, stand alone. Yet within each of these single topoi the dialectical relationship of Paynes topoi is apparent. According to Greeson: Myth focuses on past collective collusi on as the basis for persuasive images. Racial myths focus on stories and char acters that somehow keep the dream alive. Messianism focuses on a shared legacy of obligation to continue caring for the Other(s) is the basis for this topos. Hero ic delivery from the enemy is the central theme. Magic focuses on fantasized, shared (m ythological) formulas as the keys to controlling the Other. Magic occurs during and around the archetypal journey back to the past and the use of routinized practices to achieve wholeness. Mysticism focuses on a privatized non-shared vision of the (possible) future as a rational for action. Here the privatized vision reigns, and ones persuasiveness inheres in quickening that force within each of us that understands that life and I could, may, and shall be Other. From this view, mysticism is a kind of
42 privatized magic: You may not know my way of flying, but you can conjure up your own experience of flying (195) Myth, messianism, and magic operate as stra tegies of consolation, emphasizing the past, the Other (society), and the sp iritual. Mysticism operates as a strategy of compensation with its focus on the self and the future. The topoi of recovery rhetoric draw upon elements of the topoi of failure. The loss from which one seeks to recover is proof of failure. Nevertheless, disagreement exists regarding how we can best understand failure and therapeutic rhetoric. In her book Control and Consolation in American Culture and Politics Dana Cloud offers a critique of Paynes work on th e therapeutic uses of rhetoric. She notes that Paynes work argued that individua ls employ themes of compensation and consolation, in order to deal with perceived failures that threaten their identities. Furthermore, she notes his argument that t he strategic deployment of these themes allowed the renegotiation of the persons rela tionship with society (3). Her critique begins with the observation that Paynes work, provides neither a critique of this process nor a discussion of the ways in which thera py can function as a rhetoric that exhorts conformity with the prevailing social order (3). Yet these are th e goals of Clouds study rather than those Payne set out to achieve. Paynes work set out to illustrate the ther apeutic uses of rhetoric in instances in which individuals sought to cope with failure. He laid out a framework for examining discourse based on his observati ons that individuals resort to rhetorical strategies of compensation and consolation, along with various topoi that are dial ectical in nature: self-society, past-future, spirit ual-material. His goal was to provide us with a theory of
43 rhetoric that would explain how individuals dealt with rh etorical situations they experience as failure. Clouds work shows th e possibilities inherent in Paynes work when combined with a study of therapeutic rhetorics function in a class system. My own study illustrates two possibilities inherent in using Paynes ideas of compensation and consolation along with his three pairs of topoi: self-society, pastfuture, and spiritual material, as a means to rhetorically critique discourse on race. According to Payne, When communication is aimed at performing some sort of remedy or therapy for failure, the primary purpose of that communi cation is rhetorical and can have one or both of two basic functions: to console and/or to open the way for compensation ( Therapeutic Uses of Rhetoric 42). Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robins ons responses to failure in the post-civil rights era fit this description, as these them es are inherent in their persuasive coping strategies. Payne noted in th e conclusion of his book that wh en coping with failure, the methods of such persuasion are finite a nd systematic, not infinitely various nor idiosyncratic (155). I use Paynes conclusi on as a starting point for my own analysis, employing his themes of consolation and compensation, along with his topoi: selfsociety, past-future, and spiritua l-material, to uncover the rhetor ical strategies that Steele, Bell, and Robinson use in their texts. These texts help both authors and readers to cope with the failure. I contend that Paynes topoi will provide a new understanding of how the rhetoric of race operates in the post-civil rights era.
44 I rely on Paynes descriptions of consolation and compensation, as well as the topoi, to structure my own read ing and critiques. Payne wrot e in regard to consolation that: Rhetoric can console someone for a loss of hardship for which there is no real remedy. Consolation occurs when some sort of comfort is accept ed in the form of a substitute for what has been lost . To console is to persuade to a different order of valuations wherein a new pers pective on the loss is possible. In consolation, loss is neither denied nor er ased. Consolation minimizes and diverts attention from loss and painful consequences (42). Using Paynes description the follo wing facets of consolation emerge. 1. There is a loss or hardsh ip that is without remedy. 2. Comfort comes from substituting for what has been lost. 3. Individuals are encouraged to see their loss in a new light through a different order of valuations. 4. In keeping with attempts at substitu tion, and transcendence, attempts are made to minimize or divert attenti on for loss and painful consequences (42). According to Payne, compensation works in a different way. By contrast, when one compensates, one trie s to balance things, to get even, to find another way to achieve the original goa l or something like them or perhaps to set and gain even better goals. Compen sation also can involve substitution, but the substitute is assumed to be equal to or greater than the thing originally sought (42).
45 Using Paynes description the following facets of compensation emerge: 1. Individuals do not give up on success. They either attempt to reach their original goal via a different path, or they set a new goal of equal or higher value. 2. Substitution can take place, but the substitute should be of equal or greater value than the thing originally sought (42). It is possible then, to draw distinctions between consolation and compensation in response to failure. Still it is noteworthy that Payne observe d, The same basic failure can call forth both compensation and consolation and require different interpretations of the same data (45). These two rhetorical strategies are the primary means in which individuals attempt to cope with failure, and these strategies are evident in each text I examine. Yet it is possible for a text to illu strate both consolat ion and compensation strategies. According to Payne the distinction between the tw o approaches to failure is clear, but it is impossible to find any pure exam ples of either proce ss (43). The reason for this is that: Consolation and compensation are concomita nt functions in most episodes of managing failure. They are dialectically re lated as the logic of failure dictates. Rhetorically they are two different postur es toward an interpretation of failure. The two postures may, of course, be take n at different times and in different situations addressing the same failure (43).
46 Though it is possible to draw distinctions between the tw o approaches, they are not always entirely separate. In some in stances, consolation provides a means to compensation in order to provide a complete fr amework for dealing with failure (152). Payne also found that a dial ectical relationship existed between the topoi: selfsociety, past-future, and spiritua l-material that enabled individuals to cope with failure. To make use of the topoi as a means to understanding consolation and compensation Payne wrote, In its purest form, consol ation involves making discourse that emphasizes social value over personal loss, conditions and cau ses of the past over present failing, and spiritual meanings or orientations ove r material losses. In its purest form, compensatory discourse stresses self-directed involvements or motives, future consequences or opportunities, and mate rial values and orientations. (45) Using these distinctions, I examine seve ral works looking at the ways in which various topoi allow rhetors to construct th erapeutic rhetorics of consolation and/or compensation in response to failure. I engage in multiple readings of each text in order to understand the rhetorical strate gies employed on both macro and micro levels. Macro in this instance refers to the rhetorical structure or trajectory of an enti re work. Micro refers to the shape of a specific chapter or passage I follow Paynes example, by using quotes from the text in conjunction with my own crit ique to illustrate a nd bolster my arguments about the persuasive strategies employed in each text. In Chapter Three I critique the rh etoric of Shelby Steele in his works The Content of Our Character and A Dream Deferred I note the ways in which Steele constructs a rhetoric of compensation that urges blacks to change themselves in the interests of
47 American society. The compensation for giving up their identification as blacks is the attainment of an identity as Americans. Steele suggests that when blacks lessen their racial identification it will be easier to ach ieve a national identification that they will share with whites. For Steele, this change constitutes both a progressive and necessary move that was not taken afte r the civil rights movement. In Chapter Four I critique the rhetoric of Derrick Bell in his works And We Are Not Saved and Faces at the Bottom of the Well I note the ways in which Bell constructs a rhetoric of consolation as a means to console blacks for past, present, and future failures. Bell depicts racism as a permanent feature of American society, and the theme of repeated injustice runs throughout his wo rks. Bells belief that the past is determinative of both the present and the future makes change impossible. Unable to see avenues for compensation, Bell consoles bot h himself and black readers with an understanding that failure is inevitable. In Chapter Five I critique the rhet oric of Randall Robinson in his works The Debt and The Reckoning I note the ways in which Robi nson constructs a rhetoric of both consolation and compensation for blacks. Robinson aims to achieve consolation for blacks via inclusion of blacks role in the shaping of Americ an history and culture within the nations memorials. Inclusion within national memorials woul d provide consolation for the African heritage and traditions lost due to slavery. Robinson also attempts to achieve compensation for blacks as an advocate of monetary reparations for slavery. Yet even without monetary reparations, consolati on for spiritual poverty will according to Robinson, have material consequences. Robins on suggests that the spiritual benefit of recognition in the nations monuments will en able blacks to achieve economic, social,
48 and political parity with whites, thus achie ving a measure of compensation for what was lost due to slavery and segregation. In the concluding chapter I provide the read er with an overall summary of what I have found from my examination of each author s work. This summary brings together my discussion of the authors and their work s in a way that show s how consolation and compensation, along with the topoi, are repres ented on a macro level. The concluding chapter contains my findings and thoughts on how these rhetors have attempted to cope with actual or perceived failure in the post-ci vil rights era, the cont ributions this study makes to our understanding of the how the mo tif of failure operat es in contemporary discourse on race, and the utility of Paynes topo i in the critique of this discourse. It also points to the need for future studies of the connection between ther apeutic rhetoric and race discourse, along with the connection of therapeutic rhetoric to other types of discourse regarding gender, sexua l orientation, and disabilities.
49 Chapter Three The Self-Society Topos in Shelby Steeles The Content of Our Character and A Dream Deferred As David Payne notes in his examination of various texts that utilize the selfsociety topos, rhetors often tr eat the broadly defined failure as one that requires personal adaptation (Coping with Failure 68). In this chapter I will show how Steeles work supports this observation in that black selves are asked to change in the interests of restoring harmony to society. According to Payne social problems are solved by individuals acts of purificati on, without challenging the fact that society holds priority over the self (68). Yet I argue that in Steeles rhetoric this holds true for blacks more than it does for whites. Steeles rhetoric implies distinctions be tween different selves. He posits a normal or ideal relationship that exists between self and society that I suggest applies to whites in relation to society. Whites are not asked to sacr ifice themselves for the benefit of society. The story as I will illustrate, however, is di fferent with blacks. Blacks are asked to sacrifice their identity as blacks for the sake of society. This stems from the fact that Steele sees the idea of race as un-American because a healthy democracy is always at war with race ( A Dream Deferred 106). His solution to the problem he believes race represents is to ask blacks to transcend race in a way that whites are not asked to do. In Steeles rhetoric, class becomes more meaningful to individual blacks than racial identity,
50 and it is this shift in perspective that he urges blacks to make. Steele advocates a personal adaptation that he sees as n ecessary for creating harmony in society. My second point is that wh ereas Payne notes that aut hors such as Toffler and Skinner follow typical apo calyptic strategies: [that] forecast doom as a way of motivating changes in the presen t (75), I argue that Steele takes a different approach. Steele implies that for Americans the apo calypse has already ha ppened because they failed to preserve the essence of democracy, wh ich he sees as equali ty under the law for individuals rather than for groups. David Payne observes that fo r B.F. Skinner all human failures are traced to the overarching cause of individualism (75). In contrast, I illustrate how in Steeles discourse a lack of individualism is the problem among blacks, and that Steele views society as partly to blame because of its focus on the need for group rights in recent decades. Equality between individuals is pitted against the notion of equality among groups. For Steele, this occu rrence is a sign not that the apocalypse will happen, but rather that it already has happened. A Rhetoric of Personal Adaptation Steele feels a tension between himself and soci ety that he must attempt to resolve. As a black man in America in th e post-civil rights era he is trapped within the confines of a balance of power between the races that se ttled things down a bit after the turbulent sixties ( The Content of Our Character x). That balance of power depends on a sacrifice of self, of the individual, for the sake of society. As an American Steele must acquiesce to public discussions of the ra ce issue that [have] become vi rtually choreographed (ix). As a black person he is expected to speak in terms of racial entitlement . . (ix). What
51 Steele seeks to reclaim is a sense of himself rather than suffer the public/private racial split (x) of his divided self. Steeles attempt to reconcile self and society requires, from his perspective, that he both remember and forget his blackness in order to search out the human universals that explain the racial specifics (xi). Steele argues that both blacks and whites are trapped in a power game in which innocence is power (5). The uneasy subject of race looms over us with such force that the very mention of it sinks us into one of those shaming silences where eye contact terrorizes (2). The reason for this, according to Steele, is that ra ces are not just races but competing power groups (4). In their battle for power both races instinctively understand that to lose innocence is to lose pow er (in relation to each other) (6). Steele views this zero-sum game as detrimental to our society because between groups power defines their relations, and pow er requires innocence, which in turn, requires racism and racial division (6). What Steele seeks is a new way of being that will transform both the individual and society. In a sense, Steele s eeks to reassert the i ndividual in society in opposition to the groupthink dynamics that he believes have corrupted it. When we relinquish our need to see for innocence or use others as a means to our own goodness and superiority (8) we will become better peopl e and society will be better as a result. Steeles work is admittedly a revolt agains t the black power movement of the late sixties and the seventies. His revolt is agains t a collective black identity that told [him] virtually nothing about who [he] was as an in dividual or how [he] might live in the world as [himself] (167). This collective black iden tity is a subject of Steeles work because it is still prevalent today. Steel e asserts that both individual blacks and society as a whole are impoverished by a continuing focus on di scrimination against blacks rather than
52 opportunity for blacks (169). The collective identity of blacks is one that sees them as victims at war within society (169). It f ogs up the sacred line between the individual and the collective (171). He argues that in order to retrieve our individuality and find opportunity, blacks today must consciously or unconsciouslydisregard the prevailing victim-focused black identity (172). Success for blacks will come only through individual effort within the mainstreamas our means of advancement (173). Steele urges blacks to create a new identity [thr ough] a meeting of black individual initiative and American possibility (174). The compensation for blacks in losing their African identity is an American one. Rather than live as divided selves, as hyphe nated Americans, Steele urges blacks to simply become Americans. He sees the prob lem not as one of mainstream white society accepting blacks, but as one of blacks willi ngness to accept and become a part of mainstream white society. Becoming a pa rt of the system, Steele suggests, would alleviate the need to challenge the system a nd more importantly, lesse n the possibility of being victimized by the system. There is in Steeles mind, a system at work, one that cannot be overcome; it can only be joined. From his perspective, games of racial politics, point and counterpoint, attack and feint, will only lead to more hardship for blacks. It is interesting to note that Steeles new vision of race in America relies heavily on blacks willingness to de-emphasize the impact of race in their lives. Almost magically, Steele implies, this would lead other Americans to de-emphasize the importance of race in their relations with blacks. What is being discussed here is a problem of identification as Kenneth Burke describes it in a Rhetoric of Motives For whites to identify with blacks, blacks must lessen their identification as black s. Furthermore, blacks must lessen their
53 collective identification with other blacks and allow for the possibility that individually they may have more in common with whites. Steele suggests that the only way for black s to identify more with whites is to change themselves and their outlook on society. Contrary to conventional notions of the race problem, or the problem of the colo r line to use Du Boiss phrasing in The Souls of Black Folk Steele situates the root of the problem within blacks rather than whites. Du Bois, among others, argued that changes in society would occur when whites relinquished the racist within. Steele in contrast, argues that in the postcivil rights era it is blacks who must relinquish their conception of the white racist without. Bl acks belief in the external presence and power of white racism leads them to take on postures of continual accusation toward whites. Steele uses numerous examples to make this point and to reiterate the need for changes within black selves as a means to soci etal change. In one example, Steele recalls a gathering of successful middle class people at a dinner party. The host of the party is white as are many of the guests. Two of th e guests, Steele and a man described only as a black engineer, are the sole minorities to integrate the group (1). Steele uses the setting to illustrate that th e presence of two black men (i n a non-serving capacity) among a host of whites is a sign of societal change, or at least the attit udes of some whites. Nevertheless, Steele also uses the occasion to point out the lack of change among blacks in the post-civil rights era. The black engineer is a repres entative figure, a stand-in for the new black middle class, among whom indivi duals like Steele ar e perceived to be a minority. Were it not for the perceived minority status of individuals like himself within a black minority, Steele would have little cause for his book. His book, however, is an
54 attempt to confront individuals, such as th e black engineer, who represent to him the militant postures of the late sixties and the seventies. Steele notes the abrupt entrance of race into the dinner conversation out of now here when the engineer confides to the group, with a coloring accusation in his voice, that [he] didnt realize [his] ambition would pull [him] into a world where [his] da ughter would lose touch with her blackness (1). Steele said nothing in response to th e statement, and the onl y response came from the partys hostess who replied, Oh, Im sure shell be just fine (2). Steeles silence, his adherence to the code of racial solidarity, bothered him so much that he eventually felt compelled to write a book. In it he would respond to not only the black engineer but also the presumed majority of blacks who shared the engineers viewpoints. Steel e as an individual would c onfront blacks as a group, and argue for the primacy of the indivi dual in social relations. In The Content of Our Character, Steele seeks not only to red eem himself for his silence, but also to justify his own position in society. If the black engineer is correct in his assertion that integration led to a loss of blackness, then Steele is somehow less black and the whites he associates with are less accepting of difference than he believes them to be. Rather than accept this conclusion about the broader society, Steel e focuses on the black minority and its own unwillingness to accept diffe rences within the group. A second example illustrates the extent to which groupthink among blacks begins in childhood, coloring their re lations with whites and the ability of blacks to see differences between them. In the example, St eele recalls his need to see racism in the acts of a childhood friends uncle. The young boy told Steele that his uncle was a racist and from that moment on Steele saw racism in each of the uncles actions, even
55 those that displayed civilit y. According to Steele, even kindness could be dismissed because evil could be sly as well, could smile when it wanted to trick you (7). As a twelve-year-old boy, Steele had already learned to focus on the externalization of racism and racist actions. As an adu lt, he indicts this early versi on of himself, and many blacks, for failing to judge people (especially whites) by the content of their character. Instead Steele believes that many blacks approach whites with an expectation of racism that is itself a form of the social disease he seeks to cure. Steele believes that an overemphasis on race is detrimental for blacks. On the one hand, blacks are likely to see blackness as a ba dge of superiority. Bl acks are said to be more humane, soulful, earthy, and spiritual than whites (65). On the other hand, blacks may also use blackness as a badge of inferiorit y. In a society that prides itself on the ideal of equality, the unequal tr eatment of blacks in relation to whites is an historical fact. Nevertheless, Steele argues that in the postcivil rights era blacks claim more racial victimization than we have act ually endured to deal with pr esent day feelings of black vulnerability (67). Both claims of superiority and inferiority as a result of victimization are compensatory strategies. Steele notes that soulfulness is viewed as a far more important area of superiority th an those of other races (63) despite the fact that it has very little to do with success in the American mainstream ( 64). Victimization is used as the basis for demanding concessions from government, industry, and society at large while demanding very little from blacks them selves (68). Black interactions with mainstream society become dramas acted out between them and us. As a result, Steele believes that conformity among blacks becomes normative, and that those blacks who resist the collective identity in favor of individuality are excommunicated from the group.
