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Full text of "Faces at the bottom of the well : the permanence of racism"

£ 

185.615 
fl3 96 
1992 



E 185.615 .B395 1992 
Bell, Derrick A. 
Faces at the bottom of the 
well 



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fietlf Derrick A* 

Faces at the bottom of the we 
permanence o± racism / Derrick 
^ew York, NY : Baslcfiooks, cl99 

xlvf 222 p* ; 22 cm* 

Contents: Introduction: dlvln 
racial themes — Racial symbols 
limitecL legacy — The Afrolanti 
awakeninij, — The liaciat Prefere 
Licensing Act — The last black 
Divining a racial realism theor 
The rules of racial standing — 
professor's protest — Racism's 
bonding — The space traders — 
Epilogue: beyond despair* 

Includes bibliographical refe 
( p* l.^Olj-214 ) and index* 

#12816 Gift :Dave Smith $ 

ISBN 0-465- 06817-0 

01 MAR S3 25410808 NE*Cxc SEE 

1* Racism — United States* 2* 

States Race relations* 3* Afr 

Americans — Civil rlfehts* I* Ti 



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Printed 
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Faces at the Bottom of the Well 



ALSO BY DERRICK BELL 



And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1987) 



DERRICK BELL 



Faces 
at the 
Bottom 

of the 
Well 



THE PERMANENCE 
OF RACISM 



BasicBooks 

A Division of HATjperCoW'xnsPublishers 



Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint from the following: 

"Puzzled," from Selected Poems by Langston Hughes. Copyright © 1948 by Alfred 
A. Knopf, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. 

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," copyright © 1973 by Ursula K. Le 
Guin; first appeared in New Dimensions 3; excerpted by permission of the author 
and the author's agent, Virginia Kidd. 



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
BeU, Derrick A. 

Faces at the bottom of the well: the permanence of 
racism/by Derrick Bell, 
p. cm. 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 0-465-O6817-0 

1. Racism — United States. 2. United States — Race relations. 
3. Afro-Americans — Civil rights. I. Tide. 
El 85.61 5.B395 1992 

305.8'00973— dc20 91-59020 

CIP 

Copyright © 1992 by BasicBooks, 

A Division of HarperCollins Pubbshers, Inc. 

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this 
book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permis- 
sion except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and 
reviews. For information, address BasicBooks, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, 
NY 10022-5299. 

Designed by E/kn Levine 

92 93 94 95 CC/HC 987654 3 21 



Black people are the magical faces at the bottom of 
society 's well Even the poorest whites, those who must live 
their lives only a few levels above, gain their self-esteem by 
ga'^ng down on us. Surely, they must know that their 
deliverance depends on letting down their ropes. Only by 
working together is escape possible. Over time, many reach 
out, but most simply watch, mesmerised into maintaining 
their unspoken commitment to keeping us where we are, at 
whatever cost to them or to us. 

D. B. 



CONTENTS 



IX 



Preface 

Introduction. Divining Our Racial Themes 1 

1 Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 15 

2 The Afrolandca Awakening 32 

3 The Racial Preference Licensing Act 47 

4 The Last Black Hero 65 

5 Divining a Racial Realism Theory 89 

6 The Rules of Racial Standing 109 

7 A Law Professor's Protest 127 

8 Racism's Secret Bonding 147 



yjji Contents 

9 The Space Traders 158 

Epilogue. Beyond Despair 195 

Notes 201 

Index 215 



PREFACE 



At the outset, let me assure her many friends that the lawyer- 
prophet Geneva Crenshaw, the fictional heroine of And We 
Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, has returned. 
In that earlier book, through a series of allegorical stories, she 
and I discussed the workings — and the failures — of civil rights 
laws and policies. Here, I again enlist the use of literar\' models 
as a more helpful vehicle than legal precedent in a continuing 
quest for new directions in our struggle for racial justice, a 
struggle we must continue even if — as I contend here — racism 
is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this 
society. 

The chaUenge throughout has been to tell what 1 view as 
the truth about racism without causing disabling despair. For 
some of us who bear the burdens of racial subordination, 
any truth — no matter how dire — is uplifting. For others, it 
may be reassuring to remember Paulo Freire's words: "Free- 
dom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued 
constandy and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located 
outside of . . . [the individual]; nor is it an idea which be- 



X Preface 

comes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the 
quest for human completion."' 

Albert Camus, too, saw the need for struggle even in the 
face of certain defeat: "Man is mortal. That may be; but let us 
die resisting; and if our lot is complete annihilation, let us not 
behave in such a way that it seems justice!"^ In a similar vein, 
Franz Fanon conceded that "I as a man of color do not have 
the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystalli- 
zation of guilt toward the past of my race. . . . My life [as a 
Negro] is caught in the last of existence. ... I find myself 
suddenly in the world and I recognize that I have one right 
alone: that of demanding human behavior from the other. One 
duty alone: that of not renouncing my freedom through my 
choices."^ 

Fanon argued two seemingly irreconcilable points, and in- 
sisted on both. On the one hand, he believed racist structures 
to be permanendy embedded in the psychology, economy, 
society, and culture of the modern world — so much so that he 
expressed the belief "that a true culture cannot come to life 
under present conditions.'"* But, on the other hand, he urged 
people of color to resist psychologically the inheritance they 
had come into. He insisted, despite pages of evidence suggest- 
ing the inviolability of the racial order, that "I should con- 
standy remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing 
invention into existence. For the world through which I travel, 
I am endlessly creating myself"^ Fanon's book was enor- 
mously pessimistic in a victory sense. He did not believe that 
modern structures, deeply poisoned with racism, could be 
overthrown. And yet he urged resistance. He wrote a book — 
perhaps to remind himself that material or cultural fate is only 
part of the story. 

While Martin Luther King spoke much about racial justice 
in integrationist terms, in an essay, A Testament of Hope, pub- 
lished after his death, he wrote of his setbacks, the time he 



Preface xi 

Spent in jails, his frustrations and sorrows, and the dangerous 
character of his adversaries. He said those adversaries expected 
him to harden into a grim and desperate man. But: "They fail, 
however, to perceive the sense of affirmation generated by the 
challenge of embracing struggle and surmounting obstacles."^ 
So, while Dr. King led a struggle toward a goal — racial equal- 
ity — that seemed possible, if not quite feasible, in the 1960s, 
there was a deeper message of commitment to courageous 
struggle whatever the circumstances or the odds. A part of that 
struggle was the need to speak the truth as he viewed it even 
when that truth alienated rather than unified, upset minds 
rather than calmed hearts, and subjected the speaker to general 
censure rather than acclaim. 

Statements of faith by men who had thought deeply about 
the problems of human life, whether white or black, encour- 
aged me in writing this book. And I was moved and motivated 
by the courageous example of the many black people with 
whom I worked in the South during my years as a civil rights 
lawyer. Judge Robert L. Carter, one of the leading attorneys in 
the NAACP's school desegregation litigation, has spoken of 
this courage when, back in the early 1950s, whites exerted 
economic pressures to curb the new militancy among blacks 
who were joining lawsuits challenging segregation. In that 
climate. Carter and the other lawyers urged parents to consider 
carefully the risks before making a final commitment to join in 
the litigation. "That so few stepped back still astounds me," 
says Carter,' 

Carter's observation takes me back to the summer of 
1964. It was a quiet, heat-hushed evening in Harmony, a 
small black community near the Mississippi Delta. Some 
Harmony residents, in the face of increasing white hostility, 
were organizing to ensure implementation of a court order 
mandating desegregation of their schools the next Septem- 
ber. Walking with her up a dust)', unpaved road toward her 



xii Preface 

modest home, I asked one of the organizers, Mrs. Biona 
MacDonald, where she and the other black families found 
the courage to continue working for civil rights in the face 
of intimidation that included blacks losing their jobs, the 
local banks trying to foreclose on the mortgages of those 
active in the civil rights movement, and shots fired through 
their windows late at night. 

Mrs. MacDonald looked at me and said slowly, seriously, "I 
can't speak for everyone, but as for me, I am an old woman. 
I lives to harass white folks." 

Since then, I have thought a lot about Mrs. MacDonald and 
those other courageous black folk in Leake County, Missis- 
sippi, particularly Dovie and Winson Hudson. Remembering 
again that long-ago conversation, I realized that Mrs. Mac- 
Donald didn't say she risked everything because she hoped or 
expected to win out over the whites who, as she well knew, 
held all the economic and political power, and the guns as well. 
Rather, she recognized that — powerless as she was — she had 
and intended to use courage and determination as a weapon to, 
in her words, "harass white folks." 

As I do throughout this book, Mrs. MacDonald assumed 
that I knew that not all whites are racist, but that the oppres- 
sion she was committed to resist was racial and emanated from 
whites. She did not even hint that her harassment would 
topple those whites' well-entrenched power. Rather, her goal 
was defiance, and its harassing effect was likely more potent 
precisely because she did what she did without expecting to 
topple her oppressors. Mrs. MacDonald avoided discourage- 
ment and defeat because at the point that she determined to 
resist her oppression, she was triumphant. Her answer to my 
question reflected the value of that triumph, explained the 
source of courage that fueled her dangerous challenge to the 
white power structure of that rural Mississippi county. Noth- 
ing the all-powerful whites could do to her would diminish her 
triumph. \. 



Preface xiii 

D D D D D 

This book's unorthodox form is a testament to the support 
and the persistence of Martin Kessler, president and editorial 
director of Basic Books. For her assistance as well as valuable 
ideas and editing help, I owe a real debt to my former student 
Erin Edmonds, J.D., Harvard '91, a demon writer in her own 
right. The interweaving of fact and fiction requires writing skill 
and experience possessed by few law teachers, including this 
author. To fill the gap between idea and execution, I relied on 
Basic Books's development editor Phoebe Hoss, who here, as 
she did in And We Are Not Saved, labored far beyond the 
awesome obligations of her unsung profession to give these 
chapters intelligible form and logical structure. 

Lynn Walker, the director of the Ford Foundation's Human 
Rights and Social Justice Programs, provided a grant that 
helped with research assistance. I also received a grant from 
the Harvard Law School's summer research program. Earlier 
versions of some of these stories were written for and dis- 
cussed with my Civil Rights at the Crossroads Seminars at the 
Harvard Law School in 1989 and 1990. My thanks to the many 
persons who read all or portions of this manuscript. They 
include: Anita Allen, Karen Beckwith, Carter Bell, Arlene 
Brock, Janet Dewart, Dagmar Miller, Cindy Monaco, Linda 
Singer, Krenie Stowe, Sung-Hee Suh, and Ayelet Waldman. 
John Hayakawa Torok helped with research, and Dan Gun- 
nells, Michelle Degree, and Chery-l Jackson performed various 
secretarial functions. 

Several of the stories were written to facilitate classroom 
discussion. Some were then published elsewhere, usually in 
substantially different versions, and I gratefuUy acknowledge 
permission to reprint them: Chapter 1, "Racial Symbols: A 
Limited Legacy" in "A Holiday for Dr. King: The Significance 
of Symbols in the Black Freedom Struggle," University of Califor- 
nia at Davis Law Review 17 (1983): 433; chapter 3, "The Racial 



xiv Preface 

Preference Licensing Act," in "Foreword: The Final Civil 
Rights Act," California Law Rfvieiv 79 (1991): 597; chapter 4, 
'The Last Black Hero," in 'The Last Black Hero," Harvard 
Blackktter Law Journal 8 (1991): 51; chapter 5, "Divining a 
Racial Realism Theory," in "Xerces and the Affirmative Action 
Mystique (A Tribute to Professor Arthur S. Miller)," 57 George 
Washington Law Review 1595 (1989): 701; chapter 6, "The Rules 
of Racial Standing," in "The Law of Racial Standing," Yale 
Journal of Law and Liberation 2 (1991): 117; chapter 9, "The 
Space Traders," in "A Forum on Derrick Bell's Civil Rights 
Chronicles," 1989 Sanford E. Sarasohn Memorial Lecture, St. 
Louis University Law Journal 34 (1990): 393; and in "Racism: A 
Prophecy for the Year 2000," Rutgers Law Review 42 (1989): 1. 



INTRODUCTION 



Divining Our Racial Themes 



In these bloody days and frightful nights when an urban warrior can 
find no face more despicable than his own, no ammunition more deadly 
than self -hate and no target more deserving of his true aim than his 
brother, we must wonder how we came so late and lonely to this place. 
— Maya Angelou 



When I was growing up in the years before the Second World 
War, our slave heritage was more a symbol of shame than a 
source of pride. It burdened black people with an indelible mark 
of difference as we struggled to be like whites. In those far-off 
days, survival and progress seemed to require moving beyond, 
even rejecting slavery. Childhood friends in a West Indian family 
who lived a few doors away often boasted — erroneously as I 
later learned — that their people had never been slaves. My own 
more accurate — but hardly more praiseworthy — response was 
that my forebears included many free Negroes, some of whom 
had Choctaw and Blackfoot Indian blood. 

In those days, self-delusion was both easy and comforting. 
Slavery was barely mentioned in the schools and seldom dis- 
cussed by the descendants of its survivors, particularly those 
who had somehow moved themselves to the North. Emigra- 
tion, whether from the Caribbean islands or from the Deep 
South states, provided a geographical distance that encouraged 
and enhanced individual denial of our collective, slave past. We 
sang spirituals but detached the songs from their slave origins. 



FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 



As I look back, I see this reaction as no less sad, for being very 
understandable. We were a subordinate and mostly shunned 
portion of a society that managed to lay the onus of slavery 
neady on those who were slaves while simultaneously ex- 
onerating those who were slaveholders. AU things considered, 
it seemed a history best left alone. 

Then, after the Second World War and particularly in the 
1960s, slavery became — for a few academics and some mili- 
tant Negroes — a subject of fascination and a sure means of 
evoking racial rage as a prelude to righteously repeated de- 
mands for "Freedom Now!" In response to a resurrection of 
interest in our past, new books on slavery were written, long 
out-of-print volumes republished. The new awareness 
reached its highest point in 1977 with the television version 
of Alex Haley's biographical novel, Koots.^ The highly suc- 
cessful miniseries informed millions of Americans — black as 
well as white — that slavery in fact existed and that it was 
awful. Not, of course, as awful as it would have been save 
for the good white folks the television writers had created to 
ease the slaves' anguish, and the evil ones on whose shoul- 
ders they placed all the guilt. Through the magic of literary 
license, white viewers could feel revulsion for slavery without 
necessarily recognizing American slavery as a burden on the 
nation's history, certainly not a burden requiring reparations 
in the present. 

Even so, under pressure of civil rights protests, many white 
Americans were ready to accede to if not applaud Supreme 
Court rulings that the Constitution should no longer recognize 
and validate laws that kept in place the odious badges of 
slavery. 

As a result, two centuries after the Constitution's adop- 
tion, we did live in a far more enlightened world. Slavery was 
no more. Judicial precedent and a plethora of civil rights 
statutes formally prohibited racial discrimination. Compliance 
was far from perfect, but the slavery provisions in the 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 3 

Constitution* did seem lamentable artifacts of a less enlight- 
ened era. 

But the fact of slavery refuses to fade, along with the deeply 
embedded personal attitudes and public policy assumptions 
that supported it for so long. Indeed, the racism that made 
slavery feasible is far from dead in the last decade of twentieth- 
centurv' America; and the civil rights gains, so hard won, are 
being steadily eroded. Despite undeniable progress for many, 
no African Americans are insulated from incidents of racial 
discrimination. Our careers, even our lives, are threatened 
because of our color. Even the most successful of us are 
haunted by the plight of our less fortunate brethren who 
struggle for existence in what some social scientists call the 
"underclass." Burdened with life-long poverty and soul- 
devastating despair, they live beyond the pale of the American 
Dream, What we designate as "racial progress" is not a solu- 
tion to that problem. It is a regeneration of the problem in a 
particularly perverse form. 

According to data compiled in 1990 for basic measures of 
poverty, unemployment, and income, the slow advances Afri- 
can Americans made during the 1960s and 1970s have defi- 
nitely been reversed. The unemployment rate for blacks is 2.5 
times the rate for whites. Black per-capita income is not even 
two thirds of the income for whites; and blacks, most of whom 
own litde wealth or business property, are three times more 
likely to have income below the povert}' level than whites.^ If 
trends of the last two decades are allowed to continue, readers 
can safely — and sadly — assume that the current figures are 
worse than those cited here.^ 



•According to William Wiecek, ten provisions in the Constitution directly or in- 
directly provided for slavery and protected slave owners.^ 

|Not all the data arc bleak. >X'hile the median family income for black families 
declined in the 1970s and 1980s, the proportion of African- American families uith 
incomes of $35,000 to $50,000 increased from 23.3 to 27.5 percent. The proportion 
with incomes above $50,000 increased by 38 percent, from 10.0 to 1 3.8 percent. The 
overall median income for blacks declined though: while the top quarter made 



FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 



Statistics cannot, however, begin to express the havoc 
caused by joblessness and poverty: broken homes, anarchy in 
communities, futility in the public schools. AH are the bitter 
harvest of race-determined unemployment in a society where 
work provides sustenance, status, and the all-important sense 
of self-worth. What we now call the "inner city" is, in fact, 
the American equivalent of the South African homelands. 
Poverty is less the source than the status of men and women 
who, despised because of their race, seek refuge in self- 
rejection. Drug-related crime, teenaged parenthood, and dis- 
rupted and disrupting family life all are manifestations of a 
despair that feeds on self. That despair is bred anew each day 
by the images on ever-playing television sets, images confirm- 
ing that theirs is the disgraceful form of living, not the only 
way people live. 

Few whites are able to identify with blacks as a group — the 
essential prerequisite for feeling empathy with, rather than 
aversion from, blacks' self-inflicted suffering, as expressed by 
the poet Maya Angelou in this introduction's epigraph. Unable 
or unwilling to perceive that "there but for the grace of God, 
go I," few whites are ready to actively promote civil rights for 
blacks. Because of an irrational but easily roused fear that any 
social reform will unjusdy benefit blacks, whites fail to support 
the programs this country desperately needs to address the 
ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, both black 
and white. 

Lulled by comforting racial stereotypes, fearful that blacks 
will unfairly get ahead of them, all too many whites respond to 
even the most dire reports of race-based disadvantage with 
either a sympathetic headshake or victim-blaming rationaliza- 
tions. Both responses lead easily to the conclusion that con- 
temporary complaints of racial discrimination are simply ex- 



progress, the bottom half was sliding backward, and the proportion of blacks 
receiving very low income (less than $5,000) actually increased/ 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 5 

cuses put forward by people who are unable or unwilling to 
compete on an equal basis in a competitive society. 

For white people who both deny racism and see a heavy 
dose of the Horatio Alger myth as the answer to blacks' 
problems, how sweet it must be when a black person stands 
in a public place and condemns as slothful and unambitious 
those blacks who are not making it. NXHiites eagerly embrace 
black conser\'atives' homilies to self-help, however grossly 
unrealistic such messages are in an economy where millions, 
white as well as black, are unemployed and, more important, 
in one where racial discrimination in the workplace is as vi- 
cious (if less obvious) than it was when employers posted signs 
"no negras need apply." 

Whatever the relief from responsibility such thinking pro- 
vides those who embrace it, more than a decade of civil rights 
setbacks in the White House, in the courts, and in the critical 
realm of media-nurtured public opinion has forced retrench- 
ment in the tattered civil rights ranks. We must reassess our 
cause and our approach to it, but repetition of time-worn 
slogans simply wiD not do. As a popular colloquialism puts it, 
it is time to "get real" about race and the persistence of racism 
in America. 

To make such an assessment — to plan for the future by 
reviewing the experiences of the past — we must ask whether 
the formidable hurdles we now face in the elusive quest for 
racial equality are simply a challenge to our commitment, 
whether they are the latest variation of the old hymn "One 
More River to Cross." Or, as we once again gear up to meet 
the challenges posed by these unexpected new setbacks, are we 
ignoring a current message with implications for the future 
which history has already taught us about the past? 

Such assessment is hard to make. On the one hand, contem- 
porary color barriers are certainly less visible as a result of our 
successful effort to strip the law's endorsement from the hated 
Jim Crow signs. Today one can travel for thousands of miles 



FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 



across this country and never see a public facility designated as 
"Colored" or "White." Indeed, the very absence of visible 
signs of discrimination creates an atmosphere of racial neutral- 
ity and encourages whites to believe that racism is a thing of 
the past. On the other hand, the general use of so-called 
neutral standards to continue exclusionary practices reduces 
the effectiveness of traditional civil rights laws, while rendering 
discriminatory actions more oppressive than ever. Racial bias 
in the pre-Broii>n era was stark, open, unalloyed with hypocrisy 
and blank-faced lies. We blacks, when rejected, knew who our 
enemies were. They were not us! Today, because bias is 
masked in unofficial practices and "neutral" standards, we 
must wrestle with the question whether race or some individ- 
ual failing has cost us the job, denied us the promotion, or 
prompted our being rejected as tenants for an apartment. 
Either conclusion breeds frustration and alienation — and a 
rage we dare not show to others or admit to ourselves. 

Modern discrimination is, moreover, not practiced indis- 
criminately. Whites, ready and willing to applaud, even idolize 
black athletes and entertainers, refuse to hire, or balk at work- 
ing with, blacks. Whites who number individual blacks among 
their closest friends approve, or do not oppose, practices that 
bar selling or renting homes or apartments in their neighbor- 
hoods to blacks they don't know. Employers, not wanting 
"too many of them," are willing to hire one or two black 
people, but will reject those who apply later. Most hotels and 
restaurants who offer black patrons courteous — even deferen- 
tial — treatment, uniformly reject black job applicants, except 
perhaps for the most menial jobs. When did you last see a 
black waiter in a really good restaurant? 

Racial schizophrenia is not limited to hotels and restaurants. 
As a result, neither professional status nor relatively high in- 
come protects even accomplished blacks from capricious acts 
of discrimination that may reflect either individual "prefer- 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 1 

ence" or an institution's bias. The motivations for bias vary; 
the disadvantage to black victims is the same. 

Careful examination reveals a pattern to these seemingly 
arbitrary racial actions. When whites perceive that it will be 
profitable or at least cost-free to serve, hire, admit, or other- 
wise deal with blacks on a nondiscriminatory basis, they do so. 
When they fear — accurately or not — that there may be a loss, 
inconvenience, or upset to themselves or other whites, dis- 
criminator;^ conduct usually follows. Selections and rejections 
reflect preference as much as prejudice. A preference for 
whites makes it harder to prove the discrimination outlawed by 
civil rights laws. This difficulty, when combined with lackluster 
enforcement, explains why discrimination in employment and 
in the housing market continues to prevail more than two 
decades after enactment of the Equal Employment Opportu- 
nity Act of 1965^ and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.** 

Racial policy is the culmination of thousands of these indi- 
vidual practices. Black people, then, are caught in a double 
bind. We are, as I have said, disadvantaged unless whites 
perceive that nondiscriminatory treatment for us will be a 
benefit for them. In addition, even when nonracist practices 
might bring a benefit, whites may rely on discrimination 
against blacks as a unifying factor and a safety valve for frustra- 
tions during economic hard times. 

Almost always, the injustices that dramatically diminish the 
rights of blacks are linked to the serious economic disadvan- 
tage suffered by many whites who lack money and power. 
Whites, rather than acknowledge the similarity of their disad- 
vantage, particularly when compared with that of better-off" 
whites, are easily detoured into protecting their sense of enti- 
tiement vis-a-vis blacks for all things of value. Evidendy, this 
racial preference expectation is hypnotic. It is this compulsive 
fascination that seems to prevent most whites from even see- 
ing — much less resenting — the far more sizable gap between 



8 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

their status and those who occupy the loft}' levels at the top of 
our society. 

Race consciousness of this character, as Professor Kimberle 
Crenshaw suggested in 1988 in a pathbreaking Hatrard Laiv 
Review article, makes it difficult for whites "to imagine the 
world differendy. It also creates the desire for idendficadon 
with privileged elites. By focusing on a distinct, subordinate 
'other,' whites include themselves in the dominant circle — an 
arena in which most hold no real power, but only their privi- 
leged racial identity."'' 

The critically important stabilizing role that blacks play in this 
society constitutes a major barrier in the way of achieving racial 
equality. Throughout history, politicians have used blacks as 
scapegoats for failed economic or political policies. Before the 
Civil War, rich slave owners persuaded the white working class 
to stand with them against the danger of slave revolts — even 
though the existence of slavery condemned white workers to a 
life of economic privation.^ After the Civil War, poor whites 
fought social reforms and setded for segregation rather than see 
formerly enslaved blacks get ahead.^ Most labor unions prefer- 
red to allow plant owners to break strikes with black scab labor 
than allow blacks to join their ranks.'" The "them against us" 
racial ploy — always a potent force in economic bad times — is 
working again: today whites, as disadvantaged by high-status 
entrance requirements as blacks, fight to end affirmative action 
policies that, by eliminating class-based entrance requirements 
and requiring widespread advertising of jobs, have likely helped 
far more whites than blacks. And in the 1 990s, as through much 
of the 1^80s, millions of Americans — white as well as black — 
face steadily worsening conditions: unemployment, inaccessible 
health care, inadequate housing, mediocre education, and pollu- 
tion of the environment. The gap in national incomes is ap- 
proaching a crisis as those in the top fifth now earn more than 
their counterparts in the bottom four fifths combined. The 
conservative guru Kevin Phillips used a different but no less 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 9 

disturbing comparison: the top two million income earners in 
this countr)' earn more than the next one hundred million." 

Shocking. And yet conservative white politicians are able to 
gain and hold even the highest office despite their failure to 
address seriously any of these issues. They rely instead on the 
time-tested formula of getting needy whites to identify on the 
basis of their shared skin color, and suggest with Utde or no 
subdety that white people must stand together against the 
Willie Hortons, or against racial quotas, or against affirmative 
action. The code words differ. The message is the same. 
Whites are rallied on the basis of racial pride and patriotism to 
accept their often lowly lot in life, and encouraged to vent their 
frustration by opposing any serious advancement by blacks. 
Crucial to this situation is the unstated understanding by the 
mass of whites that they will accept large disparities in eco- 
nomic opportunity in respect to other whites as long as they 
have a priority over blacks and other people of color for access 
to the few opportunities available. 

This "racial bonding" by whites^ ^ means that black rights 
and interests are always vulnerable to diminishment if not to 
outright destruction. The willingness of whites over time to 
respond to this racial rallying cry explains — far more than does 
the failure of liberal democratic practices (re black rights) to 
coincide with liberal democratic theory — blacks' continuing 
subordinate status. This is, of course, contrary to the philoso- 
phy of Gunnar Myrdal's massive midcentury study The Ameri- 
can Dilemma. Myrdal and two generations of civil rights advo- 
cates accepted the idea of racism as merely an odious holdover 
from slavery, "a terrible and inexplicable anomaly stuck in the 
middle of our liberal democratic ethos."' ^ No one doubted 
that the standard American policy making was adequate to the 
task of abolishing racism. White America, it was assumed, 
wanted to abolish racism.* 

♦According to Myrdal, the "Negro problem in America represents a moral lag in the 
development of the nation and a study of it must record nearly everything which is 



10 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Forty years later, in The New American Dilemma, Professor 
Jennifer Hochschild examined what she called Myrdal's 
"anomaly thesis," and concluded that it simply cannot explain 
the persistence of racial discrimination/^ Rather, the con- 
tinued viability of racism demonstrates "that racism is not 
simply an excrescence on a fundamentally healthy liberal dem- 
ocratic body, but is part of what shapes and energizes the 
body."'^ Under this view, "liberal democracy and racism in the 
United States are historically, even inherendy, reinforcing; 
American society as we know it exists only because of its 
foundation in racially based slavery, and it thrives only because 
racial discrimination continues. The apparent anomaly is an 
factual symbiosis. "'' 

The permanence of this "symbiosis" ensures that civil rights 
gains will be temporary and setbacks inevitable. Consider: In 
this last decade of the twentieth century, color determines the 
social and economic status of all African Americans, both 
those who have been highly successful and their poverty- 
bound brethren whose lives are grounded in misery and de- 
spair. We rise and fall less as a result of our efforts than in 
response to the needs of a white society that condemns all 
blacks to quasi citizenship as surely as it segregated our parents 
and enslaved their forebears. The fact is that, despite what we 
designate as progress wrought through struggle over many 
generations, we remain what we were in the beginning: a dark 
and foreign presence, always the designated "other." Tolerated 
in good times, despised when things go wrong, as a people we 
are scapegoated and sacrificed as distraction or catalyst for 
compromise to facilitate resolution of political differences or 
relieve economic adversity. 

We are now, as were our forebears when they were brought 



bad and wrong in America. . . . However, . . . not since Reconstruction has there been 
more reason to anticipate fundamental changes in American race relations, changes 
which wiU involve a development toward the American ideals."'* 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 11 

to the New World, objects of barter for those who, while 
profiting from our existence, deny our humanity. It is in the 
light of this fact that we must consider the haunting questions 
about slavery and exploitation contained in Professor Linda 
Myers's Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to an 
Optimal Psychology, questions that serve as their own answers.** 

We simply cannot prepare realistically for our future with- 
out assessing honesdy our past. It seems cold, accusatory, but 
we must try to fathom with her "the mentality of a people that 
could continue for over 300 years to kidnap an estimated 50 
million youth and young adults from Africa, transport them 
across the Adantic with about half dying unable to withstand 
the inhumanit)' of the passage, and enslave them as animals."'^ 

As Professor Myers reminds us, blacks were not the only, 
and certainly not America's most, persecuted people. Appro- 
priately, she asks about the mindset of European Americans to 
native Americans. After all, those in possession of the land 
were basically friendly to the newcomers. And yet the Euro- 
pean Americans proceeded to annihilate almost the entire race, 
ultimately forcing the survivors onto reservations after stealing 
their land. Far from acknowledging and atoning for these 
atrocities, American history portrays whites as the heroes, the 
Indian victims as savage villains. "What," she wonders, "can be 
understood about the world view of a people who claim to be 
building a democracy with freedom and justice for aU, and at 
the same time own slaves and deny others basic human 
rights?"^" 

Of course, Americans did not invent slavery. The practice 
has existed throughout recorded histor}', and Professor Or- 
lando Patterson, a respected scholar, argues impressively that 
American slavery was no worse than that practiced in other 
parts of the world.* But it is not comparative slavery policies 

*He suggests: "The dishonor of slaven- . . . came in the primal act of submission. 
It was the most immediate human expression of the inabilit}- to defend oneself or 
to secure one's livelihood. . . . The dishonor the slave was compelled to experience 



12 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

that concern me. Slavery is, as an example of what white 
America has done, a constant reminder of what white America 
might do. 

We must see this country-'s history of slavery, not as an 
insuperable racial barrier to blacks, but as a legacy of enlighten- 
ment from our enslaved forebears reminding us that if they 
survived the ultimate form of racism, we and those whites who 
stand with us can at least view racial oppression in its many 
contemporary forms without underestimating its critical im- 
portance and likely permanent status in this country. 

To initiate the reconsideration, I want to set forth this 
proposition, which will be easier to reject than refute: B/ack 
people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean 
efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary "peaks 
of progress, " short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial 
patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to- 
acceptfact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign 
of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance. 

We identify with and hail as hero the man or woman willing 
to face even death without flinching.^^ Why? Because, while no 
one escapes death, those who conquer their dread of it are 
freed to live more fuUy. In similar fashion, African Americans 
must confront and conquer the otherwise deadening reality of 
our permanent subordinate status. Only in this way can we 
prevent ourselves from being dragged down by society's racial 
hostility. Beyond survival lies the potential to perceive more 
clearly both a reason and the means for further struggle. 

In this book, Geneva Crenshaw, the civil rights lawyer- 
protagonist of my earlier And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive 
Quest for Racial justice, returns in a series of stories that offer an 
allegorical perspective on old dreams, long-held fears, and 
current conditions. The provocative format of story, a product 



sprang instead from that raw, human sense of debasement inherent in having no 
being except as an expression of another's being."^' 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 13 

of experience and imaginadon, allows me to take a new look 
at what, for want of a better phrase, I wiD call "racial themes," 
Easier to recognize than describe, they are essentials in the 
baggage of people subordinated by color in a land that boasts 
of individual freedom and equality. Some of these themes — 
reliance on law, involvement in protests, belief in freedom 
symbols — are familiar and generally known. Others — the 
yearning for a true homeland, the rejection of racial testimony, 
the temptation to violent retaliation — are real but seldom re- 
vealed. Revelation does not much alter the mystique of inter- 
racial romance or lessen its feared consequences. Nor does the 
search ever end for a full understanding of why blacks are and 
remain this countr)''s designated scapegoats. 

Everpresent, always lurking in the shadow of current 
events, is the real possibility that an unexpected coincidence of 
events at some point in the future — like those that occurred in 
the past — will persuade whites to reach a consensus that a 
major benefit to the nation justifies an ultimate sacrifice of 
black rights — or lives. Chapter 9 portrays one such fictional 
coincidence in "The Space Traders." By concluding the book 
on this dire note, I hope to emphasize the necessity of moving 
beyond the comforting belief that time and the generosity of 
its people will eventually solve America's racial problem. 

I realize that even with the challenge to rethinking these 
stories pose, many people will find it difficult to embrace my 
assumption that racism is a permanent component of Ameri- 
can life. Mesmerized by the racial equality syndrome, they are 
too easily reassured by simple admonitions to "stay on 
course," which come far too easily from those — black and 
white — who are not on the deprived end of the economic 
chasm between blacks and whites. 

The goal of racial equality is, while comforting to many 
whites, more illusory than real for blacks. For too long, we 
have worked for substantive reform, then settied for weakly 
worded and poorly enforced legislation, indeterminate judicial 



14 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

decisions, token government positions, even holidays. I repeat. 
If we are to seek new goals for our struggles, we must first 
reassess the worth of the racial assumptions on which, without 
careful thought, we have presumed too much and relied on too 
long. 

Let's begin. 



CHAPTER 1 



Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 



So we stand here 

On the edge of hell 

In Harlem 

And look out on the world 

And wonder 

What we're gonna do 

In the face of 

What we remember. — Langston Hughes 



"Oh, the contradictions of civil rights representation," I 
said to no one in particular as, rushing from the site of one 
lecture in midtown Manhattan, I saw the car and driver waiting 
at the curb to drive me to a college in Westchester County, 
where I was to give another speech later that afternoon. Rather 
than a cab to the train and then another cab from train to 
campus, the lecture sponsors offered a car to convey me from 
door to door. I hesitated, not at the car's real convenience, but 
at the memory of the many times in the 1960s I'd flown — 
usually in first-class jets — to the South to represent poor black 
parents courageously trying to desegregate the public schools 
in their areas — usually at the risk of their jobs, or worse. 

Now, getting in and settiing myself in the roomy rear seat, 
I eased my guilt by determining to use the time to peruse the 
just-arrived manuscripts of Geneva Crenshaw's new stories. I 
noted with some satisfaction that my driver was black. In New 
York, as elsewhere, it has begun to seem that blacks, particu- 
larly black men, who lack at least two college degrees, are not 
hired in any position above the most menial. 



16 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

As we got under way, I stifled a yawn. It had been a busy 
week. For far from the first time, I wondered why I accept 
lecture invitations while teaching full-time. The obvious rea- 
sons are the correct ones. I enjoy getting out my unorthodox 
views on racism, and the money — ^when I am paid — is always 
welcome. On this trip, I was scheduled to present my second 
of three lectures that week in connection with Martin Luther 
King, Jr.'s, birthday. 

While hardly intended for that purpose, the national holiday 
on the third Monday in January to honor Dr. King serves as 
a two-week prelude to February's Black History Month. This 
six-week commemorative period is a boon to every black 
public figure — from politician to sports star — able to mount a 
platform and collect a fee. Black academics have certainly 
benefited in this speakers' market; and as a law teacher special- 
izing in civil rights law, I receive many invitations during this 
annual interval of public interest in the problems of "our 
people." 

Having convinced myself that the trip was valuable if not 
necessary, I decided to utilize the traveling time by reading one 
of Geneva's new stories. I was almost through the first when 
the driver braked hard to avoid a car that had cut into our lane. 
He apologized, and, nodding in response, I glanced at the 
driver's name tag and exclaimed aloud, "I don't believe it!" 

"Don't believe what, brother?" the driver responded, turn- 
ing slighdy to face me. He was dark-skinned, thin, and proba- 
bly in his late fifties. 

"That your name is Jesse B. Semple." 

"You may not believe it," he said, with an edge in his voice, 
"but that's been my name all my life, and I'm not about to 
change it." 

"As you probably know," I replied, ignoring his annoyance, 
"that's quite a famous name. Langston Hughes regaled mil- 
lions of black people over many years with his short essays 



Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 17 

about conversations with a street-wise Harlem black named 
Jesse B. Semple. Langston always called him Simple, and pub- 
lished, I think, five or six books of the Simple stories."* 

"Who you telling?" the driver interjected, with obvious 
pride. He might, I thought, be no less proud of his driving, as 
effordessly he maneuvered the large car through traffic as we 
headed up Central Park West. 

"My mother loved Langston Hughes. Our family name was 
Semple, and it was a natural to name me Jesse B. If you know 
the character, you also know why I'm sure not sorry about the 
name." 

"Simple certainly has plenty of mother wit and street 
smarts," I agreed. 

"I've read all the Langston Hughes books," Semple said, 
"but that was years ago. Nowadays I'm too busy trying to make 
ends meet, though I still do some reading while I wait for 
clients." 

"Things are tough for black folks these days," I remarked. 
"Still, quite a few black people feel we've come a long way, 
including even a national hoUday in honor of Dr. Martin 
Luther King." 

"Don't count me in that number!" Semple was vehement. 
"I hate to say it, but I worked my behind off gathering peti- 
tions. And for what? I think all but a few states have now 
joined the rest of the country in declaring a holiday celebrating 
Dr. King's birthday. Back then, I didn't think we could do it. 
And I was amazed when we did."^ 

*In a foreword to a collection of these stories, langston Hughes wrote that Simple 
and the other characters in them were a composite of people he knew in Harlem. 
Simple first appeared in Hughes's columns in the Chicago Defender and the New York 
Post and, from 1950 on, in book form.' The Hngclopaedia hritannica describes Simple 
as a "hard-working, uneducated, but knowledgeable harlemite, . . . one of the master 
comic creations of the latter 20th century."^ 

fin 1986, after years of effort, and a last-ditch attempt by North Carolina's Republi- 
can Senator Jesse Helms to derail Senate action by calling for hearings on King's 
"action-oriented Marxism," the Senate (by a vote of 78 to 22) supported earlier 



18 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"And today?" I asked, surprised and pleased to see such 
1960s-st)^le militancy in a working-class black man with graying 
hair. 

"Today I am older and wiser. A holiday for Dr. King is just 
another instance — like integration — that black folks work for 
and white folks grant when they realize — long before we do — 
that it is mosdy a symbol that won't cost them much and will 
keep us blacks pacified. It's an updated version of the glass 
trinkets and combs they used in Africa a few centuries ago to 
trick some tribes into selling off their brothers and sisters 
captured from neighboring tribes." 

"Likely," I said in their defense, "the tribes doing the selling 
thought they were getting something of great value." 

