• September 3, 2015

Putting the 'Public' in 'Public Intellectual'

The New Black Public Intellectuals 1

Jon Krause for The Chronicle Review

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Jon Krause for The Chronicle Review

I entered graduate school in the mid-1990s, a period marked by the rise of the black public intellectual: Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, and a host of other prominent scholars who became household names. Suddenly newspapers, popular magazines, and even television shows featured black intellectuals. The reaction was bifurcated. Some celebrated this development as an opportunity to elevate the discourse on social policy, especially on issues of race. But there were also complaints that this new crop of intellectuals talked too much and did too little. And some felt that by talking so much to the public, the black intellectuals risked diminishing their scholarly legitimacy.

At the time, the conversations among black students at elite graduate programs were framed around whether to become public intellectuals. But did we have the charisma or conversational skills to do this kind of work? Such a question was rarely raised. Instead we debated what kind of intellectual we wanted to be: one who sat in the ivory tower? Or one who talked to the people? There was a general skepticism that both roles could be successfully played simultaneously.

Becoming a public intellectual appealed to many of us because it seemed to provide a way of making one's scholarship more meaningful. Our ideas would be available to people in our home communities who might not ever set foot inside a university. Such a prospect was affirming. In a career where labor and education often don't lead to economic gains, it is easy to feel diminished by society. Being seen on television could cut against that nagging sense of devaluation.

Although there was a slight ebb in the amount of attention paid to black public intellectuals in the early years of this century, the limelight shines once again: The democratizing power of new digital forms of communication and 24-hour cable television news networks has renewed the role of the black public intellectual. Additionally, President Obama's election drew particular attention to the community of formally educated and politically engaged African-Americans to which he and Michelle Obama belong, a community that includes many scholars. It is at this moment of renewal that we need to rethink what it means to be a public intellectual.

I recently spent an afternoon with girls at an urban high school in Philadelphia that serves a largely black, poor, and working-class community. I am frequently invited to speak to young people, usually girls. I talk to them about academic success and offer some words of motivation. This group of girls had a stunning combination of brilliance and need. I spoke about my personal history and we discussed their interests, and our mutual inspirations. It was a different kind of public-intellectual experience. Around the same time, I gave interviews that were quoted in newspapers in the United States and Britain. Guess which "public intellectual" work felt more meaningful? I'm not suggesting that everyone would take teenagers over The New York Times, but if I had to choose, I certainly would.

For me, it's a matter of tradition. From the late-19th until the mid-20th century, it was a matter of course that African-American intellectuals engaged in public life in a multitude of ways. They developed school curriculums, worked in and for civil-rights organizations like the NAACP, and participated in civic organizations, churches, and professional societies. James Weldon Johnson, for example, author of the poem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which was later set to music and became known as the Negro national anthem, was a principal, lawyer, ambassador, secretary of the NAACP, and one of the founders of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers—which helped establish modern copyright law.

Anna Julia Cooper, one of the first African-American women to earn a doctorate, and author of the most important early black feminist text, A Voice From the South (1892), was a teacher and principal of the M Street High School in Washington, and also wrote on pedagogical questions alongside her contemporaries W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Her role as an educator and intellectual complemented her activist work against Jim Crow and gender inequality. Although the exigencies of that time created many renaissance men and women among the black intelligentsia, we can, even in these less oppressive times, be inspired by their desire to contribute in diverse ways.

Today's graduate students and junior professors who aspire to bring additional meaning to their intellectual work outside the university should embrace this broader and more democratic definition of what it means to be a public intellectual. One need not be camera-friendly or media-savvy to work for a civic or political organization. There is so much work to be done, particularly in communities of color, on a wide range of issues, including educational outcomes, imprisonment, nutrition, political representation, and unemployment.