56 The need for individuality is paramount in Steeles work. According to Steele, The most dangerous threat to black identity is not the racism of white society (this [for Steele] actually confirms the black identity), but the black who insists on his or her own individuality (72). What Stee les rhetoric implies is that the balance between self and society can only by restored when blacks are able to claim their selfhood in society. Rather than exist as a group in opposition to society, blacks must become individuals within society. This can only occur when blacks are excommunicated from the group. Excommunication from the group will only come when individual blacks have relinquished the groupthink that lies within them. Racism, once again, is posited as less a problem of whites in society, and more a pr oblem of blacks who have yet to become a part of society. Steele suggests that oppression conditions people away from all the values and attitudes one needs in freedo mindividual initiative, self-interested hardwork, individual responsib ility, delayed gratificati on, and so on (68-69). The problem from Steeles pe rspective is not societal, but at its core, individual. In order to change societal attitudes to wards blacks, blacks must change their own attitudes regarding themselves as individuals. For some time, groups of blacks have had the power to excommunicate individuals from the race. Now Steele asserts that freedom for blacks lies in the willingness of indivi dual blacks to excomm unicate the notion of blacks as a race, and the groupthink that sust ains it. In order to find themselves, individual blacks must willingly walk into the desert and away from the captivity of cohesion. Blacks must remember that molecules are still composed of atoms. It is difficult for blacks to remember th at they are individuals when society as a whole, and in particular, white society, has a tendency to treat blacks as an homogenous
57 group. Steele notes that the civil rights movement forced whites to acknowledge their complicity in a system of exploitation in wh ich blacks as a group were treated unfairly. Yet rather than undergo the hardwork of re-structuring society so that blacks as individuals could advance in society, Steele argues that whites created group-based programs that have tended to give blacks special entitlements that are of no use because we lack the development that would put us in a position to take advantage of them (80). This has allowed whites to ease their own racial guilt while achieving the look of redemption (85). Unfortunately for blacks, bounty from another mans guilt only weakens (80). Rather than being empowere d, blacks become passive recipients of white largesse with an unspoken doubt about our abil ity to compete that is covered over by a preoccupation with racial discrimination (90). Steele sees himself and other middle class blacks as trapped within the confines of a race/class dialectic. To identify as black s they must deny their middle class status, and vice versa. Steele blames the black militancy of the sixties for creating this duality of identity in the post-civil rights era. He write s, The inner compatibil ity of class and race I had known in 1960 was gone (100). Steele ad mits that as a child, the black middle class values he was taught were in fact t he values of middle class whites (101). The black middle class was defined in favor of mi ddle class whites, and in contrast to lower class blacks. Yet the 1960s created a society of victims and victimiz ers, in which poor blacks became the real black [he] was expect ed to identify with (100). This is the situation that Steele seeks to reverse in the pos t-civil rights era. Stee le seeks to assert the primacy of class over race, and the primacy of the individual ov er the collective in contrast to authors su ch as bell hooks in Where We Stand: Class Matters and Jennifer
58 Hochschild in Facing Up to the America Dream: Ra ce, Class and the Soul of the Nation both of whom seek a middle ground. For Steele, to identify with poor blacks is to reject the value system of hard wor k, education, individual initiative, stable family life, [and] property ownership instilled in him since childho od (108). It is to side against the laws of advancement in American society (108). Steele sides so heavily in favor of class that he rejects Du Boiss notion of the talented tenth. He sees himself, not as a de btor to the race, but rather as someone who has paid the price of middle class status. St eele regards the mandate to reach back as more akin to reaching back from a moving train to lift on board those who have no tickets (108). He expresses resentment to ward individuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West, who in The Future of the Race echo Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth in the post-civil rights era. According to Steele, they act as though middle-class status was an unearned and essentially passive condi tion in which one needed a large measure of noblesse oblige to occupy ones time (108). Rather than greater identification with the black lower class, Steele seeks less identification. He implies that if anything, the black lower class ought to identify more with the black middle class, just as middle class blacks historically identified with the white middle class (108-109). Forced downw ard identification among the black middle class (109) is a trap that may explain the failure of the talented tenth to make the most of its position. In a sense, St eele argues that you cannot help anyone else if you have not helped yourself first. The altruistic ideals Du Bois sought to in culcate in middle cla ss blacks are part of the problem. Steele argues that downward identification is detrimental to middle class
59 blacks and that their salvation lies within th eir class status rather than their racial identification (109). This is a rebuttal to bot h Du Boiss notion of the talented tenth, and those such as West, who continue to preach the sermon today. According to Steele, individuals at the top cannot sa ve those at the bottom by joini ng them. Du Bois and West note the black middle classes refusal to do so. Du Bois eventually gave up on the idea and began preaching to the proletariat masses, seeing them as the races salvation. West, as a member of the talented tenth, clings to the idea of salvation from above, yet in his book Race Matters he has little to offer other than jeremiads and laments about black middle class hedonism, and lower class nihilism. Steele sees salvation as originating neither from above nor from below but from where one is standing. Individual initiative, hard work, and education in Steeles word s are laws of advancement [that] apply absolutely to black Americans also (108). A Rhetoric of the Apocalypse Steele puts the issue of affirmative action on the table because it engenders a discussion of individual initiative, hard work, and education. Here the laws of advancement in America are put to the test and found wanting. Society in the name of creating diversity and addressing injustices of the past has created a quagmire in the present. Steele argues that white guilt and bl ack power conspired to create a situation in which individuals are judged on the basis of sk in color rather than character. According to Steele, this amounts to a wholesale retreat from the values that inspired civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Ra ther than aid the advancement of individual
60 blacks in society, our society aggregates individuals in to one group, blacks, and treats them according to a prescribed formula. The problem with this formula from Steele s perspective is that it hinders blacks more than it helps them. I ndividual initiative, hard wor k, and education are deemed less important than membership in a given group. As blacks, individuals are subjected to a Faustian bargain (111) in whic h the assertion of racial inferi ority leads to preference in the form of affirmative action. Standards are lowered, and the laws of advancement (108) in American society beco me null and void in the name of creating diversity as an end through improper means. In this case the problem for in dividual blacks begins with society. White guilt and black power commingle in the mainstream to create an atmosphere oppressive to indivi dual initiative. According to Steele, blacks now stand to lose more from it [affirmative action] than they gain (113). The price of the ticket, in contrast to James Baldwins work by the same name, is self-doubt and continued racial discrimination. Steele notes that racial representation is not the same thing as racial development (116) and as a result advancement among blacks has not achieved parity with whites. Campus populations appear diverse, but graduation rates for blacks remain lower (116) Those blacks who do graduate meet with a glass ceiling in the workplace as affirm ative action implicitly marks whites with an exaggerated superiority . . just as it marks blacks with an exaggerated inferiority (120). Throughout his work Steele argues that changes among blacks will result in changes within white society. In his discussion of affirmativ e action, Steele maintains his thesis yet shifts his emphasis to the societal factors preventing blacks from developing as
61 individual selves. A preoccupation with group rights, among blacks, and group guilt among whites, stifles black initia tive. Steele believes that af firmative action operates as a barrier to the advancement of black selves in society. Sin ce affirmative action yields a perceived advantage for blacks, many blacks su pport it despite apparent disadvantages stemming from the policy. To some extent Steele calls on blacks to reclaim their individual initiative, but primarily Steele argues that wh ite society should do away with a preference that truly disadvant ages blacks and forestalls lo ng-term societal changes (124125). Society, in this case, must stop oppre ssing the individual even if the oppressed do not recognize that victim status and the preferences stemming from it yield no real power (125). Steele uses the university as a microcosm of society and an example of the ways in which white guilt and black anxiety crea te an atmosphere antithetical to black advancement. Policies such as affirmative action, which are meant to help blacks as a group, hinder them as individuals. Steele argue s that affirmative action treats blacks as an homogenous group, ignoring clas s and other differences. It encourages a politics of difference (152) and ultimately reinforces the myth of inferiority by implying that blacks are not good enough to make it in to college on their own (134). According to Steele, self-doubt combined w ith racial anxiety is a dangerous elixir. Doubts about ones ability are magnified e xponentially in conjuncti on with a myth of black inferiority. Rather than face doubts a bout oneself, individuals are encouraged to see challenges they encounter as evidence of r acism. In this case, an internal problem, self-doubt, leads to the perception of an external (social) pr oblem, white racism. In his discussion of campus life, Steele provides a psychological examination of black students.
62 This is in keeping with th e direction of his book, which discusses guilt, shame, anxiety, and denial. Steeles work ta lks about whites and blacks, bu t focuses mainly on blacks as the locus of the problem. Fo r this reason, it makes sense that in using the university as a microcosm in which to explore American race relations, Steele should focus on black students and the changes he feels it is necessary for them to make. One change Steele feels is necessary deals with the focus of black students. He notes that in his college days, black st udents focused on opportunity whereas black students today focus on obstacles to advancemen t. Steele argues that the black power movement of the late sixties and seventies was a catalyst for this shift. Individuals aspiring to leadership positions within the group (of blacks) have defined it in relation to society in a way that denies the autonomy of individual selves. This group in relation to society paradigm has replaced, among blacks, the self in relation to society paradigm that is more characteristic of American society. Moreover, being black subjects one to an imbalance between the collective and th e individual (160) at a time when opportunities for development can finally be exploited only by indi viduals (161). Ultimately, Steele argues that we must fr ee ourselves from the tyranny of wartime collectivism . and reclaim ourselves from the exaggerations of our own memory . . (165). A focus on oppression and the memory of the enemy leads blacks to see themselves as helpless victims (163). Yet the real enemy according to Steele is not whites but other blacks who in the service of the group suppress the ri ghts of individuals such as himself. Steeles second book, A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America picks up where the first leaves off. Defined as a black conservative Steele
63 finds himself alone, excommunicated from the group. He notes that during lectures at various universities angr y blacks accuse him of violating the solidarity of the group. Yet Steele argues that the problem for the black co nservative is more hi s separation from the authority of his racial group than from the actual group ( A Dream Deferred 6). Steele seeks to defend himself both as a black and a conservative, as well as his right to create his own place in society as an individual. Still, the groups ability to invoke shame provides the muscle to keep i ndividuals in line with group au thority (7). Designation as an Uncle Tom signifies someone whose failu re to love his own people makes him an accessory to their oppression (7). Sin ce black conservative and Uncle Tom are synonymous for many blacks, Steele must defend himself in the court of public opinion. Having sought only to live up to the values and beliefs his father instilled in him, and to whom his first book is dedicated, Steele lives the life of a dissenter (8) to the black power imperative and the groupthi nk ideology that sustains it. Steele argues that black leaders const itute a grievance elite that demands preferential treatment for blacks in the form of various social programs. The problem with this is that these social programs strip agency away from blacks, and in some cases deny it altogether. All problems become struct ural in nature and are to be rectified through a liberal interventionism based on the notion that blac ks are helpless victims. Blacks are treated as a group in need of outside assistance rather than as individuals who must be initiated into American society. With freedom comes responsibility, yet Steele argues that in the name of justice white lib erals and black leaders have created programs that do not hold blacks accountab le for their actions. Steele st ates that white liberals are less concerned with the development of indivi dual blacks than with the redemption that
64 even ineffectual social programs give whites as a group (158). Ameri can society in this case works against the advancement of blacks as individuals by trading away individual rights in favor of group preferences. Affirmative action programs, according to Steele, are one example of this tradeoff. This corrupt bargain makes race into a form of power that perpetuates a kind of reformed white supremacy, a white domin ation that is benevolent rather than malevolent (50). Steele sees this as highly unjust and believes that American society has betrayed its best principles in an attempt to achieve absolu tion for its past sins. Steele believes that not only has American society betrayed itself, but also the civil rights movement. He notes that racial oppression imposes nonindividuality on its victims, tells them that they will achieve no self, no singularity, that will ever supersede the mark of their own race (58). Affirmative action programs, among others, do the same from Steeles perspective. The imposition of a gr oup identity onto individual blacks betrays a civil rights struggle that was for the black individual and against his or her race as a political determinism (58). In the post ci vil rights era, liberalism has resulted in a change from the dehumanization of oppre ssion to the deindividualization of the remedies for it (59). The struggle for black Americans is to become individual selves within society like other Americans. Unfortunately, according to Steele, both white liberals and black leaders have allied to work against this transformation. White liberals do so through support for social programs that alleviate wh ite guilt while instilling no sense of agency in blacks. Black leaders do so through a demand for black Americans to be a sociological people . [in which] it is our race, our group identity, that is paramount
65 (60). Black leaders use race as a form of power that opens up a zone of opportunism between the races (61). Yet the programs a nd jobs this power creates are based on the idea that blacks are helpless victims. Ultimately, Steele calls for both an end to societys repression of black selves, and the assertion of selfhood among those who have been forced into a collective group identity in the post civil rights era. Steel e argues that a multiracial democracy simply cannot have an obligation to meet the racial needs of its citizens; its only obligation can be to address their human needs without rega rd to race (105). Furthermore, a healthy democracy is always at war with race (106) because in American life race will always be an opportunity for evil (114). As suc h, blacks must become individuals within American society rather than members of a racial group. The solution to the race problem for Steele is to get rid of the idea of race altogether. Race is the problem, and should be avoided even in the analysis of problems because it will only make the problem responsible to history (107). Conclusion David Payne observes that in his analys is the authors id entify the causes of failure with the individual and his or her valu es. Consolation for this failure is found in the enormity and inevitability of the forces at work and in the possibility of identification with these grand forces ( Coping with Failure 76). Yet I note that for Steele, failure lies as much in society as it does in the indivi dual. Society in many ways is to blame for individual failure because it stands in the way of reform. For this reason the grand forces that would in many cases be surrendered to mu st be resisted. The grand forces sweeping
66 society, such as the black power imperative a nd liberalism, must be fought for the sake of the individual. Yet what we are given in this rhetoric is a choice between two bad choices. The first is the self in relation to self, a rela tionship that destroys society. The second is society in relation to society, a relationship in which there are no selves. In the first choice, society is so undermined that it ceases to exist as a functioning entity. All we are left with is individuals. In the second choice, society trumps the indi vidual to the extent that the individual ceases to exist as an autonomous entity. As much as Steele argues in favor of individualism, his ultimate solution is for blacks to mortify themselves in favor of society because society never in cluded them as individuals. Steeles abhorrence to group rights leads hi m to ask blacks to transcend race. Steele suggests that everyone in society do this but I believe this has greater consequences for blacks than for whites. If the American social contract was established for the benefit of whites, and th e face of society is still primarily white, then to ask blacks to transcend race is really a nother way of asking them to assimilate. Only blacks are asked to give something up in order to tran scend race and be included in society. Whites give up nothing because whiteness is normative. To some degree whites can afford to ignore the idea that they are a racial group b ecause the interests of whites as a group are written into the social contract that holds soci ety together. For this reason, Joe Feagin in Racist America argues that the base of the U.S. system must be replaced if systemic racism is to be removed (258). In Paynes study of therapeutic rhetoric, au thors used the self-society topos as a means for coping with failure. Yet when authors perceived failure responsibility for
67 immediate actions was placed squarely on the individual, even when it was society that needed to be redeemed (82). The same fi nding holds true in my analysis of Steeles rhetoric. Within the ideal relationship of self and society, Steeles approach implies that his preference for individualism causes him to favor using the individual as a means to societal change. For Steele to use society w ould seem too restrictive of individual rights. Whereas in Paynes study various authors rhetoric could be read as a spiritual or moral protest against individualism (82) Steeles rhetoric is a moral protest in favor of individualism. Throughout his work Steele argues that soci etys preemption of individual rights in the 1960s is the locus of the problem we face today. The re stitution of an ideal balance between self and society is a chie f aim of Steeles work and a reason why his writings can be understood in light of the self-society topos. In this chapter I have shown how Steele s rhetoric requires personal adaptation among blacks in response to perceived failure. Blacks are asked to change as individuals for the sake of society. Personal adaptation is necessary in a society that Steele believes has undergone an apocalypse. American soci ety from his perspective has undermined its traditional value system. It is through the personal adaptation of individuals, specifically black citizens, that societal change can occur and Americas traditional value system be restored. In the next chapter I will show how Derrick Bells rhetoric militates against personal adaptation among blacks. Blacks are told that failure is inevitable. Fate rather than individual agency is omnipotent. Am erican society, from Bells perspective, has and always will fail to live up to its espoused values because underneath it all lays a foundation built on racism. Blacks are asked to accept that they will always remain
68 outsiders in a society in whic h racism is fundamental. The efforts of the talented tenth are deemed inadequate in the face of systemic injustice, and the no tion that the talented tenth can lead blacks to the promised land a ppears misguided. Bells rhetoric serves to disabuse blacks of this notion, and replace fait h in American democracy with disbelief.