"They did, and they were," Semple responded. "They were 
getting symbols of the white man's power. They saw the power 
he had to travel the seas in his large ships, and they wanted 
some of that power. They saw the power he had to kill from 
a great distance, and they wanted some of that power. Those 
Africans thought those trinkets were symbols of white power. 
They were, but they were symbols, not of ships and guns, but 
of white mendacity, white deceit, white chicanery. And that is 
just what we are still asking for and what, after a big struggle, 
we are still getting!" 

"I understand how you feel, Mr. Semple. Your bitterness 
mirrors my own when I think about all the school systems I 
helped desegregate back in the 1960s, sure that I was guaran- 
teeing thousands of black children a quality^ desegregated edu- 
cation. It took me a long time to recognize that school offi- 
cials — when they finally complied with desegregation court 
orders — were creating separate educational programs for black 
children within schools that were integrated in name only. In 



House action to create the nation's tenth official holiday, in recognition of the civil 
rights contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President Reagan, who earlier had 
opposed the measure, promised to sign it. The holiday, commemorating the birth of 
Dr. King on 15 January 1929, is the third Monday in January.' 



Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 19 

fact, they were too often resegregated by 'ability groups,' de- 
nied black teachers and administrators, disproportionately dis- 
ciplined for the least infractions deemed threatening to whites, 
and generally made to feel like aliens in what were supposed 
to be their schools. 

"But," I added, "you shouldn't be too hard on yourself and 
others. The country has only a few national holidays celebrat- 
ing the birthdays of its greatest heroes. I give credit to the 
persistence of thousands of people — including Coretta King, 
Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, and the 
entertainer Stevie Wonder — whose dedicated work made Dr. 
King's birthday one of them. Things are tough for black folks, 
Mr. Semple, but they don't get any better by ignoring the few 
positive spots on an otherwise bleak horizon. As the old folks 
used to say," I added expansively, " 'black folks use to not have 
show, but we sho got show now.' " 

"You wrong, man," Semple said disgustedly. "All most of 
us got is symbols." He paused to ensure that I got his point, 
and, when I didn't disagree, continued. "From the Emanci- 
pation Proclamation on, the Man been handing us a bunch 
of bogus freedom checks he never intends to honor. He 
makes you work, plead, and pray for them, and then when 
he has you either groveling or threatening to tear his damn 
head off, he lets you have them as though they were some 
kind of special gift. As a matter of fact, regardless of how 
great the need is, he only gives jo// when it will do him the 
most good! 

"And before you can cash them in," Semple said heatedly, 
"the Man has caUed the bank and stopped payment or other- 
wise made them useless — except, of course, as symbols. 

"You know Langston Hughes, man" — and his voice took 
on a lecturing note — "but you need to read your black history. 
Get into some John Hope Franklin, Vincent Harding, Mary 
Berry, and Nathan Huggins. Or, if you don't believe black 
historians, tr)- Eugene Genovese, Leon Litwack, and C. Vann 



20 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Woodward. They will all tell you that is how it has been, and 
that is how it is now." 

I was delighted. Semple was right on target. "I do read," I 
assured him, "and I agree with your assessment of racial 
symbols. The fact is, though, that most whites and lots of 
black folks rely on symbols to support their belief that black 
people have come a long way since slavery and segregation 
to the present time. In their view, we not only have laws 
protecting our rights, but a holiday recognizing one of our 
greatest leaders." 

"They all dreamers, man," Semple interrupted. "And stupid 
dreamers at that. I tell you those are the same fools who urged 
the Senate to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court 
all during the summer of 'ninety-one, despite his anti— civil 
rights record, despite the fact he was put up there by the right 
wing's top men." 

Semple, seeing traffic blocked ahead by a large truck, 
smoothly backed out of the crosstown street and proceeded up 
the avenue. Although it was an intricate maneuver involving 
forcing a few cars behind him to give way, he managed without 
interrupting his train of thought. 

"That appointment was a mockery of Justice Thurgood 
MarshaU's service to blacks. I saw that right away. I only regret 
I didn't see a holiday for Dr. King would mosdy give a lot of 
token black government types, civil rights types, and scholar 
types a reason to bore us working-class folks to death with 
their speeches about what a great life Dr. King lived, with not 
near enough mention of how he died. Which, as I assume you 
know, is how Malcolm X died, and Medgar Evers,* and God 
knows how many other blacks who were killed because they 
had the gumption to tell the truth about the conditions blacks 
live in in this country, and then got down off the speaker's 
stand and actually tried to do something to improve them." 

*Mcdgar Evers, leader of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, was shot in the back 
and killed outside his home in June 1963.* 



Kacial Symbols: A l^imited l^egacy 21 

I nodded thoughtfully, making a mental note not to men- 
tion the purpose of my Westchester trip. AH the way back to 
Nat Turner, black leaders — including Marcus Garvey, Paul 
Robeson, and W. E. B. Du Bois — have been killed or pushed 
out of the country because they posed a threat to white people. 

NXTiile I was musing, Semple continued to preach, his voice 
louder, his tone more strident. "What you have is a holiday for 
one black man, great as he was, while the country does nothing 
about the fact that there are more black people out of work 
now than at any time since slavery. Tell me what's to celebrate 
about the condition of black people who die too soon, go to 
prison too long, and come to know life's blues far too early? 
Tell me how a holiday for Dr. King helps the poor, the 
ignorant, the out-of-work, and hungn' blacks all over this racist 
land?" 

I recognized that Semple was speaking as much out of his 
experience as out of the books he read. He sounded like the 
working-class men in black barbershops who may have to 
keep quiet not to lose their jobs, but in their environment, 
talking to their friends, let it all come out. Far from being so 
beaten down making a living as to have stopped caring about 
their race, their rhetoric makes it seem as if the revolution is 
not simply imminent but already under way. 

"I'm glad to see you're a race man," I told Semple, "but 
don't be so negative. We have to be ready for the long haul. 
I know, as Langston Hughes wrote in a poem, that life for 
blacks ain't been no crystal stair.^ But we need some victories 
to keep our spirits up, and the King holiday is a victory, 
however grudgingly acknowledged by President Reagan, who 
claimed initially that it was neither necessary' nor justified. As 
the old folks would put it, 'We ain't what we going to be, but 
thank God, we ain't what we was.' " 

"That's wrong, man. Look!" Semple explained quietiy and 
deadly serious. "You are a brother able to afford a limo for a 
trip to Westchester that most people make by train, you carry 



22 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

your clothes in Hartmann luggage, and you dress like you are 
related to the Brooks Brothers — but you need to get off quot- 
ing the old folks and open your eyes to what is going down 
right around you in the here and now." 

"I think, Mr. Semple, that I am aware " 

"Aware don't make it, man! You got to be with it, like the 
rappers.^ I bet you don't even listen to their music unless one 
of the groups gets tossed in jail for bodacious language. But 
read what John Edgar Wideman says about them. He makes 
my point." 

Handing me one of a pile of books on the floor beside him, 
Semple stopped talking and concentrated on driving across 
125th Street — a detour required by a massive traffic jam on the 
West Side Drive. I read quickly the heavily underlined passages 
their author, the novelist John Wideman, had written about 
rappers: 

Like angry ancestral spirits, the imperatives of tradition rose 
up, reanimated themselves, mounted the corner chanters and 
hip hoppers. As soul diminished to a category on the pop 
charts, the beat from the street said no-no-no, you're too 
sweet. Try some of this instead. Stomp your feet. . . . Hit it. Hit. 
Boom. Crank up the volume. Bare bones percussion and chant 
holler scream. Our loud selves, our angry selves . . . sounds of 
city, of machines of inner space and outer space merge. Boom 
boxes. Doom boxes. Call the roll of the ancestors. . . . 

Rap burst forth precisely where it did, when it did because 
that's where the long, long night of poverty and discrimination, 
of violent marginality remained a hurting truth nobody else 
was telling. That's where the creative energies of a subject 
people were being choked and channeled into self-destruc- 
tion.^ 

Glancing out the car window, I saw much more evidence on 
Harlem's main thoroughfare than I needed of the points both 
Wideman and Semple were making. Semple was more correct 



Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 23 

than he perhaps realized. He intuitively understood black his- 
tory and the role of racism in this country as well as many 
scholars who have studied it for years, I wondered: if he'd 
gotten the breaks I had, gone to school, gained the jobs de- 
grees open up, which of us would be riding, and which driving 
the limo? It is the same thought I have when I speak with 
groups of black men in prison, their often impressive intelli- 
gence lost in frustration and bitterness. Born into a system in 
which they have never had a chance, they are reduced to one 
or another variant of what even they would agree is "shucking 
and jiving." 

Still, symbols have been the mainstay of blacks' faith that 
some day they will truly be free in this land of freedom. Not 
just holidays, but most of our civil rights statutes and court 
decisions have been more symbol than enforceable law. We 
hail and celebrate each of these laws, but none of them is, as 
Semple put it, fully honored at the bank. 

"It ain't pretty out there," he observed, catching my eye. 
"And now that we got a black mayor, one more symbol, the 
white folks will blame us if we don't clean up a mess they been 
making for decades." 

"Mayor David Dinkins is doing what he can," I replied. 
"But however worthwhile their election, African Americans in 
public office, including the mayors of several major cities, lack 
the resources to address the problems they inherit, and thus 
can do littie to overcome either unemployment or poverty. 
Black mayors are, nevertheless, expected to control black 
crime, particularly that affecting whites. When racial tensions 
erupt into incidents of random and organized violence, elected 
black representatives are expected — as their first priority — to 
keep the peace," 

"You got that right, brother!" Semple laughed. "We black 
folks get into mayors' jobs the way we get into all-white 
neighborhoods — when the housing stock is run down, mainte- 
nance is expensive, and past abuse and mismanagement by 



24 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

whites make it impossible for blacks to do anything. Of course, 
despite horrendous social problems, eroded tax bases, de- 
parted businesses, and dispirited civil servants, the black may- 
ors are blamed for disasters that were bound to happen given 
the way the whites ran the city at a time when black people had 
no control." 

The car negotiated the traffic of the East Harlem streets. 
The obviously Spanish neighborhoods seemed to have a vital- 
ity lacking in the black ghetto. I wondered, not for the first 
time, whether even these non-English-speaking immigrants 
would make it in America while poor blacks or their survivors 
remain steeped in misery. 

"You're right," I said, breaking the silence. "It is pretty 
depressing, Mr. Semple." 

"It is and it ain't," he replied thoughtfully. Free of the city 
traffic, the car was making good time up the Major Deegan 
Expressway. The more open vistas seem to lighten Semple's 
thoughts. "Fact is," he said, "given the burdens our people are 
carrying, it's a wonder they're not all strung out on drugs or 
otherwise destroying themselves. The fact is, most people in 
those neighborhoods we drove through, tryin' to live decent, 
and they do it in part by living on symbols. Religious symbols, 
freedom symbols, legal symbols, and now holiday symbols. 
They are all but worthless at the bank, but sometimes black 
folks don't try to cash them there. Know what I mean?" 

"I think so," I replied. "You know the Emancipation Proc- 
lamation as a legal matter freed no slaves. It exempted slave 
owners in Northern territory and, of course, had no effect on 
those in Confederate areas. But it was a potent symbol for the 
slaves, many of whom simply took off when they learned that 
Lincoln had issued a freedom order." 

"That's something 1 didn't know," Semple said. "I do re- 
member, though, that it was black folks who gave meaning 
to the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision of 
1954. It promised a lot, but gave us 'all deliberate speed,'* 



Ra cia I Sj m bo Is : A Limited Legacy 25 

which would have translated into not a damned thing if Dr. 
King in Montgomery, the freedom riders in Birmingham and 
Jackson, and those college students in North Carolina had 
not proved to us that segregation would not work if black 
folks didn't go along with it." 

"Professor Patricia Williams would sum up our discussion 
about black folks and symbols as rights.^ She agrees with you 
that blacks have little reason to expect constimtional rights will 
be fully enforced, and says: 

"[I]t is also true that blacks always believed in rights in 
some larger, mythological sense — as a pantheon of possi- 
bility. It is in this sense that blacks believed in rights so 
much and so hard that we gave them life where there was 
none before; held onto them, put the hope of them into 
our wombs, mothered them, not the notion of them; we 
nurtured rights and gave rights life. And this was not the 
dry process of reification, from which life is drained and 
reality fades as the cement of conceptual determinism 
hardens round, but its opposite. This was the story of 
Phoenix; the parthenogenesis of unfertilized hope."'*^ 

"Strong words," Semple agreed. "I'm glad she's a law 
teacher." 

"Why's that?" 

"Maybe she can get beyond so many of our bourgeoisie 
black folks with all their degrees and fancy tides who still don't 
understand what we ordinary black folks have known for a 
very long time." 

"Which is?" I asked rather defensively. 

"WTiich is that the law works for the Man most of the time, 
and only works for us in the short run as a way of working for 
him in the long run." 

I had to laugh in spite of myself. Semple was a marvel, '^ou 
will be happy to know," I told him, "that some middle-class 



26 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

black professionals agree with you. Plus, Mr. Semple," I ad- 
monished, "you are too hard on those of us who managed to 
get degrees and what you call a bourgeois life style. I have to 
tell you that neither offers real protection from racial discrimi- 
nation. We are both black — and, for precisely that reason, we 
are in the same boat." 

"Not really, brother," Semple said. "I mean no offense, but 
the fact is you movin'-on-up black folks hurt us everyday 
blacks simply by being successful. The white folks see you 
doing your thing, making money in the high five figures, 
latching on to all kinds of fancy tides, some of which even 
have a litde authorit}' behind the name, and generally moving 
on up. They conclude right off that discrimination is over, and 
that if the rest of us got up off our dead asses, dropped the 
welfare tit, stopped having illegitimate babies, and found jobs, 
we would all be just Uke you. 

"It's not fair, brother, but it's the living truth. You may be 
committed to black people but, believe me, you have to work 
very hard to do as much good for black people as you do harm 
simply by being good at whatever you do for a living!" 

"That's a pretty heavy burden to hang on anybody," I 
suggested, "though I often make the same point in my lectures. 
I assume," I added, "that you don't include Dr. King in your 
condemnation." 

"Man, get it straight," Semple replied. "I don't include any- 
one! It's the white folks who make these conclusions. We black 
folks, working-class and upper-class, simply have to Live with 
them. 

"But," he continued, his voice softening, "you're right. Dr. 
King was recruited by the masses back in Montgomery and 
responded to the call with some down-home, black Baptist 
leadership for us and some pretty potent philosophy for the 
rest of you. Even so, I don't think middle-class blacks and 
many liberal whites really accepted King until 1964 when he 
received the Nobel Peace Prize." 



Kacial Symbols: A l^imited Legacj 27 

"And," I interjected, "many blacks and liberals were ap- 
palled when he spoke out early against the war in Vietnam and 
then shifted his campaign from race to poverty." 

"Folks got one-track minds," Semple explained. "It's like 
with Jesse Jackson. He was O.K. as a quick-mouth preacher 
with his Operation PUSH* telling ghetto kids to stop listening 
to those 'Do It to Me Baby' lyrics on those so-called soul radio 
stations. He was O.K. when he had them repeat 'I Am Some- 
body,' in the outside hope that a few of them might believe it 
despite the whole world telling them that they are, have been, 
and will be — nothing. But when Jackson decides to run for 
president, suddenly he is a joke. I am still hoping to laugh with 
him right into the White House." 

"I supported Reverend Jackson in both 1984 and 1988," I 
commented, "but given your views about white people, don't 
you have to agree that we will have to wait for a more main- 
stream black politician who has a realistic shot of some day 
reaching the White House?" 

Semple half turned so as to see me while keeping one eye 
on the highway. "Man, I don't read tea leaves, or in other ways 
foretell the future, but if Jesse Jackson ever decided to run 
again, he has my vote locked up. He is my kind of black man. 
Over the years, Jesse has given me plenty of reason for pride 
in him and in me. Sure, he has made some mistakes — and 
white folks won't let him forget them. But he has done some 
things, taken positions, achieved some political gains that in 
spiritual terms were worth a million dollars to me, as broke as 
I am. And that's the kind of money on which I pay no taxes, 
and it keeps on earning interest even though I do not take it 
near a bank — or a bar. If you get my point." 

"I guess we both agree Jackson is an important symbol for 
black people." 

"A very important one. Thing is," Semple added, "I don't 

*PUSH is the acronym for People I'nited to Save Humanity, an organization 
founded by Jackson in the wake of Marun Luther King, Jr.'s, assassination in 1968. 



28 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

want my symbols on the shelf. 1 want them in action, embar- 
rassing white folks and mobilizing black folks to take them- 
selves seriously. So I hope Jackson will run for president again, 
if not in 'ninety-two, at least in 'ninety-six. He may never win, 
but that's like saying we may never get free. Nothing going to 
happen unless we keep trying. And with Jackson stiU active, we 
can expect some more Michael Jordan-t}^e moves, political 
slam-dunks in which he does the impossible and looks good 
while doing it." 

I Uked Semple's basketball imager}^ "Jackson's as much a 
marvel at the podium as Jordan is on the basketball court. 
Problem is," I mused, "too many whites can't get past Jack- 
son's color to hear his message. That's why this country needs 
a white Jesse Jackson — the political equivalent of these white 
pop singers who, even as poor facsimiles of black entertainers, 
become stars earning big bucks because the white public is 
able to identify with them." 

"I know what you mean, brother," Semple responded, "but 
a white Jesse Jackson is like a white Michael Jordan." 

"Meaning?" I asked, smiling at Semple's not-so-subde racial 
chauvinism. 

"Meaning that Jesse not only got a soulful preaching style. 
He also got the nerve to be different, be his own person. In 
short, man, he got the courage to fail. When you find a white 
person with those qualities, I will listen to him or her. And so, 
I would hope, will white people." 

"Are you suggesting that until white folks get smart, black 
folks will never be free?" 

"I don't ever see white people getting smart about race," 
Semple said seriously. "Unless there is a crisis, they learn 
nothing! And if they can get out of a bad situation by messing 
with our rights, that is what they do, have been doing for two 
hundred years, and likely will continue to do." 

Semple turned into the college's main gates. As we headed 



Kacial Symbols: A himited Legacj 29 

toward the administration building where he was to drop me 
off, I thanked Semple for the ride. "It was good talking to you. 
You know," I remarked, "you need to share your survival 
secret. How do you keep aU that anger aimed at whites when 
so many black men turn it on their families, each other, them- 
selves?" 

"I ain't no saint, man. My rage is big enough to hurt family, 
friends, and myself — and still have plent\" left over. Only thing 
is I still remember the root cause of my anger." He paused, 
thinking. "Guess I don't have no secret, but I think my philos- 
ophy — if that's what it is — ^is in Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. 
Remember, the character Denver is terrified of white people, 
and with good reason. In slavery, they'd whipped her mother 
while she was pregnant, and crippled her grandma, jailed her 
mother, owned everything. 

"All of these memories scared her to death, and Denver has 
not left her house for years. But now, needing to get help for 
her sick mother, she stands on the porch trying to get up 
courage to leave, and has this imaginary' conversation with her 
grandma, an escaped slave who had told her about how evil 
whites can be. 

" 'But you said there was no defense,' Denver says, meaning 
against white people," Semple explained. 

" There ain't,' says her grandma in her mind. 

" Then what do I do?' 

" 'Know it, and go on out the yard. Go on.' "" 

"That is not only a good philosophy," I told Semple, "but 
it may be the only philosophy that makes sense for blacks in 
this country." 

Semple shook his head. "Maybe," he said, "but old as I'm 
gettin', sometimes I want to go the advice Denver got one 
better and just keep going right on out of this racist land." 

"Emigrate, you mean?" I asked. "While there is a rich and 
mosdy untold history of blacks moving to escape racial perse- 



30 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

cution and gain a better life, do you think it offers an answer 
to our current problems? Certainly, not many of my stu- 
dents do." 

"That's because most of your students are privileged. Some 
of your black ones probably wouldn't recognize racism unless 
it rose up and bit them — as it probably will at some point! And 
the white ones really think racism is over, despite anything we 
tell them." 

"Still," I replied, "giving up all you have here is a pretty 
drastic solution." 

"People looking to escape are not worried about solutions," 
Semple said. "They just want to get away. Let me put it this 
way. Every year or so, my wife and I take off for a week or so 
to one of the Caribbean islands. My wife has family living in 
Barbados, but we've been to several islands. There, we see 
black people — people who look like us — doing everything, 
running things, managing them, owning them. I feel proud and 
envious — even though those people are as exploited as we are 
back here. Being there, it's easy to imagine ourselves part of a 
black-run society, and it just makes us feel good." 

"A black Camelot is not necessarily what you'd get," I 
warned. "Look at Haiti and any number of African countries." 

"I know all that," Semple conceded. "StiU, a homeland, even 
a place I can never go to, makes me feel better about who I 
am and where I am. We were talkin' about symbols. Well, most 
whites have a homeland that gives them feelings of pride 
though their families left there generations ago — with no in- 
tention to return. If whites need that kind of symbol, you 
know we need it. Guess a homeland for America's black folks, 
weU, that's the biggest symbol of all. Always has been for us. 
You have any doubt, you listen to the words of that spiritual 
'City Called Heaven.' Know it?" 

I confessed that I hadn't heard it in years and had forgotten 
the words. 

"Don't forget your roots, brother," Semple admonished me 



Racial Sjmbo/s: A Limi fed Legacy 31 

as he reached the administration building, where a group of 
people were waiting on the steps. His window was open, and 
I could see their faces registering a mixture of bafflement and 
pleasure as Semple's rich tenor, reminiscent of Roland Hayes's, 
reached them: 

I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow, 

I'm tossed in this wide world alone, 

No hope have I for tomorrow, 

I've started to make heav'n my home. '^ 



CHAPTER 2 



The Afrolantica Awakening 



[TJhe idea of a black nation seems so far-fetched as to be ludicrous, 
but if you entertain it for a minute, even as an impossible dream, it 
should give you a feeling of wholeness and belongingyou've never had 
and can never have as long as blacks have to live in a country where 
they are despised. — Julius Lester 



The first oceanographers to report unusual rumblings in 
the middle of the Adantic Ocean, some nine hundred miles 
due east of South Carolina, speculated that some sort of land 
mass was rising up from the ocean bottom. Naturally, these 
reports were dismissed as the work of crazies or, worse, of 
publicity-seeking scientists. Even more outrageous seemed 
these scientists' further hypothesis that this land mass was the 
fabled Atiantis — a body of land the ancients accepted as real, 
Plato describing it as the "lost continent of Adantis."'* But 
gradually people began to take seriously the message of the 
insistent churning that made a hundred-mile area of the ocean 
impossible for even the most powerful ships to navigate. Night 
after night for several months, Americans sat glued to their 
television screens to watch the underwater camera pictures of 
a huge mass rising slowly out of the ocean depths. Then, one 

*It was variously spelled Atlantis, Atalantica, or Atalantis; the legend of its existence 
and its strange disappearance persisted through the Middle Ages and even after the 
Renaissance. 



The Afro Ian ti ca Awakening 33 

evening, a vast body of land roared into view like an erupting 
volcano. 

For several weeks, the area was cloaked in boiling-hot steam 
and impenetrable mist. When the air finally cleared, observers 
in high-flying planes saw a new land, complete with tall moun- 
tains that sheltered fertile valleys and rich plains already lush 
with vegetation. The new Adantis was surrounded by beautiful 
beaches punctuated by deep-water harbors. From all indica- 
tions, the land — roughly the size of the New England states — 
was uninhabited, though from afar you could see that fish 
filled its streams and animals in great abundance roamed its 
fields. Less picturesque but of more interest to potential devel- 
opers, scientific tests performed from planes and space satel- 
lites suggested that the earth on this Adantis contained sub- 
stantial deposits of precious minerals, including gold and 
silver. 

The United States and several other countries wasted no 
time in dispatching delegations to claim the land or portions 
of it. Several skirmishes by well-armed expeditions indicated 
that major nations would bitterly contest ownership of the new 
Adantis. Namre, however, proved a more serious barrier to 
occupying the new land than did greed-motivated combat. 

The first explorers, an American force escorted by a heavily 
armed battie crew, landed by helicopter. They barely escaped 
with their lives. The crew members had a hard time breathing 
and managed to take off just as they were beginning to lose 
consciousness. The experience was sufficiendy painful and scary 
that none of those who came out of it wanted to try a second 
time. Subsequent efforts by the United States, other major 
nations, and independent adventurers to land either by air or by 
water also failed, even though the landing parties were equipped 
with space suits and breathing equipment that had sustained 
human life on the moon or hundreds of feet under the sea. On 
the new continent, the air pressure — estimated at twice the 



34 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

levels existing at the bottom of the sea — threatened human life. 
One survivor explained that it was like trying to breathe under 
the burdens of all the world — a description that was to take on 
a special social significance not initially apparent. 

VCTiat frustration! This exciting new land mass seemed to be 
aching for exploration and, of course, development. Ceasing 
their competition, the major powers cooperated in one enor- 
mously expensive effort after another, all intended to gain 
access to Adantis. All failed. Not even the world's most ad- 
vanced technology allowed human beings to survive on those 
strange shores, so inviting seen from afar; and they proved 
totally inhospitable to a series of approaches. 

Then a team of four U.S. Nav}^ divers tried to reach the new 
land under water. A submarine entered a deep harbor and 
emitted the divers through a special chamber. They swam 
underwater through the harbor and into the mouth of a large 
river. All seemed to go well until, a few hundred yards up the 
river, the divers suddenly began to experience the breathing 
difficuldes that had thwarted earlier explorers. Turning imme- 
diately, they started back to the submarine; but they had gone 
too far and, long before reaching the harbor, began to lose 
consciousness. 

The crew chief. Ensign Mardn Shufford, managed to link 
the three groggy team members together with a slender cable 
and to tow them back to the submarine. When the divers 
revived, they hailed Shufford as a hero. He declined the honor, 
insisting that he had not had trouble breathing — that, in fact, 
he'd felt really invigorated by the new land's waters. And a 
medical check found him normal. The only difference between 
Shufford and the members of his crew (and, indeed, all those 
who had tried previously to land on Atlantis) was race. Martin 
Shufford was an American black man. 

Initially, neither the military nor government officials 
viewed this fact as significant. After all, peoples of color from 
other countries, including Africa, had tried to land on the new 



The Afro Ian ti ca Awakening 35 

land with the usual near-fatal results. Even so, there was no 
denying the evidence of the Martin Shufford rescue. African 
Americans did appear immune to the strange air pressures that 
rendered impossible other human life on the new Adantis. 

In an effort to determine whether other African Americans 
could survive on Adands — a possibility many believed, given 
the new land's importance, highly inappropriate — the next 
helicopter expedition carried on board three African-American 
men and, as pilot, an African-American woman. An amazed 
world watched the landing, filmed by a crew member and 
beamed back via satellite for televising. After a cautious first 
few steps, the crew discovered that they needed neither their 
space suits nor special breathing equipment. In fact, the party 
felt exhilarated and euphoric — feelings they explained upon 
their reluctant return (in defiance of orders, they spent several 
days exploring the new land) as unlike any alcohol- or drug- 
induced sensations of escape. Rather, it was an invigorating 
experience of heightened self-esteem, of liberation, of waking 
up. All four agreed that, while exploring what the media were 
now referring to as "Afrolantica," they ioiifree. 

Cautiously, blacks began wondering whether Afrolantica 
might not be their promised land. Incredulity changed to ex- 
citement as more and more African Americans visited it and 
found it both habitable and inviting. Many people drew a 
paraUel with the Hebrews' experiences in the Book of Exodus 
(1 3:21), as did one black minister in an oft-quoted sermon after 
a trip to Afrolantica: 

"For the Israelites of old, the Lord made Himself into a 
pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead them 
to the light. Are we less needy than were they? We, like them, 
have wandered in a hostile wilderness for not forty but closer 
to four hundred years. We, like them, have suffered the de- 
struction of slavery — and, in addition, the second-class status 
of segregation. Now we endure the hateful hypocrisy of the 
equal-opportunity era that, like the "separate but equal" stan- 



36 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

dard it replaced, denies the very opportunity its name pro- 
claims. But at long last the Lord has sent us a home that is as 
hostile to others as America has been to us. Let us go there and 
show what — ^given the chance — we might have done here!" 

Many, but far from all, African Americans shared this minis- 
ter's enthusiasm. A spokeswoman for the opposition, having 
successfully demanded equal TV time, explained: "Emigrating 
to Afrolantica would be to abandon a civilization we have 
helped create for a wilderness that could prove an enticing 
trap. Life in America is hard for African Americans," she 
acknowledged, "but, my friends, be warned. For us, the Exo- 
dus story is both inaccurate as analogy and frightening as 
prediction. 

"First, it is inaccurate as a measure of our present condition: 
we are not slaves to any pharaoh. Second, the forty years the 
Israelites wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt was 
a dire experience few of us would view as an acceptable substi- 
txite for life in America. We must not surrender the gains made 
through our civil rights efforts. We must not relinquish the 
labor of the generations who came before us and for whom life 
was even harder than it is for us. America, whether whites like 
it or not, is our land, too. We would like to visit Afrolantica, 
but our home is here." 

A pro-emigration group introduced in Congress legislation 
that would provide twenty thousand dollars to each African- 
American citizen wishing to emigrate to Afrolantica. This 
"Reparations Subsidy" would finance the move and was to be 
repaid if a recipient sought to return in less than ten years. 
Emigration opponents attacked the legislation as both bad 
policy and unconstitutional because it created and offered ben- 
efits based on a recipient's race without citing a compelling 
state interest to justify^ a suspect racial classification.^ This 
legislation — though never enacted — sparked a debate on 
Afrolantica which pre-empted all other civil rights issues in 
households across America. 



The Afrolantica Awakening 37 

Each side found support for its arguments in the nearly two 
hundred years of efforts — led by whites as well as blacks — to 
establish a homeland on the continent of Africa where slaves 
or ex-slaves might go or be sent.^ Both sides were as divided 
over the issue as were their forebears, though both acknowl- 
edged that whites had, from the beginning, fostered efforts at 
black emigration in an "endless cycle" of pushing blacks 
around in accordance with the political and economic needs of 
the moment. 

Supporters of Afrolantican emigration took as their models 
three key advocates of emigration between the early nineteenth 
centurv' and the 1920s: Paul Cuffe, Martin R. Delany, and 
Marcus Garvey. The first, Paul Cuffe, was a black shipowner 
from Massachusetts who, himself a constant victim of perse- 
cution (he was jailed for his refusal to pay taxes, which he 
withheld to protest being denied the vote and other privileges 
of citizenship), had determined to "emancipate" Africa. Be- 
tween 1811 and 1816, Cuffe had, at his own expense, led 
voyages of blacks to Sierra Leone (the British having already 
established a colony there for the purpose of resettling several 
hundred destitute and friendless blacks who had gone to En- 
gland after fighting on its side in the Revolutionary War in 
remrn for their freedom).'* The fact that Cuffe's movement had 
been curtailed by his death in 1817 scarcely dampened the 
enthusiasm of the blacks who wanted to emigrate to Afrolan- 
tica. Indeed, it merely heightened their enthusiasm to revive 
the memory of this early black hero. 

Later, in the mid- 1850s, the black leader, physician, and 
journalist Martin R. Delany had — in line with the preference 
of contemporary^ black leaders for Central America or Haiti 
over Africa as a place for black resetdement — arranged for 
two thousand black people to sail to Haid.^ But the most 
potent of these great advocates of black emigration was cer- 
tainly Marcus Garvey.^ In the 1920s, this charismatic Jamaican 
immigrant had founded the Universal Negro Improvement 



38 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Association, which managed to raise, in only a few years, ten 
million dollars and attracted at least half a million members. 
Although Garvey made definite plans for emigration to Africa, 
bu\ing and equipping ships, they were frustrated when — in a 
highly controversial case — he was convicted of using the mails 
to defraud and sentenced to five years in prison, fined one 
thousand dollars, and required to pay court costs. Though 
pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, he was de- 
ported as an undesirable alien; and his subsequent efforts to 
revive his movement failed. The blacks who wanted to emi- 
grate to Afrolantica pointed out that all these earlier advocates 
of emigration had themselves been driven to take their stand 
by their experience of slavery or segregation and by their 
perception that the discrimination, exclusion, and hostility 
from whites was never going to end. Garvey himself had told 
blacks that racial prejudice was so much a part of the white 
civilization that it was futile to appeal to any sense of justice 
or high-sounding democratic principles.* 

On the other side, American blacks opposing Afrolantican 
emigration pointed out that, while some blacks had indeed 
been interested in emigration over the last two centuries, rela- 
tively few had actually left America.^ Moreover, the initial 
impetus had come from whites, who had by the 1830s 
managed to place some fourteen hundred blacks in Liberia. 
Then the movement lost steam, though it was endorsed in the 
1850s by the Republican party and some abolitionists sup- 
ported it. These anti-Afrolantica blacks maintained that Afri- 

*From the Atlanta pemtentiary, Garvey wrote his followers: 

My months of forcible removal from among you, being imprisoned as a punish- 
ment for advocating the cause of our real emancipation, have not left 
mc hopeless or despondent; but to the contrary, I see a great ray of light 
and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete 
freedf)m. . . . 

We have gradually won our way back into the confidence of the God of 
Africa, and He shall speak with a voice of thunder, that shall shake the pillars of 
a corrupt and unjust world, and once more restore Ethiopia to her ancient glory.^ 



The Afro la n ti ca Awakening 39 

can Americans must not give up their long equality struggle: 
after all, it had transformed the Constitution from being a 
document primarily protective of both property and its own- 
ers, to one aimed to protect individual rights — and as such was 
a shield that, however flawed, was the envy of the free world. 
The slavery and segregation eras were important history, but 
they were just that — history. They were not cast from some 
eternal, social mold determining all of America's racial policies. 

The plight of the black underclass was still, of course, cause 
for the deepest concern, but government policies that favored 
the already weU-off while ignoring the working class adversely 
affected whites as well as blacks. The debilitating burdens of 
poverty know no color line. The lessons of history could 
engender hope as well as deepen despair. And history sug- 
gested that if current trends of unemployment continued, the 
nation would soon have to consider legislation like that 
enacted during the Great Depression of the 1930s. These new 
laws would ease, if not eliminate, poverty, improve education, 
and guarantee employment opportunities for all. Having 
worked so hard to bring about these reforms, African Ameri- 
cans would be foolish to leave the American table just as the 
long-awaited banquet was about to be served. 

In response, Afrolantica emigration advocates asked 
whether the banquet would be entirely devoid of racial dis- 
crimination. Or would America — 'Wr country, after all," one 
of the leaders said — continue to demand that whites sit at the 
head of the table and be served first, leaving blacks at the foot 
with such dregs as they could scrape up? 

Then these pro-emigration blacks moved forward their big 
gun: Abraham Lincoln. They noted the historian John Hope 
Franklin's comment that "Negro colonization seemed almost 
as important to Lincoln as emancipation. . . . Down to the end 
of the war Lincoln held out hope for colonizing at least some 
of the Negroes who were being set free."^ In an 1862 bill that 



40 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

sought to emancipate slaves in the District of Columbia, Lin- 
coln included a provision of one hundred thousand dollars for 
the voluntary emigration, to Haiti and Liberia, of former 
slaves; the bill was eventually enacted. In the same year, he 
called a group of black leaders to the White House and urged 
them to support colonization, stadng: "Your race suffer 
gready, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer 
from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this 
is admitted, it affords a reason why we should be separated."'" 
Ready to rebut, blacks opposed to Afrolandca emigradon 
cited Frederick Douglass, the most influential of the black 
leaders of the time. He had always opposed emigration and, in 
November 1858, set out his position in his newspaper. North 
Star, with spine-tingling clarity: 

We deem it a settled point that the destiny of the colored man 
is bound up with that of the white people of this country. 
. . . We are here, and here we are likely to be. To imagine that 
we shall ever be eradicated is absurd and ridiculous. We can be 
remodified, changed, and assimilated, but never extinguished. 
We repeat . . . that we are here; and that this is our country; and 
the question for the philosophers and statesmen of the land 
ought to be, what principles should dictate the policy of the 
action toward us? We shall neither die out, nor be driven out; 
but shall go with this people, either as a testimony against 
them, or as an evidence in their favor throughout their genera- 
tions. We are clearly on their hands and must remain there 
forever." 



To counter this black patriotism, emigration advocates 
vehemently recalled the hopes so often dashed as, over the 
years, thousands of blacks had left their homes to seek else- 
where in America some better place, a place they could call 
their own, where they would not be harassed — or lynched; 
where they could live as the free citizens the government 



The Afro Ian ti ca Awakening 41 

assured them they were.* But these efforts had been almost 
always met by opposition and further harassment. 

Strongly promoting emigration to Afrolantica were black 
nationalist groups, who have traditionally made emigration or 
separation a major goal. They were especially attracted by the 
idea of an island of their own because their efforts to establish 
black communities in this country had been harshly opposed 
by whites, particularly law enforcement officials. For example, 
when in November 1969, white residents of St. Clair County, 
Alabama, learned that Black Muslims had purchased two large 
farms in the area, they organized a "Stop the Muslims" move- 
ment. Almost immediately Muslim members were subjected to 
criminal prosecution on various charges: trespass, "failure to 
register as a Muslim," acting as agent for an unlicensed foreign 
corporation, and "permitting livestock to run at large." Whites 
filed a civil suit for five hundred thousand dollars against the 
Muslims, charging aggravated trespass and infringement upon 
use of land. The Muslims challenged these actions in a federal 
suit and obtained partial relief from a three-judge federal 
court.' ^ 

The court both invalidated the Alabama statute requiring 
registration of "communists, nazis, Muslims, and members of 
communist front organizations"; and halted the criminal 
prosecutions, except for the charge of "permitting livestock to 
run at large," finding that the Muslims had failed to show that 
this charge was used to discourage assertion of their First 
Amendment rights. The court also refused to enjoin the five- 
hundred-thousand-dollar damages action, though it acknowl- 
edged that the suit had a chilling effect on the plaintiffs' free- 



*Of course, while emigration efforts have not met with broad success, blacks have 
constantly immigrated from one portion of the country to another, seeking opportu- 
nity and acceptance. The escapes from slaver)' via the underground railroad brought 
coundess blacks both to the North and to Canada. After the Civil >X'ar, scores of 
blacks headed west to Kansas, Texas, and California. There were major movements 
of black Americans from South to North during both world wars — all seeking 
employment, a better life, and racial equality.'^ 



42 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

dom of association rights. The Black Muslims later decided to 
sell their farm, after almost one third of their three hundred 
head of cattie had been poisoned or shot. The white man who 
had originally sold the land to the Muslims also suffered: his 
business was burned, acid was poured on his car, and his life 
was threatened. The Ku Klux Klan bought land surrounding 
the Muslim farm to "keep an eye on things." Thoroughly 
discouraged, the Muslims said they would sell their farm even 
to the Klan.''* 

Thus the debate raged on, as each side marshaled something 
out of history or experience to support its point of view. After 
some months, many outspoken blacks were quite ready to 
emigrate, but most were not. Whether ready to go or deter- 
mined to stay, clearly all black people felt good about the 
opportunity. Blacks' enslaved forebears had, after learning of 
the Emancipation Proclamation, gained the courage to leave 
their masters' plantations. Now, the very idea of a continent 
emerged from the ocean and habitable only by black Ameri- 
cans awakened black pride — a term not much heard during the 
1980s and 1990s. Self-esteem blossomed in the reflected glow 
of their Afrolantica option, and snuffed out both the manifest 
as well as the latent tendency toward self-deprecation that is 
unavoidably instilled in people subordinated by outside forces. 