There are many good role models. Some of my public-intellectual friends provide television, radio, magazine, or newspaper commentary, and write scholarly books that are accessible to nonacademic readers. Others raise social issues through theatrical performances, take on public-interest lawyering, work for nonprofit organizations, volunteer in public schools, write policy, and organize at the grass-roots level. Some do their public-intellectual work in prisons, while others do it at book clubs. Some are speakers and analysts, others crunch data for think tanks or social-justice organizations.

Much of this work does not come with the glamour of media recognition, but it is incredibly rewarding to receive positive feedback from people who sincerely value your time, knowledge, skills, and energy. Scholars can, moreover, easily calibrate how much time to devote to nonacademic work if it isn't driven by media schedules, leaving ample opportunities for writing, teaching, advising, job markets, tenure clocks, in the midst of relationships and other life commitments.

This year I joined the faculty at Princeton University in the Center for African American Studies, where we are developing a series of civic projects, rooted in scholarship, and conceived of as partnerships with community-based organizations. An example of this is our recently announced internship program with the Mississippi-based Young People's Project, which empowers the next generation of leaders seeking educational equity and social justice. As well, my colleague Noliwe Rooks offers a course titled "Our Struggling Schools: Race, Culture, and Urban Education," which provides students with the knowledge and skills to assess and recommend education policy and practices for local communities. Once this type of work is institutionalized, it will be even easier for individual faculty members to serve as public intellectuals without overwhelming their schedules or risking their professional development.

There are many universities where a relationship with the greater world is growing in formal and informal ways. At the University of Chicago, the Consortium on Chicago School Research works closely with the local public schools to study the best practices in teaching methods, and the Civil Rights Police Accountability Project at the University of Chicago Law School has engaged in landmark litigation protecting local citizens from police misconduct. The University of South Carolina's Institute for Families in Society has an environmental-justice project that uses action-oriented and community-based models to create meaningful interventions. A Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate, the Cambridge Health Alliance, conducts an integrated community-health program. These are but a few examples of many diverse efforts. I hope this trend continues despite the difficult economic climate at most higher-education institutions. A central goal of liberal education must be to work for the common good.

I do not wish to resuscitate old and tired debates about black public intellectuals. That it is an important role, I think, should now be a settled matter. But we need to broaden our understanding of what that role consists of, and how scholars can most effectively engage in public life outside of (and within) universities. The best of the black intellectual tradition has always been offered to both the ivory tower and the world at large.

Imani Perry is a professor at the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. She is author of Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Duke University Press, 2004). Her next book, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States, will be published by New York University Press next year.


1. honore - June 07, 2010 at 10:18 am

hail, hail and the next public service announcement is?

2. mtc1840 - June 07, 2010 at 10:58 am

American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson would agree with the action of scholar as public intellectual. You are "the world's eye" and "the world's heart," he said in his 1837 address, "The American Scholar," which he delivered in Cambridge, Ma., to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

The need today for scholars to share their knowledge outside the classroom and laboratory, whether through the media or through direct pubic interaction, as the author notes, is needed more than ever in this increasingly complicated world. This can contribute to individuals, communities, businesses, and governments making better choices that are based on facts.

"We as scholars hold important information that can benefit the common good; we should feel obligated to reach the largest audience we can to advance important issues," says an environmental scientist discussing this issue of scholar as public intellectual.

A professor of education adds, "Knowing what you know doesn't get you anywhere. Telling people what you know does."

Bill Tyson, author of "Pitch Perfect: Communicating with Traditional and Social Media for Scholars, Researchers, and Academic Leaders"

3. mcnallysmith - June 07, 2010 at 11:35 am

Well said and very inspiring.

4. gplm2000 - June 07, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Another politically correct advertisement about how great is black culture. Now we have intellectuals! Of course these same people, as well as civil rights leaders, and local "leaders", ignore the enslavement of their people into a self-defeating culture mired in poverty and violence. One perpetuated by the "poverty pimps" and politicians.

5. jlvilson - June 07, 2010 at 12:19 pm

This was a great read only because it solidifies the idea of public service MORESO than getting on TV and print. Unfortunately, there's so many of us out there in the media but none of the actual work gets highlighted. Many of them are sliced into nice blurbs for simple consumption, but the work is where it's at. Shared this with everyone. Good stuff.

