[This review was published in the Fall 2005 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 383-390.] 

 

Book Review 

 

The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to Their Rightful Owners

Debra J. Dickerson

Anchor Books, 2004

 

            There is something in this book for just about everyone, depending upon a reader’s proclivities.  Those who read it to find ammunition against whites will find it there.  Those who wish to see a black author’s own characterizations of what is to her the deeply flawed behavior of many other blacks will find that there, too.  Those who would like to see some emphasis, at least, on the decent and responsible behavior of a large number of people in either race will be disappointed, but apparently Dickerson feels the negatives exist in such abundance that they deserve the center of attention. 

            Ironically, she is critical of “the hysterical black polemicist [who] is the snarling German shepherd that blacks loose on racism,” but that is a description a reader can’t help but feel fits Dickerson herself throughout much of the book.  Looking at the world through a haughty intellectualism that gives her an Olympian perspective and allows her to apply much pop psychology, she finds fuel for dissatisfaction with almost everybody.  Those who come under her scalpel include the current black leadership; the “Movement Generation”; the black “bourgeoisie”; the great bulk of black males; black women, who despite being the work horses of their race have many undesirable qualities, according to Dickerson; and whites, for their racism, “structuralized greed, entrenched privilege, and xenophobia.”

            There is in all of this considerable grist for thought, and for good reason: Dickerson is in a position to have much to say.  She is a sharecropper’s daughter who graduated from Harvard Law School, and the wife in an interracial marriage.  Her style is articulate (and she takes pleasure in an occasional sally into intellectualized smut).  Even though there is much to criticize her for, her negativity has a unique value in light of the circumstances in which Americans find themselves today: it brings her to say things that few others are able to say in a society stifled by political correctness (i.e., by an insistence upon ideological conformity).  Slurs against whites are politically correct, so there isn’t much she can dish out along those lines that hasn’t already been said.  But that isn’t true of her criticisms of today’s black population.  Her observations there offer a window into a forbidden subject. 

            In this review, it will be valuable to examine what she has to say about whites, but most especially about blacks.  Her book’s content has significance for reasons Dickerson herself may not intend.  If her critique is to be taken seriously, she is suggesting something quite startling and unexpected: that there is much that is problematic about the “moral high ground” that has allowed the Civil Rights Movement in the United States to sweep all before it.  Those reading her observations can’t help but entertain questions about the moral justification for the process of social and legal change that has held powerful sway within American society since World War II. 

            But first, a digression.  It would be unseemly to put off until the end of the review a discussion of the message that is ostensibly Dickerson’s main reason for writing.  She intends a message of uplift.  Instead of focusing on racial justice, she says, American blacks should focus on living, on “actualizing as individuals.”  There is much they can do: pursue “good citizenship,” improve their neighborhoods through self-help projects, excel academically, enlist in the armed services, adopt neglected children, educate voters.  To accomplish this, “black people must take the reins of their uplift in their own hands.”  “No longer can standards of conduct and morality be lower for blacks than for whites,” she says; “crime is crime, sloth is sloth, and merit is mostly measurable.”  Seen most broadly, they should “give the devil his due” by recognizing “the grandeur” of Western culture. 

            One would think that by urging such uplift Dickerson would have blacks adopt a trajectory that would go far toward incorporating blacks into the mainstream of American society to an extent far beyond what they now are.  It is “a consummation devoutly to be wished” for almost any person of good will.  But Dickerson shies away, preferring to make one last dig at whites by diminishing their contribution to the value-system she champions.  She acknowledges, as we have seen, the “grandeur” of Western attainment, and even takes time from her anti-white litanies to urge blacks to “join hands with non-racist Americans,” saying “they are plentiful.”  These don’t keep her, however, from doing some hair-splitting to satisfy her own racial instincts and those of her intended black readership.  She wants blacks to embrace a high and honorable set of values -- but not “white values.”  Positing that attainment and morality are civilizational values of importance in general, they should be accepted on that basis, and not because they are the values (as best conceived) of “white society.”  In so saying, she unknowingly places herself on common ground with thoughtful whites themselves, none of whom have ever thought of hard work, honesty, familial responsibility, civic virtue, etc., as fitted only to a society composed of whites.  There is no reason for her to isolate “white values” and distinguish them from universally sound values except her desire to give “white society” the back of her hand.  She joins in a racial proclivity not to want to recognize “white society” as the carrier of those values.  Instead of blacks’ incorporating themselves into the mainstream of American society, they should leap-frog over “white society” into the attainment and morality she envisions. This effort to separate the moral codes of the two races is reinforced when she says she doesn’t want “increased integration,” and suggests that “perhaps blacks should reconsider their abhorrence of segregation.”  Thus, for Dickerson “black uplift” involves a considerable element of racial self-identification, “pride” and even haughtiness.  Her personality merges into her philosophy, and produces something that instead of being entirely hopeful is rather tiresome.