While black people pondered, white Americans — contrary 
to their attitudes to black emigration in earlier decades — grew 
increasingly troubled by the blacks' new confidence: some 
whites thought it arrogant; others, "uppity"; aU were unnerved 
by it. The linking of Afrolantica and freedom for African 
Americans, coming as new racial oppression swept the country 
in the mid-1990s, heightened racial tensions. Televised reports 
showing American blacks able to function normally on the rich 
new land sparked racial clashes and several attacks by white 
hoodlums on black communities. A man arrested at the scene 
of a race riot spoke for all hostile whites: "Damn! It ain't right! 
The niggers got sports and pop music aU tied up. Now this! It's 



The Afro Ian ti ca Awakening 43 

more than this God-fearing, America-loving white man can 
take!" 

More sophisticated, though hardly less envious opinions 
were common in the press, in opinion polls, and on call-in talk 
shows. Black people were not surprised at the hostile reaction. 
"As with so much else," one black leader observed, "we are 
treated as aliens in our own country. Rather than view our 
abilit)^ to survive on the new land as a major victorv^ for 
America, whites see it as a loss for them and a dangerous 
advantage for us." 

Some conserv'atives feared Afrolantica could become an- 
other Cuba, insulated from American expansionism and, 
worse, beyond its power. Afrolantica, they warned, could serve 
as a rallying incentive for other third-world peoples who might 
conclude that white influence, rather than colored incompe- 
tence, was responsible for their poverty' and powerlessness. 
Even without Afrolantica's insulating atmosphere, the long- 
subjugated colored peoples of Asia, Africa, and South America 
might rise up against the United States' tendency to subvert 
governments and exploit indigenous people and against its 
economic domination that has proven as oppressive as the 
political colonialism it replaced. 

Before long, Afrolantica became a national obsession. Gov- 
ernment officials hinted ominously about a dire plot to under- 
mine world stabilit\% economic security, and the American 
Way of Life. As a first defense, the government launched a 
quiet search for black leaders or academics who would support 
the conspiracy theory and condemn the emigration movement 
as subversive. Surprisingly, none could be found, though the 
undercover agents offered the usual rewards of money and 
prestige. In the past, such rewards had proven adequate to 
attract those members of the race all too ready to please whites 
regardless of the adverse consequences for blacks. 

In the meantime, a large group of blacks decided to put an 
end to discussion and turned their energies to planning for 



44 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

emigration. In this they were inspired by the words of Bishop 
Henr\' M. Turner, the leader of a black emigration movement 
around the turn of the centur\': "We were born here, raised 
here, fought, bled and died here, and have a thousand times 
more right here than hundreds of thousands of those who help 
to snub, proscribe and persecute us, and that is one of the 
reasons I almost despise the land of my birth."' ^ These blacks 
pooled their resources to obtain transportation and equipment 
needed to sustain life and build new communities in the new 
land. The Afrolantica emigration programs, like the Jewish 
movements to support Israel, gained the support of even 
blacks who did not wish to move there. The uniformity' of this 
support served to heighten the fears of many whites that the 
new continent posed both a political and an economic threat. 
Together, government and corporate institutions erected innu- 
merable barriers in the paths of blacks seeking to leave the 
country. Visas were not available, of course; and immigration 
officials warned that since Afrolantica did not exist as a gov- 
ernmental entity, blacks moving there might sacrifice both 
their citizenship and their entitiement to return to America — 
even to visit relatives and friends. 

Soon these pro-emigration leaders found themselves facing 
an array of civil suits and criminal charges. Remembering how 
Marcus Garvey had been similarly hounded, blacks determined 
that his experience would not be repeated. They fought the 
anti-emigration policies with protests and boycotts. Unlike the 
Israelites of ancient Egvpt before the first Passover, black 
people during this period did not rely on one leader or seek 
deliverance through one organization. Rather, they worked 
together in communities. 

"There is," one black woman observed, "something of 
Moses within each of us that we must offer as a service, as a 
living sacrifice to those like ourselves." 

And out of this miracle of cooperative effort was organized 



The Afrolantica Awakening 45 

and implemented the Afrolantica Armada: a thousand ships of 
every size and description loaded with the first wave of several 
hundred thousand black settlers. It set out for Afrolantica early 
on one sunny Fourth of July morning. 

They never made it. Within hours of their departure, they 
received weather reports of severe disturbances in the ocean 
around Afrolantica. The island that had stood for a year in 
clear sunlight, a beacon of hope to long-besieged blacks, 
was — for the first time since its emergence — enveloped in a 
thick mist. The emigrants pressed on, hoping they would not 
have to land in bad weather. Worrying also, because radar and 
sonar measurements strongly indicated that whatever process 
had raised the lost continent was reversing itself. 

Then the mist rose. The sight that met the eyes of the blacks 
on the emigrant armada was amazing, terrifying. Afrolantica 
was sinking back into the ocean whence it had arisen. The 
blacks on the ships knew they were witnessing the greatest 
natural spectacle in world history. "My God, what's happen- 
ing?" was the universal question. It was replaced almost imme- 
diately, in the minds of those who were watching from the 
safety of their television sets in America, by another: Was 
Afrolantica, after all, no more than a cruel hoax. Nature's 
seismic confirmation that African Americans are preordained 
to their victimized, outcast state? 

But, to their surprise, the black men and women on board 
the armada felt neither grief nor despair as they watched the 
last tip of the great land mass slip beneath the waves, and the 
ocean spread sleek and clear as though Afrolantica had never 
been. They felt deep satisfaction — sober now, to be sure — in 
having gotten this far in their enterprise, in having accom- 
plished it together. As the great ships swung around in the 
ocean to take them back to America, the miracle of Afrolantica 
was replaced by a greater miracle. Blacks discovered that they 
themselves actually possessed the qualities of liberation they 



46 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

had hoped to realize on their new homeland. Feeling this was, 
they all agreed, an Afrolantica Awakening, a liberation — not of 
place, but of mind. 

One returning black settler spoke for all: "It was worth it 
just to try looking for something better, even if we didn't 
find it." 

As the armada steamed back to America, people recalled the 
words of Frederick Douglass that opponents of emigration 
had cited to support their position: "We are Americans. We are 
not aliens. We are a component part of the nation. We have 
no disposition to renounce our nationality."^^ Even though 
they had rejected that argument, it had its truth. And it was 
possible to affirm it, and return to America, because they 
understood they need no longer act as the victims of centuries 
of oppression. They could act on their own, as their own 
people, as they had demonstrated to themselves and other 
blacks in their preparations to setde Afrolantica. 

Their faces glowed with self-confidence, as they walked, 
erect and proud, down the gangplanks the next day when the 
ships returned to their home ports. The black men and women 
waiting to greet them, expecting to commiserate with them, 
were instead inspired. The spirit of cooperation that had en- 
gaged a few hundred thousand blacks spread to others, as they 
recalled the tenacity for humane life which had enabled gener- 
ations of blacks to survive all efforts to dehumanize or obliter- 
ate them. Infectious, their renewed tenacity reinforced their 
sense of possessing themselves. Blacks held fast, like a talis- 
man, the quiet conviction that Afrolantica had not been mere 
mirage — that somewhere in the word America, somewhere 
irrevocable and profound, there is as well the word Afrolantica. 



CHAPTER 3 

The Racial Preference 
Licensing Act 



Racial nepotism rather than racial animus is the major motivation for 
much of the discrimination blacks experience. 
— Matthew S. Goldberg 



It was enacted as the Racial Preference Licensing Act. At an 
elaborate, nationally televised signing ceremony, the Presi- 
dent — elected as a "racial moderate" — assured the nation that 
the new statute represented a realistic advance in race relations. 
"It is," he insisted, "certainly not a return to the segregation 
policies granted constitutional protection under the stigma- 
inflicting 'separate but equal' standard of Plessy v. Ferguson 
established roughly a century ago.' 

"Far from being a retreat into our unhappy racial past," he 
explained, "the new law embodies a daring attempt to create 
a brighter racial future for all our citizens. Racial realism is the 
key to understanding this new law. It does not assume a 
nonexistent racial tolerance, but boldly proclaims its commit- 
ment to racial justice through the working of a marketplace 
that recognizes and seeks to balance the rights of our black 
citizens to fair treatment and the no less important right of 
some whites to an unfettered choice of customers, employees, 
and contractees." 

Under the new act, all employers, proprietors of public 



48 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

facilities, and owners and managers of dwelling places, homes, 
and apartments could, on application to the federal govern- 
ment, obtain a license authorizing the holders, their managers, 
agents, and employees to exclude or separate persons on the 
basis of race and color. The license itself was expensive, 
though not prohibitively so. Once obtained, it required pay- 
ment to a government commission of a tax of 3 percent of the 
income derived from whites employed, whites served, or prod- 
ucts sold to whites during each quarter in which a policy of 
"racial preference" was in effect. Congress based its authority 
for the act on the commerce clause, the taxing power, and the 
general welfare clause of the Constitution. 

License holders were required both to display their licenses 
prominendy in a public place and to operate their businesses 
in accordance with the racially selective policies set out on their 
license. Specifically, discrimination had to be practiced in ac- 
cordance with the license on a nonselective basis. Licenses 
were not available to those who, for example, might hire or 
rent to one token black and then discriminate against other 
applicants, using the license as a shield against discrimination 
suits. Persons of color wishing to charge discrimination against 
a facility not holding a license would carry the burden of proof, 
but such burden might be met with statistical and circum- 
stantial as well as with direct evidence provided by white 
"testers,"* Under the act, successful complainants would be 
entided to damages set at ten thousand dollars per instance of 
unlicensed discrimination, including attorneys' fees. 

License fees and commissions paid by license holders would 
be placed in an "equalit}' fund" used to underwrite black 



*Testing is an effective, but too little utiliy.ed, technique to ferret out bias in the sale 
and rental of housing or in employment practices. Generally, in testing, people who 
are alike in virtually ever)' way except race or ethnicit)' are sent to apply for jobs, 
housing, or mortgages. The results are then analyzed for how differendy whites are 
treated compared with black or Hispanic people. In 1982, the Supreme Court found 
that testers in a housing discrimination suit, and the housing association to which 
they were attached, had standing to sue in their own right as injured parties.^ 



The Racial Preference Licensing Act 49 

businesses, to offer no-interest mortgage loans for black home 
buyers, and to provide scholarships for black students seeking 
college and vocadonal education. To counter charges that 
black people, as under Plessy, would be both segregated and 
never gain any significant benefit from the equality fund, the 
act provided that five major civil rights organizations (each 
named in the statute) would submit the name of a representa- 
tive who would serve on the commission for one, nonrenewa- 
ble three-year term. 

The President committed himself and his administration to 
the effective enforcement of the Racial Preference Licensing 
Act. "It is time," he declared, "to bring hard-headed realism 
rather than well-intentioned idealism to bear on our long- 
standing racial problems. Policies adopted because they 
seemed right have usually failed. Actions taken to promote 
justice for blacks have brought injustice to whites without 
appreciably improving the status or standards of living for 
blacks, particularly for those who most need the protection 
those actions were intended to provide. 

"Within the memories of many of our citizens, this nation 
has both affirmed policies of racial segregation and advocated 
polices of racial integration. Neither approach has been either 
satisfactory or effective in furthering harmony and domestic 
tranquillity." Recalling the Civil Rights Act of 1964' and its 
1991 amendments,"* the President pointed out that while the 
once-controversial public-accommodation provisions in the 
original 1964 act received unanimous judicial approval in the 
year of its adoption,^ even three decades later the act's protec- 
tive function, particularly in the employment area, had been 
undermined by both unenthusiastic enforcement and judicial 
decisions construing its provisions ever more narrowly. 

"As we all know," the President continued "the Supreme 
Court has now raised grave questions about the continued 
validity of the 1964 Act and the Fair Housing Act of 1968^ — 
along with their various predecessors and supplemental 



50 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

amendments as applied to racial discrimination. The Court 
stopped just short of declaring unconstitutional all laws pro- 
hibiting racial discrimination, and found that the existing civil 
rights acts were inconsistent with what it viewed as the essen- 
tial 'racial forgiveness' principle in the landmark decision of 
Brown v. Boart^ of Education of 19547 The Court announced 
further that nothing in its decision was intended to affect the 
validity of the statutes' protection against discrimination based 
on sex, national origin, or religion. 

"This is, of course, not an occasion for a legal seminar, but 
it is important that all citizens understand the background of 
the new racial preference statute we sign this evening. The 
Supreme Court expressed its concern that existing civil rights 
statutes created racial categories that failed to meet the heavy 
burden of justification placed on any governmental policy that 
seeks to classify persons on the basis of race. In 1989, the 
Court held that this heavy burden, called the 'strict scrutiny' 
standard, applied to remedial as well as to invidious racial 
classifications.^ Our highest court reasoned that its 1954 deci- 
sion in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education did not 
seek to identify and punish wrongdoers, and the implementa- 
tion order in Brown IP a year later did not require immediate 
enforcement. Rather, Brown II asserted that delay was required, 
not only to permit time for the major changes required in 
Southern school policies, but also — and this is important — to 
enable accommodation to school integration which ran 
counter to the views and strong emotions of most Southern 
whites. 

"In line with this reasoning," the President continued, "the 
Court referred with approval to the views of the late Yale law 
professor Alexander Bickel, who contended that any effort to 
enforce Brown as a criminal law would have failed, as have 
alcohol prohibition, antigambling, most sex laws, and other 
laws policing morals. Bickel said, 'It follows that in achieving 



The Racial P referen ce Licensing Act 51 

integradon, the task of the law . . . was not to punish law 
breakers but to diminish their number.''" 

"Now the Court has found Professor Bickel's argument 
compelling. Viewed from the perspective provided by four 
decades, the Court says now that Brown was basically a call for 
a higher morality rather than a judicial decree authorizing 
Congress to coerce behavior allegedly unjust to blacks because 
that behavior recognized generally acknowledged differences 
in racial groups. This characterization of Brown explains why 
Brown was no more effective as an enforcement tool than were 
other 'morals-policing' laws such as alcohol prohibition, anti- 
gambling, and sex laws, all of which are hard to enforce pre- 
cisely because they seek to protect our citizens' health and 
welfare against what a legislature deems self-abuse. 

"Relying on this reasoning, the Court determined that laws 
requiring cessation of white conduct deemed harmful to blacks 
are hard to enforce because they seek to 'police morality.' 
While conceding both the states' and the federal government's 
broad powers to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its 
citizens, the Court found nothing in the Constitution authoriz- 
ing regulation of what government at any particular time might 
deem appropriate 'moral' behavior. The exercise of such au- 
thority, the Court feared, could lead Congress to control the 
perceptions of what some whites believe about the humanity 
of some blacks. On this point," the President said, "I want to 
quote the opinion the Supreme Court has just handed down: 
'Whatever the good intentions of such an undertaking, it 
clearly aimed for a spiritual result that might be urged by a 
religion but is beyond the reach of government coercion.' 

"Many of us, of both political persuasions," the President 
went on, "were emboldened by the Court to seek racial har- 
mony and justice along the route of mutual respect as sug- 
gested in its decision. This bill I now sign into law is the result 
of long debate and good-faith compromise. It is, as its oppo- 



52 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

nents charge and its proponents concede, a radical new ap- 
proach to the nation's continuing tensions over racial status. It 
maximizes freedom of racial choice for all our citizens while 
guaranteeing that people of color will benefit either direcdy 
from equal access or indirecdy from the fruits of the License 
taxes paid by those who choose policies of racial exclusion. 
"A few, final words. I respect the views of those who 
vigorously opposed this new law. And yet the course we take 
today was determined by many forces too powerful to ignore, 
too popular to resist, and too pregnant with potential to deny. 
We have vacillated long enough. We must move on toward 
what I predict will be a new and more candid and collaboradve 
relationship among aU our citizens. May God help us all as we 
seek with His help to pioneer a new path in our continuing 
crusade to bring justice and harmony to all races in America." 



D D D D D 

Well, Geneva, you've done it again, I thought to myself as I 
finished this second story well after midnight. After all our 
batdes, I thought I'd finally pulled myself up to your advanced 
level of racial thinking — but the Racial Preference Licensing 
Act is too much. 

'Tou still don't get it, do you?" 

I looked up. There she was — the ultimate African queen — 
sitting on the small couch in my study. The mass of gray 
dreadlocks framing Geneva's strong features made a beautiful 
contrast with her smooth blue-black skin. She greeted me with 
her old smile, warm yet authoritative. 

"Welcome," I said, trying to mask my shock with a bit of 
savoir-faire. "Do you always visit folks at two o'clock in the 
morning?" 

She smiled. "I decided I could not leave it to you to figure 
out the real significance of my story." 



The KacialPreference hice n sing Act 53 

"Well," I said, "I'm delighted to see you!" As indeed I was. 
It had been almost five years since Geneva disappeared at the 
close of the climactic civil rights conference that ended my 
book And We Are Not Saved. Seeing her now made me realize 
how much I had missed her, and I slipped back easily into our 
old relationship. 

"Tell me, Geneva, how can you justify this law? After aU, if 
the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause retains 
any viabilit)', it is to bar government-sponsored racial segrega- 
tion. Even if — as is likely — you convince me of your law's 
potential, what are civil rights advocates going to say when I 
present it to them? As you know, it has taken me years to 
regain some acceptance within the civil rights community — 
since I suggested in print that civil rights lawyers who urge 
racial-balance remedies in all school desegregation cases were 
giving priority to their integration ideals over their clients' 
educational needs.'' Much as I respect your insight on racial 
issues, Geneva, I think your story's going to turn the civil 
rights community against us at a time when our goal is to 
persuade them to broaden their thinking beyond traditional, 
integration-oriented goals." 

"Oh ye of Httie faith!" she responded. "Even after aU these 
years, you remain as suspicious of my truths as you are faithful 
to the civil rights ideals that events long ago rendered obsolete. 
Whatever its cost to relationships with your civil rights friends, 
accept the inevitabilit}' of my Racial Preference Licensing Act. 
And believe — if not me — yourself. 

"Although you maintain your faith in the viability of the 
Fourteenth Amendment, in your writings you have acknowl- 
edged, albeit reluctantiy, that whatever the civil rights law or 
constitutional provision, blacks gain litde protection against 
one or another form of racial discrimination unless granting 
blacks a measure of relief will serve some interest of impor- 
tance to whites.'^ Virtually every piece of civil rights legislation 
beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation supports your 



54 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

position. '"* Your beloved Fourteenth Amendment is a key 
illustration of this white self-interest principle. Enacted in 1868 
to provide citizenship to the former slaves and their offspring, 
support for the amendment reflected Republicans' concern 
after the Civil War that the Southern Democrats, having lost 
the war, might win the peace. This was not a groundless fear. 
If the Southern states could rejoin the union, bar blacks from 
voting, and regain control of state government, they might 
soon become the dominant power in the federal government 
as well.''* 

"Of course, within a decade, when Republican interests 
changed and the society grew weary of racial remedies and was 
ready to sacrifice black rights to political expediency, both the 
Supreme Court and the nation simply ignored the original 
stated purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protec- 
tion guarantee. In 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson precedent gave 
legal validity to this distortion and then to a torrent of Jim 
Crow statutes. 'Separate but equal' was the judicial promise. 
Racial subordination became the legally enforceable fact." 

"Well, sure," I mustered a response, "the Fourteenth 
Amendment's history is a definitive example of white self- 
interest lawmaking, but what is its relevance to your Racial 
Preference Licensing Act? It seems to me — and certainly will 
seem to most civil rights advocates — like a new, more subde, 
but hardly less pernicious 'separate but equal' law. Is there 
something I'm missing?" 

"You are — which is precisely why I am here." 

"I could certainly," I said, "use more of an explanation for 
a law that entrusts our rights to free-market forces. The law 
and economics experts might welcome civil rights protections 
in this form,* but virtually all civil rights professionals will view 

*Thcsc law and economics experts, especially Richard Posncr and John J. Donohue, 
accept Ciar\' Becker's theor\' that markets drive out discriminator\' employers because 
discrimination tends to minimize profits. '"■ The essence of Posner and Donohue 's 



The Racial Preference Licensing Act 55 

legalizing racist practices as nothing less than a particularly 
vicious means of setting the struggle for racial justice back a 
century. I doubt I could communicate them effectively to most 
black people." 

"Of course you can't! Neither they nor you really want to 
come to grips with the real role of racism in this country." 

"And that is?" 

"My friend, know it! Racism is more than a group of bad 
white folks whose discriminatory predilections can be con- 
trolled by well- formed laws, vigorously enforced. Traditional 
civil rights laws tend to be ineffective because they are built on 
a law enforcement model. They assume that most citizens will 
obey the law; and when law breakers are held liable, a strong 
warning goes out that will discourage violators and encourage 
compliance. But the law enforcement model for civil rights 
breaks down when a great number of whites are willing — 
because of convenience, habit, distaste, fear, or simple prefer- 
ence — to violate the law. It then becomes almost impossible 



debate on Tide VII (the Equal Employment Opportunity Ace) is whether "[l]egisla- 
tion that prehibits employment discrimination . . . actually enhance [s] rather than 
impair[s] economic efficiency."" Donohue argues that the effects of the Tide VII 
statutor}' scheme are to increase the rate at which discriminators are driven out of 
the market from the base rate, which many economists steeped in the neoclassical 
tradidon would argue is the optimal rate. Posner questions whether this effect (the 
increased rate) occurs; and, significandy, also raises questions about whether the 
regulatory scheme, designed to decrease discrimination against blacks in employment 
decisions and thereby increase the net welfare of blacks, actually succeeds in doing 
so. If neither assumption is accurate, he states that the costs of enforcement and all 
other costs associated with administering Tide VII "are a dead weight social loss that 
cannot be justified on grounds (not only of efficiency but] of social equit)-."'^ 

Posner and David A. Strauss both make statements that would seem to indicate 
openness to such measures as the Racial Preference licensing Act. Posner writes that 
"it might be that a tax on those whites [who discriminate because of an aversion to 
blacks and therefore would seek a license] for the benefit of blacks would be 
justifiable on the grounds of social equity [although this is not an efficiency justification 
in the wealth maximization sense]."" And Strauss asks, "Why would the objectives 
of compensatory justice and avoiding racial stratification not be better served, at less 
cost, if the legal system permitted statistical discrimination; captured the efficiency 
gains (and the gains for reduced administrative costs) through taxation, and trans- 
ferred the proceeds to African Americans?"" 



56 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

to enforce, because so many whites, though not discriminating 
themselves, identify more easily with those who do than with 
their victims." 

"That much 1 understand," I replied. "Managers of hotels, 
restaurants, and other places of public accommodation have 
complied with antidiscrimination laws because they have dis- 
covered that, for the most part, it is far more profitable to 
serve blacks than to exclude or segregate them. On the other 
hand, these same establishments regularly discriminate against 
blacks seeking jobs." 

"Precisely right, friend. A single establishment, often a sin- 
gle individual, can be inconsistent for any number of reasons, 
including the desire not to upset or inconvenience white cus- 
tomers or white employees. More often, management would 
prefer to hire the white than the black applicant. As one 
economist has argued, 'racial nepotism' rather than 'racial ani- 
mus' is the major motivation for much of the discrimination 
blacks experience."^" 

"But nepotism," I objected, "is a preference for family 
members or relatives. What does it have to do with racial 
discrimination?" 

Geneva gave me her "you are not serious" smile. 

Then it hit me. "Of course! You're right, Geneva, it is hard 
to get out of the law enforcement model. You're suggesting 
that whites tend to treat one another like family, at least when 
there's a choice between them and us. So that terms like 'merit' 
and 'best qualified' are infinitely manipulable if and when 
whites must explain why they reject blacks to hire 'relatives' — 
even when the only relationship is that of race. So, unless 
there's some pressing reason for hiring, renting to, or other- 
wise dealing with a black, many whites will prefer to hire, rent 
to, sell to, or otherwise deal with a white — including one less 
qualified by objective measures and certainly one who is by any 
measure better qualified." 



The Racial P reference licensing Act 57 

"Lord, I knew the man could figure it out! He just needed 
my presence." 

"Well, since a litde sarcasm is the usual price of gaining 
face-to-face access to your insight, Geneva, I am willing to pay. 
Actually, as I think about it, racial licensing is like that ap- 
proach adopted some years ago by environmentalists who felt 
that licensing undesirable conduct was the best means of deal- 
ing with Industrie's arguments that it could not immediately 
comply with laws to protect the environment. The idea is, as 
I recall, that a sufficiendy high licensing fee would make it 
profitable for industry to take steps to control the emissions 
(or whatever), and that thereby it would be possible to reduce 
damage to health and property much more cheaply than an 
attempt to control the entire polluting activity.^'* 

"Come to think of it, Geneva, there's even a precedent, of 
sorts, for the Equality Fund. College football's Fiesta Bowl 
authorities no doubt had a similar principle in mind when they 
announced in 1 990 that they would create a minority scholar- 
ship fund of one hundred thousand dollars or endow an 
academic chair for minorit}' students at each competing uni- 
versity; the aim was to induce colleges to participate in the 
Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, a state whose populace has refused to 
recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.^^ Sunkist 
Growers, Inc., the event's sponsor, agreed to match the 
amount. Further 'sweetening the pot,' one university president 
promised to donate all net proceeds to university programs 
benefiting minorit}' students." 



"26 



*A similar economically based principle underlay the action of the Connecticut 
Legislature when in 1973 it enacted a statute mandating penalties equal to the capital 
and operating costs saved by not installing and operating equipment to meet applica- 
ble regulatory limits.^^ In 1977, Congress added "noncompliance penalties" pat- 
terned after the Connecticut compliance program to section 1 20 of the Clean Air 
Act." As of 1988, section 173(1)(A) of the Clean Air Act in effect permits the 
introduction of new pollution sources if "total allowable emissions" from existing 
and new sources are "sufficiendy less than total emissions from existing sources 
allowed under the applicable implementation plan."^* 



58 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"Both examples," remarked Geneva, "illustrate how 
pocketbook issues are always near the top of the list of motives 
for racial behavior. That's why compliance with traditional 
civil rights laws is particularly tough during a period of great 
economic uncertainty, white nepotism becoming most preva- 
lent when jobs and reasonably priced housing are in short 
supply. During such times, racial tolerance dissolves into 
hostility." 

"Just as during the 1890s," I interjected, "when economic 
conditions for the working classes were at another low point, 
and there was intense labor and racial strife.^' Today, whites 
have concluded, as they did a centur}^ ago, that the country has 
done enough for black people despite the flood of evidence to 
the contrary. The Supreme Court's civil rights decisions reflect 
the public's lack of interest. In the meantime, enforcement of 
civil rights laws, never vigorous, has dawdled into the dol- 
drums, and this inertia encourages open violation and discour- 
ages victims from filing complaints they fear will only add 
futility and possible retaliation to their misery." 

"All true," Geneva agreed. 

"But given the already strong anti-civil rights trends," I 
argued, "wouldn't the Racial Preference Licensing Act simply 
encourage them?" 

"You are resistant," Geneva replied. "Don't you see? For 
the very reasons you offer, urging stronger civil rights laws 
barring discrimination in this period is not simply foolhardy; 
it's the waste of a valuable opportunity." 

"Well," I acknowledged, "I have no doubt that a great many 
white people would prefer the Racial Preference Licensing Act 
to traditional civil rights laws. The licensing feature provides 
legal protection for their racially discriminatory policies — par- 
ticularly in employment and housing — which whites have 
practiced covertly, despite the presence on the books of civil 
rights laws and Court decisions declaring those practices un- 
lawful." 



The Racial V reference l^icensing Act 59 

"It is even more attractive," Geneva said, "in that thought- 
ful whites will view the new law as a means of giving moral 
legitimacy to their discriminator}- preferences by adopting the 
theor\'^* that whites have a right of non-association (with 
blacks), and that this right should be recognized in law." 

"On those grounds," I put in, "the act could expect support 
from white civil libertarians who think racial discrimination 
abhorrent but are troubled by the need to coerce correct 
behavior. VCTiites will not be happv about the Equalit}' Fund, 
though these provisions might attract the support of black 
separatists who would see the fund as a fair trade for the 
integration they always distrusted.^^ But, believe me, Geneva, 
no such benefits will assuage the absolute opposition of most 
civil rights professionals — black and white. They remain com- 
mitted — to the point of obsession — with integration notions 
that, however widely held in the 1960s, are woefully beyond 
reach today." 

"Don't start again!" Geneva threw up her hands. "I under- 
stand and sympathize with your civil rights friends' unwilling- 
ness to accept the legalized reincarnation of Jim Crow. They 
remember all too well how many of our people suffered and 
sacrificed to bur\' those obnoxious signs 'Colored' and 'WTiite.' 
I think that even if I could prove that the Racial Preference 
Licensing Act would usher in the racial millennium, civil rights 
professionals would be unwilling to — as they might put it — 
'squander our high principles in remrn for a mess of segrega- 
tion-tainted pottage.' Victory on such grounds is, they would 
conclude, no victory at all." 

"You mock them, Geneva, but integration advocates would 
see themselves as standing by their principles." 

"Principles, hell! What I do not understand — and this is 
what I reaUy want to get clear — is what principle is so compel- 
ling as to justify continued allegiance to obsolete civil rights 
strategies that have done little to prevent — and may have 
contributed to — the contemporary statistics regarding black 



60 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

crime, broken families, devastated neighborhoods, alcohol and 
drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, illiteracy, unemployment, 
and welfare dependency?" 

She stopped to take a deep breath, then went on. "Racial 
segregation was surely hateful, but let me tell you, friend, that 
if I knew that its return would restore our black communities 
to what they were before desegregation, I would think such a 
trade entitled to serious thought. I would not dismiss it self- 
righteously, as you tell me many black leaders would do. Black 
people simply cannot afford the luxury of rigidit}- on racial 
issues. This story is not intended to urge actual adoption of a 
racial preference licensing law, but to provoke blacks and their 
white allies to look beyond traditional civil rights views. We 
must learn to examine every racial policy, including those that 
seem most hostile to blacks, and determine whether there is 
unintended potential African Americans can exploit. 

"Think about it! Given the way things have gone histori- 
cally, if all existing civil rights laws were invalidated, legislation 
like the Racial Preference Licensing Act might be all African 
Americans could expect. And it could prove no less — and 
perhaps more — effective than those laws that now provide us 
the promise of protection without either the will or the re- 
sources to honor that promise." 

"Most civil rights advocates," I replied, "would, on hearing 
that argument, likely respond by linking arms and singing three 
choruses of 'We ShaU Overcome.' " 

"You're probably right, friend — but it is your job, is it not, 
to make them see that racist opposition has polluted the dream 
that phrase once inspired? However comforting, the dream 
distracts us from the harsh racial reality closing in around you 
and ours." 

As I did not respond, Geneva continued. "You have to 
make people see. Just as parents used to tell children stories 
about the stork to avoid telling them about sex, so for similarly 
evasive reasons many black people hold to dreams about a 



The Racial Preference l^icensingAct 61 

truly integrated society that is brought into being by the en- 
forcement of laws barring discriminatory conduct. History 
and — one would hope — common sense tells us that dream is 
never coming true." 

"Dreams and ideals are not evil, Geneva." 

"Of course, they aren't, but we need to be realistic about our 
present and future civil rights activities. The question is 
whether the activity reflects and is intended to chaUenge the 
actual barriers we face rather than those that seem a threat to 
the integration ideology." 

"That's all very high-sounding, Geneva, and I agree that we 
need a more realistic perspective, but how can I bring others 
to recognize that need?" 

"We might begin by considering the advantages of such a 
radical measure as the Racial Preference Licensing Act. First, 
by authorizing racial discrimination, such a law would, as I 
suggested earlier, remove the long-argued concern that civil 
rights laws deny anyone the right of non-association.* With the 
compulsive element removed, people who discriminate against 
blacks without getting the license authorized by law, may not 
retain the unspoken but real public sympathy they now enjoy. 
They may be viewed as what they are: law breakers who 
deserve punishment. 

"Second, by requiring the discriminator both to publicize 
and to pay all blacks a price for that 'right,' the law may dilute 
both the financial and the psychological benefits of racism. 
Today even the worst racist denies being a racist. Most whites 
pay a tremendous price for their reflexive and often uncon- 
scious racism, but few are ready to post their racial preferences 
on a public license and even less ready to make direct pay- 
ments for the privilege of practicing discrimination. Paradoxi- 
cally, gaining the right to practice openly what people now 

*Herbert Wechsler, for example, has suggested the decision in hroun v. hoard of 
Education might be criticized as requiring "integration [that] forces an association 
upon those for whom it is unpleasant or repugnant."'" 



62 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

enthusiastically practice covertly, will take a lot of the joy out 
of discrimination and replace that joy with some cosdy pain. 

"Third, black people will no longer have to divine — as 
we have regularly to do in this anddiscrimination era — 
whether an employer, a realtor, or a proprietor wants to ex- 
clude them. The license will give them — and the world — 
ample notice. Those who seek to discriminate without a 
license will place their businesses at risk of serious, even ru- 
inous, penalties." 

"It seems crazy," I began. 

"Racism is hardly based on logic. We need to fight racism 
the way a forest ranger fights fire with fire." 

"Sounds to me," I said, "like trying to fight for civil rights 
the way Brer Rabbit got himself out of Brer Fox's clutches in 
the old Uncle Remus story."^' 

"Something like that." Geneva smiled, sensing that she 
was penetrating my skepticism. "In a bad situation he lacks 
the power to get out of, Brer Rabbit uses his wits. He 
doesn't waste any energy asking Brer Fox to set him free. 
He doesn't rely on his constitutional rights. Rather, he sets 
about pleading with Brer Fox that throwing him in the briar 
patch would be a fate worse than death. Convinced that the 
worst thing he could do to Brer Rabbit was the very thing 
Brer Rabbit didn't want him to do. Brer Fox threw Brer 
Rabbit right into the middle of the briar patch. And, of 
course, once in the brambles. Brer Rabbit easily slips 
through them and escapes." 

"So," I pursued, "even if civil rights advocates strenuously 
resisted seeing any benefits in the Racial Preference Licensing 
Act, they may have their consciousness raised so as to seek out 
other sorts of briar patch?" 

"Exactiy. Civil rights advocates must first see the racial 
world as it is, determined by the need to maintain economic 
stability. And then, in the light of that realit)-, they must try 



The Racial Preference l.icensing Act 63 

to structure both initiatives and responses. We need, for ex- 
ample, to push for more money and more effective plans for 
curriculum in aU-black schools rather than exhaust ourselves 
and our resources on ethereal integration in mainly white 
suburbs." 

Drawing a deep breath, she asked, "Do you understand?" 

"Understanding is not my problem," I replied. "It's convic- 
tion that comes hard. And selling your position will require real 
conviction on my part. Even so, before committing it to my 
book, I'll try it out in my next law review article." 

"I rather think law review editors and many of their readers 
will see my point more easily than you. They, unlike many of 
you who have worked for integration for decades, may not 
harbor fond hopes of America as having reached a racially 
integrated millennium. And they may be willing to look for 
potential gain even in the face of racial disaster. Perhaps if they 
accept your article, you will come to see the merits of my 
approach." 

"Geneva!" I protested. "I don't need a law review editor to 
give legitimacy to your far-out notions about race." 

She smiled. "Let's just say that the editor's approval will give 
my approach acceptabilitv\" 

"In other words, you're saying I'll see its merits if white 
folks think it is a good idea. I don't think that's fair." 

"Don't worry, friend. We black women are amazingly toler- 
ant of our men's frailties in that area. Speaking of which," she 
added, "I assume you will be sending me that new story of 
yours that tests black women's tolerance in the ever-sensitive 
area of interracial romance." 

I told her I would transmit it quite soon. Geneva rose to her 
full six feet. Still smiling, she bent and kissed me before head- 
ing toward the door. "Though you are impossible as ever, I 
have missed you." 

The usually squeaky door to my study opened and closed. 



64 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

still not rousing my two large Weimaraner hounds which, 
usually alert to the slightest sound, had slept soundly through 
Geneva's visit. 

Could I myself have been sleeping and imagined she'd been 
there? No, there on my monitor was every word of our con- 
versation, miraculously transcribed. 



CHAPTER 4 



The Last Black Hero 



The bomb's explosion at the antiracism rally was intended to 
wreak havoc. It did. Six people died. Dozens were injured. All 
were members of the militant, community-based organization 
Quad A (the African American Activist Association). Gravely 
injured in the explosion was the group's founder and leader, 
Jason Warfield. 

The bombing, far from precipitating the demise of Quad 
A — the goal of the white supremacists who carried out the 
attack — brought the organization thousands of new members, 
millions of dollars in contributions, and a national prestige that 
ensured their programs would be taken seriously by the media, 
by potential funding sources, and by the nation as a whole. 
From being just another black leader with a small though 
committed following, Jason Warfield became a national hope 
and, according to some blacks, "a true hero for his people." 

He surely looked the part; and his resonant voice and soul- 
stirring rhetoric only emphasized his deep commitment to 
black people. More important, he lived his heroic role. He had 
risked his life in every imaginable protest from month-long 



66 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

fasts to thousand-mile marches. He had been arrested and 
jailed and was the frequent target of threats and harassment. 

Jason was fiercely independent and took enormous pride in 
the fact that he said and did what he wanted to do, despite the 
opposition of whites who viewed as a distinct threat his mili- 
tant rhetoric and his growing support from blacks in all sec- 
tors. Those blacks applauded as whites winced. 

In a talk-show interview made just before the bombing and 
frequendy replayed after it, Jason said, "My goal is to see 
racism eliminated from America. Period. I know, though, that 
racism is such an important component in American life that 
I may not succeed. But," he added, "I am not deterred or 
discouraged. I plan to fight racism as long as I live." 

In the same interview, Jason spoke of his earlier life. "Ini- 
tially, I wanted to be a singer, serious music. My hero was Paul 
Robeson. People even thought I sounded a litde like him. 
Then I read a book about his life and decided that a singing 
career, even if I made it" — and he laughed — "was a trap in this 
schizophrenic society which welcomes and admires the talent 
of a black person like Robeson, but rejects him for his race. 
That's why," he said sadly, "so many talented black people 
who seem to have it made start acting like such damn fools. It's 
not that success has gone to their heads. It's that after years of 
struggle to achieve in athledcs or entertainment — fields that 
seem open to blacks — they come to see that the acclaim they 
receive is not for them, but for their talent. In this society they, 
as persons, are still 'niggers.' " 

After working his way through college, Jason explained, "I 
decided, as Paul Robeson did, to go to law school. I worked 
in civil rights law for a few years. It was exciting, but I became 
frustrated with the law's proclivity for preserving the status 
quo even at the cost of continuing inequities for black people. 
It was too much for me." 

"1 understand," the interviewer inquired, "that Dr. King was 
another of your heroes?" 