Jose Vilson

6. a_voice - June 07, 2010 at 01:50 pm

@gplm2000: Black culture is as great and as imperfect as any other culture. You must think that you are very clever, and you are definitely unkind. The world has seen plenty like you.

7. noblekinsman - June 07, 2010 at 03:39 pm

Do you really need a Harvard PhD and JD to go tell the little girls in Philly to stay in school? Your local weatherlady will be more effective than a professor no kid has heard of or cares for. That's not "public intellectual" work - that's an attempt to play Morgan Freeman in "Lean on Me."

8. crunchycon - June 07, 2010 at 04:07 pm

#7 noblekinsman -- you are wrong. The children need to see "someone like them" who has achieved and to be able to talk to him/he and ask questions. One cannot overestimate the importance of contacts (in the sense of "coming into contact with") such as these.

9. crunchycon - June 07, 2010 at 04:08 pm

Sorry -- him/heR

10. 12111360 - June 07, 2010 at 04:17 pm

"The black public intellectual" -- is there really a need to divide intellectuals by color? Do the problems of blacks not warrant debate by "American intellectuals", regardless of race?

This is a form of ghettoization of the mind that American blacks in particular should reject. It is insulting to blacks and can ultimately only be divisive.

For God's sake, what happened to Dr. King's dream of a "colorblind society?" If he knew that it is the so-called intellectuals that stand in the way of his dream, he'd turn in his grave.

Dr. S. W.

11. lilybart1 - June 07, 2010 at 04:24 pm

Thank you, Professor Perry, for your inspiring and affirming essay. As a professor at a small liberal arts college in the West who is far from the Research I orbits and who will never be quoted in the New York Times, most of my "extracurricular" work is on the small, community scale. Some of my greatest professional satisfaction derives from my talks to local Honor Societies, having students from the city high-schools shadow me for a day, or even showing my own students that raising and exploring certain questions can make a difference in the world.

12. crunchycon - June 07, 2010 at 05:04 pm

#10 - Dr.S.W. -- When children who do well in school and who study are (still) called out for "acting white", YES, there is really still a need for "black public intellectuals".

13. tbdiscovery - June 07, 2010 at 05:16 pm

"The Civil Rights Police Accountability Project at the University of Chicago Law School has engaged in landmark litigation protecting local citizens from police misconduct."

My head hurts again. We all know that not every police officer is a good person, and even good cops act out. But wouldn't a better focus be on encouraging such youth to become police officers, rather than creating more hatred of authority and a disrespect for assimilation?

14. 22286593 - June 07, 2010 at 05:42 pm

I think an interesting question for Professor Perry is the following: what does it mean for so many black public intellectuals to be in the most elite American universities? What is to be gained by moving to Princeton? What is lost by leaving Rutgers? When the most privileged white institutions monopolize the most famous and visible black intellectuals what does this mean for their ability to reach out and personally impact African American studies who are numerically most represented in more modest and less privileged institutions? In addition, how are we to make sense that Princetons and Harvards now find black intellectuals and what they have to say to be so useful? I suppose there is something to be said about dismantling the master's house with the master's tool, but what if in the end it's just all about having worked for the master, having left your own house and family? I get the idea that Yale and Brown are important contested terrains ("I could be educating the next Obama!!!), that Penn and Georgetown are great soapboxes, etc. etc., but it seems to me that at the end of the day, drawing all that salary, being surrounded by all that privilege, and even perhaps feeling the disdain of some of the white colleagues might suggest that some have sold out.

15. author_academic_life - June 07, 2010 at 07:28 pm

Do not forget that many of us professors, who happen to be Black/African American, want to be public scholars that discuss issues such as science, communications, medicine, art, etc. My academic expertise is in communication and psychology and it is irritating to be put into a 'box' concerning scholarship.