            There is, too, a disconnect between what Dickerson says and what she does.  She admires Frederick Douglass because he “never lets his anger own him.”  Such messages as this, coupled with the message for black uplift, are set forth in the same book in which she emphasizes at great length and with much vitriol the hateful behavior of whites and just how disgusted she is with most blacks.  We started this review with the observation that there is something in the book for everyone.  A reader from either race who desires to reinforce attitudes of animosity or victimization will find the book an excellent primer for both.  Her emphasis on those negatives far outweighs the space she devotes to her ostensible message.  That’s an odd soil into which to cast the seeds of life-embracing regeneration.

            But let us end the digression.  It is significant that she suggests a reversion to racial separation as part of black self-assertion at the same time that her criticisms of much black behavior, by their breadth and intensity, raise questions about the “moral high ground” that has propelled integration in America during all these years.  Only the double standards of contemporary racial ideology prevent a clear perception of the implications: as a black author, she is able to suggest a new (black-initiated) segregation, something no white would dare to do; and, again as a black author, she can describe a dismal record of behavior by many blacks without at the same time having to think about how that undermines the fundamental premises of the decades-long moral and legal insistence on white-black integration.  The reason she doesn’t have to think about it is that she can count on saying almost anything without anyone daring to draw politically incorrect inferences from it.

            When state and federal legislation in the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s made racial discrimination in the sale or rental of a home illegal, the courts brushed aside Constitutional challenges that were based on long-hallowed principles of freedom of contract, freedom of association and the right freely to alienate ones own property.  The factual predicate upon which this redirection of American social policy was based was that there was no reason other than racial perversity for whites to wish to live solely among other whites.  Certainly there was no acknowledgment that the non-discrimination principle would make sacrificial lambs out of the majority population.  The same held true, of course, for school desegregation and the integration of public accommodations and the workplace.

            Dickerson, though, describes at length many forms of misbehavior that, if taken seriously, make a mockery of the factual predicate.  (Her long litanies of criticisms of whites say little about any behavior or standards of conduct that would make them less-than-desirable neighbors, but instead consist almost entirely of complaints about whites’ aversion to blacks: such things as “a nation that ignores and burdens a straggling group except to incarcerate or be entertained by it”; “racial profiling, real estate and credit redlining, refusals to deliver pizzas to black areas”; and “malevolence and pathology.”)   On the other hand, her criticisms of black behavior read almost as if she were writing a brief to provide justifications for whites’ racial aversion.  Here are some (and, of course, there are many others):

·        “Scholastic achievement, crime, family breakdown, welfare reliance – all are now as bad as or worse than they were during Jim Crow.”

·        “White racism doesn’t mug a neighbor at the bus stop; it doesn’t have unprotected sex or drop out of high school.  It doesn’t underachieve, it doesn’t give in to hopelessness and settle for a life behind a broom, it doesn’t favor its boys over its girls.  It doesn’t refuse to breastfeed, it doesn’t infect 50 percent of its young with herpes, it doesn’t believe wacky conspiracy theories or that AIDS is a hoax.  It doesn’t watch endless hours of television instead of reading to its children or overseeing their homework or taking them to a cultural event.”

·        “Black women…are three times more likely to have had intercourse by thirteen, often with a much older man… half are obese… The average rap lyric is an ode to misogyny, objectification, and antifemale violence.  Female artists return the favor with songs excoriating black men.”  “If black men tyrannize black women, black women tyrannize their children.”

·        “By 2000 there were nearly a third more black men incarcerated than in universities or colleges.”

·        “The black divorce rate of two-thirds is three times whites’ and twice Hispanics’.”

·        “According to the National Center for Health Statistics, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American girls aged fifteen to nineteen.”

 

            Here’s what Dickerson has to say about the current leadership among blacks:

·        “…the exploiters and the racial hysterics are still leading their flock in circles.”

·        “…few under the age of fifty-five have been allowed to ascend to a position of power in the black leadership… This is the Movement Generation’s most know-nothing, most shortsighted, and most potentially disastrous power grab.”  The “movement-based political agenda… defends O. J. Simpson, even though he was guilty… It defends Marion Barry, a corrupt crack-head… It believes Tawana Brawley… It prioritizes affirmative action above all other goals, even though the black masses derive little benefit from it.”

 

            Her compartmentalizing of “white values,” making them an unworthy subset of wholesome civilizational values, plays a large part in her criticism of the black middle class (which she calls the “black bourgeoisie”):

·        She quotes E. Franklin Frazier, who wrote that “the black bourgeoisie suffered spiritually… because they had adopted the white man’s values and patterns of behavior.  Consequently, they developed an intense inferiority complex….”  They have “rejected the folk culture of the Negro masses.”  Dickerson adds: “…too many post-movement bourgeois blacks… dance for white approval.”