69 Chapter Four The Past-Future Topos in Derrick Bells And We Are Not Saved and Faces at the Bottom of the Well David Payne in Coping with Failure makes a number of observations about the past-future topos that are releva nt to a discussion of Derrick Bells works. According to Payne, There is a time-line of contextual events, including patterns of experience and expectations, that manifests the evidences a nd consequences of failu re (85). In this chapter I will first illustrate how Bells books construct this timeline for us as the past, present, and possible future are explored as a means to understand both the beginning and the end of failure. If as Payne notes even with a trivial incident . fault will be assigned and . character attributions made, (85) then in the c ontext of American race relations we can agree that the incidents ar e significant and fault is often placed on the shoulders of blacks whove failed to become the equals of whites despite liberal social policies and an expanded welfare state. In the opening to And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice Bell asks How have we failed and why? . Where, do we go from here? . . (3). Failure is the problem and the solution to this problem, like the fault for its existence, must lie in someones hands. As a member of Du Boiss talented tenth, Bell is forced to deal with the race problem because of its connections to his own identity. Bell, like Randall Robinson, sees his own iden tity as tied to th at of the group. Neither man can be saved until blacks as a group are saved. As a result, Bell seeks
70 answers that explain not only where we ar e going, but also how we got into this predicament. As Payne observes, Ideas about the past need to be shaped and reshaped in order to understand an d treat failures as they occur in the present (87). Bells attempt to understand both the groups and his own identity crisis in the present, forces him to reorder and re-member the past in search of answers. Bells work emphasizes the past as a means to explain present circumstances. Payne terms this a because-of framework, and in Bells work it explains present-day crisis and consoles blacks for failures deemed inevitable. This absolves blacks of fault because one cannot be blamed for fate. Payne s observation that the past must be reconstructed to show how it held the potential and the cause of failure (87) holds true in Bells texts. Yet unlike in Paynes theo ry we find no new future, no new remedy or revelation of the future. Bell stops short of transformation because he cannot construct an in-order-to context that turns towards the future with either reformed goals or reformed means to achieve the original goals ( Coping with Failure 96). Despite Bells talk about a desire to pr ovoke discussion that will prov ide new insights and prompt effective strategies ( And We Are Not Saved 3) he provides us w ith none. Rather Bell reaches into the past to prophesy that it is useless to try because we are doomed by fate. Bell then waits to see if a nyone will say or prove different. The most Bell does is to depict a history of failure and emphasi ze fate as a means to transcendence. According to Payne, When failure is perc eived, time frames can be seen as loci of the failure and perhaps its cause, or they ca n be seen as loci of opportunities for repair (91). As I will show, given that Bell believes that many present inequities stem from past injustice, he focuses on the Constitutional Convention as the locus of democracys
71 undoing. Bell sends his heroine Geneva Crensh aw into the past to prove that the founders knew what they were doing when they inscribed white privilege into the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention is the locus of failure but in Bells texts rather than becoming a site of potential re pair it is instead the grounds for a second injustice as the founders go ahead with thei r plans despite Geneva Crenshaws pleas. This brings me to my second point, which is that repeated in justice in the past, present, and future is a common thread throughout Bells work. The assumed inevitability of injustice and subsequent failu re of all those who attempt to change fate, points to the need for a because-of interpretati on of events. As Payne observes, Because of motives are only possible when one looks back at the past (93) and this situation aptly describes Bells work. Bell cannot show us a be tter future because his is overly focused on the past. His approach is analogous to driving down the road while looking only in the rearview mirror. One should not be surp rised that an accident inevitably occurs, but this may have more to do with human erro r than environmental hazards. One cannot predict the future with certainty by looking at the past, yet in many wa ys this is what Bell attempts to do. Given the difficulties of the past it is not surprisi ng that he can only see darkness rather than light at th e end of human historys tunnel. This leads me to my third point, demonstrated in my critique of Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism I contend that Be lls perspective on human history is apocalyptic because he makes no distinctions between past, present, and future circumstances. His obsession with th e past makes failure in the future the only outcome he can imagine. Payne states, If fa ilure is pictured as blotting out an entire future goal or, as in the case of apocalyptic authors, an entire future, then avenues to
72 either consolation or compensati on are limited (95). Bells rhetoric aims at consolation because he can give readers no compensati on. Compensation would require a different perspective than one gets from looking only in the rearview mirror. Compensation would require optimism that Bell does not possess. In his pessimistic rhetoric, Bell aims only to console readers for future injustice. As I will show, Bells final tale of the space tr aders serves as a form of inoculation that prevents blacks from being optimistic about the future. It protects them from betrayal at the hands of whites, yet at the same time stri ps them of human agen cys catalyst, hope. In Bells rhetoric there is no in-order-to seque nce . that turns toward the future with either reformed goals or reformed means to achieve the original goals ( Coping with Failure 96). In Bells works the original goals and the means to achieve them are all found wanting. Furthermore, the only transfor mation of selves possible is for blacks to become martyrs. Bell transforms blacks into a race of martyrs as a means of transcending past failure and providing them with consol ation in both the pres ent and the future. Consolation, however, is empty when it provides no means to compensation. Constructing the Time-Line of Failure Derrick Bell explicitly states the purpo se of his work in the introduction to And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice His work is an attempt to deal with a perceived failure in the post-civil rights era. It is an attempt to answer questions about the seeming permanence of the color line. Bell writes: With the realization that the salvation of racial equality has eluded us again, questions arise from the ashes of our expectations: How have we failedand
73 why? What does this failure meanfor black people and for whites? Where do we go from here? Should we redirect the quest for racial justice? (3) Bell hopes mainly to provoke discussion that will provide new insights and prompt more effective strategies (3) for d ealing with the aftermath of white backlash against civil rights initiatives. In this work Bell is decidedly more optim istic about the prospects for change than he will be in his subsequent work. For now he observes that logical explanation fails before the patterns of contemporary discrimination . . making it necessary to use the tools not only of reason but of unreason of fa ntasy (5) to search for an answer to a problem he still believes can be solved. Becau se he believes that barriers to racial equality . are neither nove l nor new (7) Bell seeks his an swers in Americas past. He takes the liberty of tampering with time and history to examine the original contradiction in the Constitution of the United St atesa contradiction that is at the heart of the blacks present-day difficulty of gaining legal redress (7). Bell takes other liberties as well in an effort to explain the shortcomings of the pr esent and the prospects for the future. The first of Bells tales examines what he calls the Constitutional contradiction, or the incorporation of slavery into a constitution that secured the blessings of liberty for many. Yet liberty and justice were not fo r all, and Bell sends his heroine Geneva Crenshaw into the past in an attempt to ch ange the future. Geneva, a black civil rights attorney, journeys back to 1787 to speak to the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. She hopes that her knowledge of Americas future and the nations difficulty in dealing with the problem of the color line wi ll convince the founders to re-
74 think their position on slavery. Yet her entreaties fail to convince the delegates to change the course of history. What Bell explains to the reader via Crenshaw is that the founders were well aware of the contradictions they wrote into the Constitution. These were men who chose to live with a paradox because southern delegates demanded the slavery compromises as their absolute precondition to forming a new government ( And We Are Not Saved 30). Furthermore, the founders understood that the economic benefits of slavery do not accrue only to the south . . and therefore sought to protect their property interests at the cost of [their] principles (303). As one delegate in Bells version of the convention observed, Slavery has provided the wealth th at made independence possible (34). For this reason the founders viewed slavery as a solution to a problem rather than as a contradiction (41). Bell at times also seeks solutions to the problem of the color line by embracing a contradiction. In his second tale, Bell imagines the possibility of a conservative crusader who as a member of the Supreme Court would wage a ceaseless campaign against the liberal orientation of its decisions (54). The aim would be to incite radical reform by the only means possible: hardening the hearts of the upper classes against those whom they exploit (54). Bell be lieves that by hardening the heart of pharaoh he can incite rebellion among the populace. Poor whites would then recognize that they have more in common with poor blacks than rich whites. Bell would increase cl ass division and the suffering of those at the bottom as a means to trump the race card which as been used against both poor blacks and whites since the nations founding. He believes it is necessary to abandon civil rights litigation and social pr ograms that manage only to
75 stave off starvation while keeping the masses too weak to recognize their true status (54). Bells desire to let conservatism run its course in order to bring about radical revolt is ingenious. Yet his fundamental aim of bringing a bout a coaliti on between poor whites and blacks is not new. W.E.B. Du Bois recognized the economic similarities between poor white and poor black sharecroppers even if they did not. He too recognized that poor whites refused to see this because they were constantly gazing into a mirror that reflected only their race and not their social class. Whereas Du Bois sought to bring about class-consciousness through reasoned disc ourse, Bell abandons this approach. His understanding of the irrationality of racism leads him to embrace the seemingly irrational strategy of working for the cause of racial justice by working against it. Rather than making whites aware of how racism works, he imagines a time of dire economic circumstances in which their understanding of class exploitation will allow them to overcome racism in the interest of self-preservation. The problem with Bells plan is that the Great Depression did not lead to the utopia Bell imagines and it is doubtful whethe r this approach would do much more than increase the misery of societys less fort unate. As the heroine Geneva Crenshaw admonishes Bell, Your suffering, while real, is on a very different and less harsh level than that endured by the black masses whose numbers are increasing rapidly. I doubt that many of them would subscribe to your stoicism (74). Here Bell is reminded that classconsciousness is not only a problem for wh ites but also for blacks as well. Classconsciousness should be a factor in both the an alysis of social problems and the solutions posed for them. Nevertheless, at various tim es Bell fails to take class into account.
76 When Bell discusses the possibility of an ultimate voting rights act he fails to make any class distinctions among bl acks. Yet Jennifer Hochschild in Facing Up to the American Dream notes various differences One difference is that blacks in the middle class tend to vote at the same levels as wh ites, whereas poor blacks generally have lower levels of participation. Stil l Bell ignores differences such as these and instead wonders whether a voting system based on proportional re presentation would be of benefit to all blacks. Bell makes the past come alive in the character of a state senator whose opposition to the interests of blacks is legendar y. The senator is on his way to address the legislature on a bill that w ould make it virtually impossible for blacks to gain election to the state legislature or any statewide office ( And We Are Not Saved 75). Yet on the way to the state capital the senator has an accident and his car caree ns off a bridge and into the water. Geneva Crenshaw, the black heroine of Bells tales, saves the senator from drowning. Although the senator recovers from his injuries he finds himself tormented by a voice telling him, This is you r chance! This is your chance! (76). Eventually, the senator realizes what he must do to make things right. Rather than advocating reapportionment schemes to disenfranchise blacks, the senator begins a campaign to ensure greater participation of blacks through a new proportional representation plan. This plan would allow minorities to elect representatives of their choice in numbers equal to their proportion of the population eligible to vote (87). The senators fictional proposal is reminiscent of Lani Guiniers proposal in her book Tyranny of the Majority and shows yet again the ways in which Bell draws upon the past as a means of speaking about the future.
77 In Bells fictional tale the senators colleag ues are left in disbelief in regard to his political conversion. Bell sees merit in th e senators plan, yet Geneva Crenshaw argues that a proportional voting system could ultimat ely weaken the voting power of blacks as all black districts are created. Blacks would ga in individual black repr esentatives yet lose influence with white representatives who might otherwise need their votes. Bells discussion of the past leads him fr om a discussion of political equality to the quest for educational parity. In The Chronicle of the Black School Children Bell examines the influence of dese gregation on the nations school systems. As part of his thought experiment he imagines that every black child across the country disappears on the way to school. It is an event of biblical proportions as the ch ildren vanish without a trace, as if engulfed in the rapture depicted in Revelation. In Bells tale, whites around the nation show sympathy for the victims but af ter a short while conclude that perhaps it was all for the best (103). For some time black children were s een as a burden on the nations schools, and now that burden was alleviated. Whites no longer had to fear increasing minority enrollment and the corr esponding decline of academic standards, discipline, and safety they believed would o ccur when blacks became a majority within a school (103). Over time however, the impact of black s on the nations schools became evident in other ways. Bell discusses the financial ga ins of desegregation for white teachers, bus drivers, builders, and school boards. Black enrollment generated increased demand for services as well as bringing in federal a nd state funds. Now that the nations black children had disappeared fewer teachers, bus drivers, and builders were needed. School boards began to see declines in federal and state appropriations wh ile still needing to
78 meet the needs of white students bused in from surrounding areas. According to Bell, Armed with this information a large sum was appropriated to conduct a search for the missing black children (107). Neverthe less, the children could not be found. Bells tale serves as a reminder that whites have benefited fro m racial oppression and its corresponding remedies. These remedies ha ve often failed to cure blacks of social stigma and alleviate disparities. They have however, contributed to economic growth and job creation around the nation. Bell believes that whites pr etend not to notice these benefits except during circumstances when their well being is affected. The subject of reparations directly a ddresses the extent to which some whites benefited from the nations mistreatment of blacks. In The Chronicle of the Black Reparations Foundation Bell sp eaks of the unacknow ledged gains that have accrued to whites as a result of slavery and segregation. He notes that whites deny not only the benefits of unequal treatment under the law that have worked in their favor but also the detriments of unequal treatment for the nations black citizens. Bell asserts that whites will never repay the debt that Randall Robinson and others argue is owed to blacks. For this reason he imagines the possibility of one white man, a Jewish immigrant named Ben Goldrich, acting as a savior of the white race and redeeming its sins through his own generosity. Goldrich seeks to atone for the nations sins and alleviate th e gross disparities between whites and blacks. He attempts to do so through the creation of a reparations foundation that will distribut e his vast wealth among the nations black population. Initially, blacks are overjoyed at the plan but whites react differently. White opposition to the plan mounts swiftly as lawyers charge that Goldrichs plan to help blacks is
79 discriminatory towards whites. Ultimatel y white opposition prevails as the Supreme Court renders a decision stating that Goldrichs plan violates the Fourteenth Amendment. This amendment was initially part of the nations attempt to atone for slavery. Now it is used as a means to prevent redress for slaverys economic consequences. Bell concludes his tale with the unders tanding that white resistance to black equality runs deep. As Geneva Crenshaw suggests: There might be opposition other than raci al. In a competitive society, all are threatened by any aid to those deemed lower on the economic scale that exceeds bare minimum subsistenceas in the rese ntment to the food-stamp program when a recipient is seen purchasing a st eak or other luxury food. (135) Bell believes that whites defend both the status quo and their place in the social hierarchy. Blacks were brought he re as slaves and in Bells eyes whites are threatened by the idea of them being anything other th an slaves to white economic interests. Bell uses the debate over affirmative ac tion as a means to prove his point. In The Chronicle of the Devine Gift Bell argu es that affirmative action, while seemingly meant to help blacks, is ultimately meant to prot ect the interests of whites. In Bells tale, Devine Taylor, one of the nations most su ccessful black businessm en, offers to help recruit lawyers to teach at a preeminent law school. Bell is a member of the schools faculty and laments the dearth of fellow mi norities at his school. In general, white faculty members attribute this to the difficu lty of finding qualified minority applicants. Devine Taylors gift to Bell and to the law school is hi s ability to locate minority applicants with impressive credentials that meet the schools standards of merit.
80 Initially, the influx of black, hispanic, and asian recruits is accepted among the white faculty and the administration. Ov er time, however, the growing numbers of minorities on the law school faculty become a cau se for concern. The concern is that the law school will lose prestige when its faculty no longer has a white majority. Despite the excellent qualifications of the new hires, the law school puts a freeze on hiring any more minorities. This causes Bell to speculate a bout the true nature of affirmative action. Each of the new hires had qualifications that equaled or exceeded those of white applicants. Yet over time the faculty said Enough. to the influx of qualified minorities in order to protect the interests of whites. A few minorities could be tolerated, but a substantial number of them created problems for an institution that equated white faces with prestige and believed that the public did as well. In the end, Bell concludes that merit is not the overriding concern in faculty hires but rather the maintenance of white privilege. White privilege is maintained and even aided with the addition of a few minority faces for the sake of appearing to endorse diversity. Yet too many minorities, even highly qualified ones, constitute a threat to the racial status quo. Bells examination of the racial status quo implies that reform is more rhetoric that reality. Yet it is through rhetoric that we create our realities, and Bell uses it to envision alternative realties that speak volum es on the commonly accepted one. In The Chronicle of the Amber Cloud Bell envisions a dark cloud falling over the households of white adolescents of wealthy parents (162) across the country. The cloud operates like a biblical plague, causing adolescents to die not a literal but a social death. The amber cloud causes young white childrens sk in to darken, and their beha vior to resemble that of black inner city children. Young white ch ildren affected by the amber cloud become
81 lethargic, suspicious, withdrawn and hopelessly insecure much lik e children in the inner city. Soon gang warfare becomes a pa rt of the suburban landscape as upperincome enclaves, which had long excluded bl acks and the poor, now were devastated from within (163). Bell creates the tale of the amber cloud to examine whether or not a common tragedy linking whites to blacks could lead to m easures of racial reform. In the end he concludes that this is not the case as government aid for the amber cloud victims does not extend to poor blacks in his imag ined scenario. Bell believes th at the racial status quo in the United States would allow the government to obtain a cure for the amber cloud syndrome at great cost, yet de ny its administration to poor bl acks suffering from identical symptoms. In Bells world, white racism lead s to a distinction between the deserving and undeserving victims. This line is drawn be tween whites and blacks in much the same way as during the Great Depression when whites were offered relief denied to blacks. Once again Bell argues that the times have not changed, and that the passage of the equal protection clause does little to ensure equa lity or protect blacks from white racism. The ways in which Bell attempts to view the present in light of the past is also evident in his discussion of black families. In The Chronicle of the Twenty-SeventhYear Syndrome Bell imagines a scenario in which black women who have neither ever been married or entertained a bona fide offer of marriage to a black male begin to suffer from a strange disease (199). The disease cau ses them to fall asl eep and awaken after four to six weeks with a special form of amnesia in which theyve lost their professional skills (198-199). It is as if they are being punished for being more successful at work than at home.