If someone wants me to reach out to the public or a youth group, let it be related to what I spent years becoming a specialist in and teaching to university and college students. I can teach, help and inspire 'everyone' and it doesn't just have to be people who share my skin color. Further, being a public intellectual does not mean that I have to address ethnic, racial or policy issues related to discrimination or prejudice.

16. bertamay - June 07, 2010 at 08:14 pm

gplm2000: It is presumptuous for you to think that "civil rights leaders, and local 'leaders', IRNORE the enslavement of their people into a self-defeating culture mired in poverty and violence. one perpetuated by the 'poverty pimps' and politicians..." Ignorance and denial permeates society in many places where collective responsibility is necessary for positive social change affecting not only those who were enslaved by their masters, but also those who continue to be enslaved by their thinking. Also, your pre-judgment is limited and narrowed by your lack of knowledge and understanding of what you consider Black culture. You have identified what popular culture exhibits--coupled with the poverty--but failed to see the values that enabled these same people to survive; many who are still trying to do, just that.

17. princeton67 - June 07, 2010 at 09:33 pm

Several observations
(1) When the analysis of the "black intellectual tradition" is not practised only by blacks, then the tradition will evolve. For example, the Princeton Center for African-American Studies has four dedicated faculty members (not also appointed to other departments): all are Black
(2) When Afrocentic absurdities are rejected, then the tradition will evolve. Example: that ancient Egyptians were black; that Socrates was black and stole his ideas from the library at Alexandra.
(3) When the tradition includes the sciences and mathematics, not just the humanities, then the tradition will evolve. Example: "There is so much work to be done, particularly in communities of color, on a wide range of issues, including educational outcomes, imprisonment, nutrition, political representation, and unemployment." Fine, but limited. Where are astronomy, math, zoology? Where are the black Carl Sagans, Stephen Goulds, Richard Dawkins - the public science intellectuals?

18. honore - June 07, 2010 at 11:35 pm

princeton67...good observations, but be sure to stop by Brown's "3rd World Center for Oppression" for brunch if you want a real good hoot. A long-standing tradition fof fake oppression perpetuated by the usual tired cadre of fake campus diversity goons too long hanging on the administrative vines. Time for a chainsaw and some real leadership that focuses on students' education and not their brainwashing into political pavlovian existence based on political intellectual matrices as profound as you'll read on moped bumperstickers. And don't forget to order the smoked oysters --- they typically won't drip on Che T-shirts.

19. vlmarr - June 08, 2010 at 08:53 am

@princeton67: Hmm...a weak attempt at humor made weaker by your ignorance and arrogance. Given your base level of discourse on this forum, it's difficult to imagine you distinguishing "fake" oppression from that which is quite real.

20. vlmarr - June 08, 2010 at 09:01 am

My apologies--the previous post should have been directed to honore, who was responding to princeton67's post.

21. honore - June 08, 2010 at 09:18 am

vlmarr, to add to your morning writhe...something to ponder...

When the black communities in the USA FINALLY decide to address the REAL problems in their communities...teen-age pregnancy, family dysfunction disintegration, rampant drug use, low-priority of education, glamorization of ghetto violence, subjugation and degradation of black women, implicit worship of the white "ho" as the prize for happenin' mandingos, 80% fatherless births AND the summary dynamic of "black on black crime, then MAYBE, your comment might have some validity or reason to pause.

Self-serving, public "service" announcements such as this one decrying the self-importance of its author are more sad than inspiring. Sure it's great that she has accomplished what she has, but don't forget for 1 moment that her RACE was a major factor at every gate she opened and the white gate-keepers just love havin' her around to point to when federal auditors come to campus to see if federal AA/EEO guidelines are being complied with. Again, it is great she has accomplished what she has, but don't imagine for a nano-second that she will have muuch of an impact on black kids living in public housing in Princeton, NJ or anywhere else in America. My advice...Choose your idols well and check their feet for clay. And all this with a "black" president, no less.