·        It should be noted that Dickerson has absorbed the intelligentsia’s fashion (of the past two centuries) of being anti-bourgeois in general.  It is a sentiment that runs as a constant through her book (such as when she refers to “bourgeois pieties.”)           

   

            She quotes at length from the e-mails blacks send to each other mocking their fellow-blacks’ behavior:

·        “You know you’re corporate ghetto if… you paint your nails at your desk.  They are so long you can barely type… On your many personal calls you laugh so loud, co-workers from across the room come to ask you what’s so funny… You tell off your supervisor and co-workers on a regular basis and wonder why you haven’t been promoted… Your kids call your job and say ‘Let me speak to my mama.’  You bring your kids to work, and they run all over the office… Your e-mail inbox receives more jokes and personal e-mails than business e-mails.”

·        “Only black couples… Are engaged for five years or more.  Never bother with divorce but just separate for twenty years or more.  Are late to church, work, and everything else except when the club is free before eleven… Spend the settlement money on everything but getting the car fixed.”

·        “The ghetto reception: The couple had to stop at the Food Giant for beer on the way to the hall.  Many of the guests were armed… At least one fight broke out.  All slow dances looked like a Dirty Dancing competition...  The photographer…got drunk.”

·        “You know you’ve been to a ghetto wedding if… You were afraid to leave your car unattended… The wedding started a half-hour after the time on the invitation… The groom was late… You smelled marijuana as the wedding party went down the aisle… A member of the wedding took a cell phone call during the ceremony… The happy couple already had more than six kids between them.”

 

            And the list goes on.  What is remarkable is that in light on all this Dickerson feels no empathy for whites’ fears and aversions.  She sees “racism” when a white woman “hugs her purse” or someone locks his car door in the presence of blacks.  It is “racist” when a pizza restaurant “refuses to deliver pizzas to black areas.”  So much of her book speaks of criminality and violence, but any self-protection by whites is despicable.

            Before we conclude this review, some additional features merit discussion:  

            1.   One would think that any serious examination of “the black condition” would have to come to grips, pro or con (but completely honestly), with the data put forward in Charles Murray’s and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve about a lower distribution of black intelligence.  Instead, Murray and Herrnstein’s names don’t even appear in her index.  The issue of intelligence is certainly politically incorrect and probably distasteful, but no author can be taken fully seriously who ignores it.  If in fact the Murray-Herrnstein thesis is correct, people of good will will sooner or later come to find that there can be no truly humane resolution of racial issues without a sensitive and empathetic mutual-accommodation grounded in reality rather than in ideological wishful thinking.    

            2.  It’s noteworthy that even though Dickerson seems to champion what she sees as a positive redirection of black culture toward work and responsibility, she gives no place in the pantheon of blacks she admires to Booker T. Washington, whom she sees as having been an “accommodationist.”  Her bibliography includes W.E.B. DuBois’ classic The Souls of Black Folk, but not Washington’s equally classic Up From Slavery. 

            3.  Dickerson repeats, and even expands upon, a common error about the number of blacks who were lynched in American history.  She recites as fact that “between 1882 and 1968 approximately 4,742 black men were lynched.”  The figure of 4,742 comes from Robert L. Zangrando’s book The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950, where he reported statistics given to him by the Tuskegee Institute for the 87-year period between 1882 and 1968.   Those statistics report that 1,297 of those lynched were whites; it was 3,445 who were black.  It has become standard in “black history” literature to report all of them as blacks.  When Dickerson adds that they were all “males,” she’s tweaking the facts a step further.  In addition to misreporting the facts, the literature delights in giving the impression that lynching continued well into the middle of the twentieth century, at which time it was presumably the Civil Rights Movement that snuffed it out.  In point of fact, as the Tuskegee statistics show, lynching had ceased to be a major phenomenon by the turn of the century, and had pretty much come to an end by the mid-1930s.  Dickerson may perhaps be forgiven for not knowing any better, since it is likely she has gained her information from sources she had reason to think reliable.  This reviewer has known of at least two occasions upon which the New York Times has reported all 4,742 as black.

            It should be noted that even the Tuskegee figures skew the picture about lynching.  There was much lynching of whites in the West during the frontier period as communities reacted to outrages as they saw them.  The lynching of whites began to decline in 1884 (as it did with blacks in 1892).  The selection of 1882 as the starting-point for the Tuskegee statistics leaves out virtually all of the period that would show that the phenomenon was interracial and not directed uniquely at blacks.  

            The End of Blackness is highly recommended to anyone who wants to keep abreast of the latest chapter in the long-running saga of racial pathology in the United States, or who wants to ponder the whys and wherefores of American racial policy.  Dickerson herself is young, intelligent and full of hubris.  Without being patronizing, we can recognize that we were all young once, and thereby leave the door open to the possibility that in the course of a long lifetime she may leave much writing of merit. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Dwight D. Murphey