The hast Black Hero 67 

"In everything I do, I refer to King's writings, speeches, and 
especially his actions. He was my reason for turning to the 
ministry — I even went back to divinity school. King's life 
enabled me to realize — unlike most of my civil rights lawyer 
friends — that activism more than legal precedent is the key to 
racial reform. You can't just talk about, meet about, and pray 
about racial discrimination. You have to confront it, challenge 
it, do battle, and then " 

"That is what you do," the interviewer interrupted, "but 
what if ever)' black person in this country adopted Jason 
Warfield's militant stance? Would universal black militance 
end racism?" 

Jason shook his head. "Universal black militance would end 
black people. Whites could not stand it. Even now, many 
whites treat a militant speech — not action, mind you, but a 
speech, a presentation of rhetoric in public — like a revolution- 
ary conspiracy. When even a smaD group of blacks gather for 
some purpose more serious than a card party, whites get upset. 
Dr. King was deemed a militant black, as was Malcolm X, 
Medgar Evers, too many others. You get my point." 

The interviewer looked as though he had, but could not 
come up with a response. 

"Militant black leadership," Jason continued, "is like being 
on a bomb squad. It requires confidence in your skills and a 
courage able to survive the continuing awareness that you're 
messing with dynamite, but that someone has to do it. One 
mistake, and you're gone! Sometimes you're gone whether or 
not you make a mistake." 

The interviewer nodded. "But what are you saying about 
Quad A, given the history of black groups? I think of Marcus 
Garvey's 'back to Africa' movement of the 1920s, and Dr. 
King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, both of 
which floundered after their leaders were imprisoned or 
kiUed." 

"Yes, Quad A ain't no one-man band," acknowledged 



68 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Jason, lapsing from his customary formal speech. "It's danger- 
ous for black organizations to rely on the usual 'minister as 
messianic leader,' and we've learned to be ready to replace a 
leader at a moment's notice. That's why even though Quad A 
started in my church, we've delegated leadership widely within 
a broad organizational structure, so if anything happens to me, 
one of my deputies is capable of taking over. We won't miss 
a beat." 

Now miraculously recovered from his injuries and sched- 
uled to return to his leadership post in New York in a few days, 
Jason was no longer in physical pain. But he was suffering 
intense emotional distress as he considered how Quad A and 
black people generally would respond to an unexpected mani- 
festadon of his vaunted independence. 

As he sat in his hospital room staring out at the Arizona 
desert, he saw the source of his emotional turmoil drive into 
the parking lot. Through his window high up in the sanatorium 
complex, he had an unobstructed view of her sky-blue Z-240 
sports car ("my one extravagance undl you," she had told him) 
turning into the parking area, hesitate at a seemingly filled row, 
and then whip into what had to be the only open space in the 
huge lot. Jason smiled as he mentally chalked up another small 
victory for Sheila's sixth sense. "It serves her so well in every- 
thing," he mused — well, almost everything. 

Today might prove different. "Might," he said aloud to the 
empty room. Sheila was endded to and expected a more defi- 
nite response than "might." He owed his life to her medical 
skill, supplemented with her almost constant care. The anguish 
he was feeling now was caused not by his injuries, but by the 
doctor who had been responsible for healing them. That an- 
guish was compounded by the debt he owed the dedicated 
group of deputies who, despite dire predictions that Quad A 
would collapse without Jason's presence, had kept the move- 
ment together during his long convalescence. He knew they 
expected him to return to the racial wars unencumbered by a 



The Last Black Hero 69 

new love — particularly one not a member of their group. A 
majority of those deputies were black women. ">X^y not?" he 
had always responded when the question of their gender was 
raised. "They're all smart, hard-working, committed." "And," 
a news reporter once added, "fiercely loyal to you." 

It was true. They were loyal and knew he loved and respected 
them as they did him. Their relationships had many dimen- 
sions, none sexual. Romance was an occasional temptation, 
but Jason's years in the church had taught him about the 
troubles that followed romance with women in a congregation. 
Quad A's structure, while not reliant on one leader, remained 
too fragile to place at risk because of an affair. 

After Jason's injury, the deputies had selected Neva Brown- 
lee as acting director. Neva, daughter of a prominent Washing- 
ton, D.C., surgeon, had resigned a tenured professorship at the 
Howard Business School to join Quad A soon after Jason 
organized it. She had been his chief associate, and her manage- 
rial and fund-raising skills, together with Jason's leadership, 
had made Quad A an effective force. Despite the deputies' 
suspicions that Jason's feeling for Neva — and hers for him — 
might be personal, their relationship had not developed 
beyond mutual respect for each other's competence. 

Even so, Jason's reliance on Neva had grown over time, and 
he admired and depended on her counsel as well as organiza- 
tional skill. \X1iile attractive in a soft brown-skinned way, it was 
her wit and intelligence that enabled her to quietly dominate 
business meetings and charm social gatherings. She seemed 
weU prepared in every situation. 

His doctors had requested Neva not to contact him about 
Quad A business during what they feared would be a long and 
perilous recuperation. They did not want to dilute his chances 
for a full recovery in the quiet of the remote Arizona sanato- 
rium. Neva responded to her appointment as acting director 
by redistributing and sharing authorit}' even more widely than 



70 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

had been the case under Jason's leadership. As a result, the 
other deputies and their staffs redoubled their efforts. 

Neva, having lunch with her mother, poked thoughtfully at 
her tuna salad as she explained that she had not heard from 
Jason in the more than ten months since he had left. "I don't 
think it's his fault — but, Mom, I must admit Jason's silence is 
strange. Even a few words of support and encouragement 
would be helpful. He must know this. It's not at all like him." 

"Is that all?" her mother probed. 

"Oh, Mom, not you, too! The Quad A deputies are treating 
me as though I've been jilted by Jason. We were working 
associates, friends, and that's it!" 

"It's understandable. You two worked so closely together — 
and you do make a splendid-looking couple. No wonder some 
of your friends were skeptical when you told them you were 
joining Quad A just out of respect for the work Jason was 
doing." 

"I guess it may have seemed that way, considering I was 
giving up a tenured position at a good school, selling my 
house, and moving myself from D.C. to New York. But, Mom, 
I was really excited about Quad A's potential for a new kind 
of civil rights organization. We look to ourselves for every- 
thing — skills, money, workers, lawyers, everything! My feelings 
for Jason are based on mutual respect and the strong bonds of 
friendship that developed over our years of shared struggle. I 
love my work, and I like and respect the man I work with." 
Neva paused, then added wryly, "Given my romantic history, 
that may be about the best I can hope for in a relationship." 

Her mother nodded. Both recalled Neva's marriage soon 
after she finished college. Quite simply, it had been an unmiti- 
gated emotional disaster. A handsome, talented man, her hus- 
band had been immature and threatened by her intelligence. A 
second marriage had also ended when Neva discovered her 
husband engaged in an affair that had preceded her meeting 
him and not ended after the marriage. 



The hast Black Hero 71 

"Two failed marriages in seven years told me clearly that my 
work — not romance or marriage — would prove the reliable 
foundation in my life. Oh, I brooded about it for a time, but 
finally came to agree with you when you said to me one day 
when I was really low, 'Listen, honey, it takes an extraordinary 
man to be better than no man at all.' And, Mom, I think of that 
each time a friend's seemingly enviable relationship breaks up 
because the man has acted like a buUy, a dog, or a fool." 

"That's good abstract advice," her mother cautioned. "It 
doesn't tell me how you feel about Jason's silence. Have you 
tried to reach him?" 

"Several times. It's impossible to get through, and he 
doesn't answer my letters." Neva sighed. "Well, the medical 
reports indicate he should be released quite soon. I'll just have 
to wait — and so. Mom," she smiled, "let's stop the interroga- 
tion and talk about something else." 

Under other circumstances, Neva Brownlee and Sheila 
Bainbridge might have been close friends. They certainly 
shared similar characteristics: intelligence, persistence, and 
commitment. Their backgrounds, though, were the exact re- 
verse of what one might have expected. Neva, though black, 
was the child of professional parents who raised her in mainly 
white, upper-class neighborhoods. Until she entered Howard 
University, she had attended mainly white schools. Her inter- 
est in racial issues developed late, but finally gained priority 
over her business ambitions. 

Sheila, on the other hand, white and born privileged, had 
been raised by her mother in a succession of small apartments 
in Queens and the Bronx. When she was two. Sheila's wealthy 
father had abandoned her mother who, fiercely proud, refused 
to seek her husband's financial help, determining to raise 
Sheila alone while working in secretarial jobs. Sheila learned 
both how her black and Hispanic peers felt and reacted to 
racial discrimination, and came to understand herself the 
meaning of minority status. She was not ashamed to be white. 



72 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

but her closest friends growing up were black or Hispanic. 
Majoring in black studies in college reflected both her aca- 
demic interests and her already developed commitment to 
racial issues. 

With a mother's tutoring. Sheila's quick mind and com- 
pulsive study habits enabled her to transcend the uneven 
education available in the public schools. Aided by a series 
of scholarships, she — like a growing number of young pro- 
fessional students — resolved her dual attraction to both law 
and medicine by earning degrees in both professions. Medi- 
cine had proven the greater challenge, and her work with 
traumatic injuries at Harlem Hospital had won her both re- 
spect among her peers and a staff position at the Arizona 
hospital that specialized in the treatment of the seriously in- 
jured. It was there that Jason was brought and placed under 
her care. 

Jason glanced at his watch. Sheila had left town for two weeks 
and promised to return at four that afternoon. It was now just 
a few minutes after two. Did she plan to surprise him by 
arriving early? Not like her. She knew as well as he what was 
at stake. He watched her leave the car and then walk away from 
his building and toward a small park that overlooked the 
miles-long expanse of the artificial lake that provided welcome 
relief to the endless cactus and desert. 

During the last few months when he had been able to walk 
again, Sheila had accompanied him to that small park on 
innumerable occasions. And there she had announced one 
evening, "^'ou know, Jason, your recovery is going extremely 
well, but I'm turning over your medical care to another doctor." 

At his look of hurt and surprise, she explained, "It's both 
unwise and unethical to have a love affair with your patient." 

Jason protested, "We've talked, we've held hands, but there 
hasn't been any, you know " 

"There hasn't been any, and that's the point," Sheila said. "I 



The hast Black Hero 73 

don't know where our relationship is going, but I can't pretend 
that seeing you as frequendy as I do is solely for your care and 
treatment. Freed of my medical responsibility, I hope we can 
be friends, discuss all the things we share and care about, and 
see where it leads." 

After that evening, they walked a great deal and talked daily 
on that park bench. As their feeling for each other grew, they 
found they didn't have to talk all the time but were comfort- 
able sitting in silence, looking out over the water toward the 
mountains far off in the distance. Even after acknowledging 
their love for one another, they recognized that the social 
barriers to their relationship were as serious as those facing 
Romeo and Juliet. "But," Jason assured Sheila and she agreed, 
"we — unlike Shakespeare's doomed lovers — are not teenag- 
ers. We are mature adults committed to our professional mis- 
sions in life." 

Now Sheila sat on their bench and contemplated alone the 
scene they had so often shared. Seeing her even from a dis- 
tance reminded him of how much he had missed her. He was 
tempted to go down, join her in the park, and tell her so. He 
hesitated. She had carved out this time to think, to prepare 
herself to hear his response to her proposal, made before she 
left town, that she return to New York with him. 

"Despite our love," she had said, "I think I know all the 
reasons you may never ask me to marry you. It is such a hateful 
paradox. You have fought racial barriers imposed by whites. 
Yet your concern about a barrier erected by blacks threatens 
our future together. I cannot and will not change what I am: 
a white woman. But, Jason, I reject all the privileges society has 
bestowed upon me because of my race, and accept willingly all 
the burdens of yours, including a decision that you must return 
to your work without me. This is presumptuous, but I want to 
go back with you. I think I can find work in New York, and 
I know I can make you happy." 

Jason glanced at his watch. A quarter to four. He looked out 



74 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

the window. Sheila was sdll sitting in the park, but in a few 
moments she would leave and enter his building. He could 
almost hear her familiar knock at his door. 

Jason closed his eyes and, as much in inquiry as in prayer, 
asked, "Lord, why was I spared? By every estimate, the bomb 
that exploded near the podium where I was standing should 
have killed me. Others died. I live. Why? Surely, I was not 
saved to fall in love with Sheila and make her, rather than my 
death, the instrument that will — as the bomb didn't — destroy 
Quad A?" 

He sat in quiet contemplation. He had explored all the 
issues. Surely the answer he sought could be found both in 
Moses' tablets and in Jesus' clear and seemingly simple teach- 
ings. His Sermon on the Mount was his greatest miracle. 
Religious belief aside, it contained sufficient wisdom to sustain 
and uplift any life. But, in fact, those teachings condemned 
Jesus to the cross. The religion He inspired — founded in His 
Hebrew heritage — had led as many souls to destruction as 
salvation. And yet the slave singers in the Old South had been 
sufficiently touched by the message in Matthew 7:7 to fashion 
it into a hymn of faith: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and 
ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Jason 
smiled as he hummed the spiritual and waited for his answer 
to come. 

Long before receiving the anonymous letter with the photo- 
graph of Jason and Sheila seated on the park bench, their arms 
entwined, Neva had sensed that his long silence reflected 
something more than hospital policy. The picture, though 
grainy and blurred by the telephoto lens used in its surrepti- 
tious shooting, clearly revealed two people very much in love. 
The writer of the typed note threatened to send copies of the 
print to the other Quad A deputies unless Neva purchased the 
negative at a large price which she knew would only guarantee 
future demands for more money. 



The Last Black Hero 75 

Requesting that she not be disturbed, Neva closed her 
office door and for an hour allowed alternate waves of pain 
and rage to sweep through her. She was beyond tears. "How 
could you do this to me, to us, to them?" There was no 
answer, and she knew deep down that no answer would 
suffice. She recognized as well that there was time for neither 
grief nor rage. It would be better if Quad A's staff learned 
from her about the photograph and heard her deny its impli- 
cations. She resolved to meet with them later today and re- 
mind them of the seriousness of Jason's injuries and that the 
note said the woman was his doctor. Jason hugged every- 
body. This embrace could have been gratitude rather than 
passion. She would urge them to wait until he returned to 
explain. She, too, would try to wait. 

Late that night, Neva reviewed the long day's events with 
her mother. 

"That was a courageous thing you did today, Neva. I'm 
proud of you." 

"I don't deserve praise. Mom. I'm so angry, so hurt. I tried 
to explain that photo, but as impossible as it seems, I'm afraid 
that Jason, my boss, my hero — yes, someone who, if things 
had worked out, might have become my love — this man is 
going with a white woman. 

"You know. Mom, we black women are always being re- 
minded of how marginal and unworthy we are. We're never 
smart enough or beautiful enough or supportive, sexy, under- 
standing, and resourceful enough to deserve a good black 
man." 

"But, Neva," her mother protested, "suppose Jason's doc- 
tor had been black, would you feel less hurt?" 

"You're damn right I would! Sure, I'd be disappointed that, 
after working four years with me, he chose someone else 
without even giving our relationship a chance, but I wouldn't 
feel rejected as a person." 

"You shouldn't jump to conclusions about Jason that you 



76 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

urged Quad A's members to put aside until tie returns," her 
mother counseled. 

"Oh, he loves her all right! And he will bring her back here. 
I know Jason." 

"And will you then resign?" 

Neva shook her head. "I just don't know. I'm afraid Quad 
A would not survive my departure. I don't want to do that to 
the millions of black people who can benefit if Quad A contin- 
ues its programs. Moreover, it would simply confirm what 
many in the group will think: that Jason has betrayed Quad A 
and me. 

"In fact," she continued, "he may have discovered what I've 
been trying to get across to Quad A's deputies during the last 
year: that true love knows no boundaries of race and politics. 
For black women in particular to hold the view that we can 
never marry a white man is the real legacy of slavery and an 
unjustified restriction on choices already rendered far too nar- 
row by the society's devastation of so many black men. 

"If you can believe it. Mom, I've been urging more toler- 
ance of black people who choose interracial love and 
marriage." 

"And now Jason has given you the chance to prove you're 
ready to practice your egalitarian theory," her mother said. "It's 
a terrible choice, but one you needn't make tonight. VCTiy not 
wait a few days before you decide?" 

"Waiting isn't my style. Mom. And I've been working my 
tail off for over a year building this organization and readying 
it for a big push when Jason returns. Now he has put all of our 
efforts in jeopardy, and for what? No, Mom, I can't just wait, 
though Lord knows what I should do!" 

"I have faith you'll do what's best, dear." 

"Remember, Mom," Neva said wearily, "you warned me 
once that in a racist society, our black men's self-esteem is 
under constant attack, so that black women should be a source 
of strength and comfort for them." 



The Last Black Hero 11 

"I continue to believe that's our responsibility." 
"Perhaps," Neva said quiedy. "But, Mom, how do we ac- 
cept our responsibility' in the face of betrayal and maintain the 
respect that was a basis for our love and caring in the first 
place?" 

Sheila sat staring at the lake without really seeing it. The 
two-week "vacation" she had told Jason she was taking to give 
him space to consider her marriage offer was only part of the 
reason for her West Coast trip. She had also been searching for 
a new job. Hospital officials, appalled at her so obviously 
having some sort of relationship with a patient, and a black one 
at that, had suspended her, allegedly for violating their doctor- 
patient regulations. She knew she had been scrupulous in her 
dealings with Jason while he was her patient, and understood 
that racism was the real reason for their censure. She told them 
as much in her letter of resignation, an action that — as she had 
discovered on her trip — would not make it easier to find 
another position. 

At this moment, though, her thoughts were on Jason and 
the agony her proposal was causing him. "What," she asked 
herself, "does a man who is decisive and fearless do when he 
is rendered indecisive and afraid?" She knew he was deeply 
concerned about the fate of Quad A, of the black community, 
and of his place in history. But he was, after all, Jason Warfield, 
the last black hero, fearless and decisive. He would marry her 
and make it work for him, for them. Won't he? Shouldn't he? 
Is he not his own man? 

For a brief moment, her spirits soared on the wings of 
optimism and then, pierced by an arrow of realit}', spiraled 
down to earth with a pit-of-the-stomach-jarring thud. Why had 
she done it? Love was the easy answer, but she was old enough 
to understand the thrust of the tide to Tina Turner's hit song 
"What's Love Got to Do with It?'" What, indeed? Love is 
more than a passion that flows with an energy of its own and 



78 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

eschews any sense of responsibility. Real love connotes com- 
mitment and the acceptance of responsibility. 

She had offered to marry him, she said, to give him a choice, 
but it was the crudest of Hobson's choices — the kind of 
choice, she realized, white people give blacks all the time. "You 
can have this job, promotion, house, membership, provided 
you subordinate your thinking to ours and don't make waves 
on racial issues. Be acceptable and, if possible, grateful." 

Her proposal was not as condescending as many; but had 
she been totally honest, her marriage proposal should have 
been, "Jason, I love you and want to marry you. In conformity 
with the age-old pattern of black sacrifice to serve white needs, 
will you risk your leadership role in Quad A and the respect 
you've earned in the black community in return for my love?" 

Sheila shuddered and shook her head. "No!" she said 
aloud to the desert air. She simply would not use her love for 
him or his for her as the basis for perpetuating in their rela- 
tionship the pattern of black sacrifice. She must give him his 
freedom whether he wanted it or not. Her decision made. 
Sheila rose wearily from the park bench and started toward 
the hospital. Then, eyes brimming with tears and her deter- 
mination wavering, she returned to the bench and cried. Fi- 
nally, she dabbed her eyes dry with her handkerchief. It was 
almost four o'clock. Jason was expecting her. 

One of Jason's admonitions to Quad A members was to 
make sacrifices for the things you believe in. Well, she was 
giving up Jason for her belief in what? Not Quad A, whose 
members would never believe her love for him was real. Not 
even for Jason, whose terrible ambivalence had made her 
decision necessary. No, she was making this sacrifice for her 
belief that it was right. Painful, but right. 

The knock on his door relieved Jason's tension. Uncertain 
though he remained, he felt he would make the right decision. 
"Come in Sheila," he called. 



The Last Black Hero 79 

The door opened, and a soft voice asked, "May I come in?" 

"Neva, how did you get ?" Jason's voice trailed off in 

the shock of seeing her. He realized suddenly how much he'd 
missed her. 

"Hello, Jason," said Neva as calmly as she could in the equal 
shock of seeing him after so many months. "I decided it was 
time to take you home, and I flew out this morning." She bit 
her lip, fighting to control emotions that — kept in rein since 
she had received the letter — now threatened to overwhelm 
her. 

"It's great to see you." Jason was standing now. 

"I'm afraid, Jason, that what some of us consider bad news 
travels fast." She opened her bag and brought out the black- 
mail letter, the grainy photograph, and a copy of the statement 
she had made to top Quad A members. Her hand trembling, 
she handed him the envelope. "I think you should take a look 
at these, and then whatever you want to tell me I guess I'm 
ready to hear." 

Jason felt weaker than he had in weeks. He read both letter 
and statement and then held them in his hand, wondering what 
to say. 

Neva spoke first. "Lord knows, I have tried to under- 
stand — but, Jason, how could you allow yourself to fall in love 
with her? Did you think what it would mean to all the black 
women who idolize you, who pray daily for your recovery, 
who view you as their model of what black men should be?" 

Neva continued, seeking to answer her question. "Oh, I 
realize that Quad A's work is frenetic, high-energy, intense, and 
crisis-oriented. Here, on the other hand, the atmosphere is 
relaxed and calm, and the relationship with your doctor is one of 
dependency and intense trust and intimacy. In this setting, you 
were far more vulnerable to a romantic relationship." 

"Neva," Jason interrupted, "you don't have to make excuses 
for me." 

"You misunderstand. I am saying that I can imagine how 



80 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

any seriously injured man might fall in love with his beautiful 
female doctor, but, Jason, you're not just any man. You are our 
ideal, our hero." 

"It's a tide I never wanted and should not have accepted. 
Lying in this bed, I realized that, in making me your hero, you 
wished to ascribe to me perfection I could never attain. By 
your attachment, you sought to gain a measure of that perfec- 
tion for yourselves. I am Jason Warfield. I am not God in 
heroic form come to save you. The best I can do is to try and 
save myself and perhaps in my struggle serve as model for you 
and others as you seek salvation in your own lives." 

"But what kind of model are you Jason when you preach 
taking care of the sisters and then forsake us for a white 
woman? It's a departure from everything you said you stood 
for. I understand love is blind, but I don't see why you want 
to enter what wiD be a conflicted, uncomfortable relationship! 

"Damn you for a hypocrite!" she said hotiy. "Isn't it you 
who are always cautioning black men, 'Watch out lest the white 
woman come to represent a rite of passage to the status of 
whiteness? Because she's the model of beauty and feminin- 
ity' " — Neva was mimicking Jason's deep voice, her arms 
folded, her legs apart in one of his characteristic stances — " 'a 
white woman will appear to provide a black man with access 
to formerly restricted areas and also symbolize achiev^ement. 
In particular, black men who acquire a measure of education, 
wealth, or status feel that dating white women is like moving 
out of the ghetto — a way of doing better for yourself.' " 

"Just calm down, Neva," Jason said, on the verge of losing 
his famous cool. "I feel bad about disappointing you — and the 
others at Quad A. But I don't have to stand here and take your 
abuse. Hell, I've never advocated hate for whites as a compo- 
nent of our black pride program. Of course, we emphasize and 
encourage the forming and maintenance of strong black fami- 
lies as an essential for survival in a hostile racist society'. But 
Quad A has never barred membership to interracial couples." 



Tbe Last Black Hero 81 

"No, Jason, but we do every damned thing we can to 
encourage black men" — she was mimicking him again — " 'to 
look to the sisters,' as you said, 'and do not forsake them.' And, 
'in black women,' you used to tell us, 'you will find both 
counsel and civility, love and support, friendship and faithful- 
ness, probity and integrity. For the black man, the black 
woman is the equivalent of home.' 

"There!" Neva concluded. "Just to show you what a fool I 
was, I memorized that homily of yours, believed it, preached 
it to others when — evidendy — I should have been shouting it 
to you." 

Despite herself, the tears were streaming down her face. 
Jason felt close to tears himself. He lowered his voice. "You 
didn't have to, Neva. I believed myself what I told others. I 
came here to get well, not to faU in love. I didn't want it to 
happen. To the extent that I considered entering a serious 
personal reladonship with anyone, I guess it was with you." 

It was, he realized immediately, a well-intended but ill-timed 
admission of his earlier interest in her. 

"Now you tell me! Now you tell me!" Neva sputtered. "Is 
that supposed to be a compliment? Am I and other black 
women the Avis of sexual choice for you black men? 'Hey, 
black women, you are still Number Two! You will simply have 
to try harder!' Give me a break!"? 

Unable to bear looking at Jason, Neva turned and stared out 
the window. Her breath was coming in sharp stabs, and in 
addition to her tears, her nose was running. She started to open 
her bag for a handkerchief, then stopped. To hell with it! she 
thought. The last thing I care about is looking good for that — 
that traitor. "Is it any wonder," she said more to the desert 
landscape than to him, "that so many black women view black 
men who choose white women with deep skepticism? Is it any 
goddamned wonder?" 

"Neva, save the black woman rhetoric. I've heard it aU 
before. But having a bomb go off almost under your feet, 



82 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

one that kills your friends and damn near kills you can 
change your outlook on a lot of things. Sheila literally put me 
back together. I was grateful, of course, but then I realized 
she's quite a woman, quite a human being. I feel really alive 
in her presence." 

Neva mrned from the window and stared at Jason, hearing 
him but not believing the strange words coming from that 
familiar voice. "You betrayed us! You told us over and over 
these five years that Quad A's work is too important to risk a 
relationship with me or one of the other black deputies. But 
now all your concerns evaporate, become mere 'image,' after 
a few months of close contact with a white woman. For her, 
you're willing to risk destruction of your organization as well 
as the hopes of vast numbers of black people." 

Even through her anger, Neva realized that Jason had al- 
ready answered her question. She tried to calm down and made 
her question more general. "Jason, tell me, why do the very 
men black women pray for — sensitive, successful warriors for 
truth and communit}', courage and integrity — always marry 
white women — women whose interest in our culture just hap- 
pens always to include taking our most desirable men?" 

Jason felt Neva's distress and wanted to help her. "I real- 
ize this is tough for you to hear. It was tough for me. I've 
imagined aU manner of fantasies to explain how this could 
have happened." 

"Such as?" Neva asked, skepticism clear in her voice. 

"Well, you said yourself that recovering from my almost 
fatal injuries left me vulnerable in a way I was not back at Quad 
A. What if my injuries caused by the bomb blast had included 
blindness? What if, while I was recuperating in this remote 
place. Sheila had come as doctor and then become, as she has, 
the most important person in my life? My inability' to see 
would not have insulated me from her warmth, her wisdom, 
her grace, and, after a time, her love." 

Neva's sigh of dismay was close to a cry of pain. But Jason 



The Last Black Hero 83 

decided to continue. "Despite my oft-stated resolve to remain 
singlemindedly committed to Quad A, I might have fallen in 
love with Sheila's presence and then her person, without ever 
knowing until I regained my sight that she was not my ultimate 
African queen, as her melodiously throaty voice, her knowl- 
edge of black history, and her love of black culture would have 
led me to believe. If, in short, I had not realized Sheila was 
white, could I not plead some form of romantic entrapment?" 

Neva sighed again and slowly shook her head. "Your decep- 
tion defense won't work, Jason. In fact, it is more than a little 
insulting to me and to all black women. The sum of my 
existence is not confined to a knowledge of black history and 
a love of black culture. My identity cannot be so readily appro- 
priated by any white woman — to the extent that even a blind 
black man would mistake her for me." 

The silence that ensued after Neva's statement was inter- 
rupted by another knock on the door. This time Jason was sure 
he knew who it was. He sighed. 

"Come in. Sheila." 

For just an instant. Sheila was startled to see Jason had a 
visitor. Then she realized instinctively who the woman must 
be, why she was there. 

Establishing her claim to Jason, she kissed him quickly on 
the forehead, then turned to Neva. "You must be Neva 
Brownlee. I've seen you on the news talking about Quad A. 
Welcome to Sanctus Sanatorium!" she said, trying for ease in 
what was clearly a thorny situation. 

"So," Neva stated flatiy, "you're Dr. Sheila Bainbridge." 

Then, with one accord, the two women turned expectandy 
toward Jason. He, deep in his self-inflicted distress, hoped, for 
just an instant, that some undiscovered but devastating com- 
ponent of his injury might strike him down and remove him 
from this impossible predicament. 

"Neva," Jason began slowly, looking at her, "I at least owe 
you candor. Sheila has been away for two weeks so we could 



84 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

each try to decide the future of what you have learned is our 
romance. Despite the sleazy source of your information, that 
romance is based on a love that is real. I am hoping we can be 
married soon." 

As Jason looked intently at Neva, Sheila felt like an intruder 
eavesdropping on a conversation by her lover about their 
love — and thus hardly welcomed hearing either Jason's protes- 
tation of love or his decision to marry her. Deciding to follow 
his lead, she also addressed Neva. 

"Ms. Brownlee, Jason is right. We are in love. But I have 
decided that I can't marry Jason — not because of his race, but 
because of mine. I know and think I understand how black 
people, and particularly black women, feel about losing one of 
their most able men in an interracial marriage. I'm afraid it 
would destroy Quad A. I simply will not do that to Jason or 
to black people." 

Neva was furious. "Just a minute, Dr. Bainbridge! You need 
not play the martyr to save Quad A. We can survive and 
continue to grow whatever you and Jason do." 

Sheila responded evenly, trying not to reveal her emotions. 
"My martyrdom, as you call it, may be as objectionable to you 
as your self-righteousness is to me. We both have strong 
attachments to the black community. And we both have suf- 
fered because of them." 

"Given your knowledge of black history," Neva said, "you 
will understand that Jason is not the first black leader who has 
failed to live up to the people's expectations and hopes. I 
doubt he'll be the last. He has, in fact, provided us with a 
needed, if unwanted, reminder that human heroes have feet of 
clay." 

Neva's words to Sheila hit Jason like a blow to the stomach, 
taking his breath, rendering him speechless. He remembered — 
too late — why he had determined not to get involved in any 
romantic situations at Quad A. And saw as well that he had 



The Last Black Hero 85 

himself fallen into the interracial trap he had warned other black 
men to stay clear of. 

"When you reveal your relationship with Dr. Bainbridge," 
Neva continued, turning to him, "Quad A may have a rough 
time for a while. They'll know her only as 'that white woman.' 
But if you both return and she joins you in our work, there's 
just a chance that Quad A can equal the acceptance many black 
families achieve when one of their children marries a white 
person. I assume, Jason, that Dr. Bainbridge has qualities — 
other than her race — that attract you. In time. Quad A mem- 
bers may recognize them as well. Since, as I understand it, she 
is a law\'er as well as a doctor, surely she has skiUs we could 
use." 

"You can't be serious!" Sheila interjected. "Quad A certainly 
wouldn't accept me as a staff member." 

"On the contrary. Dr. Bainbridge, that may be the only way 
you can gain acceptance and perhaps prove that your concern 
for our cause is not limited to capturing one of our best black 
men." 

"And what will you do, Neva, if we both return?" Jason 
asked. 

Neva's control escaped her. "Isn't it a bit late in the game 
for you to become concerned about my welfare, Jason? After 
not hearing from you for a year, I assumed you didn't care how 
I felt as long as I kept your organization running for you. I'll 
do what is best for Quad A. Someone," she added, "has to give 
the organization priority over their personal feelings." 

"You seem to forget, Ms. Brownlee," Sheila said with a hint 
of irritation, "I have decided not to return with Jason, and I'm 
certainly not going to disrupt Quad A by tr\ing to join its 
staff." 

"Oh, you'll return with him," said Neva. "Jason can be verv' 
persuasive when he wants to be. And I gather he wants you! I 
don't think there is anything either of us can do about that." 



86 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

She stood and headed for the door. "I'm planning to take 
the late flight back to New York. I expect you'll let me know 
when you plan to arrive. I'll try to keep things going until " 

"Neva," Jason interrupted, "I owe you a great deal." 

"Yes, Jason, you do, and I wish you didn't. I'll see you both 
in New York." 

After Neva closed the door, Sheila and Jason looked at one 
another for a long time. 

"Well," Jason said finally, "Neva was right. Quad A needs 
your medical and legal skills. I hope you will join our struggle." 

She hesitated. "I would love to work with you and your 
group — if they'd have me — but I don't think I can compete 
with Neva one on one. It's obvious she came to see you as 
much out of devotion to Quad A as out of love for you." 

"You don't have to compete with her," Jason assured 
Sheila. "We can get married right away." 

"I've never believed the law of marriage could ensure a 
continuance of love." 

"Then I'll resign from Quad A," he said with determination. 
"I do love you, Sheila." 

"I know you mean that here, where we've spent so much 
time together, away from the real world. But you must return 
to your world, the only world you know. What wiD happen to 
our relationship then? It's awfully risky, Jason." 

He took her in his arms and whispered, "Life is a risk. 
Sheila — and Quad A and you and Neva and I are all part of 
life. We might as well face up to whatever it brings." 

Holding Jason close. Sheila took a deep breath and exhaled 
slowly. "Neva was right. You can be very convincing. But this 
has been quite an ordeal," she added, moving away, "and you 
should get some rest. I'll come back tomorrow." 

She kissed Jason, again on the forehead, but with far less 
confidence than she had an hour earlier. 

"And you'll make our plane reservations?" Jason asked. 

Sheila hesitated at the door. Shaking her head in dis- 



The Last Black Hero 87 

belief, she heard herself say, "Yes, Jason, I will make the 
reservations." 

He sank down on the bed and for a long time simply lay 
there, staring at the ceiling, unseeing and numb. Both Sheila 
and Neva deserved better than the unheroic mess he had 
created by trying to do right in a situation where every choice 
was a snare, every decision a trap. 

"Black hero, indeed!" he sighed to himself. "If that's how 
they viewed me, I certainly hope I am the last black hero. Our 
people must rely on their faith in God and themselves. Human 
beings may be able to inspire that faith. They cannot replace it 
and should not try." 

He had prayed for life to continue the fight for his people's 
rights and well-being — a fight based on his confidence that he 
would intuitively know what direction to take, what policy to 
adopt, which to reject. Now his confidence was being under- 
mined — or perhaps challenged — by, of all things, his involve- 
ment in an interracial romance. 

Well, he thought, white folks will be pleased or, at least, 
relieved. Somehow, the once unthinkable act for a black 
man — marriage to a white woman — was now seen by whites 
as proof that black men in such relationships were, despite 
their militant rhetoric, not really dangerous. On the other 
hand, blacks — and particularly black women — felt generally as 
Neva did: betrayed. 

He did not face this alone. Both Sheila and Neva would also 
have decisions to make, challenges to confront. Love was 
surely not the answer to America's racial problems, but who 
knows? Perhaps their decisions would suggest new policies 
that would reach both whites and blacks. 

Jason pulled himself up, soaked a towel in cold water from 
the washbasin, and buried his face in its redeeming coolness. 
He felt better — not heroic, but better. He went to a closet and 
pulled out his suitcase. 

As he began packing, the words of "I Don't Feel No Ways 



88 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Tired" ran through his head — a favorite old gospel song, he 
remembered, of Neva's. Then, encouraged by its message 
and — strangely — by his memory of her humming it as she 
worked, he opened his mouth and sang: 

/ don't feel no ways tired. 

I've come too far from where I started from. 

Nobody told me that the road would be easy. 

I don't believe He brought me this far, to leave me. 



CHAPTER 5 

Divining a Racial Realism Theory 



For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is 
dead also. — James 2:26 



Crack! Zing! The shot and the bullet's ricocheting off the tree 
stump were almost instantaneous. 

Then silence. I should have thrown myself down beside the 
log for protection. But I was too scared to move. I just sat, 
trying to recover from the shock. A year in New York Cit)' had 
made me wary of the numerous dangers that can befall its 
citizens there. But way out here in Oregon, surrounded by 
scenic beauty and the marvelous quiet of the deep woods? 
Well! I took a deep breath. Still shaking, I tried to get myself 
under control. 

It was my first trip back to Oregon in several years. After 
seeing a few old friends, I managed to get away in a rented car 
to a national park in the Willamette Valley. I had left the car 
and walked for an hour along a seldom-traveled dirt road. The 
clearing I had selected was in the midst of a grove of old- 
growth trees. They stood like giant, two-centuries-old survi- 
vors of nature's challenges. But with the government's forestry 
policy now motivated by short-term greed, it was far from 



90 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

clear how long even the most beautiful of the old trees would 
be left standing. 

Carrying only a light lunch and a briefcase containing my 
portable computer, I had hoped to do some writing in this 
scenic setting. Until a moment ago, it had seemed a splendid 
idea. Now, alone, an hour's hike from my car, I might be 
someone's idea of live (for the moment) target practice. 

I glanced at the computer. The screen was still lit, but there 
was a deep, fresh gash in the log near where the computer was 
sitting, a dent I most certainly had not made. 

"Sir, I'm very sorry." I looked up and there, not twent)^ feet 
away, was a sturdy white woman, probably in her mid-thirties. 
She was dressed in camouflage battle fatigues and sported a 
long-billed baseball cap over disheveled blonde hair. She ex- 
uded a sort of frenetic energy, which made the semiautomatic 
rifle in her hands seem all the more lethal. 

"May I join you?" she asked, and again apologized, "I am 
truly sorry." 

I managed to shrug my shoulders. Someone my age should, 
I thought, not allow himself to become this frightened. As she 
walked toward me, I took a few more deep breaths, hoping the 
air would clear my head, and finally managed, "Well, this gives 
me still another reason to favor strict gun control!" 

"Liberals like you," she said sternly, "look to gun control 
laws to protect you from danger the way an ostrich looks for 
a hole to bury its head in. If prohibition didn't keep people 
from buying liquor, why do you think gun control laws will 
keep people from buying guns? All those laws will just bid up 
the price and increase the market for guns by turning a com- 
modity into a possession even more prized because it's illegal." 

When I simply stared at her, she added, "Well, don't you 
agree?" 

"I certainly do not agree that guns should become a com- 
modity, like TV sets or VCRs." 

"Neither do I," she shot back, "but they will always be 



Divining a Kacial Kealism Theory 91 

a popular possession in a society where gross disparities in 
opportunity, resources, and wealth breed frustration, vio- 
lence, and crime." 

I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing. That really set 
her off. "Shame!" she said vehemendy. "You, a black man of 
all people, shouldn't be simply mouthing the traditional liberal 
line. I wasn't tr\dng to shoot you, but there are plenty of whites 
who would like nothing better. What if I'd been out to kill you? 
I bet you're not carrying a gun, and that computer is proof that 
even an electronic pen is not more powerful than a sword — at 
least not out here in the wilds." 

As my senses started to return, my annoyance surfaced. 
"Ms. " 

"Erika Wechsler, but call me Erika." 

"O.K., Erika, your so-called wilds is a national park. vVnd 1 
came out here for peace and quiet, not to defend myself in a 
gun batde. I'm armed with the only thing I need to write and, 
while your shot just missed it, my computer is still functioning. 
So I accept your apologies, please be more careful with that 
thing, and good " 

"You can't dismiss a person with a gun, Professor," she 
interrupted, her voice level. "I'm not one of your students." 

