On Racism: Essays in Black Popular Culture, African American Politics, and the New Black Aesthetics

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On Racism: Essays in Black Popular Culture, African American Politics, and the New Black Aesthetics; Earnest Bracey. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003.

In On Racism, Earnest Bracey writes a series of essays on the subject. In the opinion of this writer the book is hard to understand. For one thing the author includes quotations from other authors ad naseum and these quotes do not further the discussion. In the Introduction, one looks for a straight-forward definition of racism. In one place he quotes Alden Vaughan, a professor at Columbia University, who says that "Racism is relatively systematic and intensely consistent. In time it acquires a pseudo-scientific veneer that glosses over its intractabilities and enables it to claim intellectual respectability" (p. ix). In another place, Bracey says "Racism, in general, is a policy view or a pedagogical ideology of independent thought that responds negatively to human nature, suffering in terms of ethnicity, human development, cultural differences, aesthetics and distinctive social and political behavior" (p. xi). One looks in vain for a definition of racism similar to the dictionary one which states that it is "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race" (Webster, Seventh Collegiate Dictionary, p. 704). The book contains 10 different essays on widely-ranging subjects from "The Black Writers's Struggle for Integrity", "Remembering a Black Scholar: The Ideological and Intellectual Life of William Edward Burghardt DuBois", "The Legacy of African American Leadership", to "The Life and Love of Mr. Jiveass Nigger and How to Make Love to a Negro" and many others. These essays are uneven in character. For example, in the essay on W. E. B. DuBois, the author does not mention William Levering's two-volume authoritative work on DuBois. While the essay on DuBois deals competently with DuBois's life, it is a serious oversight not to have acknowledged the work of Lewis, who won two Pulitzer Prizes (back to back) for his exhaustive study of DuBois.

Perhaps the best essay in the book is entitled, "The New Challenges of a Black Scholar". In this essay, the writing is clear and well-focused. Bracey cites the early days when black scholars were openly ridiculed and their work was greeted with skepticism. He says that black scholars have "conquered that academic hurdle of being dismissed or ruthlessly suppressed". Black scholars today must engage in the full range of traditional scholarship. The heart of the black scholar's work today is to tell the truth and to challenge and assist all students, concerned individuals or independent scholars to look at new or novel ways of thinking and learning. In addition, black scholars should "create new academic endeavors or disciplines that might add value and insights to black aesthetics and even to the cannon of western scholarship" (p. 22).

The essay, "Reflections on Revisionist History and Scientific Racism", seems to be putting together two separate pieces. Bracey begins by talking about writing a letter to the editor of a Midwestern newspaper, then he writes about the problems of scientific racism, and as a second part of the essay, he reproduces the letter he wrote to the newspaper. The letter was never published.

In the second section, on the problems of scientific racism, Bracey critiques the thesis of Herrenstein and Murray in the Bell Curve that blacks are genetically inferior as regards intelligence. This policy is "utter nonsense".

In the second section, on the misuses of history, Bracey examines a letter that stated that slavery might have been resolved peaceably through trial by jury. He points out that this idea was preposterous because blacks were not even regarded by the jury system during slavery. Bracey does a good job in pointing out the adverse conditions of blacks during the period before the Civil War and afterwards. …