82 The problem with Bells tale is that it lays a heavy burden on black women to create black families or face dire conse quences. Yet black men, many of who are deemed ineligible for marriage because they lack both good educations and good jobs are not punished. Rather black men are given th e power to be saviors for black women who until the twenty-seventh year syndromes outbreak did not need saving. What Bell attempts to do in this tale is to re-inscr ibe a relationship of ma le dominance within not only the family but also the race. Bell notes the deeply damaged sense of black male wholeness (209) that came about as a c onsequence of slaverys damaging affects on black family structure and relationships be tween genders. Yet rather than envision a situation in which black men become whol e as a means to empowerment, he instead chooses to take something away from black women so that men can feel more powerful. Bell also seeks to limit the choice of se xual partners for black women as none other than the black male will suffice. Black women in interracial marriages or homosexual relationships are bot h subject to the twenty-seventh year syndrome. Black men on the other hand, are left free to pursue any relationship they would like to have. The burden for creating black families is pl aced squarely on the shoulders of black women. In this tale Bells admiration for the ideali zed stability of the pre-civil rights black family is evident. This idealization for th e past leads him to imagine the negation of black womens present success outside the hom e if they fail to maintain the home for black men. Bells longing for the past is in many ways a longing for patriarchy and the power it yielded for black men within the family unity. Since black women complain that black men are not educated enough or gainfully employed, Bell devises a solution to
83 the problem. Yet his solution is not to edu cate black men or find them better jobs in his imagined scenario but rather to strip black women of their education and jobs. Perhaps Bell imagines that then black women will have little cause for co mplaint as they will have nothing to hold over black men. Repeatedly Bell discusses the hold he believes slavery has over black life for better or for worse. In The Chronicle of th e Slave Scrolls Bell discovers a text that has therapeutic value for blacks. The scrolls desc ribe in great detail a history gory, brutal, filled with more murder, mutilation, rape, and brutality than most of us can imagine or easily comprehend (217). The scrolls desc ribe slavery in all its facets but most importantly the ways in which slaves dealt w ith the horrors of everyday life. According to Bell, knowledge of past injustices and the ways in which blacks coped with them in the past is beneficial for blacks today. Bell envisions that the lessons of the slave scrolls transf orm the lives of blacks in America today. He implies that history ha s the power to change the present and the future. Bell imagines that a knowledge of th e slave scrolls changes black social life as negative outcomes are replaced with positive one s in areas such as family, education, employment, and politics. Bell notes that the shift is so profound that Blacks began outachieveing whites in every area save sports and entertainmentactivities that black people no longer believed could compare w ith the challenge of getting ahead through business and industry (219). The healing power of the slave scrolls began to reverse the positions of both slaves and masters in society. The power of the slave scrolls to affect black life did not go unnoticed. Rather than cheer the disappearance of social ills among blacks, whites responded acrimoniously
84 to black advancement in the social hierarc hy. Bell writes, It was, some whites felt, neither right nor faireven un-Americanf or a minority group to gain so much advantage over the majority in a majoritarian society (219). As a result, white backlash led to Racial Toleration Laws that forbid th e teaching of the slave scrolls because whites saw the lessons as anti-white. Bell conclude s that ultimately even a monumental effort to pull ourselves up, sufficient to make even Booker T. Washington proud, will not move us out of our traditional place in this society (233). Bell asserts that too much progress among blacks will be seen as un-American becau se it works against the inequities written into the Constitution to ensure white privilege. Inequities written into the Constitution ma nifest themselves in both our political and social life. In the legal system, polit ical and social lives conjoin often to the detriment of black defendants. Disparities in drug laws condemn black defendants while often letting whites off the hook with lesser sentences. Bells solution is to imagine a day when blacks no longer commit crimes. Yet even in this idyllic scen ario problems persist between blacks and whites. In The Chronicle of the Black Crime Cure Bell imagines that a drug dealer hiding his stash in a cave discovers magic stones that when ingested cure black criminals of their urge to break th e law. Not only are black criminals cured of their urge to break th e law but they become overpowered by a desire to fight black crime wherever it exist[s] (246). As farfetched as this tale may sound, Bell uses it to illustrate a point. His point is that no matter what blacks do or do not do, whites will resist their efforts to change the social hierarchy. As black crime dissipates and violence in schools declines, white expectations of black failu re continue to determine the outcomes for blacks. This is similar to the argument th at Randall Robinson makes for the conditioned
85 expectations society has for blacks, the only di fference is that Bell argues that these low expectations will never change. Bell argues that as in the pre-civil wa r era when fear of slave revolts and economic interests united whites the same applies today. White collar crime is less stigmatized than no collar crime among blacks, and whites fear of blacks continues to defy rational explanation even when blacks ar e no threat to whites (247). Black success however, is seen as a threat to white economic interests. Bell conte nds that it is these interests that whites seek to defend. In Bells tale white apathy toward improving black life eventually leads many blacks to turn away from their efforts to advance in society. This is because they discover the truth Bell seeks to preach to the masses of blacks: The central motivating theme of black struggle is faith, the common thread in all civil rights struggle is eventual failure. Like the drowning person who grasps for straws, you contend for your positions here with fervor or desperation. Have you learned nothing from ex perience? (248-249) According to Bell, civil rights programs are worthless opiates offering no more than delusions of hope to a people whose color ha s foredoomed them to lives of tokenism, subservience, and exclusion (249). For Bell, integration into Ameri can society as it is does not constitute a viable plan. The only option short of separation is for blacks to continue pressing for social change in sear ch of a third way. Out of the struggle for reform may come the insight and imagination necessary to recast the nations guiding principles closer to the ideal for all Americans (255). Yet Bells own faith in the possibility of black success in this endeavor eventually waned. Part of this may stem from the fact th at in Bells final tale he saw it as necessary
86 to use supernatural entities called the Curia Sisters to create acco rd among black leaders fighting among themselves. The perceived failu re of blacks as a group also stems from the failure of the talented tenth. Nevert heless, if Bells pessimism about American society is warranted, then the failure of the talented tenth is predetermined. In his subsequent work, Bell follows this line of thought to its conclusion. Embracing the Apocalypse Derrick Bells book Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism argues that for African Americans the past a nd the future are the same. The allegorical stories he presents in his work are offered as proof that racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society (xiii). As such, the best that blacks can do is to turn their resistance to a racist system into a form of triumph. They can live to harass white folks, (xvi) and in some ways this is what Bell seeks to do in his book. Bell harasses white folks and stirs the a ngst of blacks by reminding both of the impact of slavery on blacks. He notes that for blacks slave heritage was more a symbol of shame than a source of pride (1). In th e period before World War II it was something blacks sought to forget. Yet following the War and particularly in the 1960s . . slavery became a sure means of evoking racial rage as a prelude to righteously repeated demands for Freedom Now (2). The past, in this case, was used for present purposes. Noting the effectiveness of this strate gy, Bell utilizes it for his own purposes. Bell argues that there is a connection be tween the racism that made slavery feasible (3) and the current stat us of blacks in the U.S. He cites statistical evidence as proof that since the 1960s progr ess is notable for some blacks but not for all. Bells
87 collectivist orientation causes him to see this as a problem for all blacks. Bell is his brothers keeper and therefore argues that even the most successful of us are haunted by the plight of our less fortunate brethren (3). He critiques the id ea of racial progress and in doing so provides his reading of present trends as a means to judge both the progress of the past, and th e potential of the future. Bell asserts that problems for blacks stem from the failure of whites to identify with blacks as a group (4). Bell believes th at whites fear that blacks will unfairly get ahead of them (4) sustains an attitude among whites that makes past civil rights victories irrelevant. He believes that whites today have the same attitudes towards blacks as a group as whites did during segregation. For th is reason the past determines the present and even future possibilities for blacks. Bell seeks to reject past approaches in order to get real about race and the persistence of racism in America (5). He argues that blacks must plan for the future by reviewing the experiences of the past. Th e reality check Bell seeks to give blacks requires that he re-write the past in order to create a new future. Rather than progress, Bell speaks of stagnation. Instead of optimism, Bell dispense s pessimism as an antidote for unmet expectations. He st ates that instead of meeting unexpected setbacks blacks should come to understand a current message with implications for the future which history has already taught us a bout the past (5). In essenc e, Bell argues that no matter what blacks do they cannot win. Bell draws a straight line from the Civil Wa r to segregation and into the present in order to show that white attitudes are determ inative of black progress. His timeline is important to his argument because it demonstrates the continuation of a single problem;
88 the lack of change in the attitudes of whites and this society in regard to blacks. According to Bell, The code words differ. The message is the same. Whites are rallied on the basis of racial pride and patriotism to accep t their often lowly lot in life, and encouraged to vent their frustration by opposing any serious black advancement. (9) Bell argues that whites as a group op pose blacks as a group. He notes that liberal democratic theory which speaks of individuals, is silent on the question of group conflict. Past assumptions and beliefs about black progress based on liberalism fail to overcome the fact that racism is a fundamental and permanent part of American society (10). If as Bell asserts color determines the social and economic status of all African Americans (10) then the group is more impor tant than the individua l. A civil rights movement for individual rights in keeping w ith liberal democratic principles therefore failed to create meaningful change for bl acks as a group. Blacks, Bell states, remain what we were in the beginning: a dark and foreign presence, always designated other (10). The essential sameness of both blacks and whites in the present in relation to their predecessors is crucial to Bell s argument. He states We ar e now as were our forebears when they were brought to the New World, objects for barter for those who, while profiting from our existence, deny our humanity (11). Bell sees whites living today as no different than those of the past, possessi ng the same mindset as those who enslaved blacks and nearly annihila ted Native Americans.
89 For Bell the past acts as a sacred text, it is an oracle of the future that blacks must heed if they are to fully understand their pl ace in America. Bell uses his reading of American history to argue that: Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those Herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary peaks of progress short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance. (12) For Bell defiance is an act of dignity that ha s therapeutic value. Defiance provides blacks with a means of transcendence and provides them with a reason to live. Bell argues that beyond survival lies the potenti al to perceive more clearly both a reason and the means for further struggle (12). Bells text is also therapeutic in nature in th at it is meant to cure what he calls the racial equality syndrome (13). Faith in the Am erican dream, faith that the goal of racial justice in America will be realized is mi splaced and detrimental for blacks because according to Bell, blacks must face the dead ening reality of our permanent subordinate status (12). Faith from this perspective is a disease consuming blacks. Instead of faith, blacks must embrace disbelief and skepticism. Bell urges blacks to reassess the worth of the racial assumptions on which, without careful thought, we have presumed too much and relied on too long (14). Bells cure for the miseducated Negro is a history lesson, a re-education that turns believers into heretics.
90 From Bells viewpoint, the pow er of disbelief is one of the few assertions of agency blacks have left in the face of white supremacy. For Bell, coming to terms with Americas shameful past and present injustic es will allow blacks to embrace the future with an understanding that it will be the same as the past. It is almost as if Bell sees blacks as schizophrenics. On one hand, they ar e living in a world of injustice. On the other hand, they believe that the injustices they experience are some how unrepresentative of reality, of the way things should be. Blacks in this case live in two different worlds, one filled with a history of pain and suffering, the other world, filled with hopes and dreams for the future. The cure Bell proposes is the abandonment of this second dream world for the hard reality of the first. The cure for sustained disappointment is the abandonment of ones hopes and dreams. Alt hough this may seem a ludicrous position to defend, Bell argues that it is the only sensible one. It is sensible because failure seems inevitable in a world in which black is the necessary foil to white. Apocalyptic Tales Bell argues that the historical relation ship between whites and blacks is one of exploitation. Rather than a symbiotic relationship in which both sides benefit, he describes the relations between whites and blacks as parasitic. Using a fictional character he calls Jesse B. Semple, Bell provides the premise of his work. Bell uses Semple to speak his own mind, and what he has to say is this: I dont ever see white people getting smart about race . Unless there is a crisis, they learn nothing! And if they can ge t out of a bad situa tion by messing with our
91 rights, that is what they do, have been doing for two hundred years, and likely will continue to do. (28) For this reason, Bell holds no hope that th e parasitic and exploitative relationship extending from slavery to segregation, and he believes into the present and the future, will ever change. The present, despite apparent advances, is in Bells eyes no different than the past. The future, he argues, will be no different than the present. Bell believes that the foundation of American so ciety is built on racism and that this will never change because it serves the interests of whites. Bell sees the historical relationship betw een whites and blacks as one in which white interests are served to the detriment of blacks. He argues that both material changes in American society such as desegreg ation in the educational system, as well as symbolic changes such as the creation of a ho liday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are of no more value than the glass trinkets and comb s they used in Africa a few centuries ago (18). Desegregation in the nations public schools is from Bells perspective more symbolic than material even though it was supp osed to be the latter. Bell argues that instead of complying with desegregation orders, school official s created separate educational programs for black children within schools that were integrated in name only (18). In essence, white society writes checks and hands them to blacks as a form of payment. Yet before you can cash them in . the man has called the bank and stopped payment or otherwise made them useless except, of course, as symbols (19). The symbolic nature of progress for black s in America angers Bell. During one exchange with the fictional character Jesse B. Semple, Bells asks, How do you keep all that anger aimed at whites when so many black men turn it on their families, each other
92 and themselves? Semple replies, I aint no saint man. My rage is big enough to hurt family, friends, and myselfand still have plenty left over. Only thing is I still remember the root course of my anger (29). Through his fic tional characters Bell speaks his own mind and at times expre sses his own anger and frustration. Bell, like his characters, is sometimes angry and frustrated because he sees the apparent futility of trying to rid America of racism. Ultimately, Bell argues that all blacks can do is accept that no matter what th ey do it will avail them nothing. Bell notes that as some blacks succeed in main stream America it leads whites to: conclude right off that discrimination is ove r and that if the rest of us got up off our dead asses, dropped the welfare tit, stopped having illegitimate babies, and found jobs, we would all be just like you [successful blacks]. (26) Blacks in this case are damned if they do succeed as their success will be used to point out failures in other blacks. They are also da mned if they dont su cceed, as their failure generally confirms existing stereotypes and prejudices. Ultimately this leads some blacks to seek escape from America. Bells character Jesse B. Semple states that he and his wife visit the Caribbean because it makes us feel good (30). Bell ex tends this urge to feel good beyond Semple to blacks as a group, and it is for this reason that a homeland for blacks . [is] the biggest symbol of all (30). Bell uses the back to Africa idea in a new way. Knowing that the reality of present day Africa is a far cry from the mythic ideal it symbolizes for some blacks, Bell conjures the lost continent of Atlantis (32) from the depths of the ocean in his tale of the Afrolantic Awakening.
93 Afrolantica, as Atlantis is called in Bells story, is hospitable only to African Americans. It is their promised land and no one elses. Bell makes parallels between the ancient Hebrews desire to leave Egypt, and blacks quickening desire to leave America for a promised land filled with substantial deposits of precious minerals including gold and silver (33) rather than milk and honey. Just as the ancient Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, whites attempting to enter Afrolantica are drowned in the thickness of the air. Whites find it difficult to breath, like tr ying to breath under th e burdens of all the world (34) while blacks feel exhilarate d and euphoric (35) mu ch like the ancient Hebrews upon leaving Egypt. As in ancient Egypt when pharaoh would not let the Hebrews go, so white Americans in Bells tale resist letting blacks go. Bell uses a ho st of characters from black history such as Marcus Garvey, and Frederic k Douglass, among others to argue the pros and cons of emigration. While blacks move d in favor of emigration, whites opposed it because in the words of one white character, Its more than this God-fearing, America loving white man can take (42-43). Many whites believed that blacks were being given too much, and the potential emigration of bl acks amounted to a dire plot to undermine world stability, economic security, and the Am erican way of life (43). In short, the slaves should not be allowed to leave the plantation. Nevertheless, many blacks, like the Hebrews of old, set out on a journey to freedom. Freedom, however, didnt require a promis ed land after all. Bell notes that as blacks set out on ships for Afrolantica it sank back into the ocean. Yet rather than despair, blacks onboard the ships felt deep sa tisfaction . in having gotten this far in their enterprise, in having accomplished it togeth er (45). What Bell argues here is that
94 the symbolic idea of a homeland can have ma terial consequences even if blacks never make it there. The confidence blacks gained from attempting to reach Afrolantica convinced them that they need no longer act as victims of centuries of oppression (46). Despite envisioning a future in which blacks could work together toward fighting oppression, Bell also envisioned a future in which whites worked together to recreate oppressive aspects of the past. In his story The Racial Preference Licensing Act Bell imagined a future in which whites could legally discriminate against blacks if they paid the appropriate license to discriminate in a public place. Money from these license fees would go toward the creation of an equality fund that would support black businesses, homebuyers, and students seeking college and vocational education (48-49). In this way blacks could profit from discrimination. In Bells tale, both the President and eventually the Supreme Court come to support the Act for its hard-he aded realism (49) in lieu of attempting to police morality and regulate appropriate moral behavior as other government initiatives had done (51). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Brown v. Board of Education decisions were now pass. According to the President, this was a radical new approach to the nations continuing tensions over racial status (52). In the words of Bells heroine Geneva Crenshaw, History andone would hopecommon sense tells us that [the] dream is never coming true (61). Along with a history of failed legisla tion and legal decree Bell also speaks of failed leadership among blacks. In his tale T he Last Black Hero Be ll creates a fictional character named Jason Warfield. Warfield is the leader of a militant community based organization and a true hero for his peopl e (65). According to Warfield, successful
95 blacks eventually learn that In this society th ey, as persons, are still niggers (66). In this story Bell reminds readers once again that in his eyes the times have not changed. One thing that has not changed in Bells mind is the tendency of black male leaders to choose white women over black women. Bell plays on this idea by having Warfield fall in love with his white female doctor, rather than a black female co-worker in his organization. The theme of Bells ta le is black female abandonment and their betrayal by black men who fail to encourag e the forming and maintenance of strong black families as essential for survival in a hostile racist society (80). In the end Warfield serves as a reminder that human hero es have feet of clay (84). As Neva, the black female protagonist of this tale explains, Jason is not the first black leader who has failed to live up to the peoples expectations and hopes. I doubt hell be the last (84). In this case, abandonment of black women is s een as tantamount to abandonment of the race. What is interesting about this story is not just Bells themes of abandonment and betrayal but rather the lack of freedom he extends to black male leaders and black men in general. Engaged in what Bell sees as a racial war, black men who fall in live with someone who is not a member of their group (69) become suspect. It is as if they are traitors who have gone over to the other side. The color line, Bell suggests, still exists boldly separating the lives of blacks and whites in America. For Bell, the past, present and future are all the same. In his eyes the fundamental relationship between blacks and wh ites is no different today than yesterday or yesteryear. For this reason, Bell asserts th at understanding the past is the best way to gain a foothold on ones present position.
96 In his tale Divining a Racial Realism Theory Bell expounds his beliefs about the position of blacks in America through a fi ctional character named Erika Wechsler. Erika is not a white liberal but rather a racial realist. She is an individual who accepts that American racial history has demonstr ated both steady subordi nation of blacks in one way or another and, if examined closely, a pattern of cyclical progress and cyclical regression (98). Racism from this perspectiv e is here to stay, pa rt and parcel of the American landscape. Bell agrees with much of this perspec tive yet finds it hard to agree with the conclusions that Erika draws from it. Er ika and a group called Wh ite Citizens for Black Survival or WCBS, have taken up arms and taken to the woods to await the coming of a black holocaust or some other all-out atta ck on Americas historic scapegoats (93). On one hand, Bell listens to Erika in disbel ief, yet on the other he is made to see that there is truth in much of what she says. In this tale Bell is walking in a national park in Oregon and barely escapes be ing struck by a bullet fired fr om Erikas rifle. She had not meant to kill him but Bell quickly learns that other militia active in the same woods have different agendas. On one occasi on Erika even saves Bell from a militiaman attempting to take them both prisoner. Bell l earns that the pen is not mightier than the sword. He also learns from Erika that if the need is great enough, the rewards large enough . blacks can be sacrificed at will. In short, Ericka argue s that For over three centuries this country has promised de mocracy and delivered discrimination and delusions (99). Bell ultimately embraces no t only Erickas logic but also the dire consequences that may result form carrying out her premises to their conclusion.
97 In The Rules of Racial Standing Bell positions himself as Moses on the mountaintop. He hears a voice which is almo st godlike that commands him to speak up, Ike, an spress yosef! (110). Like Mose s, Bell comes down from the mountaintop with something for the people. He brings with him five rules of racial standing. In the Bible, Moses was given the Ten Commandments, and in Bells own book he is given the five rules during a dream. Now awake, Bell expounds upon the five rules and what they tell us about American society. According to Bells heroine, Geneva Crenshaw, These rules seem more like revelations of distilled woe than gifts (114). In this she is correct, as Bells rules are not rules per say but rather pronouncements about how little voice blacks have in American society. Bell notes, It is no accident that white writers have dominated the recording of race relations in this country (113). In the end, Bell concludes th at even those blacks who attain wisdom and the gift of prophecy about racism must lie with the sorrow of knowing that no amount of public prophecy, no ma tter its accuracy, can either repeal the Rules of Racial Standing or prevent their ope ration (125). Bell ru les are in essence a description of the futility of black agency in the face of what he deems racial oppression. Yet Bells wisdom brings him only the sorro w noted in Ecclesiastes, and through his heroine he does little more than preach a jeremiad to the nation. Jeremiads generally precede destruc tion and in a story entitled A Law Professors Protest Bell e nvisions Harvards black facu lty and administrators, along with Harvards president, peri shing in a huge nuclearlike fi reball (127). In a touch of irony, Black faculty and administrators were m eeting with Harvards president to discuss the paucity of black faculty a nd administrators at Harvard. Yet all within the presidents
98 residence disappeared in a flash of fire that reduced even the stone and steel to a fine volcanic ash (128). Suspicion surrounded the disasters as both blacks and whites across the nation alleged wrongdoing on the part of othe rs, and rumors ignite d riots in the inner cities (128). The reason for the meeting was to discuss a plan to reverse Harvards history of resistance to changing traditional hiring practices that many believed discriminated against minorities. As a posthumous act Harvard implemented a Talented Tenth Program that doubled the percentage of black and Hispanic faculty and staff at the institution (134). Bell mixes reality with fiction as he discusses the reaction of Harvards white faculty and administrators to this tale. He recounts his twenty year struggle at Harvard to be the first, but not the last, black hired and his disappointment that after more than twenty years of clearing the trail . [it is] all grown over (138). In the end, Bell concludes that standards of qualificati on now subtly play the role once performed overtly by policies of ra cial exclusion (139). The problem however, is that whites ma y have difficulty seeing life from a perspective not their own. To counter this possibility, in Racisms Secret Bonding Bell imagines that a series of racial data st orms composed of hitherto-unknown energy rays flooded white Americans minds with not only the statistics but also the horrified feelings of the subjects of t hose statistics (148). In essenc e, white Americans were privy to the black experience from slavery to the present. Over time the storms and their accompanying background lectures led to ma ssive, day-long sitdown strikes among whites (149). White officials soon passed le gislative reforms regarding discrimination and white citizens eagerly complied with the new laws (150).