Starded, I asked her how she knew what I did. 

"My father was a law professor. You talk like he did. And 
it's obvious you're as compulsive as he was, coming all the way 
out here to work when any sensible person would be simply 
enjoying the scenery. Plus, your folders read 'Constitutional 
Law class notes and Civil Rights seminar.' I mean, how many 
clues do I need?" 

"Bravo!" I said wearily. "But, really, I need to get to work." 

"O.K.," Erika said. "But, first, tell me what you're working 
on. Don't look so pained," she added. "I went to law school. 
Finished, too, for my father's sake. But hated every minute of 
it. Law practice wasn't much better, though my degree gives 
me protection against lawyers. They start all that technical crap 



92 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

on me, I look them dead in the eye: 'Buster,' I say, 'I went to 
law school, too. Don't give me that!' They usually straighten 
right up and talk sense." 

"So," 1 hedged, "you're a lawyer, but don't like law?" 

"Wrong. I'm fascinated by law, but law school teaches a 
great deal about appellate opinions and very litde about the 
law." 

I thought she'd hit the nail on the head, and said so. 

"Hmm," Erika said approvingly. "Not many law teachers 
agree. Perhaps you're different. Still" — she gave me a hard 
look — "you're old enough to be one of those civil-rights- 
lawyer types who believe it's enough to rely on law to secure 
rights for your people. Am I right?" 

"Yes," I replied, surprised, "that's what I was — once. For 
years I believed law was the answer, and I still teach law, 
including civil rights law. Now, though, I'm convinced that 
racism is a permanent part of the American landscape. The 
problem is that as soon as I express the view that racism 
cannot be vanquished by the enactment and vigorous enforce- 
ment of strong civil rights laws, most people conclude that I 
have given up, or surrendered, or, worse, sold out. Actually, I 
think they know better. The real problem is that my view — 
that racism is permanent — conflicts with and seems inimical to 
their world view. Moreover, many people, particularly civil 
rights advocates, have feared even to consider it — much less 
discuss it. Their reaction is usuaUy reactionary' and rarely grap- 
ples with the real question. I tr)' to explain that a realisdc 
appraisal of racism's crucial role in the societ}', far from being 
capitulation, would enable us to recognize the potential for 
effecting reform in even what appear to be setbacks." I 
thought of Geneva's Racial Preference Licensing Act, but 
decided not to go into its details with Erika. "At the least," I 
told her, "understanding the true namre of racism would equip 
us to weather its myriad harms." 

"But, Professor, you're always dealing with theories and 



Divining a Racial Realism Theory 93 

abstractions. Many of the civil rights veterans you upset are 
committed to the tangible, to what they see as real — including, 
paradoxically enough, traditional symbols like racial justice, 
equal opportunit\% even integration." 

"You're right, Erika," I acknowledged. "Having devoted 
much of their lives to instilling meaning, substance, even life 
into these concepts, they see their efforts eroding in the current 
reactionary^ climate. That's bad enough. Then I, a privileged 
law teacher, one to whom they look for encouragement, tell 
them — as they see it — that their beloved concepts were always 
empty, that they could never be realized. That's pretty scary 
stuff. All things considered, I guess I'm lucky they still let me 
talk — even though they refuse to listen." 

Erika looked thoughtful. "It looks as though my stray shot 
was a happy accident rather than a near tragedy." 

"Meaning?" 

"Meaning that my work could prove of great help to yours. 
If I were you, I'd give me a few minutes to explain the racial 
realism project I'm working on." 

"Two minutes." I looked at my watch. 

"Good." She put down her heavy rifle. "Though it will 
probably take five minutes for me to teU you about my 
group. We call ourselves White Citizens for Black Survival, 
or WCBS. Our program has two prongs. First, the policy 
phase we call 'racial realism.' Then the activist phase, in 
which we aim to build a nationwide network of secret shel- 
ters to house and feed black people in the event of a black 
holocaust or some other all-out attack on America's historic 
scapegoats." 

"A late-twentieth-centur\' underground railroad!" I ex- 
claimed. "You can't be serious?" 

'Y'ou — and other blacks as well — need to get serious. What 
precisely would you do if they came for you? How would you 
protect your family? Where could you go? How get there? You 
have money. Could you get access to it if the government 



94 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

placed a hold on the assets in your checking and savings 
accounts?" 

"I thought I was paranoid about whites, but you, Erika, a 
white, and a lawyer at that! Your paranoia is unnerving. How 
did you get involved with this group?" 

"I'm one of the founders. We're a collective of whites 
dedicated to doing what we can to shield blacks from the worst 
dangers of racism. This may sound paternalistic, but it's not. 
To last in WCBS, one must try to be as sensitive to racial 
subordination as a member of the oppressor class can be: 
aware of what went on in the past beyond history's received 
truths, and cognizant of the fact that slavery, for example, tried 
to dehumanize blacks, and failed, and didn't try to dehumanize 
whites, but succeeded." 

**The usual but almost never perceived outcomes of oppres- 
sion," I interjected. 

She nodded. "We understand it and are determined to avoid 
in ourselves the oppressors' penalty. We try to understand 
contemporary racism and the role it plays in American law, 
because law has always been a powerful expression of ruling 
interests. We believe that America's race problem is a white 
problem. We have determined to take personal responsibility 
for racism. Those of us living in isolated areas are in the 
process of altering our homes to hide, feed, and otherwise take 
care of black refugees. All of us undergo rigorous spiritual, 
moral, and military training. The last because we may have to 
launch attacks in order to defend blacks in a crisis." 

"Shades of John Brown's body!" I said, in nervous jest. 

But Erika, not getting it, asked, "How did you know that's 
what my brigade is called?" 

I shook my head in exasperated skepticism. "This is too 
much! You want me to believe you've got white folks in 
military gear ready to take up arms against racism — which is to 
say, against other whites?" 

"Like I said" — and she shrugged — "when you need us, we 



Divining a Racial Realism Theory 95 

hope to be ready whether or not you believe in us. Our worry 
right now is not black people who don't think we're for real, 
but those people who know we are, including several far-right 
paramilitar}^ groups and, of course, the U.S. government." 

She paused at my look. "You don't have to believe me," 
she said. "But" — a purposeful edge crept into her next 
words — "we're among a very few groups — liberal, conserv^a- 
tive, libertarian, what have you — to call the racial equality 
concept what it is — a hoax — and to mean it. To mean it so 
much that we refuse to participate in the society until there 
are major reforms. 

"Like the Black Muslims or Malcolm X's ill-fated Organiza- 
tion of Afro- American Unit}-, which didn't live much longer 
than he did,* we believe we must articulate our differences 
clearly even when our candor is upsetting to those who prefer 
diplomatic dialogue, based on tortured interpretations of his- 
tory. Like the Black Muslims, we believe in separating our- 
selves from hostile environments. While we are not opposed 
to having blacks in our organization, we understand the danger 
of the presence of a few blacks possibly making us feel better 
about ourselves. And we don't want to endanger blacks any 
further than we already have by tacidy accepting and partici- 
pating in a virulentiy racist society. We believe, moreover, that 
each race must take care of its problems before real multiracial 
togetherness is possible." 

"So," I interjected, "if you have separated from blacks be- 
cause you feel unready for interracial association, and from 
white society because of its hostile nature, how do WCBS 
members support themselves?" 

"Easy, Professor, most of us have independent resources 
that enable us to work full-time for the organization." 

*FoUou-ing his break with Elijah Muhammad, head of the Black Muslims, Malcolm 
X launched the Organization of Afro-American Unit)- (patterned after the Organiza- 
tion of African Unity). He said its basic aim was "to lift the whole freedom struggle 
from civil rights to the level of human rights, and also to work with any other 
organization and any other leader toward that end."' 



96 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"Look," I suggested, really interested in her program, "why 
don't I break out my sandwiches and fruit while you provide 
me with the details — or, at least, as many as you care to 
give — of the White Citizens for Black Survival's racial realism 
philosophy?" 

But Erika hesitated. When I asked why, she laughed and 
said, "This outing of mine is supposed to include an all-day 
fast." 

"O.K., given that WCBS is ready to die for me and mine, 
the least I can do is pass up lunch." 

But Erika continued to stand. 

"Now, what's wrong?" 

"If you don't mind. Professor, I really should scout the 
perimeter. Just a precaution — it's in our manual, and . . ." 

Her voice trailed off as my eyes rolled up in mock supplica- 
tion. "Give me ten minutes. I'll be right back." 

In her absence, I began to feel both foolish and nervous. 
This woman not only did not seem to be functioning on all 
cylinders but had a gun that posed a danger to anyone in her 
vicinity. I had packed my gear and was ready to head back 
toward my car when she returned. 

"You're leaving?" And then, not waiting for my feeble 
excuses, she motioned in the direction I had come from. \XTien 
I nodded, she said she didn't think I should start back right 
then. It was too much. I mustered all my dignity, and asked, 
"Is this another suggestion you expect me to heed because 
you're carry'ing a gun?" 

"Of course, not, Professor. It's just that — well, down that 
road a group of those far-right paramilitar\' types are having 
maneuvers. If they see a lone black man, thev might decide 
you'd make a better target than those dummies they use. They 
usually leave about midafternoon, so you should wait here 
awhile." 

I slumped back down on the log. "At this rate, I'll be happy 
to get back to the relative safety of New York City." 



Divining a Racial Realism Theory 97 

"Professor," Erika said, her calm voice not succeeding in 
masking her concern, "would you mind if we continued our 
conversation out of this clearing — perhaps in the stand of 
trees up on that little rise — so that, in case any one comes this 
way, we'd have some advance notice?" 

"No one back in Eugene told me these forests were danger- 
ous," I said, as I followed her up a slight hill and settled down 
between several large trees rather closely spaced together. 

"They aren't — for whites. But there are very few black 
people in Oregon. Almost none down around Klamath Falls 
in southern Oregon, where this group is based. You would 
probably be O.K., but if I went along to escort you — given 
your antipathy to arms — and they saw us together, well ..." 

"Only in America," I suggested. Erika gave me a pained 
smile. 

"Then," I asked, "you weren't just out here for a day of 
training. You were scouting the activities of this group." 

"Well, I was doing both, but I think we're safe here. Let's 
forget the home-grown Nazis and talk about racial realism." 

However outlandish she looked, Erika was clearly serious 
about her mission, and she did have guts. "More easily said 
than done," I told her, "but go ahead. We can talk and keep 
an eye out at the same time . . . just in case." 

Erika began with a series of statements all too familiar to 
me: That the litigation and legislation based on the belief in 
eventual racial justice have always been dependent on the 
ability of believers both to remain faithful to the creed of racial 
equality and to reject the contrary message of discrimination. 
That, despite our best efforts to control or eliminate it, oppres- 
sion on the basis of race returns time after time — in different 
guises, but it always returns. That all the formal or aspirational 
structure in the world can't mask the racial reality of the last 
three centuries. 

"As you have probably noticed, Professor," she went on, 
"advocates of liberal civil rights theory tend to deny reality. 



98 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

The racial equality commitment has had to survive the undeni- 
able fact that the Constitution's Framers initially opted to 
protect property, a category that included enslaved Africans. 
In addition, the political motivations for the Civil War amend- 
ments almost guaranteed that when political needs changed, 
enforcement of laws to protect the former slaves would likely 
lapse.* Even so, civil rights advocates continue to assume 
these amendments will eventually result in racial justice. 

"These are the facts on which our racial realism theory is 
founded. Racial realism has four major themes, which tie in 
neady with your thesis that racism is permanent. First, the 
historical point, that there has been no linear progress in civil 
rights. American racial history has demonstrated both steady 
subordination of blacks in one way or another and, if ex- 
amined closely, a pattern of cyclical progress and cyclical 
regression. 

"The second theme is economic. In our batdes with racism, 
we need less discussion of ethics and more discussion of 
economics — much more. Ideals must not be aUowed to obscure 
the blacks' real position in the socioeconomic realm, which 
happens to be the real indicator of power in this country. 

"Third, we believe in fulfillment — some might call it salva- 
tion — through struggle. We reject any philosophy that insists 
on measuring life's success on the achieving of specific goals — 
overlooking the process of living. More affirmatively and as a 
matter of faith, we believe that, despite the lack of linear 
progress, there is satisfaction in the struggle itself. 

"Fourth, and finally, are the few imperatives implicit in 
racial realism. One is that those who presently battie oppres- 



*Intcrest in protecting blacks from continued assertions of white domination in the 
South had already waned by the time of the Hayes-Tiiden compromise of 1877. 
Thus, the Republicans, to ensure the election of their candidate, Rutherford B. 
Hayes, in a disputed presidential election, were more than ready to agree to a 
compromise in which, among other things, they promised DemcKrats both to 
remove all remaining federal troops from the southern states and not to intervene 
further in "political affairs" in those states.^ 



Divining^ a Racial Realism Theory 99 

sion must at least consider looking at racism in this realistic 
way, however unfamiliar and defeatist it may sound; otherwise, 
black people are bound to repeat with their children what their 
grandparents suffered. For over three centuries, this country 
has promised democracy and delivered discrimination and 
delusions. Racial realism insists on both justice and truth. We 
are committed to truth and honesty with ourselves. We also 
insist on the possibility for justice, requiring that we shed 
reactionary attachments to myths that derive their destructive 
and legitimating power from our belief in them." 

WCBS's views certainly did intersect with mine. "It's likely, 
though," I warned, "that merging those views will bring more 
hostility than enlightenment." 

"New ideas always stir resistance. Look at your reaction to 
WCBS's mission to help black refugees in case of a general 
racial attack. You think I'm crazy. I see it in your eyes, and yet 
your view, that oppression on the basis of race is permanent, 
renders such an attack not only possible, but probable." 

"W^ch is why so many people reject it. As a matter of fact, 
Erika, your racial realism is to race relations what legal realism 
is to jurisprudential thought." 

"No disrespect intended, Professor, but I found jurispru- 
dence boring in law school — too much theory that made the 
professor look profound, if undecipherable, and not enough 
real-world application of concepts presented with no context. 
Our philosophy is vibrant, based on experience, and motivated 
by our recognition of serious social wrongs. We do not pur- 
port to be academics. Law school is dry and disconnected with 
the reality of the real world, and it's overly reliant on appellate 
court opinions that once reflected real problems but now are 
preserved as legal precedent to be dissected and analyzed, like 
mummies in a tomb. They serve to justify preservation of the 
status quo while tending to bar social reform." 

I told Erika she sounded a lot like the legal realists — that 
small group of legal scholars who, in the early 1930s, chal- 



100 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

lenged the classical structure of law which was then thought of 
as a formal group of "common law" rules. Properly applied to 
any given situation, these rules were thought to lead to a 
correct — and therefore — a just result.* The realist movement 
was part of the general twentieth-century revolt against formal- 
ism and conceptualism, as reflected in the 1915 Supreme Court 
decision in Coppage v. Kansas,^ which invalidated a state law that 
banned "yellow dog" contracts — that is contracts where the 
workers agreed not to engage in union activities. The Court 
reasoned that the Constitution's due process clause gave work- 
ers a right to contract with their employers. The realists saw it 
as the issue of whether industrial workers in fact have bargain- 
ing power to choose the terms of their employment. 

The Court adhered to formalistic thinking even during the 
Great Depression, when any realistic analysis of the state of 
affairs would have included some recognition of the desperate 
need for state intervention. People were starving, and for at 
least half of the population, the economy held litde hope of 
future employment. Even so, the Court rejected several pieces 
of New Deal corrective legislation — including even some laws 
favored by many business leaders.^ In other words, as legal 
realists recognized, the Court insisted on venerating grand 
rules that had litde to do with the modern context of poverty 
and misery. In opposing such heartless decisions, the legal 
realists were outspoken and acdve. The legal historian Profes- 
sor G. Edward White writes of them: 

Legal scholars who came to call themselves Realists began with 
the perception that many early twentieth-centur)' judicial deci- 
sions were "wrong." They (the decisions) were wrong as mat- 
ters of policy in that they promoted antiquated concepts and 

*Lcgal realism has been seen as principally based in Oliver WcndcU Holmes, Jr.'s, 
fifty-year battle against legal formalism.' The political Progressive movement, con- 
cerned with social welfare legislation and administrative regulation, helped push 
realism beyond Holmes.* 



Divining a Racial Realism Theory 101 

values and ignored changed social conditions. They were 
wrong as exercises in logic in that they began with unexamined 
premises and reasoned syllogistically and artificially to conclu- 
sions. They were wrong as efforts in governance in that they 
refused to include relevant information, such as data about the 
effects of legal rules on those subject to them, and insisted 
upon a conception of law as an autonomous entity isolated 
from nonlegal phenomena. Finally, they were wrong in that 
they perpetuated a status quo that had fostered rank inequali- 
ties of wealth, status, and condition, and was out of touch with 
the modern world.^ 

"So," I further explained, "the realist attack on short-sighted 
and stubborn judicial formalism is quite like the realistic assess- 
ment we're making of formal civil rights policy. My position is 
that the legal rules regarding racial discrimination have become 
not only reified (that is, ascribing material existence and power 
to what are really just ideas) — as the modern inheritor of 
realism, critical legal studies, would say — but deified. The wor- 
ship of equality rules as having absolute power benefits whites 
by preserving a benevolent but fictional self-image, and such 
worship benefits blacks by preserving hope. But I think we've 
arrived at a place in history where the harms of such worship 
outweigh its benefits." 

"Let me see if I understand," Erika interrupted. "In legal 
theory, the Supreme Court's notions about workers and em- 
ployers each having a right to contract seemed to protect both 
from outside interference, though in economic fact the work- 
ers were at the mercy of exploitative employers. So today, 
while civil rights laws seem to protect blacks from bias, dis- 
crimination in fact continues under a myriad of guises, most of 
them either not covered or not easily ascertainable under exist- 
ing laws. Affirmative action policies intended to compensate 
for the inadequacy of civil rights laws, are challenged by the 
claim that the mere presence of the civil rights statutes guaran- 
tees racial equality." 



102 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"Exactly," I agreed. "This is another way of saying that 'the 
law in action' does not reflect 'the law on the books.'* A 
parallel criticism that supports my thesis — that, in fact, helped 
me to conclude the intractability of racism — came from an- 
other law professor, the late Arthur S. Miller, who argued that 
there are really two Constitutions: one, the 'law on the books,' 
the actual, formal document, the highly acclaimed legacy of the 
Founding Fathers; the other, the 'law in action,' which consists 
of the informal understandings and conventions that actually 
determine social and governmental policy.^ Unfortunately, 
save for an enlightened period during the 1950s and 1960s, 
most of the Supreme Court's decisions during the last twenty 
years seem based on the old formalist thinking." 

"That's crazy!" Erika objected. "Why do they do that? How 
can they get away with it?" 

To answer both questions, I cited the 1978 Bakke case,'" 
where the Supreme Court invalidated the policy of California's 
medical school of reserving 10 percent of its openings for 
minorities. The Court relied heavily on the Fourteenth 
Amendment which the Court — during its enlightened pe- 
riod — said poses serious problems to state laws and policies 
that make racial classifications. In rigidly applying this rule in 
a seemingly neutral way to California's 10-percent minority 
admissions policy, a policy intended to make amends for years 
of overt discrimination, the Court's majority utterly ignored 
the fact that the white race had in fact the power and advan- 
tages; and that, notwithstanding the Fourteenth Amendment, 
the black race has for decades been denied entry into Califor- 
nia's medical schools. 

"The Court introduced," I went on, "an ardficial and inap- 
propriate parity in its reasoning — that is, that blacks and whites 
applying to medical school have always been treated equally in 
a state that has never practiced racial discriminadon — and thus 
chose to ignore historical patterns, contemporary statistics, 
and flexible reasoning. It could then self-righteously deplore 



Divining a Racial Realism Theory 103 

giving special privileges to any race in the admissions process." 

"But what happened to realist thinking, Professor? The 
Court certainly didn't apply it in Bakke, and the Bakke decision 
was deemed fair and just by most white Americans. In fact, 
had it gone the other way, many people would have caUed for 
a law barring affirmative action." 

"In a way," I answered, "the basic validity of the realist 
model is proven by its inability to gain acceptance in the legal 
marketplace — that actual power relations in the real world are 
by definition legitimate and must go unchallenged." So, Erika, 
the realists would not have been surprised at the outcome in 
Bakke. They would recognize that, despite the realist challenge 
that destroyed the premises of the basic formalist model of 
law, that model survives, although in bankrupt form.'^ 

"In addition, the realists suggested that the whole liberal 
world view of (private) rights and (public) sovereignty me- 
diated by the rule of law needed to be exploded; such a world 
view, they argued, is only an attractive mirage masking the 
reality of economic and political power.'' And the attack had 
profoundly threatening consequences; it carried with it the 
potential collapse of legal liberalism. In reaction, a spate of 
jurisprudential responses emerged defensively to combat what 
they perceived to be the realist attack on sacrosanct values and 
principles.''* 

"But, Erica, it wasn't that the realists wanted to destroy 
democratic values, as their critics charged. The realists were 
concerned with making the law more responsible to or reflec- 
tive of society. They were committed to the investigation of 
facts and consequences instead of the old attachment to legal 
principles they deemed empty. And despite accounts that say 
realism failed because it advocated ethical relativism in a world 
where Nazi totalitarianism produced a longing for moral cer- 
tainty, many realists were committed reformers. So, while they 
were labeled heretics, they were actually truth tellers."'^ 

"Isn't there a parallel, Professor, between the formalists' 



104 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

reactionarv' faith in their supposedly apolitical principles and 
the modern captivation with colorblind neutrality? Pretty 
packaging does not make rules useful or effective and often 
ends up hiding what it purports to ehminate. At best, the 
law — by protecting blacks from blatant racist practices and 
policies, but rationalizing all manner of situations that relegate 
blacks to a subordinate status — regularizes racism." 

"Of course!" I exclaimed, agreeing with her analysis. "And, 
as we have seen, even the laws or court decisions that abolish 
one form of discrimination may well allow for its appearance 
in another form, subde though no less damaging. Thus, the 
Brown decision invalidated 'separate but equal,' replacing it — as 
civil rights advocates urged — with 'equal opportunity.' But 
given the continued motivations for racism, the society has 
managed to discriminate against blacks as effectively under the 
remedy as under the prior law — more effectively really, be- 
cause discrimination today is covert, harder to prove, its ill 
effects easier to blame on its black victims." 

"As we say," Erika put in, "it's a delusion to hope that 
things will get better if we can win this case or that one. That's 
why WCBS has called for a redefinition of the goals of racial 
equality and opportunity to which blacks have adhered for 
more than a century." 

Of course, as I told Erika, I had already reached the same 
conclusion. "We must challenge the rigid ways of the past, 
recognizing — as Judge Benjamin Cardozo declared in 1932 — 
that 'the agitations and the promptings of a changing civiliza- 
tion' demand more flexible legal forms and demand equally 
'jurisprudence and philosophy adequate to justify the 
change.' '"^ 

"Impressive, Professor," Erica nodded. "You have just ar- 
ticulated where our WCBS group started from. We reasoned 
that traditional civil rights law is also highly structured and 
founded on the belief that the Constitution was intended — at 
least after the Civil War amendments — to guarantee equal 



Divining a Racial Realism T h e o rj 105 

rights to blacks. In conformation with past practice, protection 
of black rights is now predictably episodic. For these reasons, 
both the historic pattern and its contemporary^ replication 
require review and replacement of the now-defunct ideology 
of racial equality. 

"Also," she added, "you need a plan to counter if you can, 
or escape if you cannot, a political deal that sacrifices black 
lives rather than just black rights." 

"I can't imagine " I began. 

"But, Professor," Erika broke in, "this country's Constitu- 
tion is the result of a political deal that condemned your 
ancestors to continued slavery — or had you forgotten?" 

"I have not forgotten. But, Erika, we're in the 1990s, not the 
1790s. Rhetoric is one thing, melodrama another." I started to 
repack mv briefcase. "I'm afraid this part of our discussion will 
require more time than I have if I'm to get back to Eugene 
before dark." 

"You all ain't goin' no place!" 

Caught up in our discussion, we had failed to keep watch. 
Turning at the voice, I saw a huge heavy-set white man, 
dressed for the Second World War, complete with helmet. He 
was brandishing a gun even larger and more ominous than 
Erika's. 

Trying to ignore the gun, I looked at Erika and asked, "I 
assume this man is not a member of your team?" 

Erika shook her head and addressed the intruder boldly. 
"Guy Jenkins, your people are playing soldier down the road. 
Why don't you go join them?" 

The man stood his ground. "Thought I heard talkin' goin' 
on. Decided to check it out. And what do I find? A nigger and 
his nigger-lovin' white woman, that's what I find. Goin' to take 
you prisoners and march you down the road for the boys to 
see what they out here in the woods getting ready to fight 
against. Commander will decide on your punishment. Now get 
on up and move on out!" 



106 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

I Started up. Leaning over, Erika held my arm, but kept her 
eyes on him. "No, Guy, we're not going to be marched down 
that road by you or anybody else. I advise you to get on your 
way." 

''You must be jokin'. I got my gun in my hand, Miss Lady 
Soldier. Yours is on the ground, and you better leave it there. 
Now move out, or else!" 

"I think we " I started up again. 

"No, sir, we are not moving! Guy, it's your move! You have 
the gun. Shoot us, if you dare. You won't get a medal, but you 
will catch hell when you bring the feds down on your whole 
operation. This man may be a nigger to you, but he is a noted 
law professor to the rest of the country. Killing him is going 
to embarrass some big white folks and make others of them 
mad. Either way, they're going to come after you. I know 
them, Guy. They'll hunt you down like a dog, make an example 
of you to show that they're not really racist. Are you really that 
ready to be a hero to your buddies down the road? They'U all 
leave your ass high and dry — and you know it." 

Guy looked a litde less certain. For just a moment, he 
glanced back down the road — perhaps seeking guidance from 
his commander via mental telepathy. 

In that moment, Erika was on him. I have no idea what 
karate move she made, but in the bat of an eye, Guy had lost 
his weapon and was groveling on the ground, moaning in pain. 

Coolly Erika picked up his rifle, defdy removed the car- 
tridge, and tossed the gun at his feet. 

"Now before I really lose my temper, Guy," she said levelly, 
"take your weapon and get back to your group. Tell them you 
lost the ammo clip and then tell them anything you want, but 
I want them gone before we get there in the next thirty 
minutes." 

Guy said nothing, just got to his feet, picked up his weapon, 
then turned and limped slowly down the path towards his 
group of far-right nationalists. I told Erika I surely admired her 



Divining a Racial Re a /ism T h e o rj 107 

expertise, not only in getting rid of the fellow and us out of 
danger but in handing him an excuse for his empty weapon so 
that he wouldn't have to let his peers know he'd been out- 
foxed, and by a woman at that. "And then, to top it all, you 
played on his fear of being discovered so he'd get them all to 
leave!" 

"Appealing to self-interest works on occasion," she said. 
Then, nodding cynically toward my computer and my brief- 
case, she said, "You know, all the electronic gadgetry and fancy 
jurisprudential ideas in the world won't stop them. Racism isn't 
about sophistication. Combating it isn't about finesse, except 
in the most \Talgar sense of making a shameless appeal to the 
predictable self-interest of whites." 

"Impressive," I acknowledged, "but also damned scary. I 
understand now, Erika, what you and your John Brown Bri- 
gade are about. There are limits to what we can do with 
philosophy. You and I know that if the need is great enough, 
the rewards large enough, the temptation strong enough, we 
blacks can be sacrificed at will. A present fear sometimes, a 
distant memor\' always." 

Erika decided to follow Guv down the road to make sure 
he headed in the right direction. She and I shook hands, and 
with a final wave she disappeared through the trees. I sat back. 
It had been an exhausting afternoon. I closed my eyes and tried 
to relax against the tree, far from sure I had energy for the 
hour-long hike to my car, particularly if the way back was 
through enemy territory. 



D D D D n 

"Friend, why are you sleeping way out here in the woods?" 
I knew that voice. I opened my eyes to see Geneva peering 
down at me. Her amused expression told me she knew exactly 
why I was where I was. 



108 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"Damn you, Geneva! You're responsible for this whole 
thing! VCTiere is Erika? Or, rather, is there an Erika, or was she 
only you in one of your other guises? Am I not entitled to one 
afternoon off in a scenic location without your supernatural 
harassment?" 

"All I want to say, friend, is that I read your 'Last Black 
Hero,' sensed your, ah, predicament, and wanted to see 
whether you — as opposed to your hero, Jason — could main- 
tain a proper relationship with a white woman." 

"I hope you got more than that out of my story!" 

"I did," Geneva replied, "but I also hope you took Erika's 
message seriously. For all the reasons you have been describ- 
ing, black people may need places of refuge and whites to 
provide escape from future betrayals. 

"And for all the reasons that led you to conclude that racism 
is permanent, the ultimate betrayal, for which she and her 
NXTiite Cidzens for Black Survival group are preparing, could 
happen." 

"1 can't say that it can't or it won't," I conceded, "but it's 
surely hard to imagine how it could happen. There's another 
'but,' too." I paused. 

"What's that?" 

"Even if I knew for a certainty that whites planned another 
massive betrayal of blacks, most whites — and some blacks — 
would not believe me." 



CHAPTER 6 



The Rules of Racial Standing 



"I AM A TRAVELER in 2. Strange land, and during my journey I 
approach a taU mountain. Though it will take me out of my 
way, I am drawn irresistibly to climb it. There is a narrow path 
leading to the top, but the mountain is very steep. As I reach 
its summit, I am exhausted and disoriented and, at first, do not 
recognize a strange sound I hear. It seems like a voice. Then, 
unmistakably, it is a voice: not near, not far and, despite the 
other-worldly atmosphere, deep and resonant. 

"It is a litde scary, but I can't help noticing that the voice 
sounds suspiciously like the actor James Earl Jones doing one 
more TV commercial voiceover. It really riles me how even 
one of the country's finest actors cannot escape the exploita- 
tive practice of overlaying the actions of the whites portrayed 
on the screen with the warm, rich voices of blacks. Damn! I 
thought. If Langston Hughes were now writing his famous 
poem, whose first line is, "You've taken my blues and gone,'' 
he'd have to include black voices as well as black music — both 
shamelessly employed by whites for the usual reason: profit. 

"But James Earl Jones or not, while I can see no one in the 



110 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

vicinity, the voice is now unmistakable: 'Welcome, Friend. 
We Have Been Waiting for You. All Is in Readiness,' 

"Surprised, as well as amused, I look around for the source 
of the voice. There is no one. But nearby has materialized a 
glass-walled office, and on a desk in the very center of the 
room stands the most elaborate desktop computer I have ever 
seen. I enter the room and sit down at the computer. Immedi- 
ately its screen flashes a command: 'Speak Up, Ike, an 'Spress 
Yo'se'f!' 

"I smile as I recognize the directive from one of Paul 
Lawrence Dunbar's dialect poems. ^ Though I've never felt 
autobiographical, my first hesitant words lead to a flood of 
sentences, paragraphs, pages about my life, my work. The 
longer I type, the faster come the pages. Time passes, but I feel 
neither weariness nor want. Finally, many hours later, I finish. 
I gather up the printed pages, which the computer produced 
silendy and swiftiy as I typed. As I walk from the room, I see 
before me a great light. I recognize the voice that greeted me 
on my arrival. It answers my questions before I have formed 
them: 

"You Are Here Because You Are Deemed Worthy. We 
Have Read These Pages and Discerned in Them Your 
True Mission. Approach the Light.' 

"There is a loud but melodious sound like a crashing of 
celestial cymbals. The light disappears but, in some strange 
way, remains with me. 

"The Light You Saw, and See No More, Is Now Yours. 
You Have Been Granted to Know the Rules of Racial 
Standing. Take the Pages with You. The Essence of 
Your Work Is Now Transformed into a Description of 
Your Gift. Use It Wisely. Guard It Well. And Remem- 
ber, No Gift Comes Without a Price.' 

"There is silence. Computer room and voice are gone. I 
come down from the mountain and continue my trip. Arriving 
home, I turn to the pages. Sure enough, my lengthy text has 



The Rules of Racial Standing 111 

been reduced to five rules engraved in gold on bound parch- 
ment pages." 

As I finished, I reached into a desk drawer for a small sheaf 
of bound pages and handed them to Geneva. "I dreamed the 
story' I just told you and the next morning found these pages. 
I assume both the dream and the rules are your gift." 

Geneva didn't confirm my assumptions, but the devilish 
look in her eye gave her away. "Why don't you read and 
consider the first of the rules. Then let me know your 
thoughts." 



FIRST RULE 

The law grants litigants standing to come into court based on their having 
sufficient personal interest and involvement in the issue to justify judicial 
cognisance. ^ Black people (while they may be able to get into court) are 
denied such standing legitimacy in the world generally when they discuss 
their negative experiences with racism or even when they attempt to give 
a positive evaluation of another black person or of his or her work.* No 
matter their experience or expertise, blacks' statements involving race are 
deemed "special pleading" and thus not entitled to serious consideration. 



"Isn't this the point of Invisible Man, " I asked, "where Ralph 
EUison depicts blacks as a category' of human beings whose 
suffering is so thoroughly ignored that they, and it, might as 
well not exist?"^ 

"Quite right. Ellison's novel was published forty years ago," 
Geneva replied, "and despite all the acclaim it received, the 
number of black people suffering because of racism — and 
virtually ignored in their suffering — has increased." 

"In particular," I said, "the First Rule accurately reflects the 
special discounting of black views when we recommend other 
blacks for a position or for promotion. When not ignored 
entirely, the unconvinced response from whites will contain 



112 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

the scarcely concealed question 'Who else likes this person?' 
Both parties know who 'who else' is. 

"Misunderstanding, though, poses the real danger — a les- 
son I learned without the gift of a special rule. >Xnien back in 
1957, as my first lawyering job I went to work at the Justice 
Department, only a few of the thousands of lawyers there were 
black. One of them, Maceo Hubbard, a man of broad experi- 
ence, taught me a lot I had not learned in law school. 'When 
white folks ask you for an evaluation of another black,' he 
warned me, 'you have to remember one thing. However care- 
fully you say it, you can hurt the brother, but you can't help 
him.' Maceo's sage advice, unhappily, is still valid." 

"I understand," Geneva said, "that, as a matter of course, 
some minority law teachers simply do not read and evaluate 
the work of other minority teachers." 

"I don't go that far. For one thing, my failure to comment 
when asked is taken as a negative recommendation. But when 
law schools request — as they frequendy do — that 1 evaluate 
the scholarly work of another black law teacher being consid- 
ered for promotion or tenure, I approach the task with great 
caution. I remember all too well an instance when, younger 
and less wise, I wrote a generally favorable letter for a black 
teacher. I noted — I thought in the interest of objectivity — that 
because the piece under review had been prepared for a con- 
ference presentation, the paucity of its footnoting was accept- 
able. I was certain, I said, that the author would provide more 
support for his statements when the speech was revised for 
publication. The upshot was that not only was the professor 
denied tenure, but in explaining his supposed deficiencies to 
others — and to him — the faculty reported that they had no 
choice: 'Even another black law teacher said this man is not 
scholarly.' It was a painful application of Maceo Hubbard's 
warning. The candidate didn't speak to me for some years 
afterward." 

Geneva shook her head sadly. "Cireat profession you're in." 



The Ru/es of Racial Standing 113 

"It goes with the territory of being black, not of being a law 
teacher," I said, turning to the Second Rule. 



SECOND RULE 

Not only are blacks' complaints discounted, hut black victims of racism 
are less effective witnesses than are whites, who are members of the 
oppressor class. This phenomenon reflects a widespread assumption that 
blacks, unlike whites, cannot be objective on racial issues and will favor 
their own no matter what. This deep-seated belief fuels a continuing 
effort — despite all manner of Supreme Court decisions intended to curb 
the practice — to keep black people off juries in cases involving race.^ Black 
judges hearing racial cases are eyed suspiciously and sometimes asked to 
recuse themselves in favor of a white judge — without those making the 
request even being aware of the paradox in their motions. ^ 



I pointed out to Geneva that this rule is applicable far 
beyond black jurors and judges. It is no accident that white 
writers have dominated the recording of race relations in this 
country: they are considered the more objective commentators 
on racial issues. For example, the litigation leading up to the 
Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education^ has been well 
documented by Richard Kluger's Simple Justice"^ — as has the life 
and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by David Garrow'° 
and Taylor Branch,' ' among other white writers,'^ whose work 
covers the protest aspects of the civil rights movement. Black 
writers who have covered similar ground, however, have not 
received the attention or the rewards of their white col- 
leagues.'^ The writer Gloria Joseph summarizes the problem 
as, having commended as exemplary a white writer's essay on 
feminism and racism, she then acknowledges that the white 
writer "reiterates much that has been voiced by black female 
writers, but the acclaim given her article shows again that it 
takes whiteness to give even Blackness validity."'"* The black 



1 1 4 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

writer and poet bell hooks articulates the frustration resulting 
from this phenomenon when she complains: "We produce 
cultural criticism in the context of white supremacy. At times, 
even the most progressive and well-meaning white folks, who 
are friends and allies, may not understand why a black writer 
has to say something a certain way, or why we may not want 
to explain what has been said as though the first people we 
must always be addressing are privileged white readers." Later 
on the same page, though, she acknowledges a deeper dimen- 
sion to her frustration: "And [yet] every black writer knows 
that the people you may most want to hear your words may 
never read them, that many of them have never learned to 
read."'5 

"I think beU hooks speaks for all of us," I said, "and the 
worst aspect of our frustration is that the pressure to perform 
primarily for those for whom we care less is less part of some 
invidious scheme than an economic necessity so long repeated 
it is now a cultural component of life as blacks in a nation that 
is — despite all — determined to be and remain white." 

"The black writer," Geneva suggested, "is not unlike the 
black mother who, to sustain herself and her children, must 
work all day taking care of white children while her own are 
neglected." 

"These rules seem more like revelations of distilled woe 
than gifts. Let's see what comes next." 

THIRD RULE 

Few blacks avoid diniinishment of racial standing most of their state- 
ments about racial conditions being diluted and their recommendations of 
other blacks taken with a grain of salt. The usual exception to this rule 
is the black person who publicly disparages or criticises other blacks who 
are speaking or acting in ways that upset whites. Instantly, such state- 
ments are granted "enhanced standing" even when the speaker has no 
special expertise or experience in the subject he or she is criticising. 



The Rules of Racial Standing 115 

"Right on the mark again, Geneva!" I said, thinking of 
President Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Su- 
preme Court in the summer of 1991 as — the President 
claimed — the most qualified person for the position. Given 
Thomas's modest academic background, relative youth, lack of 
litigation experience, and undistinguished service in appointive 
government positions, only his 'enhanced standing,' in accord- 
ance with the Third Rule, as a well-known critic of affirmative 
action and civil rights policies and leaders in general could have 
won him priority over the multitude of lawyers, white and 
black, with more traditional qualifications for a seat on our 
highest Court. 

Indeed, the Thomas appointment is a definitive, but far 
from the sole, example of the awards awaiting blacks who gain 
enhanced standing. Black scholars have watched in angr)' frus- 
tration while blacks like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, 
Glenn Lour}-, and Shelby Steele gain national celebrity as ex- 
perts on race owing to their willingness to minimize the effect 
of racism on the lowlv status of blacks. 