22. honore - June 08, 2010 at 09:20 am

vlmarr, but I am sure you will continue to blame the white boogeyman...no surprises in your stupidity.

23. evbiii - June 08, 2010 at 09:23 am

Thank you for this public discussion. I look forward to more like it in the future.

24. supertatie - June 08, 2010 at 10:07 am

I applaud the increase in vocal and visible black role models for children, and cheer for more! But I would be more encouraged if (a) as one poster indicated, such scholars were visible in the hard sciences, as opposed to so many in social work, education, and "ethnic studies"; (b) if so much of the "scholarship" and "public intellectual discourse" was not so completely devoted to shibboleths like "white privilege" and "oppression," and (c) if everything wasn't recast in "hip hop" terms.

The history of the human race is the history of certain groups exercising power over others, and that was (and is) as true in Africa as it has been in the United States. It is certainly not a function of European ethnicity or relative paleness of skin. Blacks singling themselves out as somehow uniquely damaged by oppression is a false and dispiriting narrative. Continuing to engender anger - particularly at individuals living now who were not the oppressors 150 years ago - empowers no one, and emphasizes differences rather than the universality of human experience that could contribute to healing, understanding, and growth.

Furthermore, the principles which are at the foundation of American society have enabled countless ethnic and other self-identified groups to overcome stigmas and socioeconomic disadvantage, and triumph personally, professionally, and financially.

The first responsibility of a scholar is honesty. The black community in this country has been held back by a pervasive and destructive culture of irresponsible and self-indulgent sexuality, which has decimated the family - the primary unit of socialization, discipline, and education. (And as black scholars like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell have demonstrated in their writings, this is NOT a casualty of slavery; the black marriage rate was much higher, and the illegitimacy rate far lower during the Jim Crow era than it has been since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

An 80% illegitimacy rate is not just a tragedy, it is a catastrophe. No amount of money will fix it; individuals in the black community will have to decide for themselves, once and for all, that this behavior is destroying them, and stop.

And the rest of the country needs to cease emulating this behavior. When the overall illegitimacy rate in this country hits that number, our society will collapse. No civilized society can survive 80% illegitimacy, teenage motherhood (with its corresponding physical and psychological pathologies in children), absent fathers, and roving gangs of uncivilized, unsocialized, irresponsible, and violent young men.

And this is the source of my point (c), above: the so-called "hip hop" culture glorifies the depersonalized sexualization that is responsible for the ongoing decline of blacks in America. Viewing every other human endeavor (reading! science! mathematics!) through the "hip-hop" lens to make it "relevant" to young blacks diminishes the significance of those endeavors, unnecessarily sexualizes them, and further entrenches the false and unfair public perception that the things blacks are best at (in addition to sports) are music and sex.

Please, please, black scholars - speak out against these trends, rather than strengthening them!

25. blackhistorytheology - June 08, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Dear Professor Perry,

Thank you so much for your insightful, prophetic, and visionary analysis concerning the 21st century role of the black public intellectual. Also, thank you for your earlier brilliant work, Prophets of the Hood. In keeping with your continuing work on this subject of the public intellectual, you may be interested in two of my recent works in this area, one single-authored and the other edited.

In Search of the Talented Tenth: Howard University Public Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Race, 1926-1970. University of Missouri Press, December 23, 2009.

ed. Africana Cultures and Policy Studies: Scholarship and the Transformation of Public Policy. Contemporary Black History Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, (June) 2009.

Take care. Keep on keepin on.