99 Bell creates this tale to question whether whites would act differently if they knew the effect of racism on blacks. Bell surmis es that this knowledge could change whites and in turn American societ y. Yet through his fictional character, Geneva Crenshaw, Bell plays devils advocate. According to Crenshaw: We fool ourselves when we argue that whites do not know what racial subordination does to its victims. Oh, th ey may not know the details of the harm or its scope, but they know Knowing is the key to racisms greatest value to individual whites and to their interest in maintaining the racial status quo. (151) Furthermore, Crenshaw argues: Americans achieve a measure of social stability through their unspoken pact to keep blacks on the bottoman aspect of social functioning that more than any other has retained its viability and its va lue to general stability from the very beginning of the American experience down to the present day. (152) Ultimately this leads Bell to wonder whethe r blacks are Americas scapegoats (153) always at risk of some ultimate betrayal by those who will treat such treachery as right (155). Whites, he concludes, are both know ledgeable of racism and complicit in its wrongs. He sees blacks as a race of Jeremiah s, prophets calling for the nation to repent with little hope of success (157). Bells lack of belief in the nations desire to repent is summed up in his tale The Space Traders. Here Bell argues that in the not too distant future, aliens offer Americans monetary and technol ogical assistance to cure the nations financial and environmental woes in return for its black citizen s. No one is quite sure what to make of the offer, and no one knows what will happen to blacks if they are sent away. What Bell
100 points out is that in his eyes few white Ameri cans would really care. As the President of the United Sates tells his cabinet, They [the aliens] are offering not only a solution to our nations present problems but also one surely an ultimate oneto what might be called the great American racial experiment (164). This ultimate solution is eventually embraced as blacks are deemed expendable. Bell uses a character named Gleason Goli ghtly to argue the black conservative position against forced emigration. He is a modern day Booker T. Washington, and the only black to have any influence on the c onservative administration. Yet Professor Golightlys words are of no ava il and his family is sent aw ay with all the other black families as whites pass a Twenty-Seventh Am endment that effectively authorizes the space trade. Bell uses aspects of history such as the slave trade, the Civil War, World War II, and McCarthyism, to paint a picture of oppressi on. He intertwines aspects of the past with his imagined future in order to teach us a lesson in the present. The lesson is that blacks in this country are no more than chattel. Laws to the contra ry can be ignored or re-written whenever it is conve nient to do so. Bells tale e nds with blacks being herded onto alien ships in the sa me manner that they arrived on slave ships. Told to strip off all but a single undergarment . [and] linked by slender chains, black people left the New World as their forebear s had arrived (194). Bells epilogue, Beyond Despair reite rates much of what he sought to accomplish through various stories. He notes the connections he sees between presentday blacks and their fo rebears, arguing that:
101 In these perilous times, we must do no less than they did: fashion a philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we face, and enables us to recognize in those dangers opportunities for committed living and human service. (195) In short, he argues that we are closer than we may realize to those in slavery . . (195). For Bell, the past, present, and future are not as separate as they may appear. In fact, Bells approach is so deterministic that th e past is both omnipresent and omnipotent. History plays a crucial role in the hu man drama Bell creates because he believes that we are imprisoned by the history of racial subordination in Ameri ca . . (197). He observes that racism lies at the center, not the periphery; in the permanent, not in the fleeting . . so that no matter where you are, there it is (198). Racisms role in the shaping of American history is so large that Bell believes that it casts a shadow over both present and future prospects for blacks. In his eyes it is so determinative of black life that blacks are stripped of both agency and responsibility. Conclusion In this chapter I have shown first, how Derrick Bell utilizes the past, present, and possible future as a means to explore both the beginning and end of failure for blacks in America. Second, I have shown how repeated injustice is a common thread in Bells texts. Third, I have shown how Bell provide s readers with an apo calyptic perspective on human history stemming from the fact that he makes no distinctions between the past, present, and future. Bells obsession with th e past makes failure in the future the only possible outcome he can imagine.
102 Bells work evidences the sense of bot h group failure and individual failure stemming from the rhetoric of W.E.B. Du Bois. Yet unlike Du Bois, Bell places no faith in the ability of the talent ed tenth, the guiding one-hundredth, or even the masses to resolve the problem of the color line. Rath er than rally blacks towards new efforts to combat racism, Bell urges blacks to accept racism as a fundame ntal part of the American landscape. It is for this reason that the most Bell can do is attempt to console blacks for past, present, and future failure. Although Bells encouragement of blacks to harass whites might in some ways be seen as comp ensatory, harassment can in no way fully compensate blacks for the losses Bell believes blacks have suffered. The trajectory of Bells works aims towards consolation though wh at it provides must taste bitter in the mouths of those who force themselves to imbibe his rhetoric. In the next chapter I will show how Randall Robinson seeks both consolation and compensation for blacks in America. A lthough repeated injustices are noted in Robinsons texts, unlike Bell, Robinson seeks for blacks a connection both spiritually and materially to America. Robinson believe s that inclusion of African American contributions to our nations history in its monuments will provide spiritual consolation for blacks. He also believes that material compensation in the form of reparations will help both blacks and the nation as a whole m ove beyond past injustice. Robinson sees renaissance blacks, a group I s ee as analogous to Du Boiss talented tenth, as catalysts for change and calls on this group to pay its debt to the race. A sense of failure exists for both blacks as a group and indi viduals within the talented tenth who have failed to achieve the goal of complete racial uplift Robinsons texts pr ovide blacks with a general explanation and a possible remedy for this sense of failure.
103 Chapter Five The Spiritual-Material Topos in Randall Robinsons The Debt and The Reckoning Payne asserts that considered rhetorica lly, spiritual-material themes serve to complete the healing process by giving persons explanations and treatments that become guides for living and sources of consolation a nd compensation for any and all failures in the future ( Coping with Failure 121). In this chapter I will illustrate how Randall Robinsons desire to let blacks know what ha ppened to them is a search for a general explanation for failure. The failure in this ca se is one for which he believes blacks should be consoled spiritually and compensated materially. First I will show that the spiritual and the material coalesce in that Robinsons emphasis on slavery memorials and texts is based on the belief that there is a spiritual benefit to the creati on and maintenance of these cultural artifacts. The absence of such ar tifacts and thus the inability of blacks to worship their ancestors through them is a major grievance for Robinson. Moreover, Robinson connects spiritual poverty to economic poverty among blacks resulting in a sense of failure. Second, I will show that Robinsons claims for failure are based more on group failure than that of individuals. As I suggested earlier in the literature review, the materialistic failure of poor blacks e ngenders a sense of id ealistic failure among middle class blacks. Robinsons works, as I il lustrate, being one res ponse to this sense of group failure. In The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks Randall Robinson begins his story and the story he will tell about both blacks and whites with a somber tone. His story is
104 one that will challenge history and the ways in which we remember it. Robinson seeks to re-member the various material elements of our national past and present. The ways in which blacks are disembodied w ithin it are painful to his spirit, and from his vantage point, destructive to the spirit of the nations black citizens. Robinson begins his journey, and the one that we will take with him, in the capitol building in Washington, D.C. I looked st raight up and immediately saw the callous irony, wondering if the slaves who had helped to erect the structure may have bristled at it as quickly as I ( The Debt 1). Inside the rotunda he cannot help but notice that the material embodiments of our national spirit fail to recognize the cont ributions of blacks to the same extent that thos e of whites are memorialized. He notes the absence of faces of color with the exception of a depicti on that shows Native Am ericans engaged in violence against each other, and a small bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. with eyes that look into the floor, as if th e figure understands but cannot quite bear what is going on around it in the Rotunda (2). What is going on is an erasure of the contributions of minorities to the creation and maintenance of American society. Only whites such as Thomas Jefferson are depicted with a counten ance that is proprietary, of the Rotunda if not of the country (2). As Robinson observes, The fres coes, the friezes, the oil paintings, the composite art of the Rotundat his was to be Ameri cas iconographic idea of itself (3). Yet the material symbols of Americas spirit deny both the existence and the contributions of large segments of the population. Robinson points out that although slaves bodies and spirits were used to construct both the Capitol building and the city itself their contributions are unacknowledged. Other people were paid for their labor, and though Robinson visualizes
105 the glistening backs of blacks with ropes and pulleys heaving th e ponderous stones of the dome into place . . of the two books in the gift kiosk run by the Capitol Historical Society . Neither book mentioned anything about the use of sl ave labor (3). Here we have the bodies of one group, their material essence, used to construct material representations that both laud a nd feed the spirits of another. This is part of Robinsons indictment against America. It is not only that slavery existed, but also that it is denied in our national symbols and monuments. Bodies dead and buried for centuries still have no recognition of their spirits. As important, Robinson believes th at this lack of a material testament to the spirits of blacks ancestor s is damaging to both the spirits of blacks living today and their possibili ties for material achievement. Robinson argues that the relationship be tween blacks and American culture is omitted from historical texts and artifacts exto lling Americas past. Initially, he focuses on the civil war period in order to point out th at blacks were once viewed as chattel, and even when freed became spoils of war and contraband slaves us ed to construct the Capitol (4). Blacks not only fired and st acked the bricks but also contributed the material essence of their bodies to constr ucting monuments of a freedom they did not enjoy (4). Robinson also notes that slave ow ners benefited materially from the work of unpaid blacks who labored. Robinson is not a Marxist seeking to turn the means of production over to the workers, but rather an advocate who requests back pay for past labor. The connection Robinson points out between blacks and American culture emphasizes the control of bodies and the wealth they produced of both a material and a spiritual nature. As he states of the Cap itol, This was the house of Liberty, and it had been built by slaves . paid only in the coin of pain (6).
106 What Robinson seeks for blacks is a sens e of connection both spiritually and materially to America in the same manner as white Americans. He asks that we begin again as co-owners of a national democracy (7). For this reason, Robinsons arguments for reparations are two-fold, of both a spiritual and a materi al nature. Robinsons work aims at not only material compensation but spiritual consolation as well. Robinson speaks of a division within himsel f that results in a war within, and . a great wanting of the spirit (13). He is divided between his new self and an ancient self, a damaged self of the present and an immortal self the son of the shining but distant African ages (13). He seeks to reca ll the life and memories of this ancient self because his inability to remember makes him less than whole in the present. Robinson extends his predicament to bl acks as a group, arguing that the various aspects of culture that move across the millennia like life giving ri vers . .[and] are essential to the health of any peoples spirit are absent for blacks (15). In a sense, Robinson argues that the various elements that transcend individual id entities and create a collective identity are themselves essential for individuals as well. Robinson utilizes the second chap ter of his work to give an example of the affect on black youth and black people in the present of a lack of knowledge about their past. After meeting a young boy named Billy who knew nothing of Randall Robinson, Trans Africa, or Nelson Mandela, Robinson begins to wonder what else the young boy might not know. He visualizes Billy in the Washi ngton Mall with a mentor who is attempting to teach him about America through its memo rials and monuments. Yet Billy does not see himself reflected in the memorials and monuments and wonders, Where am I. Who am I? Why am I here? (32). Robinson point s out that the Washington Mall does little to
107 help the Billy answer these questions. Billy finds a memorial to the holocaust in Europe, but no memorial to the holocausts in Ameri ca involving either black slaves or Native Americans. In the nations commemorativ e malls the existence of blacks and other minorities is often denied. Robinson sees this as a failure in Americ an society. Blacks often lack knowledge of their history and by extension knowledge of themselves. One can scour the commemorative architecture of the nation s capital and find little evidence that Americas racial holocaust ever occurred (33). For Robinson both the group and the individual, the past and the present are connected The failure in American society is that the two are divorced from each other. Robinson suggests that blacks who lack knowledge of group progress often fa il to progress as individuals. Yet rather than locate failure within the individual, Robinson argues that this failure is a societal one. The crypto-Machiavellians who serve as the pere nnial stewards of American public affairs understood that people on the whole are as malle able as their history can be made to be (33). His words evidence bitterness at not be ing taught his own hist ory, meaning that of black people. In the end, Robinson conclude s that the Washington Mall is not meant to reflect blacks and other minorities but rather the achievements of whites. The landscape is rife with examples, from historically overa rching lies and half-tru ths to popular culture deceits (33). He finds this situation intolerable. Robinson asserts that the lack of ack nowledgement in the nations monuments and memorials is detrimental to blacks. He argues that it denies blacks answers to the question, Who-am-I? . Answers as essentia l to the human psyche as food and water are to the body. Answers without which no so cial progress is possible (46). Yet not
108 only are answers missing but according to Robinson, Truths. Half-truths. Unsupportable myths. Outrageous lies. [Are ] polished together into history (46). Robinson sees this as a national sin worsened by the fact that They [whites] have taken my tax dollars and bought only what they need (54). The material assets of blacks and other minorities are used to fill the spiritua l needs of whites. Robinson asserts that through memorials and monuments whites engage in ancestor worship yet deny blacks and others the same opportunitie s to worship individuals like themselves (55). He sees this as psychologically damaging for blacks be cause we need to remember who we are, not remember with others who they are. Furthermore, The humans innate need to remember ones self before ones own time. Distantly before. And reassuringly, is denied to blacks (56). Robinson sees a conn ection between the material and the spiritual and vice versa. In many ways he argues th at this connection was severed for blacks and attempts to force the nation into repairing the breach. Robinson argues that various social problems are each a cause and/or a consequence of disabling povertyof means a nd spiritthat has shackled all too many entire black family trees since the Emanci pation Proclamation (62). Beyond this point the material status of blacks contributes to a conditioned expectation in society that lifts the high-expectation meritless and, more often than not, locks down in a permanent class hell the natively talented but low-expectation black (63). Material conditions contribute to a poverty of spirit that make s life itself a form of punishme nt analogous to hell. Blacks suffer from high infant mortality. Low income. High unemployment. Substandard education. Capital incapacity. Insurmountable credit barr iers. High morbidity. Belowaverage life span. Overrepresentation in prison and on death row (62).
109 For example, Robinson describes the ec onomic and spiritual hell that a black woman named Anna lives everyday. She worries for herself and her children who lack the privileges of middle cla ss life. Robinson empathizes with Anna and attempts to transfer this empathy to the reader and eventu ally to the nation. In relating Annas story to the reader, Robinson emphasizes how a lack of material possessions eats away at the spirit of both Anna and her family. A lack of material possessions makes life hard, and in this way the material influences the spiritual. The poor may be blessed in some ways, but they are cursed with a lack of money in a so ciety that prides itself on the accumulation of wealth. Ultimately this understanding leads to Annas periodic bouts of panic . now almost generalized despondency that d eepened with certain sounds and sight associations (67) all of whic h remind her of the middle class life she has yet to live, but which so many other Americans take for gran ted. Anna was poor and despite attending her Pentecostal church with her children every Sunday without fail . None of it did any good (72) no matter how hard she worked. Robinson situates Annas poverty not only in the present but also historically in the institution of slavery. He sees genera tions of her family . like beads on a taut string, one end anchored in slaver y the other in oblivion (73). Furthermore, he sees this as the general case for many blacks. He believes that without a change in the economic status of blacks, lines, begun parallel and le ft alone, can never touch (74). Blacks and whites will otherwise remain separate and unequal because slavery ultimately guaranteed that, even after emancipation, black s would be concentrated at the bottom of American society indefinitely . . (76). Yet just as slav ery may explain much about the
110 present conditions for many blacks, Robinson be lieves that a knowledge of black history before slavery is also needed. Robinson asserts that blacks lack of knowledge about both African kings, and African-American slaves leads them down a pa th toward self-hatred. He states, We dont know what happened to us and no one will tell us. Thus we have concluded that the fault must be ours. We blame and disparage ourselves but seldom those responsible for our dilemma (83). Robinson plays both th e blame game and the race card to explain the position of blacks at the bot tom of Americas social and economic hierarchy. He lays blame upon Americas white citizens. America s white society, a society that he argues denigrates people of color indi scriminately. Blacks have internalized the opinions of whites and are left with a crushing loss of confidence (85). Robinson observes that whites on the ot her hand, confidently degrade other cultures and people via the logos of sports t eams that are racially offensive. It is interesting to note that this is done for mate rial gain while at the same time undermining the spirits of those depicted as dangerous I ndians, and Redskins. Jackson Miller in his own work illustrates the difficulties Native Am ericans encounter as they struggle to end the dominant cultures appropriation of their identity and culture (Indians, Braves, and Redskins). While Robinson believes societ y today would be less likely to tolerate similar depictions of blacks as team mascot s, he notes that black athletes say nothing about the logos they wear each time they perform. Robinson sees change as unlikely because it would take the undiluted force of the whole society (90). It w ould also take economic resources, material means, to cure this problem of the spirit. The most Robinson can do is empathize with Native
111 Americans in a manner similar to the way in which he empathizes with Anna. He says of Native Americans, I as they do, fully expect to be ignored by the larger society . . (91). Robinson is therefore left with nothing but a sense of despair he believes they must also feel. He feels the same despair for blacks because slavery is an accursed contraption that steals the soul and violates the spirit (92). Since Robinsons aim is to draw a continuous timeline from slavery to the present, he sees the affects of slavery as ongoing today. One way in which Robinson believes the aff ects of slavery are evident in blacks is their esteem for European culture over their own. Robinson tells the story of how a black female college graduate was iffing herself European (96) during a farewell address at an historically black college. R obinson asserts that had a white speaker done the opposite in front of a white audience that th is would have been absurd. Why, he asks, is it not absurd for the black speaker or the black audience? Robins on concludes that the answer lies in self-hatred, a degradation of the spirit. Robinson believes that making a public case for reparations would begin a healing of our psyches. This is necessary because slaves and their ancestors were never made whole. And never compensated (208). For this reason Robinson views blacks as -year-old spirit-dead vict ims with post-hypnotic hopefulness (217). Repeatedly, Robinson refers to psychic pain and an unequal ec onomic relationship of blacks to whites (226) arguing th at spiritual pain can be comp ensated for materially. If nothing else, Robinsons fight for reparations is itself as a form of consolation that may lead to changes in the way we both understa nd and memorialize asp ects of our national history. These texts and monuments themselves would be a form of consolation in place
112 of material monetary compensation. If social rights, wrongs, obligations, and responsibilities flow eternal then the wr ongs must be adequately compensated and righted (230). Yet although the wrongs might in theory be compensated, in reality there is no way in which they could ever be righted. The most one could accomplish is to offer consolation to the living descendants of sl aves and sharecroppers, descendants who Robinson claims are linked both spiritually and materially to the poverty of their ancestors. Robinson aims to turn the movement for reparations into a connecting mantra a secular religion uniting blacks within comm on tenets and knowledge of ourselves (239). He seeks to reclaim fo r blacks something that has far more than material value (240). Not only does Robinson seek from Am erica the compound interest of a material debt he believes blacks are owed, he also seeks a form of spiritual compound interest as well. He divides the nation into victims and victimizers, and tells the victims, You are owed. You were caused to endure terrible th ings. The fault is not yours. There is nothing wrong with you. They did this to you (242). Yet if blacks are collectively victimized, then whites are depicted collectivel y as victimizers. Whites are asked to feel some moral obligation for slavery and what followed it (296). Blacks are asked to undertake a spiritual pilgrima ge to Washington, D.C. that for them becomes synonymous with Mecca. Blacks are asked to lay their burdens and the sins Robinson states are not theirs on the altar of the nations capitol. Blacks engagement in lamentations and wailings will potentially yield a spiritual and perhaps a material harvest. This harvest is both the spiritual consolation and material compensation that Robinson argues America owes its black citizens.