"The fact that, in line with the First Rule, most blacks 
dispute these assessments is generally ignored," I explained to 
Geneva. "Of course, some white people will scoff at your rules 
of racial standing, dismissing them as merely an exemplar of 
the old adage 'Dog bites man: no news. Man bites dog: news.' 
And where criticism or whistie blowing by an insider wins 
immediate attention, any laudatory statement by a person af- 
filiated with a product or an institution is viewed, to some 
extent, as special pleading." 

"Shouldn't," Geneva asked, "all but the most insensitive be 
able to distinguish a peoples' plaintive efforts to protest racism 
from a company's product-enhancing puffery?" 

"Perhaps — but, distinguishable or not, it galls me that black 
scholars who labor in relative obscurity can leap to instant 
attention and acclaim by criticizing their black colleagues. This 
happened when Professor Randall Kennedy at Harvard Law 



1 1 6 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

School asserted that minority scholars have no special legiti- 
macy in writing about race, and that their scholarship, mea- 
sured by traditional standards, is flawed.'^ Had Kennedy been 
lauding black legal scholars, his ardcle would have been treated 
as just another piece of special pleading." 

"But wait!" Geneva interrupted. "The several pieces I have 
read by Professor Kennedy are well done and tend to give 
white folks hell."'' 

"Precisely my point. None of those articles have been cov- 
ered by the New York Times.^^ But don't get me started, Ge- 
neva. Examples abound. In the fall of 1991, Professor Stephen 
Carter published Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby,^"^ in 
which he — who in 1 985 had become the first black person to 
gain tenure at the prestigious Yale Law School — expressed 
serious reservations about the value of affirmative acdon for 
himself and others. Immediately, the book soared to national 
attention, and Carter began to frequent the television talk 
shows." 

Geneva sniffed significandy. "Do I discern the distinct 
aroma of sour grapes?" 

I threw up my hands. "Could be, but let me just say in my 
defense that the phenomenon of enhanced racial standing set 
out in the Third Rule is, while not called by that name, certainly 
well known. I think it's cause for wonder and more than a little 
credit to our integrity that more black scholars don't maim one 
another in a wild scramble to gain for ourselves the acclaim, 
adulation, and accompanying profit almost guaranteed to 
those of us willing to condemn our own." 

"Are you suggesting," Geneva asked in feigned dudgeon, 
"that after all my effort your book will not leap to the top of 
the best-seller charts?" 

"No outrageous attacks on blacks, no explicit sex, and no 
revelations of how bad black men treat black women! No, 
Geneva, I'm afraid you'll have to be content with your small, 
but very devoted audience." 



The Rules of Racial Standing 117 

Now she was genuinely indignant. "Wait just a minute, sir. 
Do you equate black women writers who describe the ill 
treatment black women have received at the hands of black 
men, with the black scholar-opportunists who reap fame and 
fortune by denying that racism is the cause of blacks' distress?" 

"I do not. Nor do I suggest that black scholars who gain 
enhanced standing because of the anti-black or anti-civil rights 
tone of their writing have taken their positions for personal 
gain. Some, perhaps all, actually believe what they're saying. 
VCTiat I criticize is their refusal to come to grips with the effect 
of their statements. 

"As to black women writers who set out in fiction or fac- 
tual terms the distressing treatment some of them have suf- 
fered at the hands of black men, the truth of their writing is 
self-evident. But I wish they'd make clearer the point that 
much of this ill treatment is the result of black male frustra- 
tion with having constantiy to cope with the barriers of rac- 
ism, including systemic job discrimination that is the direct 
cause of the brutal circumstances in which so many blacks 
live their lives." 

"Are they," Geneva asked, with only slighdy disguised 
scorn, "obligated to insert caveats reminding readers that abu- 
sive behavior by black men is often motivated by frustration 
with the constraints racism imposes on their lives?" 

"Of course not. But they should know that since at least the 
1975 publication of Ntozake Shange's For colored girls who have 
considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,^^ there has been a market 
for writing by black women on this subject — and, as you 
know, some of that writing has been the cause of debate and 
accusations.^^ I think, though, that the criticism and the poten- 
tial for harm of black women writing adversely about black 
men is not as damaging to the black community as the black 
scholars' writing against blacks. Actually, there's a more dire 
form of black self-criticism which may be covered in the next 
rule." 



118 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

FOURTH RULE 

W^ben a Hack person or group makes a statement or takes an action that 
the white community or vocal components thereof deem ''outrageous, " the 
latter will actively recruit blacks willing to refute the statement or condemn 
the action. Blacks who respond to the call for condemnation will receive 
superstanding status. Those blacks who refuse to be recruited will be 
interpreted as endorsing the statements and action and may suffer political 
or economic reprisals. 

"Pretty strong stuff!" I exclaimed. 

"Meaning?" Geneva asked. 

"Well, perhaps the best contemporar}- example of the 
Fourth Rule involves the adverse reaction of many whites to 
the Muslim minister Louis Farrakhan. Smart and superarticu- 
late. Minister Farrakhan is perhaps the best living example of 
a black man ready, willing, and able to 'tell it like it is' regarding 
who is responsible for racism in this country. In this regard, 
he's easily a match for all those condescending white talk-show 
hosts who consider themselves very intelligent, certainly 
smarter than any black man. 

"All these TV pros seems anxious to put this outspoken 
black man in his place. They have big staffs to do their research 
and prepare scripts filled to the brim with denigrating ques- 
tions. And they have film clips carefully edited to make Farrak- 
han look as outrageous and irresponsible as possible. 

"On camera, these self-appointed defenders of a society 
senseless enough to put them in their highly paid jobs, attack 
Farrakhan with a vengeance. Clearly, destruction and not dis- 
cussion is their aim. But there's no contest. Minister Farrak- 
han, calm, cool, and very much on top of the questions, 
handles these self-appointed guardians with ease. I love it!" 

"1 gather," Geneva broke in, "that many black people do not 
concur in your assessment of the Farrakhan phenomenon." 

"It doesn't matter. Whatever their views on the controver- 



The Rules of Racial Standing 119 

sial Black Muslim minister, every black person important 
enough to be interviewed is asked to condemn Minister Far- 
rakhan — or any other truly outspoken black leader. Reporters 
generally ask, 'Have you heard what Farrakhan said and what 
arej«»« going to do about it?' Note that, with Farrakhan, it's not 
what do you have to say, but what are you going to do about 
what he said? And don't make the mistake of telling a reporter 
ten positive things about Farrakhan and adding one criticism. 
You guessed it, the story will be headlined: 'Leading Black 
Spokesperson Condemns Farrakhan.' " 

"But," Geneva objected, "Farrakhan is a Black Muslim, 
which most blacks are definitely not." 

"It's not his faith we're asked to deal with, Geneva. It's his 
race and his mouth." 

She laughed. "On the surface, this is strange, kind of crazy. 
Remember the biblical story of how little David killed the 
might}' Goliath. David left his sheep in the field, journeyed to 
the impending batde, and convinced King Saul of the Israelites 
to allow him to be their champion. The armor they put on him 
was so heavy, he took it off, and went to meet Goliath with his 
staff, a sUngshot, and five smooth stones in his pouch. And 
David was not modest or shy as he told Goliath what the 
Philistine giant least wanted to hear: 

This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and 
I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will 
give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day 
unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the 
earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in 
Israel. ^^ 

"For many people," Geneva continued, "Minister Farrak- 
han is a black David going one on one against the Philistines 
who bestride the land, abusing their power and generally mess- 
ing over black folk. But when Farrakhan issues his challenge, 



120 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

no Goliath comes forth. Rather, some of the Philistines come 
running, not up to Farrakhan, but to any black person of 
substance they can find, asking, 'Did you hear what that man 
said about us? What are j*?// going to do about it?' " 

"That's the question I've been asking myself, Geneva," I 
responded. "Why must I do something about Minister Farrak- 
han? Those he condemns are not without power, not without 
money, not without guns. A sad history serves as proof that 
they know how to use all three against us. Why me? 

" 'Oh,' I am told, 'that man is hurting your cause.' But the 
cause of black people has been under attack for three hundred 
years, not by one black man but by the dominant white society. 
The suggestion that our current plight would be relieved if 
Farrakhan would just shut up is both naive and insults our 
intelligence. It also reveals more about those who would si- 
lence him than they likely want uncovered." 

I went on with how, in 1985, when Farrakhan was sched- 
uled to speak in New York City's Madison Square Garden, 
black officials came under heavy pressure to speak out and 
denounce him because of earlier statements of his deemed 
anti-Semitic and anti-white.^^ Some black officials spoke out. 
Others, while not condoning some of Farrakhan's comments, 
complained in interviews that they were repeatedly expected to 
condemn fellow blacks for offensive remarks or behavior, 
while whites are not called upon to react to every such indis- 
cretion by white officials. Typical of this position, Representa- 
tive Charles B. Rangel (D., N.Y.) told a reporter that Farrak- 
han's statements about Judaism being a "dirt}' religion" were 
"garbage," but added, "it's easy to come down heavy on Far- 
rakhan." Rangel expressed the hope that matters had not 
reached the point that, just as blacks in South Africa have to 
carry a passbook to go from place to place, "black Americans 
have to carr\' their last statement refuting l-arrakhan. I would 
not, if someone said Jesus Christ is a phony, go around asking 
Jews to sign a statement to condemn him."^" 



The Rules of Racial Standing 121 

In a similar vein, the Reverend Calvin O. Butts, pastor of 
the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, refused to condemn 
Farrakhan, and pointed out that the Muslim minister criticizes 
many groups in strong terms, including black churches and 
black ministers. Butts acknowledged that many Jewish people 
"look askance at any slight breeze of anti-Semitism. However," 
he added, "if in response to Israel's refusal to impose sanctions 
on South Africa to protest its policies of racial separation, I 
jumped up and said all Jewish leaders in the United States 
should denounce Israel, how many Jewish people would join 
me in that? I don't think manv."^^ 

"I agree, Geneva," I said, "with both Congressman Rangel 
and the Reverend Butts. Anti-Semitism is a horrible thing, but 
just as all criticism of blacks is not racism, so not every nega- 
tive comment about Jews — even if it is wrong — is anti-Semi- 
tism. Were I a Jew, I would be damned concerned about the 
latent — and often active — anti-Semitism in this country. But 
to leap with a vengeance on inflammatory comments by blacks 
is a misguided effort to vent justified fears on black targets of 
opportunit)' who are the societv^'s least powerful influences 
and — I might add — the most likely to be made the scapegoats 
for deeply rooted anti-Semitism that they didn't create and that 
will not be cured by their destruction." 

"Fear is not rational," Geneva observed. "Jews understand- 
ably feel that they must attack anti-Semitism whenever it ap- 
pears. Farrakhan, being a frightening figure for most whites 
and thus vulnerable, becomes a symbol — even though, as you 
point out, an inappropriate one of the nation's anti-Semitism. 
Jews and white people generaUy hope that criticism by blacks 
will diminish his credibiliU', if not in the eyes of his followers, 
at least in the minds of those who believe that the threat he 
represents can be defused by our responding to their urgent 
pleas for black condemnation of an out-of-control black." 

"It's not set out in the Fourth Rule, Geneva, but have you 
noticed that those bkcks who utter 'beyond the pale' remarks 



122 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

are never forgiven. Thus, when Farrakhan attempts to explain 
that his statement was aimed at Israel as a state and not at 
Judaism as a religion, his explanation is rejected out of hand. 
The attitude seems to be: 'You said it, and thus you must be 
condemned for all time.' " 

Geneva agreed. "The Reverend Jesse Jackson has experi- 
enced a similar 'lifetime renunciation' notwithstanding his fre- 
quent and fervent apologies for the regrettable 'Hymie and 
Hymietown' remarks he made during his 1984 presidential 
campaign.^^ As I indicated earlier, I understand why a group is 
upset by what it deems racial or religious insults, but I doubt 
that I'm alone in not understanding why blacks who lack any 
real power in the society are not forgiven while whites, includ- 
ing those at the highest levels of power, are pardoned. For 
example, many Jewish spokespeople complained bitterly when 
President Reagan went to lay a wreath at the Nazi cemetery at 
Bitburg in Germany,^^ but they do not continue to harass him 
about the issue everywhere he goes. No one denounced Rea- 
gan as anti-Semitic for going. More significandy, neither Presi- 
dent Bush nor the whites who support him are called on to 
condemn Reagan in order to prove that they are not anti- 
Semitic. 

"We boast that, unlike communist countries, there is no 
censorship of the press here. But blacks like Jesse Jackson, 
who are subject to an unofficial but no less effective 'renuncia- 
tion,' are simply not heard." 

"Your renunciation isn't limited to controversial political 
figures," I interrupted. "The writer bell hooks complains that 
'often radical writers doing transgressive work are told not that 
it's too political or too "left," but simply that it will not sell or 
readers just will not be interested in that perspective.' "^* 

"Similarly," she continued, "one need not agree with Far- 
rakhan that African Americans need to separate from this 
country to understand that, after three hundred years of trying 
and not yet having the acceptance here that non-English- 



The Rules of Racial Standing 123 

speaking white immigrants have on their first day on this soil, 
we need to be thinking of (if not yet doing) something other 
than singing one more chorus of 'We Shall Overcome.' What- 
ever his rhetorical transgressions. Minister Farrakhan and his 
church are giving the most disadvantaged black folk reason to 
hope when most of the country and more than a few of us 
blacks have written them off. His television hosts give him 
credit for cleaning up a neighborhood in Washington, D.C.,* 
and yet question his motives for accomplishing what few 
government officials have even seriously tried." 

Thinking of Geneva's earlier statement about blacks who do 
not agree with our position on Farrakhan, I recalled a black 
friend who was unmoved when I discussed Farrakhan's abili- 
ties, and said, "Even if everything you say about him is correct, 
he is still a bigot. Why can't I call him what I think he is?" In 
effect, my friend was asking, "Even given the perverse weight 
white society gives to black-on-black criticism, must persons 
of color remain silent if they strongly disagree with statements 
or actions by other blacks?" 

"The whole racial standing phenomenon, Geneva, raises a 
troublesome dilemma for many black scholars. How can 
blacks criticize other blacks or civil rights policies with which 
they disagree? Must they sacrifice their academic freedom, 
even their First Amendment right to free speech, in order to 
prevent whites from endowing with super standing their asser- 
tion of anti-black beliefs they have held all along?" 

"The answer," Geneva said, "is that a burden of blackness, 
particularly for the black scholar, is racial awareness. Black 
academics must weigh the value of their statements, their 
writings, against the fact that, like it or not, their criticism of 
other blacks — whether or not accurate, or fair, or relevant — 
will gain them enhanced or super standing. In some instances, 

*In 1991, the Nation of Islam and its Abundant IJfe Clinic received a citation from 
the Cit\- of Washington, D.C, for expunging Washington's Mayfair Mansions of 
violent crack dealing. The Nation of Islam continues to patrol the area." 



124 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

they may feel so strongly about an issue or an individual that 
there is no alternative to speaking out — despite the predictable 
consequences." 

"I don't disagree," I responded, "but those who decide that, 
despite all, they must speak out against blacks who are threat- 
ening to whites, must not be surprised when blacks subjected 
to public criticism, cry 'Foul.' And when the black critics are 
later criticized themselves, this is not intended to — and cer- 
tainly does not — silence the black speakers, as is claimed by 
Professor Stephen Carter.^*^ After all, they now have enhanced 
or super standing. White people want to hear their views, 
almost ad nauseam. Rather, some of the rest of us are saying, 
'Now, see what you have done. Knowing the consequences, 
you should have communicated your criticism in some other 
way.' " 

"Is there an inconsistency," Geneva inquired, "in your op- 
position to blacks who gain enhanced standing by telling white 
people what they want to hear about blacks, and those like 
Minister Farrakhan who gain, if not standing, a kind of notori- 
ety by telling whites what they least want to hear?" 

"A good point," I conceded, "but I think the statements by 
Louis Farrakhan and other outspoken black militants are bold, 
impolitic, and sometimes outrageous precisely because they 
are intended for those blacks whose perilous condition places 
them beyond the courteous, the politic, even the civilities of 
racial and religious tolerance. These blacks need to hear their 
rage articulated by those able and willing to do so. They need 
reassurance that others, not they, are the cause of the wretched 
circumstances in which they live. Professor Lucius Barker 
makes this point when, while noting the large differences be- 
tween whites and blacks regarding attitudes toward Farrakhan, 
he warns: 'Sooner or later whites must understand that this 
type of rhetoric and behavior has been fostered by their own 
ongoing maltreatment of blacks in the American political- 



The Ku le s of Kaci a I S ta n ding 125 

social order. As long as such conditions exist, blacks under- 
standably find themselves more receptive to many types of 
rhetoric and promises of deliverance than would otherwise by 
the case.' "^' 

"The real paradox here," said Geneva, "is that while whites 
fear spokespersons like Minister Farrakhan, the risk posed by 
the Farrakhans in this countr\^ is as nothing compared with the 
risks to all arising from the conditions against which those 
Farrakhans rail in uncompromising terms." 

"I have not talked to him, Geneva, but I rather imagine that 
Minister Farrakhan understands the rules of racial standing. 
He knows that abstract condemnation of racism and poverty 
and the devastation of our communities is inadequate and 
ineffective. He has decided that the only way to be heard over 
the racial-standing barrier is to place the blame for racism 
where it belongs. Using direct, blunt, even abrasive language, 
he forthrighdy charges with evil those who do evil under the 
racial structure that protects them and persecutes us, that 
uplifts them regardless of merit and downgrades us regardless 
of worth." 

Looking again at the final page of the text, I remembered 
the voice's warning that every gift has a price — a price con- 
firmed in the Fifth Rule. 

FIFTH RULE 

True awareness requires an understanding of the Rules of Racial Stand- 
ing. As an individual's understanding of these rules increases, there will 
be more and more instances where one can discern their workings. Using 
this knowledge, one gains the gift of prophecy about racism, its essence, its 
goals, even its remedies. The price of this knowledge is the frustration that 
follows recognition that no amount of public prophecy, no matter its 
accuracy, can either repeal the Rules of Racial Standing or prevent their 
operation. 



126 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

I read the Fifth Rule, read it again, and then looked up at 
Geneva. "One more dilemma confronting black people and 
their leaders," I observed. 

"It is that," Geneva agreed, "but notice that it reinforces 
rather than contradicts the admonition on the mountaintop 
computer screen: 'Speak Up, Ike, an 'Spress Yo'se'f!' " 



CHAPTER 7 



A Law Professor's Protest 



Through many dangers, toils, and snares, 

I have already come; 

'Twos grace that brought me safe thus far, 

and grace will lead me home. — -John Newton 



Everyone in the Cambridge community knew it was a disas- 
ter at the very moment it happened. In later years, residents 
would recount the event with the preciseness appropriate to 
great tragedy: three o'clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon in 
late fall. None who heard or saw it ever forgot the earth- 
shaking explosion and the huge, nuclearlike fireball. When the 
smoke cleared the following day, the former president's resi- 
dence, 17 Quincy Street, had disappeared. A deep, smoldering 
crater marked the site on the perimeter of Harvard Yard where 
the impressive colonial house had stood. 

In the explosion and the subsequent inferno, the president 
of Harvard and one hundred and ninety-six black professors 
and administrators — the university's total complement of 
black full-time professionals — died. As part of a year-long 
campaign to increase minorit;' faculty and staff on campus, the 
Association of Harvard Black Facult>' and Admmistrators had 
called for an all-day meeting with Harvard's president. He 
accepted the Association's invitation, and the meeting had 
begun as scheduled. A university photographer had stopped in 



128 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

during the lunch break and taken a group photograph. In- 
tended to provide a record of those who attended, it served to 
confirm those who died. 

There were no clues to what or who had caused the explo- 
sion, a fact that encouraged endless speculation. Every possi- 
bility was explored: accident, terrorism, even supernatural 
forces. The official investigation, after months of searching, 
found litde more than everyone knew in the first hour after the 
explosion. A building and all within it had disappeared in a 
flash of fire that reduced even stone and steel to a fine volcan- 
ic ash. 

In the absence of answers, surmise served as substitute for 
fact. Many whites assumed the Association was responsible: 
that frustrated with their inability to increase their numbers, 
the blacks — or some of them — had conspired to blow up the 
meeting place in a bizarre murder-suicide pact. Acting on this 
theory, racist hate groups launched random attacks on blacks. 
For their part, blacks were convinced that the tragedy was the 
work of ultraconservatives, possibly acdng with government 
support. Rumors ignited riots in the inner cities. 

The victims became martyrs to the cause of racial equality. 
The tragedy plus the racial violence, with its threat to the social 
order, prompted long-dormant government agencies to renew 
the enforcement of affirmative action. Civil rights groups orga- 
nized protest marches. In the most spectacular of these, more 
than a million college students walked from their campuses to 
Harvard for the massive memorial service held at the Har\'ard 
stadium and the surrounding grounds. The investigation did 
uncover information about what came to be known as the 
"final meeting." 

Though the final meeting at the Quincy Street house was 
closed, files from both the president's office and the offices of 
the Association's co-chairmen contained the meeting agenda, 
statistics detailing what everyone knew: that most schools 
within the universit)' had no more than one or two black 



A Law P ro/esso r 's Protest 129 

faculty members, and many none at all. The Association had 
also prepared a report to the president on affirmative action at 
Harvard, a report dedicated to Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, who, 
following his graduation from Fisk Universit}^ entered Har- 
vard in the fall of 1888. Two years later, he graduated, cum 
laude, with a major in philosophy. He was one of five graduat- 
ing students chosen to speak at the commencement exercises. 

In the prologue to its report, the Association noted that Dr. 
Du Bois would now find that about 10 percent of Harvard's 
undergraduate students are black. Most contemporary black 
students, though spared the overt hostilit)^ that barred Du Bois 
from ever)' social activit}' except the Philosophy Club, do 
encounter color-based discrimination in many subde and 
debilitating forms, and suffer slights and disparaging assump- 
tions about their abilities no less hurtful than those Du Bois 
endured. 

And then there was the problem of facult}' and administra- 
tors. The statistics were deplorable. According to Harvard's 
Affirmative Action Plan, during the 1988-89 school year only 
15 of the 957 tenured facult)' (1.6 percent) were black. And 
there were only 26 blacks (1.1 percent) among the 2,265 
tenure-line facult}' positions.'* Citing these figures — fairly t^-p- 
ical for most colleges and universities^ — the Association posed 
the question that underlay both their report and the meeting: 

♦The Plan also reports that the university has 1,073 "Academic Managers," of whom 
42 are black. There are 37 black executives, administrators, and managers among the 
442 employees in this (EAJVl) category', and 76 blacks of 1,690 persons in the "other" 
professional classification. The data has changed litde since this 1988 report was 
published.^ 

fLaw schools usually have the best minority- statistics on the campuses where they 
are located. But a 1988 study found that about one third of all law schools have no 
black faculty members. Another third have just one. Less than a tenth have more 
than three. As to other minorities, the Hispanic proportion of majority-run faculties 
went from 0.5 percent to 1.0 percent, and the proportion of other minorities from 
0.5 percent to 1.0 percent. The study's director. Professor Richard H. Chused, 
reported that the data "demonstrate that minority' professors in general, and black 
professors in particular, tend to be tokens if they are present at all; that very- few 
majorit)-run schools have significant numbers of minority' teachers; and that minor- 
it)- teachers leave their schools at higher rates than do their white colleagues."' 



130 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

How can those of us chosen to pioneer a new era of racial 
diversity' in those previously all-white colleges and universities, 
convey our strong sense of betrayal? After two decades of 
substantial effort to prove ourselves and make a way for oth- 
ers, we fear that the schools that hired us wanted, not commit- 
ted pioneers, but compliant placebos. Our presence was in- 
tended to placate protestors whose threats — made in the late 
1960s and early 1970s — are no longer heard or, if heard, are no 
longer threatening. Now, as then, our institutions relent, on 
occasion, to student protests and hire a black or some other 
nonwhite minority teacher with traditional qualifications, pref- 
erably one with conservative leanings on racial issues; but that 
is no progress. It is simply the formalizing of a black tokenism 
policy: "Hire one if you must, but only one." 

Embarrassed and deeply concerned about their minuscule 
representation on the nation's most prestigious campus, the 
Association warned that unless Harvard exerted special ef- 
forts, contemporary' students at Harvard would have access 
to or contact with only a few more black facult\' and ad- 
ministrators than were available to Dr. Du Bois — who had 
none. Thus, the Association noted that, despite the univer- 
sity's commitment, implementation was seriously deficient. 
**We must ask why the improved citizenship status of blacks 
in the last three decades has not wrought concomitant re- 
form in the once all-white status of Harvard's faculty and 
administrators? What hidden barriers limit the success of so 
many seemingly well-intentioned affirmative action pledges 
and programs?" 

There were no records of the discussions that followed the 
opening statements. Investigators, piecing together informa- 
tion gained from files and interviews with victims' relatives and 
friends, were able to provide a likely summary of what was 
said. The academic deans, for example, had given Association 
members varying reasons for the few blacks on their faculdes. 



A Law P rofe s s or ' s Protest 131 

The decrease in the number of black American doctorates,* 
the lack or inadequacy of pools from which black applicants 
might be drawn,^ the lack of openings, the lack of funds for 
hiring new faculty, and the difficulty in obtaining tenure — all 
were recurring themes during the discussions. The most fre- 
quent explanation was that faculty openings required qualifi- 
cations that few, if any, blacks hold. The deans were less clear 
in explaining the paucity of black administrators, despite the 
admittedly larger pool of clearly qualified candidates for these 
positions. 

Judging by earlier meetings. Association members con- 
cluded that the academic deans were concerned about minor- 
it}^ hiring but comfortable with existing hiring criteria that rely 
heavily on high grades, preferably earned at prestigious 
schools. At the final meeting, the Association saw its task as 
getting the president to recognize that the deans' frequentiy 
expressed resistance to hiring African Americans with other 
than traditional academic backgrounds, regardless of the lat- 
ter's success and experience in their fields, contradicted cam- 
pus experience in hiring both whites and blacks. They planned 
to make two points: 

1. African Americans have been hired and promoted at Har- 
vard despite (for some) their lack of traditional qualifications. 
The fact that many of these men and women are now highly 
effective teachers and productive scholars has done nothing to 
alter the attitudes of those who doubt that minority candidates 
without traditional qualifications can succeed. 

2, A significant number of whites hired and tenured according 

*The number of blacks receiving doctorates has declined by 26 percent over the past 
decade, from 1,116 to 820; 50 percent of those earning the doctoral degree at 
Harvard were in fields other than the arts and sciences. And the number of blacks 
seeking the masters in education has dropped by 70 percent in recent years.* 
f As a result of an analysis of minority faculty at several schools of government, an 
official of the school concluded that availability was the major obstacle confronting 
the Kennedy School of Government and comparable institutions. 



132 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

to traditional academic criteria do not perform at consistently 
high levels as teachers and scholars. 

Therefore, the Association reasoned, reliance on traditional 
qualifications served to exclude potentially fine black profes- 
sors but did not prevent the hiring of whites who proved 
mediocre teachers and unimpressive scholars. 

One month after the explosion and just prior to the massive 
memorial service to honor all those who lost their lives in the 
Quincy Street house explosion, a proposal was found among 
the late president's papers. There were some indications that 
he had planned to present the paper to the Association at some 
point during the final meeting. It read: 

I agree that it is time to honor our words with deeds, and 
linking a new affirmative action program with Dr. Du 
Bois' name is an exceUent idea. In an essay that appeared 
in 1 903, only several months after the publication of The 
Souls of Black Folk, Dr. Du Bois wrote: "The Negro race, 
like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. 
The problem of education, then, among Negroes must 
first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem 
of developing the Best of this race that they may guide 
the Mass away from the contamination and death of the 
Worst, in their own and other races. "^ 

In keeping with Dr. Du Bois' vision, I plan to issue a 
proclamation that, in commemoration of the centennial 
of his coming to Harvard, will inaugurate the Du Bois 
Talented Tenth black faculty recruitment and hiring pro- 
gram. The goal of this program is that by the earliest 
possible time, ten percent of Har\'ard's facult)' and ad- 
ministrators should be black, Hispanic, or native Ameri- 
can men and women. 

Our black students need teachers. Teachers are mod- 
els as well as trainers; and while, as Du Bois and dozens 



A Law Professor's Protest 133 

of educational studies would agree, not all teachers of 
black students need be black, for a healthy and effective 
learning environment — for whites as well as blacks — 
some representative number of faculty should be persons 
of color. Adopting Du Bois' Talented Tenth standard as 
the immediate goal for all Harvard faculty and adminis- 
trative positions is both a reasonable and an appropriate 
means of moving Harvard's affirmative action commit- 
ment bevond tokenism. 

There were several blank pages in the president's notes 
where he likely intended to spell out how his plan should be 
implemented. His closing comment was, though, sufficient to 
provide his successors with all the direction they needed in that 
time of shock, mourning, and commitment. 

I am proposing a program both worthy of Harvard and 
capable of exciting enthusiasm and emulation by colleges 
across the land. Race has served for three centuries as an 
absolute bar for faculty status at Harvard. It remains the 
cause of suspicion rather than an opportunity for inclu- 
sion and broadening the scope of scholarly inquiry. We 
must confront and remove these unspoken but no less 
serious barriers. 

My proposal responds to the need for reform that will 
improve rather than degrade Harvard's standards of 
scholarly excellence: first, by vigorous effort, vacancies 
can be filled by blacks who hav^e either traditional 
qualifications or their equivalent; and, second, where 
such persons cannot be found or recruited, funding equal 
to the salaries of those positions will be devoted to fel- 
lowships and other support that will enable promising 
students of color to gain the necessary- credentials and 
experience to fill teaching and staff positions in the fu- 
ture, either here or at another school. 



134 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

The president's plan, read at the memorial service, electri- 
fied the Harvard community. With rare unanimity, it made 
implementation of the Talented Tenth program a matter of the 
highest priority. By the following year, the percentage of black 
and Hispanic faculty and staff reached levels double those at 
the time of the fatal explosion. In addition, scores of black 
graduate students were benefiting from the fellowship funds 
provided in unfilled minority positions. The reform had cap- 
mred national attention and was being emulated at colleges 
and universities across the country. 

Finally, exactiy two years after the never-explained explo- 
sion, an elegant building, the new home of the Du Bois Insti- 
tute, was opened on the site of the disaster — a fitting memorial 
to the past and a stately wimess to the university's ability to 
merge its commitment to affirmative action with that impres- 
sive past. 

Who can doubt that so great a disaster — and the concomi- 
tant threat of widespread racial disorders — would motivate 
concerted action to memorialize its victims? Such a memorial 
would be neither illegal nor wrong. Acceptance of that role 
without the motivation of grief and the need to memorialize 
lost colleagues would not render that role less worthy. Indeed, 
while adding to the luster of a great university, it might well 
spark a national movement toward closing the gap between the 
commitment to diversity in academe and the solid action 
needed to give life to that commitment. 



D D D D D 

"Well," Geneva said, as I finished the story, "even if I agree 
that the humanizing effect of a great disaster can lower white 
resistance to some racial reform, I don't see what you hoped 
to accomplish by making that point the heart of your Affir- 
mative y\ction Report, which, as 1 understand it, you and the 



A Law Professor's Protest 135 

Association of Black Facult\' and Administrators actually gave 
to the president and then, in October 1988, released to the 
pubUc."* 

"Remember," I reminded her, "the black faculty and staff at 
Har\'ard had gathered data on affirmative action there and 
conducted a series of individual meetings with the academic 
deans of each school. By placing the results of our survey and 
the interviews with deans in the context of an interesting, albeit 
fictional stor\', we hoped to spur debate that would lead to 
action." 

Geneva stared at me. "You must be kidding! Surely, you did 
not seriously believe that by placing your study of Harvard's 
affirmative action inadequacies in an allegorical tragedy, you 
would actually shame those high-level white folks into aggres- 
sively doing now what you suggest — and I agree — they might 
do if the Harvard community suffered a calamity' like that 
portrayed in the story? You, friend, are an optimist!" 

"After twenty years at Harvard," I said as emphatically as I 
could, "an optimist is what I am not! I did hope, though, that 
our report might stimulate those on campus who support a 
more diverse faculty to pressure deans and other policy mak- 
ers. You'll notice we didn't directiy condemn either the presi- 
dent or the deans. We wanted to lessen their opposition and 
perhaps garner their support for a more vigorous minority 
hiring program, which would benefit the university' as much if 
not more than the persons of color for whom it was aimed. 
Basically, though, I wanted to keep the study from suffering 



*The Final Affirmative Action Report received significant press coverage: "Har- 
vard Blacks Make L'nusuai Plea on Hiring," AV«' York Times, 30 October 1988, p. 
27; Joanne Ball, "Report Urges More Blacks on lacult)' at Harvard," Boston Globe, 

25 October 1988, p. 17; "Harvard Urged to Hire More Black Educators," Boston 
Herald, 25 October 1988, p. 1; Badiuzzaman Khasru, "Har%ard Hiring Is Criti- 
cized," Bay State Banner, 3 November 1988, p. 1; Chronicle of Hie^her liducation, 2 
November 1988, p. A14, col. 3. It was also covered in Harvard campus newspa- 
pers: see, for example, "Affirmative Action Goals Spur Debate," Harvard Crimson, 

26 October 1988, p. 1; "Report Calls For Minority Increase," Harvard University 
Gazette, 28 October 1988, p. 1. 



136 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

the 'released, reported, and quickly forgotten' fate of most race 
relations reports." 

"About the only way you could have done that," Geneva 
said wryly, as she pointed to the manuscript of my chapter on 
racial standing, "is have the black faculty and staff publish a 
report condemning affirmative action policies and urging the 
university to hire and promote strictly on merit — merit as 
defined by them, of course." 

"Actually," I admitted, "I think some members of our group 
would have been happier with a report criticizing affirmative 
action. It was a struggle gaining majority approval for the one 
we published. Although I'd expected some of our members 
would be a litde nervous about its unorthodox character, the 
amount of opposition really surprised me. Black people work- 
ing at Harvard are particularly anxious to play by the book. 
They haven't gotten where they are by radical or nonconform- 
ing behavior."* 

"So, what happened when you released the report? No," 
Geneva interrupted her quesdon, "let me guess. You received 
some press coverage — though any untoward happening at aU 
at Harvard is enough to pique media interest. Let's see," she 
continued, "you must have received a few telephone calls and 
notes from white liberals commending your report, but I 
would bet that few of them did anything publicly given the fact 
that the report — whether or not you intended it as such — ^was 
critical of Harvard's progress and condemned as cynical its 
unwillingness to act unless propelled by a major tragedy." 

"Very few campus critics bothered or, I should say, dared 

*Thc need for caution was confirmed when Lawrence Watson, the co-chair of the 
Association, was dismissed from his position as associate dean of the Har\ard 
Graduate School of Desij^ at the end of the school year f(jliowing publication of 
the Affirmative Action Report. "Budgetary reasons" were given as the reason for his 
dismissal, an explanation Watson successfully challenged under the universirv's ad- 
ministrative procedures. Paradoxically, it was Watson who convinced a majorit)' of 
the Association — most of whom were nontenured administrators — to support the 
report on the grounds that they should do no less than he, who was supporting it 
even though he was a nontenured administrator. 



A Law P rofe s s r ' s Protest 137 

to convey their upset to me," I said. "They view my activism 
as craziness that might make face-to-face criticism dangerous. 
It's not true, of course. I learned, though, that some of the 
faculty felt my use of so grisly a story to provoke discussion 
was unorthodox — in being, I assume, emotional rather than 
analytical and in seeking to pressure rather than reason with 
them." 

"Did they have a point?" Geneva asked in a chiding tone. 

"Perhaps — had I and others not been analyzing the issue to 
death for months and reasoning ourselves silly without getting 
any response beyond the usual platitudes, the same old expres- 
sions of concern." 

"How about the academic deans? After all, it was the meet- 
ings with them that formed the basis of your report." 

"With a few exceptions, the response of the deans with 
whom we met was private distress that we publicized the 
report and public silence regarding our findings. We learned — 
again, secondhand — that most deans were 'turned off' by the 
report. In their view, our tactics — so much a departure from 
the 'old boy' tradition — served as proof that our Association 
was not serious about improving minority hiring. In what was 
likely a retaliatory pressure tactic, some officials predicted that 
our report would harm rather than help minority hiring efforts 
on the campus. In the same vein, others reportedly were 
angered that the report questioned their commitment to af- 
firmative action." 

"I am certain," Geneva interjected, "that a goodly number 
of whites in that elite community' dismissed as totally unrealis- 
tic your report's recommendation that Harvard move aggres- 
sively toward a goal of ten-percent black and other previously 
disadvantaged minority' faculty and staff. And I would also 
bet," she added with a smile, "that more than a few traditional 
Harvard professors viewed your unorthodox report as the best 
possible argument why the university should abandon rather 
than accelerate its affirmative action programs." 



138 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"All your conjecture is accurate," 1 acknowledged sadly. "In 
effect, Geneva, you're suggesting — none too subtly — that the 
report may have undermined affirmative action programs as 
much as if it had called on the university to drop them?" 

"Let's just say you probably changed few minds about the 
worth of affirmative action." 

"It's frustrating! What do we have to do?" I wondered. 
"During our meetings with them, I asked some of the deans 
to imagine the racial statistics — and the power relationships — 
reversed, with ninety-eight percent of Harvard's faculty and 
professional staff remaining black more than two decades after 
a commitment to hire and promote whites. What action, then, 
would whites take? How convey the frustration and sense of 
shame that their presence, the result of earlier protest activity, 
serves to legitimize hiring policies that remain essentially un- 
changed?" 

"But don't you see?" Geneva exclaimed. "That was a rhetor- 
ical question. However helpful in a debate, such a possibility 
is so totally remote from elite white men's minds that likely no 
answer even surfaced." 

"Most simply looked at me blankly," I recalled. "You know, 
Geneva, when I agreed to become Harvard's first black faculty 
member back in 1969, I did so on the express commitment 
that I was to be the first, but not the last, black hired. I was 
to be the pioneer, the trailblazer. And, Lord knows, there was 
plenty of underbrush to clear away — aU of it steeped in tradi- 
tion designed to make it easy for smart young white men from 
privileged backgrounds, and impossible for everyone else. To 
look back now, after more than twenty years of clearing the 
trail and see it all grown over — well, it's a feeling not easy to 
describe." 

"Your metaphors evoke sympathy without providing much 
enlightenment, friend. What are the specific barriers that keep 
blacks from academic positions?" 

"I know the law teaching field best, of course," I replied 



A Law Professor's Protest 139 

cautiously, "but, as the Association discovered in putting to- 
gether its report, the barriers are complex, interwoven, and 
infinitely flexible. We identified several strands of resistance: 
white superiority, faculty conservatism, scholarly conformity, 
and tokenism. 

"The Harvard administration would deem deeply insulting 
any suggestion that white superiority was a current barrier to 
hiring blacks. But the fact is that for more than two hundred 
years before Du Bois' years at Harvard — and likely for three 
quarters of this century- — the strictures of law and widely held 
prejudices about the superiority of whites and the inferiority of 
blacks barred all blacks — including any with Du Bois' aca- 
demic qualifications — from any teaching or administrative po- 
sitions. The inertia sustained during this long exclusion period 
was not eliminated by antidiscrimination laws. Standards of 
qualification now subtiy play the role once performed overdy 
by policies of racial exclusion. 