Dr. Zach Williams
Assistant Professor of African American History
Associate Director of Pan African Studies
The University of Akron

26. veritasconsulting57 - June 08, 2010 at 06:23 pm

As someone who hails from a tiny village in Africa and being one of the fortunate masses to come to the US, I am awe stricken to see such venom being spewed by some of us today. Not to digress, I first must provide you with my professional background (not to pontificate, but to place all of my comments in their proper context- after all, your professional life often indicates/reflects how you see the world). As an educator in NYC urban areas for over ten years, I have often asked myself some questions: It all began when a parent came for her son's report card. Once the conference started, she began her tirade about how useless the child's father was, and how he was (expletive) bum, and doesn't take care of his responsibilities. This all occured IN FRONT OF THE SEVEN YEAR OLD!! Of course, her twenty minute venomous speech had me pondering whether the man was justified for leaving her, but of course I dared not utter such a comment. However, as she left I began to ponder some thoughts/questions:

1. If our race would ever progress wouldn't it first start with parents teaching their children about values, INTELLECTUALISM being one of them?

2.The educational system was never created with our benefit in mind, but in order to change anything, we first must master the traditional system and then make changes, but yet why is it that many of us are still refusing to be educated?

3. Caution: THIS IS A PANDORA'S BOX When will Black women accept their part in chasing Black men away? I have heard so many women throughout the course of my teaching careers tell me how terrible of a father this man was, but after ten minutes meeting with them, I then begin to see why he left. Then we wonder why this same child grows up with a warped image of a man, and takes that with him everyhwere he goes; the woman has damaged him to such an extent that he does not want to have anything to with the father. However, WE ALL PAY because there are many children like that; whether it is LA, NYC, Chicago, you name it, they exist.

However, I thought back to an old Ashanti saying: "Those of us born on a hilltop could quickly reach and touch the skies, but those of us born in a pit, rarely see the skies." Hence the problem among Blacks in America. The issue of Black intellectualism have been in existence for so long, but without an actual systemic changes in the Black communities and Black fathers being responsible for creating all of these children, as well as women with no standards for the men they choose, the intellectual advertsing would be moot. Thus, those of us who manage to leave the "bucket," eventually start to ponder whether the battle is even worth it because the gravity of the situation might be too much for one to bear. In addition, the nature of Black on Black attacks permeates a lot of things in our society, thus we all ask ourselves this subliminal question: "Should I engage in this service for my people despite the fact that it might compromise the future of my own family and friends?"

Those of us who might have friends and families who believe in our "Robin Hood" like status might be fortunate but many times, our loved ones might be too reluctant to engage in direct issues that could change communities.

So, I believe that the professor has done a good job addressing the end results, but the theory is flawed because it assumes the following:

1. The current academic institutions foster Black intellectual as we know it

2. Our neighborhoods are equipped to promote intellectualism, despite all of the other ills currently facing them (single parenting, drugs, prison idustrial complex, guns, etc.)

3. The so called media appointed intellectuals are actually vested in promoting a Black intellectual MASSES. After all, if that were to occur, they might have to share the "spotlight," so I ask all of you: "If power is addicting, what makes you think these so-called Black intellectuals, would be willing to spread the wealth? It would NOT be in their best interest because in a capitalistic system where competition is inherent, someone has to win and someone has to lose, so these Black intellectuals are not so quick to "share" their wealth. Thus the cycle continues.

However, I submit to all of you the following points to create an effective change in our communities:

1. Education is key. Parents MUST know that their children's future is key, and they MUST be the ones that advocate for their child's/children's education. If they do not do it, NO ONE ELSE WILL AND SHOULD.

2. Black men and women NEED to get their act together and stop worrying about every other issues except HOW TO MAINTAIN THE FAMILY STRUCTURE. There are so many of us who are caught in the "He/She's not good for you" syndrome that we forget that might be the reason why we are STILL SINGLE. Have you ever wondered why the most vocal people about relationships are often single?

3. Expose our children to places where they should aspire to..develop their talents and nurture them. If they are going to play sports, teach them the skills, but always plant in them that they should also work in OWNING a sports team one day.

4. Financial literacy is A MUST! One of the failures of our current K-12 system is that it does not teach financial literacy until it's too late (trial and error). The funny thing is parents in suburbia America are doing it because they are teaching their children to TAKE OVER THE WORLD, while we are teaching our children to MERELY exist in the world.