113 Yet one of the greatest difficulties in solving the race problem, according to Robinson, is getting people to see that there is a problem. He states, All of us look. Few of us see. Or want to see . . (163). He believes that as Americans most of us suffer from an inability to see racial disease vectors (164). Robinson implies that American society is constructe d in such a way that it nourish es the spirits and bodies of white Americans while often failing to do th e same for blacks. He recalls walking through the rotunda of Capitol Hill and noticing how traitor s to the United States and defenders of slavery are often celebrated in the nations monuments and art. Yet few people take notice of this irony. Robinson adm its that he deflected its insult . and kept no conscious tabulation of its message. [Yet] I died some but could not know it (164). The celebration of Robe rt E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson among others in Statuary Hall offends Robinson. In many ways he sees it as damaging to hi s very being and the death he speaks of is a spiritual death, a dimini shing of his soul. Yet he also recalls that Americas failure to protect and cherish black lives equally with those of whites is made evident in the slaying of Amadou Diallo, and the torture of Abner Louima. In these ways the material nature of racism is mani fest on the bodies of black victims. Robinson sees America as fundamentally fl awed because of racism. He asserts, Monstrous systems do turn people into mons ters. Every day. All the time. With unerring efficiency (168). People of all colors are affected by an American culture of violence often reflected in its cinema. As a result, some individuals in society reap material gain through the destru ction of the nations spirit. Diseased spirits then create material destruction throughout society in th e nations streets and even its schools.
114 Robinson is convinced that th e real threat to the well-be ing of American society is internal, not exte rnal (169). The material destruction of America s spirit is due to an overemphasis on materialism. Robinson states, Money has become our real god, our overarching value. It is our ethic, our totem, or consuming ambition, our foremost measure of success (170). The race problem, like many others, stems from a failure to pursue spiritual treasures rather than material ones. Robinson sees this as damaging not only to the nation as a whole but also to blacks in particular. Freed from the confin es of physical slavery they remain trapped nevertheless. He notes Blacks walk around with their cages inside them (175). Furthermore, We blacks are in the hundreds of millions the world over, caged by post-slavers in stunted, half-told, unfavorable pictures of what we were and are and can be. Too many of us too broken, scarred, soul-weary to engage in the full truth and glories of ourselves in the Africa way-back as well as in our American experience. (177) The connection between the material and th e spiritual is perhaps made clear in Robinsons observation that in American societ y blacks are subject to power with art as its handservant (167). What Robinson wishes for American society is seen in his descriptions of Cuba. His praise for Castro is somewhat worshi pful and one wonders whether Robinson would like to see himself as a liberator of blacks th rough peaceful means. Castro is cast as a hero, the United States as a villain. Robinson depicts Cast ro as a modern day Robin Hood, and the U.S. as an overpowering hege mon content to punish the poor people of
115 Cuba in the name of democracy. Castro is a symbol of opposition and the picture Robinson paints of Cuba is that of an isla bonita. Robinson sees Cuba as an example of what America could be in a spiritual rather than a material sense. According to R obinson, Cubans seem qualitatively less racist than Americans (127), and he notes that w e could do the requisite ancestor worship in Cuba that we, ourselves, could not do on the Mall in Washington (128). In contrast, Robinson writes that in America, We are emotional defectors from a society whose white majority long ago smothered to death a ny notion of cultural ow nership (134). This differs from white Cubans [who] . talk with unrema rkable emphasis about their African ancestry (129). Cuba is cast as a spiritual oasis desp ite the poor material circumstances its people endure because of a U. S. embargo over twenty-five years old. Robinson even goes so far as to write, Those early Christians, now they were communists . They were communalists, (146 ) as if to imply that the U.S. may be a capitalist nation but not a Christian one. Robinson makes evident the extent to which the U.S. and many other western nations are more capitalist than Christian in his discussion of Africa and the Caribbean. He observes, Africa pays out upwards of 20 pe rcent of its export earn ings in debt service to Western creditors, making economic development a sheer impossibility (183). Furthermore, The basics of the relationship between Africa and the West from 1700 to 1800 to 1900 to 2000 appear to have changed le ss than one might expect (185). In essence, Robinson asserts that colonialism a nd its aftermath amount to little more than slavery revisited. Western nations via the IMF or their own governments can exert proprietary control over seemi ngly ex-colonial nations. Robinson sees the relationship
116 between western and African nations as all about money, with the wealthy once again dictating to the weak the terms of surrender (186). The relationship between the spiritual a nd the material is also made plain in Robinsons rhetoric. In one statement he asserts, America is the sun whose limitless wealth draws impoverished humankind obeisantly into its orbit for warmth and validity. There they are, much of the black and brown world, bowing to an amoral money god that has deemed them irrelevant. (187) In ancient Egypt the pharaoh was also looke d upon as Ra incarnate, the sun god. In Robinsons rhetoric the U.S. occupies the pos ition of the sun and rules the world through its immense wealth and power. Yet Robinson sees the worship of this amoral money god as detrimental to the worlds poorer nations. It makes them casualties of inattention and low self-esteem, disembow eled and victimized (187). The poorer nations are stripped of not onl y their material wealth but al so their spiritual endowments. Robinson makes similar arguments about the material and sp iritual poverty of blacks in America. He compares the mate rial suffering of Jews during Nazi Germany with the suffering of blacks dur ing the slave trade. He states that for blacks, after 380 years of unrelenting psychological abuse, the biggest part of our problem is inside us (205). For Robinson, the fight for reparations is not only about ma terial compensation but also spiritual consolation. As much as Robinson points to failure within American society, and of white Americans in particular, he also addresses failure among blacks. In the next section I show how the materialistic failure of poor bl acks engenders a sense of idealistic failure
117 among middle class blacks. This sense of fa ilure is evident in R obinsons works and may be a catalyst for them. Materialistic and Idealistic Failure Robinsons claims for failure are base d on group failure more than that of individuals. Yet Payne notes We are identif ied with the world around us in such ways that problems in the world can appear failures fo r us as individuals (130). This is the heart of Du Boiss initial call for a talented tenth among blacks, and Robinsons recent call for a group of renaissance blacks to save th e race. Robinson is one of those indicated in both groups, which are in many ways one and the same. Hes succeeded materially while others have not, and because of either the rhetorical mandate of Du Bois or the notion of extended families Robinson draws from Africa he feels spiritual disconsolation. The fate of the many is placed squarely on the shoulders of individuals. In particular, the most successful blacks must always be d eemed failures if blacks as a group do not succeed in achieving parity w ith other groups in society. Robinson asserts that slavery damaged the very soul of us a nd that this makes it difficult for blacks to advance collectively ( 16). He states, To be made large and formidable againto be whole againblacks need to know the land of their forebears when its civilizations were verifiably equal to any in the world. Blacks and whites must learn of a time when the idea of black infe riority did not exist (17). Here we find Robinsons desire for a material power, of the bodys ability to assert itself in the secular world, tied to the ability to be whole again in a spiritual sense. Yet this spiritual
118 wholeness can only be achieved by remember ing a time when blacks had material power in ancient civilizations of the past. The material power of yesteryear must be remembered to attain spiritual power in the present in order to create material power in the future. For Robinson the absence of a seeming eternal identity, a peoples w hole memory must be undone. The reason it must be undone is because No people can liv e successfully, fruitfully without strong memory of their past, without reading the futu re within the context of some reassuring past, without implanting reminders of the pa st in the present (27). Once again, the spiritual and the material are connected, as well as the past, present, and future. As Robinson states, African Americans must spir itually survive from the meager basket a few mean yesteryears. No chance for signi ficant group progress there. None (28). In a chapter entitled, Demanding Respect, Robinson states that blacks as a group have failed to gain both respect and materi al power in the political arena. He notes Bill Clinton gained the affections and votes of blacks without offering them much in return. Robinson points out how Clintons leadership was harmful to blacks in regard to education, rates of incarceration among bl acks, and a growing income gap between whites and blacks. Robinson criticizes both C linton and white society for a lack of will to close all socioeconomic gaps between the races (106). Whites failure to enact a virtual Marshall Plan . for the common good is evident (107). Moreover, Robinson reiterates his call for white society to set af oot new values . purify memory . [and] recast its lying face (108). He calls on a cadre of blacks to force white society to tell the truth about American history and make am ends for past wrongs. He asks these renaissance blacks to propagate an inte llectual storm of self -discovery among blacks
119 tantamount to a secular religion (108). According to Robinson, Even to muster the energy for a particularized broad new demandt o restore, to put back, to recompense we will have to heal our spirits, for the most part, by ourselves (120). Renaissance blacks are therefore challenged to seek both ma terial and spiritual ga ins for blacks, both compensation and consolation. In his subsequent book The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other Robinson argues that to understand the full dama ge that America has done to the black world over the last 346 years we must extrapol ate the general from the specific, not the other way around (1). The specific case he ex amines as a synecdoche of black life is that of Peewee Kirkland. Peewee was born into the rigged game of dysfunctional families, variably crippling poverty, poor e ducation, and all but nonexistent opportunity for long-term success (2). Robinson uses Peewees life to discuss the new de facto slavery (3) of life in Americas prison syst em and the ways in which from birth, black inner city males are strapped onto a hard-life treadmill leading all too often toward early death or jail (2). He note s that black men are incarcerate d at alarming rates in prisons that constitute a new growth industry (2). Robinson sees the fight against this ne w growth industry as having both material and spiritual consequences. Black men are once again seen as human chattel (3) laboring in prisons for the profit of white i nvestors, and workers who gain employment from the industry. Robinsons fight is agai nst the corruption of the money god he spoke of in The Debt and the ways in which the pursuit of ma terial gain strips away the soul of both the victims and the victimizers. He ca lls on successful blacks to salvage a living
120 generation of African-American men and women (3) caught in the mill of post-industrial America. Robinson views himself as caught in this mill too but in a different way. He writes, I am a commodity in democracys mouthy comic charade. Praise be to mammon, the powerless are allowed to talk. Indeed, are encouraged to yammer futilely at the tops of our voices (8). As Erving Goffman observes, A stigmatized person may find that the movement has absorbed hi s whole day, and that he has become a professional ( Stigma 26). In the Bible, God compar es himself to mammon, or riches, stating that it is impossible for a person to serve both. In contemporary America, Robinson asserts that mammon is king, and lord of lords. Robinson can speak against mammon and the earthly princes who rule th e people, but can do little to change the situation of the people. He sees himself as a pawn in a game he does not control, moving one step at a time but never out of sight of t hose who oversee the board and its pieces. In one example, he discusses the situation of blacks in Miami and the ways in which their interactions with Cubans show that black s are on the losing end of ethnic strife for material gains as minorities compete for crumbs from the masters table. Robinson has attained a few scraps of bread for himsel f and accomplished a measure of prestige and material comfort. Yet he must admit that he has no power. Perhaps not even influence (10). He does not control the coming and going of currency in a society in which the actor is more important than the real-life hero the actor portrays (10). Robinson sees himself as a prophet, in our age a highly paid one, but nevertheless fi nding it difficult to change the spirit of a nation that lets his jeremiad go in one ear and out of the other.
121 Robinson even finds it hard to influence ot her blacks. For the first time he admits division between blacks as a gr oup which he avoided doing in The Debt He acknowledges class differences as well as age differences between himself and the young black men he is asked to address at a Bl ack Male Empowerment Summit. Not only does he feel a sense of alienation from young bl ack men but also an older black man of comparable age to himself. It is not just age but poverty that separates Robinson from Peewee Kirkland. Jennifer Hochschild obser ves that African Americans are becoming more disparate politically and demographica lly as well as economically and socially ( Facing Up to the American Dream 50). As Robinson states, I am no longer poor . I feel I may have lost the hearts knowledge of the social slice from whence I sprang, although I am conscious of none of this (1 6). The class based separation between Robinson and Kirkland is made more evid ent in Robinsons description of Mark Lawrence, the organizer of the summit. He describes Lawrence as a polished and welleducated (Wharton Business School, Cornell) man, and he makes the tasteful, wellprepared introduction one would expect of hi m (17). Lawrence exemplifies the younger element of the talented tenth, and when Robinson looks at him he sees aspects of himself that he cannot see in Peewee Kirkland or th e young men Kirkland attempts to save from the streets. At one point Robi nson admits, It occurs to me that I, a victim of prejudice, am not without a set of my own (18). Nevertheless, Robinson attempts to bridge the gap through his recitation that We are all vict ims a theme he uses when discussing American society and the call for reparations (20). Robinson sees himself as a material medium for spiritual knowledge when discussing reparations. He observes, Only the voicea medium, no morehad been
122 mine. All the restthe thoughts, the se ntiments, the visceral knowingsmoved around and through us all like the pl aintive ghosts of forebear s awaiting remembrance and redress (22). Yet the identification he attempts to claim with Africa and its people is absent in his discussion of America and its majo rity. He writes, I ask myself who I am. I wear anothers clothes. I speak anothers language. I worship anothers god . . (25). Rather than identification, Robinson feels estr angement despite the superficial markers of assimilation he bears. He notes, I sit here on the dais having la nded in a new world, a world foreign to me . . (26). Although Robinson is no immigrant he sees himself as a foreigner in his native country. Denied the fruits of his mate rial labor to the extent that he believes whites benefit from discrimina tion against minorities, he seeks solace in spiritual consolation. Robinson takes pride in knowledge of African history and the fact that his information is thousands of year s old unlike young black men of today whose spiritual lives are much shorter (27). At one point Robinson even rails against th e idea of white Americas spirituality. He asks, Do not the disciples of privilege invoke the same God . Do they not publish their trust in him on the coin of the realm? Do they not thank him? For grandfathers bequest . . (35). The only God that Robinson can see reflected in American society is mammon. In his eyes the pursuit of wealth has not only stripped white Americans of the spirituality Robinson seeks, but also black Amer icans of their heritage and even their own gods. Robinson can only hold out hope for a time when America is formed of a new and darker majority. When the unseen are at last centered on the masthead. When little is as it was before (48). In essence he waits for a time when the poor will inherit the earth, the last shall be first, and the wicked will be judged if they fail to repent. The
123 spiritual and the material combine in ways that make the darker, poorer people of America into a chosen people who will one day gain possession of a promised land that was not shared with them from the foundation of America. Robinson even asks at one point whether historians will write that Am erica was never an authentic democracy or, worse still, never real ly tried to be (49). Robinson uses Peewee Kirklands life as one example of how American democracy has failed to provide equal oppor tunity to everyone. During a speech Kirkland gave at the Black Male Empower ment Summit, Peewee expresses his own anger and that of Robinson who seeks to iden tify with Kirkland and others like him. Kirkland tells the audience, I was angry, angry at the conditions I was living under, angry at the fact that you had to shake the cereal box in the mo rning so that roaches would go to the bottom, angry at you knew how other pe ople was living, and other people had cars, and other people had things, and a ngry at the fact th at you couldnt see ahead, you couldnt see a future, you couldn t talk about a future. You couldnt see anything. (55) Kirkland then admits that the way in whic h he responded to those conditions was both antithetical to some American values while at the same time in keeping with other American values. He states, So when I was twelve, I began a life of crime. I did it to try to figure out a way to secure a future for my family (55). Robinson wants the audience to lament the mate rial conditions of Kirkland s childhood and the ways in which dire poverty undermined Kirklands sp irit. Kirkland could not see a brighter tomorrow and therefore find no source of comp ensation. Crime became a consolation for
124 other lost opportunities that were of greater value yet co uld not be had. Crime brought material gain to Kirkland at the cost of his spirit. Robinson includes a brief interlude into hi s text regarding the establishment of chattel slavery in Virginia in the mid-1600s. It is meant to show a connection between the conditions of blacks then and now, along with the ways in which whites continue to profit from black servitude. In discussi ng the present, Robinson observes that New Yorks drug laws exemplify how prison and the incarceration of minorities amounts to a new growth industry. Peewee Kirkland practiced in New York the only entrepreneurship allowed to him (63) while the state of New York created new wellpaying jobs (62) for those who would find profit in anothers crime. Yet Robinson asserts that the true crime is that Kirkla nd could not have known how high against him the deck had been stacked (63). Robinson tells readers the story of Pe ewee Kirklands life as a synecdochic representation of black life in general. R obinson conflates the indi vidual and the group, the past and the present, in or der to assert his point. For R obinson yesterday is today. In the year 2001, at home and abroad, blacks, disproportionately, are seen by the masters of the American economy as little more th an human compost for Americas continued global dominance (81). Although Robinson presents readers with a biographical account of Peewee Kirklands rise and fall as a small time criminal turned black market entrepreneur, and eventually drug kingpin, th e main goal for Robinson is to comment on American society and the ways in which failure is evident in its past, present, and future. In one chapter, Robinson imagines life in the year 2076 as a time of great crisis for America. The country is now a prison-industrial complex in which crime pays
125 dividends for those who own stock in prisons. The few rich are separated via gated communities from the many poor, and the talented tenth among blacks forget any connection to the masses of poor blacks. More over, blacks no longer identify as a group but rather as ethnicities to the extent that they no longer have a common present, and can remember no common past. The commonalities between past and present, according to Robinson, revolve around slavery and what is referred to as the American Neo-Slavery Movement (179). People of color are largel y behind bars working again in ways similar to their slave ancestors. Yet just as blacks and Hispanics are reduced to the status of chattel, things have become the sole m easures of value (88). Robinson states, Everyone worshipped things. Things we re like the drugs that tricked their affections and feigned appeasement to their befuddled spirits. Things were the idols, the gods that pret ended nourishment to their moribund souls . God was dead. God was things. (188) In this statement Robinson succinctly notes the extent to which the spiritual and material in American society are out of balance in the not-too-distant future. Robinson speaks of the past, present, and future as integrally connected and as contexts in which to discuss the material and spiritual implica tions of slavery and segregation. Robinson seeks both compensation and consolation for the descendants of American slaves. He believes that todays blacks suffer from the social pathologies born peculiarly of generalized abuse and grin ding poverty (191) that stem from slavery and its aftermath. Robinson notes, The vict ims have never been compensated. They have yet to be apologized to (191). As a re sult of slavery and r acial oppression they constitute a contemporary generation of spiritually and economically impoverished
126 African-Americans (193). Yet since Robinson believes that white Americans are in denial about the spiritual and economic costs of slavery to bl acks and the benefits that accrued to whites, ultimately he places a heavy burden on successful blacks to help those less fortunate. He argues that the dire situ ation of the black poor places a special responsibility upon more fortunate African -Americans (like myse lf) who were not required from the very beginning of their life to be tough before they could be strong (193). Robinson implies that successful blacks had it easier and therefore owe a debt to those who had more difficult beginnings. In e ssence, he reiterates Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth without acknowledging Du Bois or his program for social uplift. What differs between Robinson and Du Bois is the attitude toward the ta lented tenth. Robinson appears resentful of this group even while he calls on them to help the masses. He fails to acknowledge that the privileged position they enjoy could stem from the hard work of their ancestors or themselves. He writes that they were simply fort unate, fortunate that their ancestors spirits were not broken during slavery, fortunate enough to be born into better circumstances than others. Their fortun e, from his perspective, stems from chance and therefore they are obligated to share the wealth they did not ear n. Sharing individual gains with the collective is a virtue to Robinson and he stat es, To Americans, this should be a compelling (if foreign) notion to obs erve (197). Yet for African-Americans, Robinson sees this as an ob ligation stemming from historical roots in Africa where people are social products of external fa milies (as opposed) to our nuclear families (197).
