Home / Part II: Revisiting An American Story

Part II: Revisiting An American Story

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Debra Dickerson did eventually file the separation papers she had torn up before. She left the Air Force in 1992. Already accepted at law school at Harvard, she took a temporary position with the Democratic National Committee. The favoritism she saw there for the wealthy, white and well-connected confirmed her belief that liberals do not care much more about the poor and minority than the Republicans do. At Harvard, Dickerson did reasonably well, but did not make the overwhelmingly important top five percent cut during her freshlaw year that guarantees a position at one of the elite law firms. Having already decided to pursue writing instead of practicing law, she was not particularly disappointed. She was very disappointed with the Black Law Students Association (referred to as ‘BALSA’ by law students an lawyers all over the country). It reflected the same tendencies she hated in the black bourgeoise all along, especially hypocrisy and self-promotion. She broke with the group when it balked at amending its rules to admit students of any race. Dickerson explores the ideological conclusions she reached during that period more extensively in The End of Blackness.

The Atlantic describes her arguments in the second book, which are in their formative stages in An American Story, cogently.

In The End of Blackness, Dickerson turns her gaze outward, leveling sweeping attacks against “white intransigence” and “kente cloth politics” alike. She begins by reviewing the many injustices suffered by American blacks from the time of slavery up through the mid-twentieth century, and then hails the many important transformations that were wrought by the civil-rights movement. Since that time, she goes on to argue, blacks have failed to fully embrace their newly won freedoms, clinging instead to a familiar role as victims; and whites, for their part, have been reluctant to welcome full participation by blacks in American society, adhering instead to old patterns of racism.

I agree with Dickerson that many African-Americans and working-class people in general do not take advantage of the help that is available toward some upward mobility, though I also believe not nearly enough help is offered. It is often because they don’t have information, peer pressure counsels otherwise or doing something different would lead to disapproval by family members, that people with potential fail to act. I believe more attention needs to focused on the talented person who is among the first in his family to consider higher education. That kind of individual needs to be pressured to get results.

Sometimes, serependity will result in the right thing turning up at the right time. I have been mulling Debra Dickerson’s politics, and what bothers me about them, for a while now. Then, I noticed a link about Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a participant on Donald Trump‘s reality television show at a blog that is new to me, Funk Digital. Though I don’t watch the show, I read the article. She was ‘fired.’

NEW YORK – Fired “Apprentice” Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth — hated by some of her fellow cast members — got plenty of love Thursday at Ebony magazine’s awards luncheon.

Manigault-Stallworth, who was “fired” on March 4, was the most polarizing of the 16-member cast, frequently arguing with some of the other women on the NBC reality show, in which contestants vie for real estate mogul Donald Trump’s favor and “the dream job of a lifetime” as his yearlong protege.

After her “firing,” the 30-year-old claimed former contestant Ereka Vetrini had called her the “n-word.” Vetrini has vigorously denied the allegation, as have executive producers Mark Burnett and Trump.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Manigault-Stallworth, a former political consultant, said her experience showed the problems of racism in corporate America.

“Both of those gentlemen weren’t there, so I find it ironic that they would be so emphatic that something did not happen.”

I don’t know. Yes, the two words and contraction that so many people are afraid to use. I don’t know whether Manigault-Stallworth is telling the truth or not. I suspect that we would never have heard about any problems with racism on the show if she had been successful. Then, her comments would likely praise the ‘suits’ and the other contestants. Go along to get along, you know. I believe the connundrum therein is the problem with Debra Dickerson’s belief that racism has declined, if not disappeared. She is mistaking reluctance to acknowledge their encounters with racism by upwardly mobile African-Americans for the actual absence of racism. When I hear people of color say racism is ‘over,’ I know they know better but are claiming otherwise, either because of self-deception or opportunism. The evidence of continuing discrimination is all around them, both macro and micro. The same black activist funded by Right Wing Foundations who goes on television claiming discrimination ended sometime in the 1960s has been racially profiled by the police. The Hispanic Republican who says the unemployed are merely lazy has family descended from people here before there was a United States who can’t get decent jobs. So, why do some people do it? The rewards — money, courtship by the media and approval from white conservatives.

I consider being too easily bamboozled (a good Southern word she can relate to I suspect) about day-to-day racism a legitimate criticism of Dickerson. But, much of what people are saying about her in comments at Amazon and other sites is both erroneous and mean-spirited. She is not a bought and paid for spokesperson for reactionary white America like Jesse Lee Peterson, Walter Williams or Michelle Malkin. The far Right brooks no dissent from its paleo-conservative views. Their colored people know they had better not criticize the hand that feeds them. Dickerson speaks up about white intransigence and racism often enough to be permanently excluded from that club. Nor does it matter that she has usually dated white men and married one. Considering the shortage of comparatively educated men of color, more and more black, Indian and Hispanic women will be marrying interracially. What matters is whether the person has anything substantive to say about race relations. Debra Dickerson does.

Note 1: This entry also appeared at Silver Rights.

Note 2: Part I of this review can be read here or here.

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  • More of the commentary about Dickerson I consider wrongheaded can be read at the Target book review site.