5.EVERY CHILD SHOULD GET A LIBRARY CARD!!!! For every sneakers that we buy our children/child, a book checked out from the library should come with it.

6.We should be cautious when we make excuses for our children or our current conditions. We should not be naive to racism, but as aforemntioned, education would usually clarify where you stand in the struggle. After all an EDUCATED person, ESPECIALLY AN EDUCATED BLACK MAN might be a threat to many people, but who cares?

7. Interracial relationships are a reality for some of us, and while I could list several reasons why that might be an issue in our communities but it is 2010, and to comment on people's private decisions is a waste of time and air. While I know this would make a lot of Black women upset (including my beloved mother), I just don't see it as a big deal anymore, as long as both couples are happy with each other, and are loving each other on the physical AND metaphysical level, I cannot spite them...(side note..NO, my wife is not white..lol..)

8. Scrutinize our leaders and continuously press them to mentor new and young blood. There are way too many Black octogenarians in power and as a result change seldom come because they were in office when shows like "Good Times" made their debut. We need to always ask them what they are doing to nurture young political talent in their districts. If they are not doing anything, we should get rid of them, period.

9.Get rid of guns in our neighborhoods. I am sure you don't need me to elaborate extensively about this topic because all you have to do is look at the statistics (focusing on the deceased's age and alleged perpetrator) and you will draw your own conclusions.

10. Challenge Historical Black Colleges (absent Spelman and Moorehouse) AND high schools nationwide to deliver graduates that are ready for the globalized economy. This could be done by mobilizing a movement, and asking poignant questions about what they are doing to NOT create a Black underclass?

Thus, I end by stating to my people that you are a beautiful race, and despite what others might say, your beauty lies within the cradle of Africa, the only continent with enough resources to survive ON ITS OWN! However, our colonial services to Europe have created the macabre conditions that have plagued the beautiful continent. Nevertheless, we will not give up because our liberation is inextricably tied to your liberation on this side of the world. Until we begin to have the real debates about these issues, all of these talks about so-called Black intellects might be a smoke screen that would inevitably fog our capabilities to nurture common sense. Do we need Black intellectuals, absolutely. However, the root causes of our community problems should be identified FIRST before we begin to address these peripheral issues. After all, the "coronation" of a media appointed Black intellectual does not mean that he has the Black CONSCIOUSNESS as well. There's a difference, but I believe my preamble is too voluminous..thus I rest.


27. queanda - June 08, 2010 at 08:16 pm

I admire and wish I shared your optimism, I am a black man who came of age during the 90's as well and no longer share your faith.

one of the biggest mistakes was not making peace with cultural nationalists and taking the accomodationist approach, we will never rise as a people w/o vision and myth. none of the leading black public intellectuals truly have a black conscious so they are useless to inspire black people.

this explains and will continue to explain their failure to criticize obama's numerous failings as a BLACK president (namely the diversity in his administration is appallingly low, no BLACK man would have mostly whites in his administration, he's only marginally better than bush on diversity)(watch the slave minds go to work on that, it reflects the country, duh, maybe he couldn't find blacks, duh, maybe there aren't enough qualified, duh) I say again, A BLACK man's cabinet would be very different (check Kurt Schmoke on that point) (for a literary example think chesnutt's wife of my youth or musically, ellington & coltrane coming together)

anyhow, i'm through with talking. I do, however, appreciate your recognition for the need to evaluate the effectiveness of one's participation in the community. For too long, individuals and organizations have driven their jaguars to the hood for speeches and marches only to stand along side politicians, organizers and organizations who have failed their people. without a plan to measure whether they have achieved their goals, they can watch their cities transform into haiti, e.g. detroit, but still have full support of intellectuals and the community. At this point, I'm sad to say, the only thing black intellectuals or anyone who wants to do anything for the community needs to do is to identify the number of blacks who need jobs, out of prison, homes built, etc. and say they will accomplish it by, say, 2013, if it's accomplished, good, if not, please stop the bull.

