Black and white: opposing views on racial identity
Two intriguing new booksone by an outspoken African-American journalist and another by an equally candid civil rights activistoffer starkly different views on race relations in America. The End of Blackness by Debra Dickerson and Quitting America by Randall Robinson explore the many ways in which African-Americans have been maligned, discriminated against and mistreated. However, Dickerson and Robinson disagree strongly on who or what is responsible for the plight of African Americans and what should be done to change it.
Dickerson, a former Air Force intelligence officer and a Harvard Law grad, is a journalist known for her bluntness, particularly on issues of race and gender. In a critically acclaimed memoir, An American Story (2000), she revealed her own circuitous route to success as a black woman and accepted responsibility for most of her personal and professional failings. In The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to Their Rightful Owners, Dickerson argues that some African Americans are so mired in past wrongs done to them that they are unwilling and/or unable to move forward and work to improve their status. "Blacks simply do not know who and how to be absent oppression," Dickerson writes in characteristically straightforward fashion. "To cease invoking racism and reveling in its continuance is to lose the power to haunt whites, the one tattered possession they'll fight for while their true freedom molders unclaimed. It is to lose the power to define themselves as the opposite of something evil, rather than on their own terms."
For Dickerson, the solution is in self-reliance, with African Americans working to free themselves from what constrains and limits them, focusing on the future rather than the past. She urges African Americans to look inside in order to find the answers to problems on the outside, never defining themselves solely on the basis of race. As for the expected backlash her ideas will bring from fellow African Americans, Dickerson says she would welcome the opportunity to debate her critics.
Randall Robinson takes an equally caustic approach to espousing his views about race, but reaches a dramatically different conclusion. In Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land, Robinson explains why he lost hope and literally "quit" the U.S. Disgusted, aggravated and burnt out, Robinson left the country and relocated to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts where his wife was born.
For Robinson, the decision to leave was the culmination of years of resentment toward his treatment as a black man and civil rights advocate in America. Experiences such as being forced to sit at the back of the bus and being denied courteous service at a restaurant or department store contributed to his rage. He angrily tells stories about his protest marches, hunger strikes and political rallies through the yearsmost of which were fruitless, his cries for change falling on deaf ears.
Robinson provides many sobering and grim statistics about injustice and inequality in America. "In a country that just squandered more than two hundred billion dollars on a war of dubious legality, forty-three million Americanssixteen percent of the populationare without health care insurance," he writes. "One in four blacks, including those who need health care insurance most, the poorest, are wholly unprotected."
Quitting America is a sharp contrast to Robinson's 2002 book, The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other, in which he encourages African-Americans to speak out and support each other in eradicating crime and poverty from urban America. At this point, Robinson has simply given up on America and believes that the only way for people of color to thrive and succeed is to vacate this country for greener, or perhaps, blacker, and friendlier pastures elsewhere.
Glenn Townes is a journalist based in New Jersey.