"Actually, tenure may be a more important barrier than 
overt racism, though the two are clearly linked. Tenured fac- 
ulty are principally responsible for hiring and promotion deci- 
sions. Almost by definition, they're conservative when it 
comes to admitting new members to their ranks. They take 
seriously their roles as guardians of Harvard's scholarly reputa- 
tion — a guardianship not evil in itself, but in practice it simply 
replicates the status quo by selecting candidates from similar 
backgrounds, with interests and ideology like those of current 
facult}^ members. It may be my racial paranoia, but I sense that 
the way a faculty candidate will "fit in" receives great — if 
unacknowledged — weight in many faculty hiring and promo- 
tion decisions. This insider bias 'for those like us,' likely to 
eliminate many white candidates, is almost sure to exclude 
most black ones."* 

*My concerns about "insider preference" arc shared by the University of Massachu- 
setts philosophy professor Robert Paul Wolff, who wrote mc following release of the 
Association's report, warning that we should not "allow Harvard to get away with 



140 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

I went on to discuss an issue in which I was deeply con- 
cerned. Even outstanding scholarship can, if performed in a 
nontraditional format, disqualify a candidate seeidng a position 
or promotion. Narrow measures of excellence harm many 
candidates, but tend to exclude disproportionately blacks and 
other people of color whose approach, voice, or conclusions 
may depart radically from the usual forms. Minority faculty 
whose research is oriented toward political or practical issues 
are often dismissed as having introduced ideological concerns 
into scholarship. As a result, the selection process favors 
blacks who reject or minimize their blackness, exhibit little 
empathy for or interest in black students, and express views on 
racial issues far removed from positions held by most blacks 
including — often enough — the student groups who urge the 
hiring of more minorit}' teachers. 

"I realize that this gets into the subjective area of evaluating 
the qualit}' and worth of scholarship. The facult\^ are under- 
standably concerned about what they might define as a 'politi- 
cizing of scholarship,' but they should not condemn scholar- 
ship that has a political dimension — that is, a perspective 
different from their own. In addition, the evaluation process 
should include criteria for valuing a person's practical orienta- 
tion, rather than automatically concluding that such interests 
are 'soft' or 'unscientific' Professor Mari Matsuda has, in 
discussing the academic value of a more integrated legal land- 



thc myth that it searches the world for the best possible people. . . . The tact of the 
matter is that the appointment of a dozen solid, productive, interesting black 
academics would raise the general level of competence at Harvard. Professor Wolff, 
a Harvard undergraduate, graduate student, and instructor in philosophy and general 
education, said: 

We arc asked, over and over, to believe that Harvard's Olympian commitment 
to outstanding qualit)' is at war with its noble condescension to the moral 
demands of affirmative action. (C'hallenging this stance and suggesting that the 
faculties in several departments pass over promising junior facult)- to hire non- 
threatening and undistinguished persons, he warns] The elevated standards 
which Harvard so prides itself on only come into play when a woman or a black 
is a candidate. Then, suddenly, the question becomes: is this the best person in 
the entire galaxy, regardless of age, language, or even species?' 



A LaiP Professor's Protest 141 

scape, argued that new voices will emphasize difference, and 
thus give new vigor to theoretical debate. An outsider's experi- 
ence of discrimination or poverty may, for example, though 
differing from textbook cases, be valid knowledge, both con- 
crete and personal: 'To the extent legal discourse is distiUable 
into conflicts over distribution of resources, the voice of the 
poor will force us to discuss such conflicts with full awareness 
of the reality of American poverty.'^ 

"Finally, there's the barrier of tokenism. While the lack of 
an adequate pool of blacks with traditional qualifications 
serves as the major excuse for little or no progress, the drop 
in interest in minoritv recruitment after one or two blacks are 
hired demonstrates that there is an unconscious but no less 
real ceiling on the number of blacks who will be hired in a 
given department — regardless of their qualifications." 

"A daunting list of barriers," Geneva remarked, "but even 
many black academics would not agree with every item and, 
as you admit, would certainly not agree that your various 
protests are an effective means to improve minority hiring. 
The fact is, friend, any number of blacks are more than will- 
ing to play the token role at Harvard and other major 
schools. Some of them will feel better, more 'legitimate,' if 
there is only one of them. They believe as well that, by qui- 
etly doing their jobs, they better serve those students whose 
protests got them hired. They likely see you as a disruptive 
force, always bringing up racial issues and making it hard for 
them and the school to view black faculty as 'just faculty.' 
>X^ites who set policy at these institutions know this. You 
should not deny it." 

"You're right, of course," I acknowledged wearily. "Some of 
these young blacks with degrees from prestigious schools I 
didn't know existed when I was young, assume they were hired 
solely because they are good. Race, for them, is irrelevant. 
What they overlook are all those who struggled and risked so 
that they, the young blacks, would not — unlike the generations 



142 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

of no less able blacks who preceded them — be rejected for 
racial reasons. 

"I think it is damned sad, but they are not me! I haven't 
forgotten the students whose protests, at the risk of expulsion, 
led to my being hired. I don't think I ever told you, Geneva, 
but back in the mid-1960s, I applied for a teaching position at 
Harvard not once, but twice. The school's summary rejections 
turned into vigorous recruitment in 1969, after students 
mounted protests about the time of the riots that followed 
Martin Luther King's assassination. 

"Of course," I added, "I'm not seeking sympathy. With all 
my problems with my faculty colleagues, I think law teaching 
is the best job in the world. Moreover, some black and white 
faculty support my protest efforts." 

"Right. But isn't it usually quiedy and from a distance? That 
was certainly true with your decision in 1990 to take a leave 
without pay to protest Harvard's failure to hire and tenure a 
woman of color. Nor was it any less true in 1986 when you 
protested the faculty's denial of tenure to a white woman who 
was rejected, you felt, because of her connection with critical 
legal studies, a form of jurisprudence not particularly popular 
with many faculty members. Oh, and lest I forget, didn't you 
also resign your deanship, at the University of Oregon Law 
School in 1985 to protest that faculty's failure to offer a posi- 
tion to an Asian-American applicant?" 

"I did what I felt was appropriate and within my power to 
protest injustices after analysis and reasoning failed to con- 
vince my colleagues they were wrong. No one has to tell me 
how deeply invested law teachers are in their stellar grades and 
law review editorship standards. Even so, I keep trying new 
ways to make them see what they clearly do not want to see, 
what perhaps they're incapable of seeing. And not only at 
Harvard, I use these arguments at law schools across the 
country. 

"For example, the difficulty' many teachers have in evaluat- 



A Law Professor's Protest 143 

ing nontraditional scholarship is rather like the resistance com- 
posers of modern music encounter with audiences committed 
to the standard repertoire of Brahms, Beethoven, Haydn, and 
Mozart. My early experience with classical music was with two 
relatively modern works: Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and 
Paul Hindemith's Mathis de Maler. With my ear attuned to 
works of this genre, it was difficult for me to understand why 
so much of the concert-going public preferred and, indeed, 
demanded, the old masters. I came to recognize that the initial 
introduction to an art form, as to one's native language, creates 
a strong preference for that mode. Other st\des can seem 
dissonant and unmusical — inaccessible without considerable 
effort. 

"What I have noted about music is applicable to every form 
of literature and art. The presentation of truth in new forms 
provokes resistance, confounding those committed to ac- 
cepted measures for determining the qualit}' and validity of 
statements made and conclusions reached, and making it dif- 
ficult for them to respond and adjudge what is acceptable. We 
are, the literary critic Terry Eagleton reminds us, so attached 
to what we consider the aesthetically pleasing and cohesive 
whole of social life, that the 'socially disruptive, by contrast, is 
as instandy offensive as a foul smell.** The 'offensiveness re- 
sponse' is, I suggest, particularly likely when the innovators 
have backgrounds and oudooks gready different from those 
who have the responsibility to judge." 

"It's an argument," Geneva observed, "that is easier to 
understand than accept. You are dealing with professors for 
whom your facts and experience-based arguments are incom- 
prehensible, not convincing. How can you expect them to 
accept your views on faith when by their standards, the struc- 
ture of the writing reveals serious deviation from the faith 
most legal scholars have placed in doctrinal exegesis?" 

"Aha, Ms. Crenshaw!" I responded. "It's clear that you 
could hold your own in any law school's obfuscator)' dis- 



144 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

course. But, to be serious, I believe that however hard it is, 
these people must stretch their comprehension to embrace 
these nontraditional writings, from which I and many others 
have learned much about the law and how it functions in our 
society. If the purpose of scholarly writing is to communicate 
ideas, to blaze new intellectual trails that broaden the basis for 
serious debate, then even nontraditional scholars can become 
productive and deserve serious consideration for hiring and 
tenure at any school." 

"That's all well and good, friend — but I can hear them now 
asking you what does productive mean in legal scholarship? How 
does it translate into a justification for bestowing a tenured 
position on someone who lacks those credentials they view as 
the foundation stone of their law school's reputation?" 

I took a deep breath, feeling as though Geneva was taking 
almost too seriously her role as devil's advocate. "I can't claim 
objectivity, Geneva, but I and many other minority legal schol- 
ars — for example Patricia Williams, Angela Harris, Kimberle 
Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, Richard Delgado, Gerald Torres, 
Lani Gunier, and Charles Lawrence' — have borrowed from 
other disciplines like philosophy, literary^ criticism, and the 
social sciences. With what some of us are calling critical race 
theory, we are attempting to sing a new scholarly song — even 
if to some listeners our style is strange, our lyrics unseemly." 

"Why do you do it," Geneva asked me sadly, "given the 
predictable resistance, the almost certain rejection?" 

I shook my head. "As I told you at the outset, Geneva, it's 
something about being a lawyer and having the feeling that vou 
can convince reasonable people that your point of view is 
correct. And, of course, I truly believe that analysis of legal 
developments through fiction, personal experience, and the 
stories of people on the bottom illustrates how race and racism 
continue to dominate our society. The techniques also help in 
assessing sexism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of 
oppression. In fact, a good deal of the writing in critical race 



A Law P rofessor's Protest 145 

theorv' stresses that oppressions are neither neatly divorceable 
from one another nor amenable to strict categorization."^" 

Geneva nodded, but wondered whether we might get so 
engrossed in our critical race theory ideology that we lost 
contact with real world problems. I acknowledged the danger, 
but reassured her that we think it as important to reform the 
standards for hiring law teachers and evaluating their work — 
white men as well as minorities and white women — as to 
change admissions practices that until a few decades ago 
barred aU but a few black people from gaining admission to 
law schools. Unfortunately, although most law teachers agree 
that our classrooms are better and more viable and lively places 
for learning because of the diversity of our student bodies, far, 
far fewer share our view that more diversity on law faculties 
would lead to equaUy impressive improvements in the law 
school community. 

"Geneva, the legal profession is a mess. Polls show that a 
high percentage of lawyers are unhappy with their work." 
Dishonesty is, if not rampant, sufficiendy high to cause con- 
cern.'^ Although legal education is not the cause of all these 
problems, it is increasingly obvious to some of us that staffing 
faculties with people who earned high grades and have, for the 
most part, never practiced, may be one way of training more 
law teachers with similar credentials, but it does not produce 
lawyers able to practice effectively and have satisfying experi- 
ences in the modern world. 

"No," I assured her, "for us, this writing is not some idle 
vogue. Nor are we willfully confrontational. Rather, we feel we 
must understand so as better to oppose the dire forces that 
are literally destroying the many people who share our racial 
heritage." 

I went on to tell Geneva how I and other minorit}' teachers 
are encouraged, even inspired in our scholarly pioneering by 
the Old Testament's reminder that neither the challenge we 
face nor its difficulty are new. Indeed, no fewer than three 



146 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

psalms begin by urging "O sing unto the Lord a new song'V^ 
as does Isaiah, who admonishes: "Sing to the Lord a new song, 
his praise from the end of the earth!"''* 

"No, Geneva," I went on, "we do not expect praise for our 
legal scholarship that departs from the traditional. We simply 
seek understanding and that tolerance without which no new 
songs will ever be heard." 



CHAPTER 8 



Racism's Secret Bonding 



Ami Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent 
thunder and hail, . . . And the hail smote throughout all the land of 
Eg^pt all that was in the field, . . . Only in the land of Goshen, where 
the children of Israel were, was there no hail . . . And when Pharaoh 
saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, . . . the 
heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of 
Israel go. — Exodus 9:23—35 



The first of what came to be known as the Racial Data 
Storms fell on the Fourth of July. Setting the pattern for the 
storms that followed, it broke exacdy at noon and lasted for 
precisely a half hour. Over the vast expanse of fifty states, 
including Alaska and Hawaii, skies darkened quickly, turning 
bright day into eerie twilight. Lightning bolts pierced the 
gloom and were particularly frightening because they slithered 
almost vertically from sky to earth. Each lightning flash was 
foUowed by a cannonlike crack of thunder. No rain fell. In- 
stead, there was a precipitation of visible, though quite thin 
slivers of hitherto-unknown energy rays. These rays did not 
soak people's clothing and skin but — easily penetrating um- 
brellas, raincoats, even the stoutest structures — entered their 
consciousness and flooded them with data. 

Then the real fear set in. There was no need to read about 
the Data Storm or watch it on television. Every U.S. citizen 
could report from personal experience that the July Fourth 
storm rained down statistical data about the number of Afri- 
cans who had been captured, brought to these shores, and 



148 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

enslaved during the years of the slave trade. Those newly 
soaked not only knew the statisdcs but experienced the horri- 
fied feelings of the subjects of those stadsdcs. As a kind of 
rhetorical counterpoint to the stadsdcal bombardment, there 
rang in the ears of the white Americans undergoing the data 
deluge the famous andslavery speech Frederick Douglass pre- 
sented on the Fourth of July, 1852. 

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a 
day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, 
the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant 
victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted 
liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling 
vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty, all heartiess; your 
denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts 
of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and 
hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious 
parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, 
deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up 
crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not 
a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and 
bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very 
hour.' 

Recovering that evening, government officials promised 
their shaken constituents to leave no stone unturned in getting 
to the bottom of the phenomenon. In the meantime, they tried 
to dismiss it as a Fourth of July prank that was neither funny 
nor patriotic. "It will not happen again," scientists assured 
citizens, but this prediction could not support any explanation 
of how the data deluge occurred in the first place. There was 
one major clue to its cause. African Americans had not been 
deluged, had not even noticed the storm. When they learned 
what had happened, blacks spontaneously reached a single 
conclusion. "Guess," they asked one another, "who is going to 
get the blame for this?" 



Racism's .Secret Bonding 149 

The next day, the Racial Data Storm returned. Amidst awe- 
some thunder and lightning, the deluge rained down statistics 
on black unemployment and the consistendy large disparities 
(averaging two and one half times) between jobless figures for 
blacks and whites. The figures, while astonishing, were not 
new. The data contained as well, though, the feelings of frus- 
tration, despair, and rage that blacks experience when discrimi- 
nation bars them from jobs they would otherwise obtain. 
These data-related feelings were unnerving even to unem- 
ployed whites. The more predictable feeling so evident after 
the first storm — outrage — ^was wholly absent. In part, the de- 
luge itself seemed less invasive, as though the waves had been 
fine-tuned to convey their messages with a minimum of 
disruption. 

In the days that foUowed, the storms and their accompany- 
ing background lectures continued. The data continued to 
convey information and evoke feelings about disparities — in 
comparison with whites — in infant death rates, educational 
attainment, income based on education, life expectancies, 
prison terms for the same crime, the death sentence, and 
housing and health care costs and availability. 

After a few weeks, complaints that government "do some- 
thing" about the daily deluges diminished — as ever more peo- 
ple demanded that government at every level act to address the 
nation's social iUs, including racial injustice, and the heavy 
financial, political, and moral burden racism imposed on all 
races. Prompted by business groups who were satisfied with 
the status quo, elected officials tried to justify delay by saying 
the primary job was to catch whomever was causing the Racial 
Data Storms, but the citizens paid no attention. Finally, mas- 
sive, day-long sitdown strikes, conducted at the workplace and 
in the middle of busy thoroughfares, persuaded both official 
and behind-the-scenes powers to act. 

There was further impetus for reform after the first few 
states to initiate broad social reforms reported that the Data 



150 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Storms had stopped and been replaced by moderate rains that 
fell each night from 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. The reforms included 
new legislative efforts to protect against discrimination based 
on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, and physical chal- 
lenge, along with the means to enforce them vigorously. But 
it turned out that far less enforcement was required. The daily 
doses of feeling what discrimination is really like had made 
many white people eager to comply with the new laws. 

Finally, government intelligence agents located the source 
of the Racial Data Storms. On the morning when they planned 
to enter the secluded scientific site high in the Rocky Moun- 
tains, the chief suspects — three black scientists — managed to 
stow away on a space shuttle and, after take-off, hijacked it. At 
a point high in the shutde's orbit, they exited through the 
shuttle's cargo doors and disappeared into the black of 
space — whether to attempt a re-entr)' into the Earth's atmo- 
sphere or to head for another planet no one ever learned. 
There was no doubt, however, that they had left behind them 
the greatest social reform movement America had ever known. 



D D D n n 

"Well," Geneva asked, "do you think sweeping reforms are 
possible in the wake of such brilliant manipulation of mete- 
orology, statistics, and psychology?" 

"I am far less certain than I was twent}^ even ten, years ago," 
I replied, "that our long-held belief in education is the key to 
the race problem. You know," and I explained the old formula, 
"education leads to enlightenment. E,nlightenment opens the 
way to empathy. Filmpathy foreshadows reform. In other 
words, that whites — once given a true understanding of the 
evils of racial discrimination, once able to feel how it harms 
blacks — would find it easy, or easier, to give up racism." 



Racism's Secret Bonding 151 

"Yes, that is certainly what we have hoped for," Geneva 
agreed, "but now you have doubts? Doubts based on " 

"Experience, Geneva, experience. Even older and wiser, it's 
hard for me to admit, but we fool ourselves when we argue 
that whites do not know what racial subordination does to its 
victims. Oh, they may not know the details of the harm, or its 
scope, but they know. Knowing is the key to racism's greatest 
value to individual whites and to their interest in maintaining 
the racial status quo." 

'Watch it, friend!" Geneva cautioned. "Your civil rights 
colleagues who consider your giving up on integration to be an 
abject surrender to racism, will deem blasphemy your loss of 
faith in the value of educating whites to racism's evils." 

"Don't I know it?" I replied sadly, thinking of some of the 
motivations for racist behavior that we understand, and trying 
to connect them with other factors, possibly hidden ones we 
haven't yet considered. We've long known, as I told Geneva, 
that poor whites prefer to identify with what Professor Kim- 
berle Crenshaw calls the "dominant circle" of well-to-do 
whites,^* particularly those who attribute social problems to 
blacks rather than to the policies that they, the upper-class 
policymakers, have designed and implemented. No less accu- 
rate, if more earthy, than Crenshaw's is the novelist Toni 
Morrison's assessment of how the presence of blacks enables 
a bonding by whites across a vast socioeconomic divide. When 
asked why blacks and whites can't bridge the abyss in race 
relations, Morrison replied: 

[Bjecause black people have always been used as a buffer in 
this country between powers to prevent class war, to prevent 
other kinds of real conflagrations. 

If there were no black people here in this country, it would 
have been Balkanized. The immigrants would have torn each 
other's throats out, as they have done ever^^where else. But 

*See introduction, page 8. 



152 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

in becoming an American, from Europe, what one has in 
common with that other immigrant is contempt for me — it's 
nothing else but color. Wherever they were from, they would 
stand together. They could all say, "I am not that. " So in that 
sense, becoming an American is based on an attitude: an 
exclusion of me. 

It wasn't negative to them — it was unifying. When they got 
off the boat, the second word they learned was "nigger." Ask 
them — I grew up with them. I remember in the fifth grade a 
smart litde boy who had just arrived and didn't speak any 
English. He sat next to me. I read well, and I taught him to 
read just by doing it. I remember the moment he found out 
that I was black — a nigger. It took him six months; he was 
told. And that's the moment when he belonged, that was his 
entrance. Every immigrant knew he would not come at the 
very bottom. He had to come above at least one group — and 
that was us.^ 

"You know, Geneva," I mused, "Morrison's observation 
gains in validity as the Eastern Europeans — freed of the au- 
thoritarian domination of Communist control — engage in 
fierce and bloody ethnic conflicts. Those conflicts, and their 
violent counterparts in other parts of the world, reveal the role 
of blacks that enables Americans to boast that this nation is a 
melting pot of people from many origins." 

"I understand," Geneva interrupted. "Americans achieve a 
measure of social stability through their unspoken pact to keep 
blacks on the bottom — an aspect of social functioning that 
more than any other has retained its viability and its value to 
general stability from the very beginning of the American 
experience down to the present day. Indeed, as Professor 
Jennifer HochschiJd has recognized, racism is in a state of 
symbiosis with liberal democracy in this country.'** And, if all 
this is true, does that not mean that we need a truly extraordi- 
nary educational campaign, something like a data deluge?" 

♦Sec introduction, page 10. 



Racism's Secret Bonding 153 

"So, I would think, but I have the sense that it's an open 
secret everyone has agreed on, however much individuals may 
deplore it from time to time. Indeed, I wonder whether the 
plight of black people in this country isn't caused by factors 
more fundamental even than white racism, more essential than 
good government to a civilized society? While some racial 
reform can be pressured by financial considerations, disaster, 
threat, guilt, love, and, yes, even education, there may be a 
primar}^ barrier to the racial reformation which nullifies all 
these. I wonder, that is, whether — in the melding of millions 
of individuals into a nation — some within it musthG. sacrificed, 
killed, or kept in misery so that the rest who share the guilt for 
this monstrous wrong, can bring out of their guilt those quali- 
ties of forbearance and tolerance essential to group survival 
and growth? And, if so, then who in the legal system plays the 
more important role — the prosecutors who are the instru- 
ments of the sacrifices mandated by a social physics we do not 
understand, or the defendants whose efforts are destined to fail 
but who, by those efforts, serve to camouflage the bitter reality 
of those sacrifices from the society and — alas — from them- 
selves as well?" 

As I wound up, Geneva just looked at me blankly, her face 
reflecting my own stark frame of mind. 

"A grim outiook, I know," I said, "and one that has taken 
on confirming, metaphorical muscle for me in Ursula Le 
Guin's haunting short story 'The Ones Who Walk Away from 
Omelas.' " 

I went on to give a brief account of the idyllic communit}^ 
in the story, of a prosperous and sophisticated people, much 
given to carnivals, parades, and festivals of all kinds; their 
leaders, wise and free of corruption. 

"There is in Omelas neither crime nor want. In a word, its 
people are extremely happy. 

"But there is a problem, an open secret. It's a secret that 
forces some who learn of it — and some who have known it for 



154 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

a long time — to conclude that they cannot remain, and they 
leave Omelas. They leave and never look back, never return." 
Reaching over to my bookshelf, I took down the book of 
Le Guin's short stories and opened it to the passage that had 
haunted me since I'd read it some days earlier. 

In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of 
Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious pri- 
vate homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no 
window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the 
boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere 
across the cellar. . . . The floor is dirt, a litde damp to the 
touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces 
long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool 
room. In the room a child is sitting. It might be a boy or a 
girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is fee- 
bleminded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has 
become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. 
. . . The door is always locked, and nobody ever comes, 
except that sometimes — the child has no understanding of 
time or interval — sometimes the door rattles terribly and 
opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of 
them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. 
The others never come close, but peer in at it with fright- 
ened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and water jug are hastily 
filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at 
the door never say anything, but the child, who has not al- 
ways lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and 
its mother's voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good," it 
says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer. 
They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of 
them have come to see it, others are content merely to know 
it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them 
understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that 
their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their 
friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their 
scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of 



Racism's Secret Bonding 155 

their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend 
wholly on this child's abominable misery.^ 



Geneva sat quiedy for a time, absorbed in thought. "A fine 
stor)'," she said finaUy, "and an apt metaphor for the knowing 
but unspoken alliance whereby all whites are bonded — as bell 
hooks says — by racism.*^ And," she added, "as paradoxical as 
it seems, viewing racism as an amalgam of guilt, responsibility, 
and power — aU of which are generally known but never ac- 
knowledged — may explain why educational programs are des- 
tined to fail. More important, the onus of this open but un- 
mentionable secret about racism marks the critical difference 
between blacks and whites in this country, the unbreachable 
barrier, the essence of why blacks can never be deemed the 
orthodox, the standard, the conventional. Indeed, the fact that, 
as victims, we suffer racism's harm but, as a people, cannot 
share the responsibility for that harm, may be the crucial 
component in a definidon of what it is to be black in America." 

"So," I said, "you see why I was impressed but not com- 
pletely convinced by your Data Storm allegory. For all the 
reasons we have been discussing, being black in America 
means we are ever the outsiders. As such, we are expendable 
and must live always at risk of some ultimate betrayal by those 
who will treat such treachery as a right." 

Geneva frowned. "I guess what you say is right, but now 
that we have expanded — exploded, really — the education-as- 
cure-for-racism notion, there is something more. Toni Morri- 
son, you know, is not the only witness to the fact that learning 
the term ni^er made new immigrants from Europe 'feel in- 
stantly American.' Why, 'every white immigrant who got off 
the boat was allowed,' as Andrew Hacker writes, 'to talk about 
"the niggers" within 10 minutes of landing in America.'^ Ralph 
Ellison, too, saw that 'whites could look at the social position 
of blacks and feel that color formed an easy and reliable gauge 
for determining to what extent one was or was not an Ameri- 



156 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

can.' But he saw this as 'tricky magic,' because despite the racial 
difference and social status, 'something indisputably American 
about Negroes not only raised doubts about the white man's 
value system but aroused the troubling suspicion that whatever 
else the true American is, he is also somehow black.' "^ 

In the essay of Ellison's from which Geneva was quoting, 
he reviews the long history — fantasy, he calls it — of an Amer- 
ica free of blacks. He calls it an absurd fantasy, one that 
fascinates blacks no less than whites and that becomes opera- 
tive whenever the nation grows weary of the struggle toward 
the ideal of American democratic equality. In arguing that 
blacks are a unique and essential part of American culture, 
Ellison contends that without blacks, the nation's economic, 
political, and cultural history would have been far different. 
And, because they are an essential component of this countr^^'s 
make-up, he warns that those who would use the removal of 
blacks as a radical therapy to achieve a national catharsis, 
would destroy rather than cure the patient. 

"Do you think," I asked, "that recognition of our essential 
cultural role may protect us from the ultimate betrayal we both 
fear?" 

"On the contrary," she said firmly, "I believe that the notion 
that we blacks, the immutable outsiders, might nevertheless be 
the bearers of the culture, increases our risk dramatically." 

"Then, you differ with Ralph Ellison," and I took his book 
from the shelf. "He concludes his essay by acknowledging that 
blacks, of the many groups that compose this country, suffered 
the harsh realities of the human condition. Because of our past 
fate, 'for blacks, there are no hiding places down here, not in 
suburbia or in penthouse, neither in country nor in city. They 
are an American people who are geared to what is and who yet 
are driven by a sense of what is possible for human Life to be 
in this society.' He predicts that the nation could not survive 
being deprived of blacks' presence because, 'by the irony im- 
plicit in the dynamics of American democracy, they symbolize 



Racism's Secret Bonding 157 

both its most stringent testing and the possibility of its greatest 
human freedom. '^ 

"Ellison's optimism cannot conceal the additional dimen- 
sion he provides to the scapegoat theme in Le Guin's story. He 
is telling — or, rather, reminding — us that black people are not 
innocent children chosen at random to perform the psycho- 
logically necessary role of social cohesion. Rather, they are the 
nation's conscience, but he says it better than I." 

Taking the book from me, Geneva read the passage I 
pointed to: 

Listen: it is the black American who puts pressure upon the 
nation to live up to its ideals. It is he who gives creative tension 
to our struggle for justice and for the elimination of those 
factors, social and psychological, which make for slums and 
shak)- suburban communities. . . . Without the black American, 
something irrepressibly hopeful and creative would go out of 
the American spirit, and the nation might well succumb to the 
moral slobbism that has ever threatened its existence from 
within.'" 

"In other words," I suggested when she looked up, "we're 
a race of Jeremiahs, prophets calling for the nation to repent." 

"Exactiy!" Geneva said. "And you know what nations do to 
their prophets?" 

"I do. About the least dire fate for a prophet is that one 
preaches, and no one listens; that one risks all to speak the 
truth, and nobody cares." 



CHAPTER 9 



The Space Traders 



/ January. The first surprise was not their arrival. The radio 
messages had begun weeks before, announcing that one thou- 
sand ships from a star far out in space would land on 1 January' 
2000, in harbors along the Adantic coast from Cape Cod to 
North Carolina. Well before dawn on that day, millions of 
people across North America had wakened early to witness the 
moment the ships entered Earth's atmosphere. However ex- 
pected, to the watchers, children of the electronic age, the 
spaceships' approach was as awesome as had been that earlier 
one of three small ships, one October over five hundred years 
before, to the Indians of the island of Santo Domingo in the 
Caribbean.' 

No, the first surprise was the ships themselves. The people 
who lined the beaches of New Jersey where the first ships were 
scheduled to arrive, saw not anything NASA might have 
dreamed up, but huge vessels, the size of aircraft carriers, 
which the old men in the crowd recognized as being pretty 
much like the box-shaped landing craft that carried Allied 



The Space Traders 159 

troops to the Normandy beachheads during the Second 
World War. 

As the sun rose on that cold bright morning, the people on 
the shore, including an anxious delegation of government of- 
ficials and media reporters, witnessed a fantastic display of 
eerie lights and strange sound — evidendy the visitors' salute to 
their American hosts. Almost unnoticed during the spectacle, 
the bow of the leading ship slowly lowered. A sizable party of 
the visitors — the first beings from outer space anyone on 
Earth had ever seen — emerged and began moving majestically 
across the water toward shore. The shock of seeing these 
beings, regal in appearance and bearing, literaUy walking on the 
waves was more thrilling than frightening. At least, no one 
panicked. 

Then came the second surprise. The leaders of this vast 
armada could speak English. Moreover, they spoke in the 
familiar comforting tones of former President Reagan, having 
dubbed his recorded voice into a computerized language- 
transladon system. 

After the initial greetings, the leader of the U.S. delegation 
opened his mouth to read his welcoming speech — only the 
first of several speeches scheduled to be given on this historic 
occasion by the leaders of both political parties and other 
eminent citizens, including — of course — stars of the entertain- 
ment and sports worlds. But before he could begin, the princi- 
pal spokesperson for the space people (and it wasn't possible 
to know whether it was man or woman or something else 
entirely) raised a hand and spoke crisply, and to the point. 

And this point constituted the third surprise. Those mam- 
moth vessels carried within their holds treasure of which the 
United States was in most desperate need: gold, to bail out the 
almost bankrupt federal, state, and local governments; special 
chemicals capable of unpolluting the environment, which was 
becoming daily more toxic, and restoring it to the pristine state 



160 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

it had been before Western explorers set foot on it; and a 
totally safe nuclear engine and fuel, to relieve the nation's 
all-but-depleted supply of fossil fuel. In return, the visitors 
wanted only one thing — and that was to take back to their 
home star all the African Americans who lived in the United 
States. 

The jaw of every one of the welcoming officials dropped, 
not a word of the many speeches they had prepared suitable 
for the occasion. As the Americans stood in stupefied silence, 
the visitors' leader emphasized that the proposed trade was for 
the Americans freely to accept or not, that no force would be 
used. Neither then nor subsequendy did the leader or any 
other of the visitors, whom anchorpersons on that evening's 
news shows immediately labeled the "Space Traders," reveal 
why they wanted only black people or what plans they had for 
them should the United States be prepared to part with that or 
any other group of its citizens. The leader only reiterated to his 
still-dumbfounded audience that, in exchange for the treasure 
they had brought, they wanted to take away every American 
citizen categorized as black on birth certificate or other official 
idendfication. The Space Traders said they would wait sixteen 
days for a response to their offer. That is, on 17 January — the 
day when in that year the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., 
was to be observed — they would depart carrying with them 
every black man, woman, and child in the nation and leave 
behind untold treasure. Otherwise, the Space Traders' leader 
shrugged and glanced around — at the oil slick in the water, at 
the dead gulls on the beach, at the thick shadow of smog that 
obscured the sky on all but the windiest days. Then the visitors 
walked back over the waves and returned to their ships. 

Their departure galvanized everyone — the delegation, the 
watchers on the beach, the President glued to his television 
screen in the White House, citizens black and white through- 
out the country. The President, who had been advised to stay 
in the White House out of concern for his sccurit)-, called 



The Space Traders 161 

Congress into special session and scheduled a cabinet meeting 
for the next morning. Governors reconvened any state legisla- 
tures not already in session. The phones of members of Con- 
gress began ringing, as soon as the millions of people viewing 
the Space Traders' offer on television saw them move back 
across the water, and never stopped till the morning of 17 
January. 

There was a definite split in the nature of the calls — a split 
that reflected distincdy different perceptions of the Space 
Traders. Most white people were, like the welcoming delega- 
tion that morning, relieved and pleased to find the visitors 
from outer space unthreatening. They were not human, obvi- 
ously, but resembled the superhuman, good-guy characters in 
comic books; indeed, they seemed to be practical, no-nonsense 
folks like regular Americans. 

On the other hand, many American blacks — whether 
watching from the shore or on their television screens — had 
seen the visitors as distinctly unpleasant, even menacing in 
appearance. While their perceptions of the visitors differed, 
black people all agreed that the Space Traders looked like bad 
news — and their trade offer certainly was — and burned up the 
phone lines urging black leaders to take action against it. 

But whites, long conditioned to discounting any statements 
of blacks unconfirmed by other whites, chose now, of course, 
to follow their own perceptions. "Will the blacks never be free 
of their silly superstitions?" whites asked one another with 
condescending smiles. "Here, in this truly historic moment, 
when America has been selected as the site for this planet's 
first contact with people from another world, the blacks just 
revert to their primitive fear and foolishness." Thus, the 
blacks' outrage was discounted in this crisis; they had, as usual, 
no credibility. 

And it u^as a time of crisis. Not only because of the Space 
Traders' offer per se, but because that offer came when the 
countrv was in dire straits. Decades of conservative, laissez- 



162 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

faire capitalism had emptied the coffers of all but a few of the 
very rich. The nation that had, in the quarter-century after the 
Second World War, funded the reconstruction of the free 
world had, in the next quarter-centur)', given itself over to 
greed and willful exploitation of its natural resources. Now it 
was struggling to survive like any third-world nation. Massive 
debt had curtailed all but the most necessary services. The 
environment was in shambles, as reflected by the fact that the 
sick and elderly had to wear special masks whenever they 
ventured out-of-doors. In addition, supplies of crude oil and 
coal were almost exhausted. The Space Traders' offer had 
come just in time to rescue America. Though few gave voice 
to their thoughts, many were thinking that the trade offer was, 
indeed, the ultimate solution to the nation's troubles. 

2 January. The insomnia that kept the American people 
tossing and turning that first night of the new century did not 
spare the WTiite House. As soon as the President heard the 
Space Traders' post-arrival proposition on television, his polit- 
ical instincts immediately locked into place. This was big! And 
it looked from the outset like a "no win" situation — not a 
happy crisis at the start of an election year. Even so, he had 
framed the outline of his plan by the time his cabinet members 
gathered at eight o'clock the next morning. 

There were no blacks in his cabinet. Four years before, , 
during his first election campaign, the President had made 
some vague promises of diversity when speaking to minority 
gatherings. But after the election, he thought, WTiat the hell! 
Most blacks and Hispanics had not supported him or his party. 
Although he had followed the practice of keeping one black on 
the Supreme Court, it had not won him many minority votes. 
He owed them nothing. Furthermore, the few black figures in 
the party always seemed to him overly opportunistic and, to be 
frank, not very smart. But now, as the cabinet members ar- 
rived, he wished he had covered his bases better. 



The Space Traders 163 

In the few hours since the Space Traders' offer, the White 
House and the Congress had been inundated with phone calls 
and telegrams. The President was not surprised that a clear 
majority spontaneously urged acceptance of the offer. 

"Easy for them to say," he murmured to an aide. "FU bet 
most of those who favor the trade didn't sign or give their 
names." 

"On the contrary," the assistant replied, "the callers are 
identifv^ing themselves, and the telegrams are signed." 

At least a third of the flood of phone calls and faxes urging 
quick acceptance of the offer expressed the view that what the 
nation would give up — its African-American citizens — was as 
worthwhile as what it would receive. The statements accurately 
reflected relations at the dawn of the new centurv'. The Presi- 
dent had, like his predecessors for the last generation, success- 
fully exploited racial fears and hostility in his election cam- 
paign. There had been complaints, of course, but those from 
his political opponents sounded like sour grapes. They, too, 
had tried to minimize the input of blacks so as not to frighten 
away white voters. 

The race problem had worsened gready in the 1990s. A 
relatively small number of blacks had survived the retrogres- 
sion of civil rights protection, perhaps 20 percent having 
managed to make good in the increasingly technologically 
oriented society. But, without anyone acknowledging it and 
with hardly a peep from the press, more than one half of the 
group had become outcasts. They were confined to former 
inner-city areas that had been divorced from their political 
boundaries. High walls surrounded these areas, and armed 
guards controlled entrance and exit around the clock. Still, 
despite all precautions, young blacks escaped from time to 
time to terrorize whites. Long dead was the dream that this 
black underclass would ever "overcome." 

The President had asked Gleason Golighdy, the conserva- 
tive black economics professor, who was his unofficial black 



164 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

cabinet member, to attend the meeting. Golightly was smart 
and seemed to be truly conservative, not a man ready to sing 
any political tune for a price. His mere presence as a person 
of color at this crucial session would neutralize any possible 
critics in the media, though not in the black civil rights 
community. 

The cabinet meeting came to order. 

"I think we all know the situation," the President said. 
"Those extraterrestrial beings are carrying in their ships a 
guarantee that America will conquer its present problems and 
prosper for at least all of this new century." 

"I would venture, sir," the Vice President noted, "that the 
balance of your term will be known as 'America's Golden Age.' 
Indeed, the era will almost certainly extend to the terms of 
your successor." 

The President smiled at the remark, as — on cue — did the 
cabinet. "The VP is right, of course," the President said. "Our 
visitors from outer space are offering us the chance to correct 
the excesses of several generations. Furthermore, many of the 
men and women — voters all — who are bombarding us with 
phone calls, see an added bonus in the Space Traders' offer." 
He looked around at his attentive cabinet members. "They are 
offering not only a solution to our nation's present problems 
but also one — surely an ultimate one — to what might be called 
the great American racial experiment. That's the real issue 
before us today. Does the promise of restored prosperity 
justify our sending away fifteen percent of our citizens to Lord 
knows what fate?" 