127 The subject of family, in particular extended family, permeates Robinsons work. He suggests that as Americans we should treat each other as members of the same extended family. Although this has proven di fficult for many people to do judging by our countrys history of racial discrimination, R obinson argues that it is necessary in the present and important for the nations future. Moreover, Robinson states that blacks owe a debt to each other and are obligated to take care of each other as members of an extended family with roots in Africa. His discussions of Peewee Kirklands hard knock life, as well as that of young men like New Child and Aubrey Lynch, are meant to draw us into their world, put us in touch with their spirits, and conv ince us to care about them. Rather than look at the urba n poor as statistics and obj ectify them in a material sense we are asked to see their humanity and acknowledge their spirits, damaged as they may be from the hardships of life at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Robinson writes, They are post-Christian Americas state tr ained gladiators who slaughter each other before empty seats, the winners filling the st ate-built iron plantations that ballast the new economy of increasingly skewed privilege (268). Robinson searches for a way to create identification between him and the poor blacks he encounters, yet fi nds it difficult to achieve. He observes, They talk to Peewee a nd to New Child and to each other. They listen only to the authentic vo ices, trustworthy voices, voi ces found on their streets, found in their art, the starkly honest literature of rap music (268). Although the roots of the extended family tree Robinson imagines stem from Africa, its branches in America are separate and far apart. In some cases it is as if half of the tree bathed in sunlight while the other half languished in darkness. Henr y Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West observe, If it is the best of times for the black mi ddle classthe heirs of Du Boiss Talented
128 Tenthit is the worst of times for an equally large segment of our community (The Future of the Race xii). What Robinson argues is that ultimately the entire tree will die unless the situation is corrected. Ultimately Robinsons plea is for the black middle class, Du Boiss modern day talented tenth, to live up to its rhetorical manda te as stewards of the race. Yet as Cornel West observes, The present-day black middl e class is not simply different than its predecessorsit is more deficient and, to put it strongly, more decadent ( Race Matters 36). Robinson laments, the re lative silence of black lead ership in regard to the warehousing of poor blacks in prisons (273) While acknowledging cl ass divisions that make focusing on such problems difficult, he nevertheless asserts that race is a more powerful variable among blacks than class. Still, he cannot deny that class matters and for this reason asks that blacks receive for our pains a measure of material recompense for slavery and its aftermath (272). While money brings compensation in a ma terial sense it cannot bring consolation for a spiritual problem. Robinson admits, T he healing of our spirits we must do for ourselves (272). Yet group cohesion is hard to maintain because integration provided tickets to some of us doctors, teachers, lawyer s, et al., to leave the rest of us (275). In some ways he sees an unintended benefit to se gregation in that the very best talent our community had to offer served our community alone, in part because segregation offered them little choice (275). Bell hooks notes that by the late 1960s class-based racial integration disrupted the racial solidarity that often held bl acks together despite class difference ( Class Matters 91). Robinson implies that although blacks gained materially as individuals, they suffered spiritually as a collective because of integration. He views
129 integration as problematic because white society has never seriously concerned itself with the eradication of white poverty. Hence, it is logical to assume that white society would be even less concerned about the c onsequences of black poverty (275). The consequences of black poverty are not only material deprivation but also spiritual privation. In Robinsons rhetoric there is a c onnection between the material and the spiritual. The material poverty of black Amer icans leads to spiritual poverty as well. Robinson argues, What is at stake here is ou r very future as a people in America (276). The apocalypse of slavery is both then and now. The prison-industrial complex is but a variation on an old theme that has both mate rial and spiritual chor ds, few of which are sweet. Conclusion Robinson seeks both consolation and compensation for blacks. Slavery memorials and texts that emphasize the cont ributions of blacks to the shaping of American history are integral to these aims. Inclusion within the nations memorials will provide blacks with consolation for the African heritage and traditions lost due to slavery. It would also console blacks for years of st ruggle to be recognized as one with many other Americans, a part of the American ta pestry. Memorials and texts are a form of compensation as well, yet their overall eff ect is to provide consolation. Robinson believes this form of consolati on for spiritual pove rty will have material consequences. Even without monetary reparations, Robins on suggests that the sp iritual benefit of
130 recognition and the ability to worship ones ancestors with other Americans will allow blacks to overcome a failure to achieve economic social, and political parity with whites. The failure that Robinson asserts is that of the group, rather than that of individuals. Robinsons belie f that blacks have failed as a group can be understood in terms of the two types of failure Payne outline s: materialistic and id ealistic. Middle class blacks, contemporary members of Du Boiss ta lented tenth, remain idealistic failures so long as poor blacks are materialistic failures. In order to cope with their own sense of failure, middle class blacks are pushed to live up to the historical and rhetorical mandate of Du Bois, one reiterated in Robinsons cal l for a group of renaissance blacks to save the race. Robinsons own texts, The Debt and The Reckoning can be read as a response to this sense of failure and can therefore be unde rstood as therapeutic in nature. These texts provide blacks with a genera l explanation for failure and a potential solution to the problem of the color line.
131 Chapter Six Failure in the Rhetoric of Transformation W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his essay The Talented Tenth that slavery was the legalized survival of the unfit and the nullification of the work of natural internal leadership (Writings 843). Du Bois attributed the fa ilure of blacks to slavery and the subversion of the natural order or hierarc hy among blacks. In his essay he called on whites to take affirmative actions that would ai d the talented tenth in taking their place at the top of the black social hierarchy. Once in stilled in their positions these blacks would lift up those beneath them and lead the race upwar ds from its abject position of servitude. Yet in The Talented Tenth Memorial Addre ss Du Bois admitted that the only thing his talented tenth succeed in lifting up were themselves. He pined, In my youth and idealism, I did not realize that selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice (In The Future of the Race 161). Distrustful of the talented te nth Du Bois placed his faith in a tenth of the tenth in the hopes that they might do what his talented few failed to do. No guiding one-hundredth arose to answer Du Boiss call. Instead the idea of the talented tenth remained along with the human embodiments it helped create. Still, the shadow of failure loomed large as Carter G. Woodson shined even more light on the talented tenths inability to fulfill its rhetor ical mandate to save the race. Woodson saw the talented tenth as of little va lue to the masses of black people. Not much has changed over the years as modern-day black intellectuals, themselves members of the talented tenth, lame nt the failure of this group to fulfill its
132 mandate. Cornel West calls Du Bois the towering black scholar of the twentieth century while lamenting that modern day blac k intellectuals fall short of the mark in comparison to their intellectual forefather ( The Future of the Race 55). In his book Race Matters West castigated black political leaders ( 38) and lamented that the present-day black middle class is not simply different than its predecesso rsit is more deficient and to put it strongly, more decadent (13). Furt hermore, West opined that the significant secondary efforts of the black Talented Tenth alone in the twenty-first century will be woefully inadequate and thoroughly frustrati ng . . (50). Yet Wests comments may speak more to his own class position than to that of blacks as a whole. As Debra Dickerson wrote in The End of Blackness : It is the well-off Talented Tenth blacks who feel least at home . The black community needs to unravel the mystery of why its most successful blacks act like the most dispossessed" (7). I attribute this sense of unease to an understanding that the talented tenth has fa iled to live up its rhetorical mandate. This dissertation explored not only the root causes of this sense of failure among successful blacks but also the ways in which so me members of the talented tenth seek to cope with failure. A sense of failure exists among the talented tent h, and the turn towards reparations as a potential soluti on to the problem of the color line underlines this fact. No longer do members of the talented tenth see their efforts as enough to lift the masses. Unlike Du Bois who believed that it was with in the power of this group to write a new history for blacks, both Randall Robinson and Derrick Bell, among others, see a history rooted in slavery as too much for blacks to overcome alone. In the post-civil rights era the dreams of yesteryear are fading away, and the stark reality of the day is most
133 apparent. Understanding the shift within black discourse from that which emphasizes the dream, to that which emphasizes the ni ghtmare is incredibly important. Yet within the field of communication, bot h studies of black rhetoric, and studies of failure are disproportionately low. Studies that examine failure within the rhetoric of black Americans are negligible. Perhaps even when we examine black discourse our eyes are so focused on the prize, the fulfillment of the dream that we have failed to notice that many no longer share the same vision. Scho lars have catalogued the long journey of African Americans to freedom as blacks ma rched from slavery into the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, littl e attention is paid to what has happened within black discourse in the post-civil rights era, especially am ong the black middle class who comprise the talented tenth. If as Ellis Cose wrote in The Rage of a Privileged Class that despite its very evident prosperity, much of Americas black middle class is in excruciating pain, (1) then perhaps we as scholars should begin to examine why this is the case, decades after the Ma rch on Washington and the pass age of much legislation. There are perhaps many explanati ons to this problem. In this study I illuminated one of them; the failure of the talented tent h to live up to its rhetorical mandate. The Self-Society Topos and th e Rhetoric of Shelby Steele Whether we examine the past, present, or future of the race problem in America the ways in which we can discuss perceived fa ilures are finite. Our beliefs that failure exists rest on an idealized notion of how things should be, and in American society a dialectic of self-society tends to emerge in discussions of failure. David Payne writes in Coping with Failure that:
134 When the self-society topos is resorted to in rhetoric, an ideal relationship between the two entities is imp licitly or explicitly posited. The failure is seen as a result of some violation of the ideal re lationship between self and society. The resolution must be a consolation or co mpensation that invokes or achieves that ideal relationship (60). Shelby Steeles use of the self-society topos posits just such a relationship. His argument rests on John Lockes notion that we as indi viduals come together to form a society through our adherence to a social contract. In the United States, our adherence to this social contract is spelled out in the Cons titution. It is the Co nstitution that creates distinctions between not only fe deral vis--vis states rights but also the rights of the federal government vis--vis citizens. The ri ghts of citizens were so important to the founding of this nation that th e ratification of the Constitution was tied to the promise that a Bill of Rights would also be created. Both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were needed to create balance between society and self. Although individuals came together to create a new society they still saw the need to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as foundationa l pillars of our democracy. Yet it is this relationship between self and society that Steele argues has been undermin ed in the post -civil rights era. In many ways his book is an attempt to restore balance to a system the he believes no longer functions properly. The way in whic h Steele goes about rest oring that balance, however, is to demand that first and foremo st changes take place within individuals. Much of his emphasis is on the need for blacks to change themselves in the interests of society. Societal changes are called for only to the extent that society interferes with the ability of individuals to ma ke necessary adjustments.
135 Steele asserts that a healthy democr acy is always at war with race ( A Dream Deferred 106). The blind spot in Steeles argument is that American democracy struggles primarily with the idea of includi ng other races beyond thos e initially included in the social contract. That social contract is the Constitution, and its protection of the interests of whites in relation to other racial groups is well known. Blacks were written into the Constitution only as chattel and for this reason were not included in the social contract. Although we have made various amendments to the Constitution, the original interpretation of America as a white mans land still holds tr ue for many today as Derrick Bells And We are Not Saved: The Elus ive Quest for Racial Justice and Joe Feagins Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, & Future Reparations attest to. Steeles demand that race be made irrelevant ignores the relevancy of whites as a racial group. I believe that Steeles focus on other races, and his inability to discu ss the Constitution as a document written for the protection of white interests, leads him down a narrow path. Steele calls on blacks to give up their assertions of racial privilege while failing to make the same strident demands on whites. Whites are not asked to change in the same manner that blacks are asked to do. Steele calls on bl acks to transcend race because if one looks closely it is the only way around the American dilemma from his perspective. Since the Constitution did not incorporate other racial groups, then the acknowledgement of them seems anathema to its intent. This is true, yet Steele fails to provide a thorough critique of whiteness and the ways in which the interests of whites are written into the very document Steele attempts to defend. Without a thorough critique of the nations history and its founding documents, Steeles attempt to re-instill balance in society could undermine the freedom of those who do not shar e in white privilege. Derrick Bells
136 Faces at the Bottom of the Well describes in vivid detail the ways in which white privilege could do so in the future. In both past and present, atte mpts to create a multiracial democracy arise in opposition to Amer icas history as a white-racial democracy. Americas history as a white-racial demo cracy evidences a continued resistance to the idea of parity. The failure that Steel e believes exists in the post-civil rights era concerns a lack of parity. Bo th many civil rights leaders a nd white liberals have argued that discrimination separated whites and blacks into two na tions, separate and unequal. Andrew Hacker in Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal carries this argument into the present. Discrimination was a fact of everyday life, codified into law since the institution of the Black Codes and the beginning of the Jim Crow era. The civil rights movement aimed at eliminating discrimi nation as an aspect of both the American legal system and the American way of lif e. Yet the removal of legal forms of discrimination, and the political enfranchisemen t of blacks did not yield economic parity. Blacks still number disproportionately among the nations poor and often receive inferior educations in less than e qual school districts. In the post-civil rights era the ability of many blacks to exercise a sense of selfhood in society is severely hampered. The lack of parity between blacks and whites raises questions about the successful extension of the social contract to blacks and their incorporation into American society. The harmonious relationship between self and society that exists for many whites cannot be taken as a given among blacks. While a talented tenth among blacks moves towards par ity with whites, others fall further behind. The question Steele seeks to answer is, Why?
137 Steeles answer to this question is that the relationship between self and society that exists for whites, the social contract, was never fully extended to blacks. He argues that both a black power imperative and wh ite liberalism coalesced to undermine prospects for black advancement along with societal values that would make advancement possible. The sense of self in relation to society was denied to blacks via preferential programs that either denied the agency of many blacks, or functioned to strip them of their individual agency. Blacks failure to attain economic parity is tied to their failure to attain equal inclusion into the soci al contract as whole pe rsons. Steele argues that liberal condescension toward blacks places blacks in an inferior position in which the standards of American society are not applied to them, presumably for their own benefit. Steele believes that this undermines not only the agency of blacks, but also the foundations of American society. Values such as hardwork and indivi dual initiative are compromised in lieu of affirmative action a nd a push towards group righ ts. Steele argues that to restore the balance betw een self and society for all Am ericans, the social contract, and all its obligations, must finally be extended to blacks in earnest. Despite his call to extend the social contra ct to blacks in many ways Steeles work is a defense of Americas past. For Steele, racism is a cancer on the American social system. Yet the radiation treatments of so cial reform killed unhealthy and healthy cells alike. The American social system is not what it was, but neither is it what it should be. Steele believes that the founders intended some thing better, even if they betrayed their best principles with reference to blacks a nd other minorities. He argues that Americans have failed to preserve the essence of democr acy in an attempt to extend the fruits of democracy to the disenfranchised.
138 Paynes observation that A general point to be emphasized wherever in our society the self-society topos is drawn upon, the legitimacy of individualism becomes an issue (83) sheds light on Steeles rhetoric. Steeles work is a defense of individualism both among blacks, and within American so ciety. The failures he notes in our educational system, and in our economic system stem primarily from a failure to protect individual rights in our political and social system. For Steele, both the black power imperative and the liberalism of the sixtie s have undermined the foundations of the American system as group rights are placed ahea d of individual rights. Yet in the end, Steeles attempt to bolster th e foundations of the American system yields not a new vision of race in America but an old one based on assimilation. The Past-Future Topos and the Rhetoric of Derrick Bell Derrick Bells rhetoric aims to console bl acks for failures in the past, present, and future. He sees all of these failures as inevitable and therefore can find no way to achieve compensation for blacks. America he argues, is fundamentally racist and an examination of its history along with its founding doc uments will prove as much. Both And We Are Not Saved as well as Faces at the Bottom of the Well depict whites as victimizers and blacks as victims. Blacks are made into historys martyrs and his text serves as a record of their existence analogous to the New Testam ents stories of Jesus. Yet blacks are not saviors but in need of saving. In Bells texts there is endless suffering unmitigated by miracles that are discounted. Every advan ce in American law and society that would appear to improve the position of blacks is di scounted as meaningless and in some way in the service of white racism and privilege. As martyrs, blacks are ultimately crucified in
139 Bells works but not resurrected. For blacks there is only hell. No pearly gates await them, no streets paved with gold, only a return trip into bondage in the not-too -distant future as they are sold like chattel to provide riches for th e masters house that Bell sees as America. Bell asserts that blacks lack a means to c ope with present injustice. I see his texts as an attempt to provide this means, giving blacks the knowledge of th e past Bell sees as necessary. Knowledge of their history would give blacks the power to influence both the present and the future, according to Bell. Yet it is for this reason that in The Chronicle of the Slave Scrolls ( And We Are Not Saved ) whites banned the reading of Bells fictional scrolls. Bell implies that whites oppo sed the scrolls because blacks must be kept ignorant of any aspect of their past that proves too empowering. Fatalism permeates Bells works because Bell believes that no matter what blacks do they cannot win. Repeatedly Bell states th at the past determines both the present and the future. Bell sees blacks as objects for barter ( Faces at the Bottom of the Well 11), and believes that blacks will never gain full eq uality in this country (12). He seeks to force blacks to acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance (12). Yet one wonders what diffe rence this acknowledgement would make if Bell is correct in his assertion that blacks cannot prevail. Ac knowledgement of this fact could only provide blacks consolation for failure rather than compensation. If blacks are closer to than we may realiz e to those in slavery . . (195), and imprisoned by the history of racial subordination in America . . (197), then who is at fault for this state of affairs? Bells answer is white Americans, and he blames them for failure among blacks.
