Is racism still alive and kicking in 21st century USA? Are black people doomed to fail despite the achievements of the Civil Rights Era? And who is responsible for this situation, blacks or whites?
These and other questions are asked and analysed in detail by the influential writer and academic Derrick Bell in his book 'Faces at the Bottom of the Well' (the title is based on a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois) and his conclusions are rather pessimistic. To Bell, “racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of this [American] society”. These are hardly encouraging words in a year when a Democratic candidate is running to become the first black president of the United States of America. But with typical pragmatism Bell sweeps aside suggestions that the US is heading towards a state of racial harmony.
That this book came out in 1992, when the Bill Clinton era was ushered in, should in no way be a deterrent to a reader in 2008. In chapters like 'The Racial Preference Licensing Act' and 'The Space Traders' we see examples of how even under the administration of a 'racially moderate' President, the mechanics of the racial debate have changed and become subtler. In 'The Racial Preference Licensing Act', Bell imagines a USA where people could apply for a license authorising them to exclude or separate persons on the basis of race and colour. One of the conclusions he arrives at is that such an act, illogical and crazy as it might sound, would work in black people's favour: at last they would stop second-guessing whether they are being discriminated against, as everything would be out in the open.
And as the race for the White House enters its final bend, issues like these, explored and masterfully debated, will make all the difference when it comes to marking those ballot papers.
This review appeared first on Catch a Vibe, a new online alternative guide to black culture in London.