Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Black Academics and the Lure of the Marketplace

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Black Academics and the Lure of the Marketplace

Article excerpt

Black Academics and the Lure of the Marketplace.

At a time when much attention has been focused on the problems of teen-age pregnancy, drugs and gang violence, it is easy to overlook signs of the deterioration of an ethic of individual responsibility and community values among other segments of the African American population. When we hear young gang members explain their decision to sell drugs within their own communities and to carry out acts of violence against other Black people in terms of the need to "get paid," to achieve some level of personal "respect," we are appalled. Yet we have failed to analyze in sufficient detail how these very values have been adopted by a quite visible segment of the African American intelligentsia.

During the era of Jim Crow segregation through the 1960s, the major outlets for the writings of Black academics were based within Black communities or affiliated with Black institutions.

Carter G. Woodson edited the Journal of Negro History from an office in the Black community in Northwest Washington, DC; Howard University was the home of the Journal of Negro Education; Morgan State University was the home of the CLA Journal; Atlanta University the home of Phylon. The NAACP sponsored The Crisis, and John Johnson founded and funded Negro Digest and Black World. These journals, as well as Ebony magazine under the editorship of Lerone Bennett, published a wide variety of points of view on various aspects of the conditions of Black folk. If one wanted to reach a large aware Black audience, one published in these periodicals. Contributions from whites were always welcome.

The new journals that sprang up in the 1960s such as Soulbook, Liberator and Black Scholar, also fostered debate on a wide range of issues. Today these journals have either gone out of business, narrowly redefined their focus or cut back on the size of their editions or frequency of publication. Black scholars today have access to a wider range of predominantly white publications than ever before. As a result, Black publication no longer occupy the central place in the life of Black academics that they did until a quarter century ago.

A New Generation

Today we are faced with a younger generation of academics who were trained in predominantly white institutions by white academics who knew nothing of the work of the earlier generation of Black academics, with the exception of Du Bois, of course. Many in this younger group define their success in terms of the level of access to and visibility in white publications. However, what these publications want, whether they are Time, The New Yorker, Harpers or the New York Times Sunday magazine, is not a hard-hitting, frank discussion of the continued effects of white racism on the life chances of African Americans.

What these publications are willing to pay for are discussions of what is wrong with Black folk, i.e., why are we so homophobic, sexist, anti-semitic, violence prone and intolerant. A glance at any of the past issues of Negro Digest or the special issues of Ebony or the special summer issues of the Journal of Negro Education will show that Black academics have never been reluctant to point out the shortcomings of Black people. Two of the most popular and widely debated books of my college years were E. Franklin Frazier's "Black Bourgeoisie" and Harold Cruse's "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual."

Frazier and Cruse were willing to go anywhere and everywhere to carry forward the discussions that their books generated and they did so. …

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