140 Bell sees the relationship between whites and blacks as parasitic and argues that whites are resistant to equality with blacks that stretches beyond the letter of the law. In tales such as The Chronicle of the Black School Children, The Ch ronicle of the Black Reparations Foundation, and The Ch ronicle of the Devine Gift ( And We Are Not Saved ), Bell posits that whites are motivated by self -interest rather than any desire to help blacks. He sees whites as unwilling to allow substantial numbers of blacks to move up in the social hierarchy. Competition between gr oups rather than individual merit becomes the defining characteristic of the American sy stem. Bell believes that whites fear that blacks will unfairly get ahead of them ( Faces at the Bottom of the Well 4) and this fear drives resistant to substantia l equality within the school system, affirmative action, and even reparations. For this reason Bell seek s to convince blacks that their faith in the American system is misplaced, along with thei r faith in the goodness of white Americans. It is this faith that sustained the nonviol ent protests of the civil rights movement, a movement that Bell ultimately deems a failu re judging from the pr esent socioeconomic circumstances of many blacks. Using his fi ctional character, Erika Wechsler, Bell even goes so far as to assert the possibility of a black holocaust or some other all-out attack on Americas historic scapegoats (93). Bells final tale of The Space Traders ends with blacks linked by slender ch ains . [leaving] the New World as their forebears had arrived (194). From Bells perspective white s fail to regard blacks as individuals, and it is for this reason that blacks must stick toge ther as a group. Yet th e ability of blacks to do so is problematic, according to Bell. Bell sees the relationship between blac k men and black women as wrought with failure. Nevertheless, Bell sees the esta blishment of successful relationships as
141 fundamental to the survival of blacks as a racial group. In order to cure the ills that plague relationships between black men and wo men, Bell seeks to restrict the freedom of both groups to choose partners outside of thei r racial group. In The Chronicle of the Twenty-Seventh-Year Syndrome, Bell strikes black women with a plague of biblical proportions, unless they have ever been marri ed or entertained a bona fide offer of marriage to a black male ( And We Are Not Saved 199). In The Last Black Hero, Bell forgoes striking his black male character with a plague but rather blames black men for failing to encourage the forming and ma intenance of strong black families ( Faces at the Bottom of the Well 80). In both instances Bells desire to sav e the race would lead him to curtail the freedom of individuals within the group. He would curb black womens sexual freedom via a fictional plague, and stem the tide of black male exogamy with shame. Rather than consider th at black men and women choose to have relationships with individuals outside of thei r group because of the difficulties of intraracial bonding, Bell instead blames those who choose inter-racial or homosexual relationships for the failure to maintain black families. Black men and black women in Bells ideal world would be fo rced to work things out, for better or for worse. The relationship between black men and black women is often troubled, and so too is the relationship between the talented te nth and the black lower class. At times Bell seeks to skirt this issue such as in his disc ussion of an ultimate voting rights act. As I noted earlier, Bell fails to make any class distinctions among blacks. Like Robinson, Bell seeks to place all blacks within the same boat, and he blames the perceived failures of the talented tenth on American society. Bell argues that the failure of the talented tenth is predetermined given his belief that racism is a fundamental component of American
142 society. No matter how successful members of the talented tenth are at steering a course for themselves in the rough waters of Ameri can society, they nevertheless feel a sense of failure resulting from an inability to save those who have fallen overboard. Bell writes that even the most successful of us are ha unted by the plight of our less fortunate brethren (Faces at the Bottom of the Well 3). In the end, he c oncludes that the even those members of the talented tenth w ho understand how racism operates within American society can do little to counter its e ffects. Bell speaks of the futility of black agency in the face of what he deems raci al oppression, and like Robinson, issues forth a jeremiad that he believes few will heed. The Spiritual-Material Topos and the Rhetoric of Randall Robinson Randall Robinson attempts to gain both consolation and compensation for the living descendants of slaves and sharecroppe rs, descendants who Robinson claims are linked both spiritually and materially to the poverty of their ancesto rs. Yet in the grand scheme there is no compensation that would equal the horrors of slavery or any holocaust. The memorials and monetary re parations Robinson dema nds can in the end only provide consolation even when they are meant to be compensation. Robinson appears to understand this on some level wh en he admits that he seeks for blacks something that has far more than material value ( The Debt 240). He desires to attain from American a form of sp iritual compound intere st that is in essence spiritual consolation of epic proportions Robinson blames American society for the spiritual and material impoverishment he observes among blacks, and tells his black readers You
143 were caused to endure terrible things. The fault is not yours. There is nothing wrong with you. They did this to you (242). Robinsons words, and even memorials, may console blacks but in the end they cannot provide compensation. Consolation with out compensation is unlikely to have the positive effects Robinson suggests unless the opportunity for advancement already exists within American society. Robinson seeks material compensation for blacks yet admits that it may not occur. Nevertheless, he claims that blacks will still benefit from making the demand for compensation because this act ion will heal their souls. Yet if the knowledge of history that Robinson seeks to give blacks is powerful enough to enable blacks to change their condition, then one must admit that it is within their power to do so already. American society may be faulted for not supplying blacks with this information but one could also fault blacks for not seek ing it out on their own. Robinson himself states that he has attained this knowledge. On e could just as easily blame blacks such as Robinson for not distributing this know ledge more broadly. Perhaps Robinson recognizes this fact which is why he includes nuggets of the intellectual/spiritual gold he has acquired within his own texts. Yet it is the very notion of de bt that is itself problematic whether this debt belongs to Am erican society or to middle class blacks. Debt makes one group or individu al beholden to another. It can also make one group or individual responsible for another. The no tion of debt has unfort unately stripped away belief in the agency of poorer blacks. This is unfortunate given that individuals must be allowed to have responsibility for their own condi tion if they are to be the equals of other societal members.
144 In The Reckoning however, Robinson again speaks of the full damage that America has done to the black world over the la st 346 years (1). Robinson asserts that there is a denial of opportunity for blacks with in American society and uses the life of Peewee Kirkland to illustrate his point. Yet Kirklands own brother succeeded both educationally and economically in ways that refute Robinsons clai m that opportunity is nonexistent. Nevertheless, Robinson calls on successful blacks to salvage a living generation of African-American men and women (3). This is an invocation of the debt Robinson believes successful black s owe members of the black lower class. Robinsons use of the word salvage implies that lower class blacks are seen as human garbage. At one point in his text Robinson even uses the term compost in regard to how American society views most blacks (81). Robinsons rh etoric places agency within the hands of successful blacks while denying the agency a nd responsibility of lower class blacks for their own lives. He even goe s so far as to assert that his own agency is almost meaningless, I am a commodity in democracys mouthy comic charade. Praise be to mammon, the powerless are allowed to talk (8). Robins on fails to identify with American society to the extent that he feels alienation. He write s, I ask myself who I am. I wear anothers clothes. I speak anothers la nguage. I worship anothers god . . (25). All of this in Robinsons eyes points to a fa ilure within American society that has had damaging effects on blacks for generations Moreover, Robinson questions whether American society ever attended to live up to its boldest principles in re gard to blacks. He wonders whether historians will one day wri te that America was never an authentic democracy or, worse still, never really tried to be (49). Robinson blames American
145 society, specifically white Americans for failure among blacks and questions whether America has the desire to solve the problem of the color line. Robinsons attempt to imagine life in 2076 leads him to believe that the problem will only worsen. He sees a time in which blacks no longer identify as a racial group but rather as ethnicities that share no common past or present. The majority of people of color are behind bars while a successful few no longer identify with the many (179). For Robinson this is an apocalyptic scenario in which his renaissance blacks or what Du Bois earlier termed the talented tenth have failed to fulfill their debt to the race. Robinson urges renaissance blacks to make the demand for reparations in the present in order to show their concern for poor blacks before it is too late. The demand is in essence a symbolic way of taking care of poor blacks. Yet Robins ons juxtaposition of white societys response to white poverty wi th that of black pove rty underlies the fact that the notion of a debt owed to the race may exist more for blacks than for whites. As Robinson observes, White society has ne ver seriously concerned itself with the eradication of white poverty. He nce it is logical to assume that white society would be even less concerned about the consequences of black poverty (275). Nevertheless, Robinson argues for reparations. He does so be cause he believes What is at stake here is our very future as a people in America (276). Robinsons statement points to his belief th at without this notion of debt blacks will become individuals without group iden tification. Yet the future of blacks as individuals is not in jeopardy, rather the rhetorical concep tion of blacks as a people. This is why for Robinson his futuristic scenar io in which blacks no longer identify as a
146 racial group is apocalyptic. It represents the ultimate failure of the talented tenth to pay its debt to the race. It is interesting that for Robinson a tim e in which people identify as individuals rather than as members of a group is probl ematic, considering that many civil rights leaders strived to free individuals from the oppression they experienced as members of a stigmatized group. As Greeson suggested, freed om for the individual is interpreted in some quarters as betrayal of the group ( The Dialectics of Betrayal 18). Yet the problem is not identification with th e group but rather that among bl acks this identification is given primacy over the individual. It is from this well that a sense of betrayal springs. I believe that blacks must invert the relationship between th e group and the individual so that the latter is given primacy over the form er. To hold otherwise is to continue the same logic that condemned many blacks, despit e their talents, to conditions of servitude in a segregated society that would not rec ognize them as individuals. To assert my individuality does not mean that I cannot care for the group if I so choose. It only means that I should not feel a sense of failure if c hoose not to do so. Blacks must be given free will to choose what they will or will not do as individuals. If God grants us this right, then we should not deny it to each other. Applying the Topoi of Failu re to the Study of Race My study demonstrates the utility of Da vid Paynes dialectical topoi of selfsociety, past-future, and spir itual-material as a means to understand race discourse. In particular, this study focused on discourse o ccurring among an important segment of the black population during the postcivil rights era. Unde rstanding the trajectory of
147 discourse among members of todays talented tenth from the 1980s into the early twentyfirst century gives us a greater insight into how influential blacks view the successes and failures of the civil rights movement Paynes topoi make the public discourse of black rhetors such as Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robinson more understandable. In this study I used Paynes topoi as a means to critique two works from each of the three authors. This study also demonstrates the relevan ce of Paynes themes of consolation and compensation in regard to race discourse within the United States. The struggles for civil rights, social justice and ec onomic equality can be understood as attempts to gain both consolation and compensation for past injust ices. Black discourse, and I believe many others, evidence repeated attemp ts to gain consolation and/or compensation via rhetoric. Unable to wield great military might, slaves and their descendants were forced to take advantage of the one tool they had at their disposal; the power of the spoken word. As this study reveals, discourse among members of the talented tenth often focuses on consolation for past inju stices. Perhaps this focus on consolation in the post-civil rights era stems from disillusionment with the idea that compensation is possible in the United States if racism is truly a f undamental pillar of our societ y. While individuals such as Randall Robinson demand compensation for blacks in the form of reparations, they often hold out little hope that these demands will ev er be met. Robinson even left the United States following the publication of The Reckoning having grown despondent with the pace of racial progress in the Un ited States. His subsequent book Quitting America explains his reasons for giving up hope that the American experiment will ever turn the many into one in any meaningful sense.
148 This points to the third benefit of using Paynes framework as a means to understand race discourse, its ability to provi de a distinction between idealistic and materialistic failures. As I noted earlier, Pa yne argued that an indivi dual could be both an idealistic failure and a materialistic failure at that the same time. What I have demonstrated in this study is that co mbining Paynes ideas about idealistic and materialistic failures with Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth allows us to see that individuals can see themselves as idealistic fail ures because of the materialistic failure of others. Du Boiss idea of the talented tenth demands that this be so among blacks until the entire group attains greater status within Americas social hi erarchy. Middle class blacks are held responsible, and accept respon sibility for less fortunate blacks if they adhere to Du Boiss rhetorical mandate that members of the talented tenth save the race. Frustration with the pace of social pr ogress may cause members of the talented tenth to construct arguments in ways that Paynes initial statements on the use of his topoi did not predict. Bell, Steele, and Robinson all emphasize either the presence and/or the possibility of an apocalypse in their works. Although Steele and Robinson use the idea of an apocalypse to argue for social change, both Robinson and Bell also use the idea to argue that attempts to create change in the present will fail to produce beneficial outcomes in the future. Bells rhetoric is mo st notable in that in contrast to Paynes observation that consolation can lead to compensation, we find no such rhetorical movement in Bells work. Rather Bell stops short of compensation entirely. His work provides only consolation for past failure, pr esent circumstances, and future disasters. Bells deterministic viewpoint makes the past, present, and future into one monumental and omnipresent failure that cannot be undone. For this reason I believe in my future
149 research it will be necessary to explore the uses of apocalyptic discourse among black rhetors in order to understand the reasons w hy some rhetorical efforts never make the turn from consolation to compensation. Addressing the Field of Rhetoric This study addresses the paucity of rhetorical critique s of black discourse. As Enrique Rigsby noted, our field often fails to pa y attention to the rhetoric of blacks on a consistent basis, and when scholars do turn thei r attention to this direction their work is often behind the times. It is as if many rhetorical critics perceive themselves to be historians more content to study the rhet oric of Frederick Douglass, than the contemporary issues that rhetors such as Ra ndall Robinson bring to our attention. Yes, there are critiques of Louis Farr akhans rhetoric, but perhaps this is because the subjects of his discourse are already familiar to our ears. As rhetorical critics we have the ability to provide the public with an understanding of contemporary debates in ways that differ from what historians and journalists can a nd are willing to provide. Moreover, as rhetorical critiques we should begin to study literary works that rhetors create and not focus our attention so heavily on speeches. Th e texts rhetors create can give us greater insight into their thoughts than what we may gleam from their speeches. I believe that my study is unique in its attempt to addr ess the works of three contemporary black authors who make important statements in thei r works about the status of blacks in the post-civil rights era. There are many other rh etors and texts that remain to be studied, and this project lays a foundation for future research.
150 This study also addresses the paucity of research on therapeutic rhetoric. It continues in the tradition of Kenneth Burk e who viewed the texts rhetors produce as equipment for living. David Payne took up th is idea and created a framework for us to understand therapeutic rhetoric in terms of consolation and compensation. He examined various texts and found that thr ee sets of dialectical topoi: self-societ y, past-future, and spiritual-material encompassed the finite means in which rhetors can address failure rhetorically. In this study I have taken Paynes idea and used it as a means to critique the discourse of three black public intellectuals in the post-civil rights era. Paynes topoi can be used to critique the discourse of blacks in earlier eras as well and perhaps it should be. Understanding the trajectory of bl ack discourse over time may gi ve us greater insight into the nature of the rhetoric we hear today. Furthermore, if we are to understand therapeutic rhetoric, then the discourse of blacks, am ong other minority groups, provides us with a frontier in which to explore this subject. In the long march from slavery, segregation, civil rights protests, and beyond, blacks have created a great d eal of therapeutic rhetoric in order to cope with the failu re of rhetoric to persuade wh ite Americans to create a more just society. This research lays a foundation for new re search on the rhetoric of race from a therapeutic perspective. It responds to the discourse of rh etors who question the success of blacks previous rhetorical efforts to gain various forms of equality. My study reveals that in the post civil rights era influential blacks are experiencing a lack of faith that we shall overcome racism. This lack of faith challenges what Karlyn Kohrs Campbell sees as the field of rhetorics ont ological assumption that indivi duals are rational and capable of being persuaded. One black rhetorical critic, Mark McPhail, expresses doubts about
151 whether this is the case. Instead he now s ees racism as more a psychological problem than a rhetorical one. If this is so, then the subject of race and r acism pushes the field of rhetoric to its boundaries. The discourse of those who are marginalized in our society may reveal the limits to which rhetors can aspi re. The available means of persuasion that Aristotle spoke of may in some cases not be en ough. If this is true, then it is something we as citizens within a demo cratic society need to know. A New Frontier for the Field of Rhetoric My study demonstrates that a rhetoric of failure exists among a segment of the black population often referred to as the talented te nth. It focuses on the work of three black male public intellectuals: Derrick Bell, Shelby Steele, and Randall Robinson. What remains to be done is a similar study focu sing on the rhetoric of black women public intellectuals. This research leads me to see the possibility that differential outcomes between genders within a racial group may result in different rhetorical stances. Black women have faired better than black men following the civil rights movement. It remains to be seen whether their discourse focuses on fa ilure at all. If it doe s, there is still the possibility that the failures black women ar e concerned with may differ from those of black men. Two out of the three black males whose works I critiqued utilize a theme of consolation in their texts. Yet I believe th at one may find a rhetor ic of compensation in the rhetoric of black women public intell ectuals stemming from black womens more positive outcomes following the civil rights movement in comparison with black men. I also see a need to explore the rhetor ic of other minority groups whether they stem from ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, or people with disabilities. Understanding
152 how various ethnic groups in a multicultu ral and ever changing society construct rhetorics of consolation and compensation is important. Too often when we speak of race and ethnicity the conversation focuses so lely on blacks and whites. Furthermore, it is important to look at therap eutic rhetoric from a gender pe rspective given the gains of the womens movement, many of which have positively influenced the status of black women who in some ways may benefit from both the civil rights movement and the womens movement. The gay rights moveme nt is ongoing and battle s over gay marriage and constitutional amendments to protect the sanctity of ma rriage point to the need to understand how gays view the success or failure of their attempts to gain equality. People with disabilities continue to struggle to achieve equal treatment as well. Although the possibility of becoming disabled in some way looms for us all, many able-bodied persons are slow to push for changes that would make equal access to something as common as a building possible for fellow citi zens. Last, given the various movements named above it becomes important to understa nd how members of the white majority construct rhetorics of consolation and compensation in response to various societal changes. Since unfortunately groups within society often view their political and economic relations as a zero-sum game, one group s gain is often seen as anothers loss. Nevertheless, rather than lessen my faith in America, this project has strengthened it. Although many critics would use the past to discourage us, we should in fact take from it encouragement. The present is better than th e past and I do believe th at the future will be better as well. We Americans show a resoundi ng ability to overcome our faults, and push forward in the quest to become one nation indivi sible. What keeps us together is stronger than what pulls us apart.
153 Postscript We have within ourselves the ability to see the old in a new way. Rather than be slaves to ideas of the past we can free our selves of them and em brace the possibilities of the future. The word we is most important in our vocabularies, as the problems of the past grow in part out of our persistence in seeing the world in terms of us and them. We as Americans have walked many miles togeth er, and although our conversations have not always been amiable we have nevertheless co ntinued to walk togeth er. The problem of race in America has not yet been solved, but we are closer to a solution than many critics would like to admit. Some wounds will heal in time. It t ook hundreds of years to create the division between us, and we can reasonably expect that it may take as long to create the same level of identification between us. We should not give up hope simply because the dream has not materialized in a few decad es. The post-civil rights era is a fitting description for our times as the problems we face have less to do with civil rights and group discrimination than they did before. Wh en discrimination takes place it eventually comes to light, and an attempt to correct the in justice in our social system is made. There is a place in America now for individuals of all colors, and that is a remarkable achievement. Class rather than race is what truly separates individuals both between and within social groups, and educational attainme nt helps individuals surmount this obstacle as well. This work renewed my faith in th e American dream, and in American society. American society was built on hope and faith, and it is these two virtues that we must use to sustain both our country and ourselves.
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170 About the Author Nigel Malcolm received a B.A. in political sc ience from Yale University, an M.A. in mass communications from the University of Sout h Florida, and is a doctoral candidate in the department of communication at the Univer sity of South Florida. He was awarded both scholarships and fellowships for his acad emic achievements including membership in Kappa Tau Alpha, and Phi Kappa Phi. Hes studied both Spanish and Italian and loves to travel.