I gotta go, this will take too long

28. mainiac - June 09, 2010 at 06:04 am

Stop youth from internalizing patterns of failure in pop culture hip hop/rap; that would save many lives.

29. veritasconsulting57 - June 09, 2010 at 04:42 pm

@queanda: Your vitriol, while interesting is heavily misplaced because it is such language that does accelerate some of our Brothers and Sisters to ignore the hood once they get an opportunity. Obama is America's president NOT just OUR president; that's a reality that we should start to understand because at the end of the day he is a politician first, and all of them live by one word: RE-ELECTION. To automatically assume that the malaise of race in his cabinet equates to him losing touch with his community or issues is naive on one level and pure comical on another. FYI, the only power any President has without consulting anyone is to push a nuclear button (fact)..all other powers rest within other branches of givernment.

Obama recognizes this and have to strategize in such a way that he gets re-elected. Have you forgotten that he was a community activist in one of the most dangerous cities in the midwest? You seem to immediately assume that to be Black is just about color..he could still have a Black cabinet and do a mediocre job because being Black is just ONE piece of the equation, it is the CONSCIOUSNESS that is crucial. Look at the debacle caused by Kilpatrick in Detroit, and now we have all fingers pointing to the naysayers who believe that a Black man can never be gving too much power because guess what they do with it? Look at the Louisiana politician that allegedly stored hordes of money in his refrigerator..what do we do with them? They were all surrounded by predominantly Black subordinates, but yet the outcome did not advance our interests..

Nevertheless, I do applaud your calling for community services because at the end of the day, that goes to the heart of all that we do. You can't expect someone to get rid of drugs, guns et al in your neighborhood if you are not willing to do your part. Thus I concur with that part of your argument Sir!


30. nativepoet - June 13, 2010 at 01:04 pm

Here Here, this conversation works. The very elite University where I teach the "decolonial thinker" is leaving for an institution that will pay even more money than the person makes now. His/Her graduate students are hating it. Way to go....dropping the responsibility of raising younger thinkers for greenback.

31. gloriawalker - June 17, 2010 at 10:31 am

As Black professionals we are never seen as what we accomplished when working in the USA. For some reason we are given labels like "Black teacher in...", "the radical","the trouble maker","the show off" and a few other claims. It is very difficult for us as Native Black American to be accepted by traditional Euro-Americans. I notice that people came from Russia (our enemies)and were placed ahead, people came from Cuba and other countries are placed ahead. I notice that people graduate from schools where they never attend class but are placed ahead of a Black or Afro-American that attended a school fully accredited and recognized if you are a White graduate.

Recently, I worked in a school where I was the only teacher in my program with a doctorate in my field and the only person of color, some had degrees in biology, art, english or masters in a business related area. My student retention was higher than all. My students were given standardized examinations to compare to other schools and they did very well, none of the other teachers classes were tested. My dean did not have the capability to even understand my accomplishments. He forced me to teach a course out of my area,he had meetings with other faculty members in the department to try and determine if I was teaching right. Not once did he ask me why I gave the students certain projects. He met with another dean that did not have a degree in the field to discuss me. They decided that since I had a doctorate in accounting it would be okay for me to teach marketing for college credit! They had all 129 trophies melted down that won. If someone said I left the school to get my hair done with no questions asked I was treated as if it happened. The college president received a letter and pin from a national organization stating what my students had accomplished academically but he pushed it in a drawer. I attended a conference where I was told about the letter and pin. When I called, they sent it in the mail with no comments.

We often get Whites in key positions that make decisions in regard to our career without a basic fact. Some are in the position because they are White, because of their connections but all of the ones I have had in twenty five years have never had education on my level. One failed graduate school (I researched it) but he was a friend of the president, one had a masters and had not returned to school in 30 years for anything but each felt that I was less because of my color.
Until this ends there will always be a lack of complete education.This is the norm not the exception as you can see in the response to the president. He has not been treated the same as all other presidents. America is NOT a fair country to it's own people and our children suffer (ALL CHILDREN)

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