"There are pluses and minuses to this 'fate' issue, Mr. Presi- 
dent." Helen Hipmeyer, Secretary of Health and Human Ser- 
vices, usually remained silent at cabinet meetings. Her speaking 
up now caused eyebrows to rise around the table. "A large 
percentage of blacks rely on welfare and other social services. 
Their departure would ease substantially the burden on our 
state and national budgets. Why, the cost of caring for black 



The Space Traders 165 

AIDS victims alone has been extraordinaty. On the other 
hand, the consternation and guilt among many whites if the 
blacks are sent away would take a severe psychological toll, 
with medical and other costs which might also reach astro- 
nomical levels. To gain the benefits we are discussing, without 
serious side effects, we must have more justification than I've 
heard thus far." 

"Good point, Madame Secretary," the President answered, 
"but there are risks at every opportunity." 

"I've never considered myself a particularly courageous in- 
dividual, Mr. President." It was the Secretary of the Interior, a 
man small in stature but with a mind both sharp and devious, 
who had presided over the logging of the last of the old- 
growth timber in the nation's national forests. "But if I could 
guarantee prosperity for this great country by giving my life or 
going off with the Space Traders, I would do it without hesita- 
tion. And, if I would do it, I think every red-blooded American 
with an ounce of patriotism would as well." The Secretary sat 
down to the warm applause of his colleagues. 

His suggestion kindled a thought in the Secretary of De- 
fense. "Mr. President, the Secretary's courage is not unlike that 
American men and women have exhibited when called to 
military service. Some go more willingly than others, but al- 
most all go even with the knowledge that they may not come 
back. It is a call a country makes on the assumption that its 
citizens will respond. I think that is the situation we have here, 
except that instead of just young men and women, the country 
needs all of its citizens of African descent to step forward and 
serve." More applause greeted this suggestion. 

The Attorney General asked for and got the floor. "Mr. 
President, 1 think we could put together a legislative package 
modeled on the Selective Service Act of 1918. Courts have 
uniformly upheld this statute and its predecessors as being 
well within congressional power to exact enforced military 
duty at home or abroad by United States citizens.^ While I 



166 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

don't see any constitutional problems, there would likely be 
quite a debate in Congress. But if the mail they are receiving 
is anything like ours, then the pressure for passage will be 
irresistible." 

The President and the cabinet members heard reports from 
agents who had checked out samples of the gold, chemicals, 
and machinery the Space Traders had brought. More tests 
would be run in the next few days, but first indications were 
that the gold was genuine, and that the antipollution chemicals 
and the nuclear fuel machine were safe and worked. Everyone 
recognized that the benefits to the country would be enor- 
mous. The ability to erase the country's debt alone would ease 
the economic chaos the Federal Reserve had staved off during 
the last few years only by its drastic — the opposition party 
called it "unscrupulous" — manipulation of the money supply. 
The Secretary of the Treasury confirmed that the Space Trad- 
ers' gold would solve the nation's economic problems for 
decades to come. 

"What are your thoughts on all this. Professor Golighdy?" 
asked the President, nodding at the scholarly-looking black 
man sitting far down the table. The President realized that 
there would be a lot more opposition to a selective service plan 
among ordinary citizens than among the members of his cabi- 
net, and hoped Golightiy would have some ideas for getting 
around it. 

Golightiy began as though he understood the kind of an- 
swer the President wanted. 

"As you know, Mr. President, I have supported this admin- 
istration's policies that have led to the repeal of some civil 
rights laws, to invalidation of most affirmative action pro- 
grams, and to severe reduction in appropriations for public 
assistance. To put it mildly, the positions of mine that have 
received a great deal of media attention, have not been well 
received in African-American communities. Even so, I have 
been willing to be a 'good soldier' for the Party even though 



The Space Traders 167 

I am condemned as an Uncle Tom by my people. I sincerely 
believe that black people needed to stand up on their own feet, 
free of special protection provided by civil rights laws, the 
suffocating burden of welfare checks, and the stigmatizing 
influence of affirmative action programs. In helping you un- 
dermine these policies, I realized that your reasons for doing 
so differed from mine. And yet I went along." 

Golighdy stopped. He reached down for his coffee mug, 
took a few sips, and ran his fingers through his graying but 
relatively straight (what some black people call "good") hair. 
"Mr. President, my record of support entities me to be heard 
on the Space Traders' proposition. I disagree strongly with 
both the Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General. 
\Xliat they are proposing is not universal selective service for 
blacks. It is group banishment, a most severe penalty and one 
that the Attorney General would impose without benefit of 
either due process or judicial review. 

"It is a mark of just how far out of the mainstream black 
people are that this proposition is given any serious considera- 
tion. Were the Space Traders attracted by and asking to trade 
any other group — white women with red hair and green eyes, 
for example — a horrified public would order the visitors off 
the planet without a moment's hesitation. The revulsion would 
not be less because the number of persons with those physical 
characteristics are surely fewer than the twenty million black 
citizens you are ready to condemn to intergalactic exile. 

"Mr. President, I cannot be objective on this proposal. I will 
match my patriotism, including readiness to give my life for my 
country, with that of the Secretary of the Interior. But my duty 
stops short of condemning my wife, my three children, my 
grandchildren, and my aged mother to an unknown fate. You 
simply cannot condemn twenty million people because they 
are black, and thus fit fodder for trade, so that this country can 
pay its debts, protect its environment, and ensure its energy 
supply. I am not ready to recommend such a sacrifice. More- 



168 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

over, I doubt whether the Secretary' of the Interior would 
willingly offer up his family and friends if the Space Traders 
sought them instead of me and mine." He paused. 

"Professor Golighdy," the Secretary of the Interior said, 
leaning forward, "the President asked you a specific question. 
This is not the time to debate which of us is the more patriotic 
or to engage in the details of the sacrifice that is a necessary 
component of any service for one's country." 

Golighdy chose to ignore the interruption. He knew, and 
the President knew, that his support — or, at least, his silent 
acquiescence — would be critical in winning undecided whites 
over to the selective service scheme. For their purposes, the 
President's media people had made Golighdy an important 
voice on racial policy issues. They needed him now as never 
before. 

"Mr. President," he continued, "you and your cabinet must 
place this offer in historical perspective. This is far from the 
first time this country's leaders have considered and rejected 
the removal of all those here of African descent. Benjamin 
Franklin and other abolitionists actively sought schemes to 
free the slaves and return them to their homeland. Lincoln 
examined and supported emigration programs both before 
and after he freed the slaves. Even those Radical Republicans 
who drafted the Civil War amendments wondered whether 
Africans could ever become a part of the national scene, a part 
of the American people. 

"As early as 1866, Michigan's Senator Jacob Merritt How- 
ard, an abolitionist and key architect of the Fourteenth 
Amendment, recognized the nation's need to confront the 
challenge posed by the presence of the former slaves, and 
spoke out on it, saying: 

For weal or for woe, the destiny of the colored race in 
this country is wrapped up with our own; they are to 
remain in our midst, and here spend their years and here 



The Space Traders 169 

bury their fathers and finaUy repose themselves. We may 
regret it. It may not be entirely compatible with our taste 
that they should live in our midst. We cannot help it. Our 
forefathers introduced them, and their destiny is to con- 
tinue among us; and the practical question which now 
presents itself to us is as to the best mode of getting along 
with them.' 

"Now, Mr. President, after receiving your invitation to this 
meeting, I had no difficult}^ in guessing its agenda or predicting 
how many of you might come down in favor of accepting the 
Space Traders' offer, and so looked up Senator Howard's 
speech. I have prepared copies of it for each of you. I recom- 
mend you study it." 

Golighdy walked around the large table to give each cabinet 
member a copy of the speech. As he did so, he pointed out, 
"The Senator's words are grudging rather thsn generous, con- 
ciliatory rather than crusading. He proposed sanctuary rather 
than equality for blacks. And though there have been periods 
in which their striving for full equalit)' seems to have brought 
them close to their goal, sanctuary remains the more accurate 
description of black citizenship." 

Remrning to his place, Golightiy continued. "This status has 
provided this nation an essential stability^ one you sacrifice at 
your peril. With all due respect, Mr. President, acceptance of 
the Space Traders' solution will not bring a century of prosper- 
ity to this country. Secretary Hipmeyer is correct. What today 
seems to you a solution from Heaven will instead herald a 
decade of shame and dissension mirroring the moral conflicts 
that precipitated this nation into its most bloody conflict, the 
Civil War. The deep, self-inflicted wounds of that era have 
never really healed. Their reopening will inevitably lead to 
confrontations and strife that could cause the eventual dissolu- 
tion of the nation." 

"You seem to assume. Professor Golighdy," the Secretary 



170 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

of the Interior interrupted again, "that the Space Traders want 
African Americans for some heinous purpose. Why do you 
ignore alternative scenarios? They are obviously aware of your 
people's plight here. Perhaps they have selected them to in- 
habit an interplanetary version of the biblical land of milk and 
honey. Or, more seriously," the Secretary said, "they may offer 
your people a new start in a less competitive environment, 
or" — he added, with a slight smirk in the President's direc- 
tion — "perhaps they are going to give your people that training 
in skills and work discipline you're always urging on them." 

No one actually laughed, but aU except Golightly thought 
the Secretary's comment an excellent response to the black 
professor's gloomy predictions. 

"I think we get your point, Professor," the President replied 
smoothly, concerned not to alienate a man whose support he 
would need. "We will give it weight in our considerations. 
Now," he said, rising, "we need to get to work on this thing. 
We don't have much time." He asked the Attorney General to 
draw up a rough draft of the proposed legislation by the end 
of the day, and told the rest of his cabinet that his aides would 
shortly be bringing them specific assignments. "Now let's all 
of us be sure to keep to ourselves what was said at this 
meeting" — and he glanced meaningfully at Professor Go- 
lighdy. "Well, that's it for now, people. Meedng adjourned." 

Long after the others had departed, Gleason Golightiy sat at 
the long conference table. His hands were folded. He stared at 
the wall. He had always prided himself as the "man on the 
inside." While speaking in support of conservative policies, 
those were — he knew — policies that commanded enough sup- 
port to be carried out. As a black man, his support legidmated 
those policies and salved the consciences of the whites who 
proposed and implemented them. A small price to pay, Go- 
lightly had always radonalized, for the many behind-the-scenes 
favors he received. The favors were not for himself. Golighdy, 



The Space Traders 171 

a full professor at a smaU but well-endowed college, neither 
wanted nor needed what he called "blood money." Rather, he 
saw that black colleges got much-needed funding; and through 
his efforts, certain black officials received appointments or key 
promotions. He smiled wryly when some of these officials 
criticized his conservative positions and called him "Uncle 
Tom." He could bear that, knowing he made a contribution 
few others were able — or willing — to make to the racial cause. 

Booker T. Washington was his hero and had been since he 
was a child growing up in a middle-class family in Alabama, 
not far from Tuskegee, the home of Tuskegee Institute, which 
Washington had founded in 1881. He had modeled his career 
on old Booker T., and while he did not have a following and 
had created no institutions, Golightiy knew he had done more 
for black people than had a dozen of the loud-mouthed leaders 
who, he felt, talked much and produced Uttie. But aU of his life, 
he had dreamed of there coming a moment when his position 
as insider would enable him to perform some heroic act to 
both save his people great grief and gain for him the recogni- 
tion and the love for which, despite his frequent denials, he 
knew he yearned. 

Now, as he sat alone, he feared that this morning's meet- 
ing was that big chance, and he had failed it. The stakes, of 
course, were larger than he would have ever imagined they 
might be, and yet he thought he'd had the arguments. In 
retrospect, though, those arguments were based on morality 
and assumed a willingness on the part of the President and 
the cabinet to be fair, or at least to balance the benefits of 
the Trade against the sacrifice it would require of a selected 
portion of the American people. Instead of outsmarting 
them, Golightiy had done what he so frequently criticized 
civil rights spokespersons for doing: he had tried to get 
whites to do right by black people because it was right that 
they do so. "Crazy!" he commented when civil rights people 
did it. "Crazy!" he mumbled to himself, at himself. 



172 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

"Oh, Golightly, glad you're still here. I want a word with 
you." Golighdy looked up as the Secretary of the Interior, at 
his most unctuous, eased himself into the seat beside him. 

"Listen, old man, sorry about our differences at the meeting. 
I understand your concerns." 

Golighdy did not look at the man and, indeed, kept his eyes 
on the wall throughout their conversation. "What do you want, 
Mr. Secretary?" 

The Secretary ignored Golightiy's coldness. "You could tell 
in the meeting and from the media reports that this Trade 
thing is big, very big. There will be debate — as there should be 
in a great, free country like ours. But if I were a betting man, 
which I am not because of my religious beliefs, I would wager 
that this offer will be approved." 

"I assume, Mr. Secretary, that to further the best interests of 
):h\s great, free country of ours, you will be praying that the Trade 
is approved." Golightiy's voice deepened ironically on the 
crucial words. 

The Secretary's smile faded, and his eyes narrowed. "The 
President wants you to say whatever you can in favor of this 
plan." 

"Why don't we simply follow your suggestion, Mr. Secre- 
tary, and tell everyone that the Space Traders are going to take 
the blacks to a land of milk and honey?" 

The Secretar)^'s voice hardened. "1 don't think even black 
people are that stupid. No, Gleason, talk about patriotism, 
about the readiness of black people to make sacrifices for this 
country, about how they are really worthy citizens no matter 
what some may think. We'll leave the wording to you. Isn't 
sacrifice as proof of patriotism what your Frederick Douglass 
argued to get President Lincoln to open up the Union army to 
black enlistees?" 

"And then?" Golightly asked, his eyes never moving from 
the wall. 

"VC'c know some blacks will escape. I understand some are 



The Space Traders 173 

leaving the countty already. But" — and the Secretary's voice 
was smooth as butter — "if you go along with the program, 
Gleason, and the Trade is approved, the President says he'll 
see to it that one hundred black families are smuggled out of 
the country. You decide who they are. They'll include you and 
yours, of course." 

Golighdy said nothing. 

After a moment of hesitation, the Secretary got up and 
strode to the door. Before leaving, he turned and said, "Think 
about it, Golighdy, It's the kind of deal we think you should 
go for." 

3 January. The Anti-Trade Coalition — a gathering of black 
and liberal white politicians, civil rights representatives, and 
progressive academics — quickly assembled early that morning. 
Working nonstop and driven by anxiety to cooperate more than 
they ever had in the past, the members of the coalition had 
drafted a series of legal and political steps designed to organize 
opposition to the Space Traders' offer. Constimtional chal- 
lenges to any acceptance scheme were high on the list of 
opposition strategies. Bills opposing the Trade were drafted for 
early introduction in Congress. There were plans for direct 
action protests and boycotts. Finally, in the event that worse 
came to worst, and the administration decided to carry out what 
gathering participants were calling the "African- American kid- 
napping plot," a secret committee was selected to draft and 
distribute plans for massive disobedience. 

Now, at close to midnight, the plenary session was ready to 
give final approval to this broad program of resistance. 

At that moment, Professor Gleason Golighdy sought the 
floor to propose an alternative response to the Trade offer. 
Golighdy's close connection to the conservative administra- 
tion and active support of its anti-black views made him far 
from a hero to most blacks. Many viewed his appearance at 
this critical hour as an administration-sponsored effort to un- 



174 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

dermine the coalidon's defensive plans and tacdcs. At last, 
though, he prevailed on the conference leaders to grant him 
five minutes. 

As he moved toward the podium, there was a wave of 
hostile murmuring whose justification Golighdy acknowl- 
edged: "I am well aware that political and ideological differ- 
ences have for several years sustained a wide chasm between 
us. But the events of two days ago have transformed our 
disputes into a painful reminder of our shared status. I am here 
because, whatever our ideological differences or our socioeco- 
nomic positions, we all know that black rights, black interests, 
black property, even black lives are expendable whenever their 
sacrifice will further or sustain white needs or preferences." 

Hearing Golighdy admitting to truths he had long denied, 
served to silence the murmuring. "It has become an unwritten 
tradition in this country for whites to sacrifice our rights to 
further their own interests. This tradition overshadows the 
national debate about the Space Traders' offer and may well 
foretell our reply to it." 

Oblivious of the whites in the audience, Golighdy said, "I 
realize that our liberal white friends continue to reassure us. 
'This is America,' they tell us. 'It can't happen here.' But I've 
noticed that those whites who are most vigorous in their 
assurances are least able to rebut the contrary teaching of both 
historic fact and present reality. Outside civil rights gatherings 
like this, the masses of black people — those you claim to 
represent but to whom you seldom listen — are mosdy resigned 
to the nation's acceptance of the Space Traders' offer. For 
them, liberal optimism is smothered by their life experience. 

"Black people know for a fact what you, their leaders, fear 
to face. Black people know your plans for legislation, litigation, 
and protest cannot prevail against the tradition of sacrificing 
black rights. Indeed, your efforts will simply add a veneer of 
face-saving uncertainty to a debate whose outcome is not only 
predictable, but inevitable. Flying in the face of our history, 



The Space Traders 175 

you are stiU relying on the assumption that whites really want 
to grant justice to blacks, really want to alleviate onerous racial 
conditions." 

"Professor Golighdy," the chairman interrupted, "the time 
we have allotted you has almost expired. The delegates here are 
wear}' and anxious to return to their homes so that they can 
assist their families through this crisis. The defense plans we 
have formulated are our best effort. Sir, if you have a better 
way, let us hear it now." 

Golightiy nodded. "I promised to be brief, and I will. Al- 
though you have labored here unselfishly to devise a defense 
against what is surely the most dangerous threat to our survival 
since our forebears were kidnapped from Africa's shores. I 
think I have a better way, and I urge you to hear it objectively 
and without regard to our past differences. The question is 
how best to counter an offer that about a third of the voters 
would support even if the Space Traders offered America 
nothing at all. Another third may vaciUate, but we both know 
that in the end they will simply not be able to pass up a good 
deal. The only way we can deflect, and perhaps reverse, a 
process that is virtually certain to result in approval of the 
Space Traders' offer, is to give up the oppositional stance you 
are about to adopt, and forthrighdy urge the country to accept 
the Space Traders' offer." 

He paused, looking out over the sea of faces. Then there 
was a clamor of outraged cries: "Sell-out!" "Traitor!" and 
"Ultimate Uncle Tom!" The chairman banged his gavel in an 
effort to restore order. 

Seemingly unmoved by the outburst, Golightiy waited until 
the audience quieted, then continued. "A major, perhaps the 
principal, motivation for racism in this country is the deeply 
held belief that black people should not have anything that 
white people don't have. Not only do whites insist on better 
jobs, higher incomes, better schools and neighborhoods, bet- 
ter everything, but they also usurp aspects of our culture. They 



176 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

have 'taken our blues and gone,' to quote Langston Hughes'* — 
songs that sprang from our very subordination. Whites exploit 
not only our music but our dance, language patterns, dress and 
hair styles as well. Even the badge of our inferior status, our 
color, is not sacrosanct, whites spending billions a year to 
emulate our skin tones, paradoxically, as a sign of their higher 
status. So whites' appropriation of what is ours and their 
general acquisitiveness are facts — facts we must make work 
for us. Rather than resisting the Space Traders' offer, let us 
circulate widely the rumor that the Space Traders, aware of our 
long fruidess struggle on this planet, are arranging to transport 
us to a land of milk and honey — a virtual paradise. 

"Remember, most whites are so jealous of their race-based 
prerogatives that they oppose affirmative action even though 
many of these programs would remove barriers that exclude 
whites as well as blacks. Can we not expect such whites — 
notwithstanding even the impressive benefits offered by the 
Space Traders — to go all out to prevent blacks from gaining 
access to an extraterrestrial New Jerusalem? Although you are 
planning to litigate against the Trade on the grounds that it is 
illegal discrimination to limit it to black people, mark my 
words, our 'milk and honey' story will inspire whites to insti- 
tute such litigation on the grounds that limiting the Space 
Traders' offer to black people is unconstitutional discrimina- 
tion against whites! 

"Many of you have charged that I have become expert at 
manipulating white people for personal gain. Although profit 
has not in fact motivated my actions, I certainly have learned 
to understand how whites think on racial issues. On that 
knowledge, I am willing to wage my survival and that of my 
family. 1 urge you to do the same. This strategy is, however, 
risky, our only hope." 

The murmurs had subsided into stony silence by the time 
Golighdy left the podium. 



The Space Traders 177 

"Does anyone care to respond to Professor Golightly's 
suggestion?" the chairman finally asked. 

Justin Jasper, a well-known and highly respected Baptist 
minister, came to the microphone. "I readily concede Dr. 
Golighdy's expertise in the psychology of whites' thinking. 
Furthermore, as he requests, I hold in abeyance my deep 
distrust of a black man whose willing service to whites has led 
him to become a master minstrel of political mimicry. But my 
problem with his plan is twofold. First, it rings hoUow because 
it so resembles Dr. Golighdy's consistent opposition in the 
past to all our civil rights initiatives. Once again, he is urging 
us to accept rather than oppose a racist policy. And, not only 
are we not to resist, but we are to beg the country to lead us 
to the sacrificial altar. God may have that power, but Dr. 
Golightiy is not my god!" 

The Reverend Jasper was a master orator, and he quickly 
had his audience with him. "Second, because the proposal 
lacks truth, it insults my soul. In the forty years I have worked 
for civil rights, I have lost more batties than I have won, but 
I have never lost my integrit\\ Telling the truth about racism 
has put me in prison and many of my co-workers into early 
graves. 

"The truth is. Dr. Golightiy, that what this countr)' is ready 
to do to us is wrong! It is evil! It is an action so heinous as to 
give the word betrayal a bad name. I can speak only for myself, 
but even if I were certain that my family and I could escape the 
threat we now face by lying about our likely fate — and. Dr. 
Golightiy, that is what you're asking us to do — I do not choose 
to save myself by a tactic that may preserve my body at the 
sacrifice of my soul. The fact is, Dr. Golightiy, until my Lord 
calls me home, I do not want to leave this country even for a 
land of milk and honey. My people were brought here involun- 
tarily, and that is the only way they're going to get me out!" 

The Reverend Jasper received a standing ovation. Many 



178 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

people were crying openly as they applauded. After thanking 
them, the minister asked everyone to join in singing the old 
nineteenth-century hymn "Amazing Grace," which, he re- 
minded them, had been written by an English minister, one 
John Newton, who as a young man and before finding God's 
grace, had been captain of a slave ship. It was with special 
fervor that they sang the verse: 

Through many dangers, toils, and snares, 
I have already come. 

'Twas grace that brought me safe this Jar, 
And grace will lead me home.^ 

With the hymn's melody still resonating, the coalition's 
members voted unanimously to approve their defensive pack- 
age. The meeting was quickly adjourned. Leaving the hall, 
everyone agreed that they had done all that could be done to 
oppose approval of the Space Traders' offer. As for Golighdy, 
his proposal was dismissed as coming from a person who, in 
their view, had so often sold out black interests. "He's a sad 
case. Even with this crisis, he's just doing what he's always 
done." 

Again, as after the President's cabinet meedng, Golighdy sat 
for a long dme alone. He did not really mind that none of the 
delegates had spoken to him before leaving. But he was 
crushed by his failure to get them to recognize what he had 
long known: that without power, a people must use cunning 
and guile. Or were cunning and guile, based on superior under- 
standing of a situation, themselves power? Certainly, most 
black people knew and used this art to survive in their everyday 
contacts with white people. It was only civil rights profession- 
als who confused integrit\' with foolhardiness. 

"Faith in God is fine," Golighdy muttered to himself. "But 
God expects us to use the common sense He gave us to get 
out of Ufe-thrcatcning situadons." 



The Space Traders 179 

Still, castigation of black leadership could not alter the fact. 
Golighdy had failed, and he knew it. Sure, he was smarter than 
they were — smarter even than most whites; but he had finaUy 
outsmarted himself. At the crucial moment, when he most 
needed to help his people, both whites and blacks had rejected 
as untrustworthy both himself and his plans. 

4 January. In a nationally televised address, the President 
sought to reassure both Trade supporters that he was respond- 
ing favorably to their strong messages, and blacks and whites 
opposed to the Trade that he would not ignore their views. 
After the usual patriotic verbiage, the President said that just- 
completed, end-of-century economic reports revealed the na- 
tion to be in much worse shape than anyone had imagined. He 
summarized what he called the "very grim figures," and added 
that onlv massive new resources would save America from 
having to declare bankruptcy. 

"On the face of it, our visitors from outer space have 
initiated their relationship with our country in a most unusual 
way. They are a foreign power and as such entided to the 
respect this nation has always granted to the family of nations 
on Earth; it is not appropriate for us to prejudge this extra- 
planetary nation's offer. Thus, it is now receiving careful study 
and review by this administration. 

"Of course, I am aware of the sacrifice that some of our 
most highly regarded citizens would be asked to make in the 
proposed trade. While these citizens are of only one racial 
group, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to indicate 
that the selection was intended to discriminate against any race 
or religion or ethnic background. 

"No decisions have been made, and all options are under 
review. This much seems clear: the materials the Traders have 
offered us are genuine and perform as promised. Early esti- 
mates indicate that, if these materials were made available to 
this nation, they would solve our economic crisis, and we 



180 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

could look forward to a century of unparalleled prosperity. 
WTiether the Trade would allow a tax-free year for every Amer- 
ican, as some of our citizens have hoped, is not certain. But I 
can promise that if the Trade is approved, I will exercise my 
best efforts to make such a trade dividend a reality." 

Early that morning, the leaders of Fortune-500 businesses, 
heads of banks, insurance companies, and similar entities 
boarded their well-appointed corporate jets and flew to a re- 
mote Wyoming hunting lodge. They understood the President 
supported the Trade, despite his avowals that no decision had 
been made. They had come to discuss the Trade offer's impli- 
cations for big business. 

5 January. Not content with just closing the doors on their 
meeting as the Anti-Trade Coalition had, the corporate leaders 
of America gathered for an absolutely hush-hush meeting. 
They were joined by the Vice President and some of the 
wealthier members of Congress. The surroundings were beau- 
tiful, but the gathering of white males was somber. Corporate 
America faced a dilemma of its own making. 

Media polls as well as ones privately funded by businesses 
all reported tremendous public support for the Trade — un- 
happy but hardly unexpected news for the nation's richest and 
most powerful men. First, blacks represented 12 percent of the 
market and generally consumed much more of their income 
than did their white counterparts. No one wanted to send that 
portion of the market into outer space — not even for the 
social and practical benefits offered by the Space Traders. 

Even those benefits were a mixed blessing. Coal and oil 
companies, expecting to raise their prices as supplies steadily 
decreased, were not elated at the prospect of an inexhaustible 
energy source; it could quickly put them out of business. 
Similarly, businesses whose profits were based on sales in 
black ghetto communities — or who supplied law enforcement 
agencies, prisons, and other such institutions — faced substan- 



The Space Traders 181 

tial losses in sales. The real estate industn-, for example, annu- 
ally reaped uncounted millions in commissions on sales and 
rentals, inflated by the understanding that blacks would not be 
allowed to purchase or rent in an area. Even these concerns 
were overshadowed by fears of what the huge influx of gold 
to pay all state debts would do to the economy or to the value 
of either the current money supply or gold. 

Though seldom acknowledging the fact, most business 
leaders understood that blacks were crucial in stabilizing the 
economy with its ever-increasing disparity between the in- 
comes of rich and poor. They recognized that potentially 
turbulent unrest among those on the bottom was deflected by 
the continuing efforts of poorer whites to ensure that they, at 
least, remained ahead of blacks. If blacks were removed from 
the society, working- and middle-class whites — deprived of 
their racial distraction — might look upward toward the top of 
the societal well and realize that they as well as the blacks 
below them suff'ered because of the gross disparities in oppor- 
tunities and income. 

Many of these corporate leaders and their elected represent- 
atives had for years exploited poor whites' ignorance of their 
real enemy. Now, what had been a comforting insulation of 
their privileges and wealth, posed a serious barrier to what a 
majority saw as a first priority: to persuade the country to reject 
the Trade. A quick survey of the media and advertising repre- 
sentatives present was not encouraging. "It would be quite a 
challenge," one network executive said, "but we simply can't 
change this country's view about the superiority of whites and 
the inferiority of blacks in a week. I doubt you could do it in 
a decade." 

Even so, the corporate leaders decided to try. They planned 
to launch immediately a major media campaign — television, 
radio, and the press — to exploit both the integration achieved 
in America and the moral cost of its loss. NXTiite members of 
professional and college sports teams would urge rejection of 



182 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

the Trade "so as to keep the team together." Whites in inte- 
grated businesses, schools, churches, and neighborhoods 
would broadcast similar messages. The business leaders even 
committed large sums to facilitate campaigning by pro-choice 
womens' groups who were strongly anti-Trade. In a particu- 
larly poignant series of ads, white spouses in interracial mar- 
riages would point out that the Trade would destroy their 
families, and beg the public not to support it. 

Newspaper and magazine publishers promised supportive 
editorials, but the Vice President and other government repre- 
sentatives argued that the immediate political gains from ac- 
cepting the Trade would translate into business benefits 
as well. 

"With all due respect, Mr. Vice President," he was told, 
"that argument shows why you are in politics and we are in 
business. It also shows that you are not listening very closely 
to those of us whose campaign contributions put you in 
office." 

"We need your financial support," the Vice President admit- 
ted, "but our polls show most white voters favor the Trade, 
and the administration is under increasing pressure to do the 
same. And, as you know, pro-Trade advocates are promising 
that with all government debts paid, every American would get 
a year without any taxes. Believe it or not, some Liberal envi- 
ronmentalists are thinking of giving their support to the Trade 
as the lesser of two evils. Of course, the prospect of headng 
and air-conditioning homes without paying through the nose 
is very appealing, even to tJiose who don't care a hoot about 
the environment." 

"However enticing such benefits of the Trade may be," 
interjected a government census official, "the real attraction 
for a great many whites is that it would remove black people 
from this society. Since the first of the year, my staff and I have 
interviewed literally thousands of citizens across the country, 
and, though they don't say it direcdy, it's clear that at bottom 



Tbe Space Traders 183 

they simply think this will be a better country without black 
people. I fear, gentlemen, that those of us who have been 
perpetuating this belief over the years have done a better job 
than we knew." 

"I must add what you probably already know," the Vice 
President broke in, "that the administration is leaning toward 
acceptance of the Space Traders' offer. Now, if you fellows line 
up against the Trade, it could make a difference — but, in that 
case, the President may opt to build on the phony populist 
image you provided him in his first election campaign. He 
knows that the working- and middle-class white people in this 
country want the blacks to go, and if they get a chance to 
express their real views in the privacy of a polling place, the 
Trade plan will pass overwhelmingly." 

"Bullshit!" roared a billionaire who had made his fortune 
in construction. "I'm sick of this defeatist talk! We need to 
get off our dead asses and get to work on this thing. Every- 
one says that money talks. Well dammit, let's get out there 
and spend some money. If this thing goes to a public refer- 
endum, we can buy whatever and whoever is necessary. It 
sure as hell will not be the first time," he wound up, pound- 
ing both fists on the long conference table, "and likely not 
the last!" 

The remainder of the meedng was more upbeat. Pointedly 
telling the Vice President that he and the administration were 
caught in the middle and would have to decide whose support 
they most wanted in the future, the business leaders began 
making specific plans to suspend all regular broadcasting and, 
through 16 January, to air nothing but anti-Trade ads and 
special Trade programs. They flew out that night, their confi- 
dence restored. They controlled the media. They had become 
rich and successful "playing hard ball." However compedtive 
with one another, they had, as usual, united to confront this 
new challenge to their hegemony. It was, as usual, inconceiv- 
able that they could fail. 



184 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

6 January. Although the Television Evangelists of America 
also owned jets, they understood that their power lay less in 
these perks of the wealthy than in their own ability to manipu- 
late their T\^ congregations' religious feelings. So, after a 
lengthy conference call, they announced a massive evangelical 
rally in the Houston Astrodome which would be televised over 
their religious cable network. They went all out. The Trade 
offer was the evangelists' chance to rebuild their prestige and 
fortunes, neither of which had recovered from the Jim and 
Tammy Bakker and the Jimmy Swaggart scandals. They would 
achieve this much-desired goal by playing on, rather than 
trying to change, the strongly racist views of their mosdy 
working-class television audiences. True, some of the preach- 
ers had a substantial black following, but evangelical support 
for the Trade would not be the evangelists' decision. Rather, 
these media messiahs heralded it as God's wiU. 

The Space Traders were, according to the televised "Gos- 
pel," bringing America blessings earned by their listeners' and 
viewers' faithful dedication to freedom, liberty, and God's 
word. Not only would rejection of these blessings from space 
be wrong, so the preachers exhorted; it would be blasphe- 
mous. It was God's will that all Americans enjoy a tax-free 
year, a cleaned-up environment for years to come, and cheap 
heating forever. True, a sacrifice was required if they were to 
obtain God's bounty — a painful sacrifice. But here, too, God 
was testing Americans, his chosen people, to ensure that they 
were worthy of His bounr^', deserving of His love. Each 
preacher drew on Scripture, tortuously interpreted, to support 
these statements. 

A "ministry of music" quartet — four of the most popular 
television evangelists, all speaking in careful cadences like a 
white rap group — preached the major sermon. It whipped the 
crowd into a delirium of religious feeling, making them recep- 
tive both to the financial appeals, which raised millions, and to 
the rally's grande finale: a somber tableau of black people 



The Space Traders 185 

marching stoically into the Space Traders' ships, which here 
resembled ancient sacrificial altars. Try as they might, the 
producers of the pageant had had a hard time finding black 
people willing to act out roles they might soon be forced to 
experience, but a few blacks were glad to be paid handsomely 
for walking silendy across the stage. These few were easily 
supplemented by the many whites eager to daub on "black 
face." 

The rally was a great success despite the all-out efforts of the 
media to condemn this "sacrilege of all that is truly holy." That 
night, millions of messages, all urging acceptance of the Space 
Traders' offer, deluged the President and Congress. 

7 January. Groups supporting the Space Traders' proposi- 
tion had from the beginning taken seriously blacks' charges that 
acceptance of it would violate the Constitution's most basic 
protections. Acting swiftly, and with the full cooperation of the 
states, they had set in motion the steps necessary- to convene 
a constitutional convention in Philadelphia. ("Of course!" 
groaned Golightiy when he heard of it.) And there, on this day, 
on the site of the original constitutional convention, delegates — 
chosen, in accordance with Article V of the Constitution, by the 
state legislatures — quickly drafted, and by a substantial majority 
passed, the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution of 
the United States. It declared: 

Without regard to the language or interpretations previ- 
ously given any other provision of this document, every 
United States citizen is subject at the call of Congress to 
selection for special service for periods necessary to pro- 
tect domestic interests and international needs. 

The amendment was scheduled for ratification by the states 
on 15 Januar\' in a national referendum. If ratified, the amend- 



186 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

ment would validate amendments to existing Selective Service 
laws authorizing the induction of all blacks into special service 
for transportation under the terms of the Space Traders' offer. 

8 January. Led by Rabbi Abraham Specter, a group of 
Jewish church and organizational leaders sponsored a mam- 
moth anti-Trade rally in New York's Madison Square Gar- 
den. "\Ve simply cannot stand by and allow America's ver- 
sion of the Final Solution to its race problem to be carried 
out without our strong protest and committed opposidon." 
Thirty-five thousand Jews signed pledges to disrupt by all 
possible nonviolent means both the referendum and — if the 
amendment was ratified — the selection of blacks for 'special 
service.' 

"Already," Rabbi Specter announced, "a secret Anne 
Frank Committee has formed, and its hundreds of members 
have begun to locate hiding places in out-of-the-way sites 
across this great country. Blacks by the thousands can be 
hidden for years if necessary until the nadon returns to its 
senses. 

"We vow this action because we recognize the fateful par- 
allel between the plight of the blacks in this country and the 
situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Holocaust scholars 
agree that the Final Solution in Germany would not have 
been possible without the pervasive presence and the unin- 
terrupted tradition of anti-Semitism in Germany. We must 
not let the Space Traders be the final solution for blacks in 
America." 

A concern of many Jews not contained in their official 
condemnations of the Trade offer, was that, in the absence of 
blacks, Jews could become the scapegoats for a system so 
reliant on an identifiable group on whose heads less-well-off 
whites can discharge their hate and frustrations for societal 
disabilities about which they arc unwilling to confront their 



The Space Traders 187 

leaders. Given the German experience, few Jews argued that 
"it couldn't happen here."^ 

9 January. Responding almost immediately to the Jewish 
anti-Trade rally, the Attorney General expressed his "grave 
concern" that what he felt certain was but a small group of 
Jews would, by acting in flagrant violation of the law of the 
land, besmirch the good names of all patriotic American Jews. 
For this reason, he said, he was releasing for publication the 
secret list, obtained by undercover FBI agents, of all those who 
had joined the Anne Frank Committee. He stated that the 
release was needed so that all Americans could easily distin- 
guish this group from the majority of patriotic and law-abiding 
Jewish citizens. 

Retaliation was quick. Within hours, men and women listed 
as belonging to the committee lost their jobs; their contracts 
were canceled; their mortgages foreclosed; and harassment of 
them, including physical violence, escalated into a nationwide 
resurgence of anti-Semitic feeling. Groups on the far right, 
who were exploiting the growing support for the Trade, urged: 
"Send the blacks into space. Send the Jews into Hell." The 
Jews who opposed the Trade were intimidated into silence and 
inaction. The leaders of Rabbi Specter's group were them- 
selves forced into hiding, leaving few able to provide any 
haven for blacks. 



10 January. In the brief but intense pre-election day cam- 
paign, the pro-ratification groups' major argument had an 
appeal that surprised even those who made it. Their message 
was straightforward: 

The Framers intended America to be a white country. 
The evidence of their intentions is present in the original 



188 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Constitution. After more than a hundred and thirty- 
seven years of good- faith efforts to build a healthy, stable 
interracial nation, we have concluded — as the Framers 
did in the beginning — that our survival today requires 
that we sacrifice the rights of blacks in order to protect 
and further the interests of whites. The Framers' example 
must be our guide. Patriotism, and not pity, must govern 
our decision. We should ratify the amendment and ac- 
cept the Space Traders' proposition. 

In response, a coalition of liberal opponents to the Space 
Traders' offer sought to combine pragmatism and principle in 
what they called their "slipper)- Trade slope" argument. First, 
they proclaimed the strong moral position that trading away a 
group of Americans identifiable by race is wrong and violates 
our basic principles. The coalition aimed its major thrust, 
however, at the self-interest of white Americans: "Does not 
consigning blacks to an unknown fate set a dangerous prece- 
dent?" the liberals demanded. "Who will be next?" 

In full-page ads, they pressed the point: "Are we cannibals 
ready to consume our own for profit? And if we are, the blacks 
may be only the first. If the Space Traders return with an 
irresistible offer for another group, the precedent will have 
been set, and none of us will be safe. Certainly not the minori- 
ties — Hispanics, Jews, Asians — and perhaps not even those of 
us identifiable by politics or religion or geographic location. 
Setting such a precedent of profit could consume us all." 

Astutely sidestepping the Trade precedent arguments, the 
pro-Trade response focused on the past sacrifices of blacks. 
"In each instance," it went, "the sacrifice of black rights was 
absolutely necessary to accomplish an important government 
purpose. These decisions were neither arbitrar)' nor capricious. 
Without the compromises on slavery in the Constitution of 
1787, there would be no America. Nor would there be any 
framework under which those opposed to slavery could con- 



The Space Traders 189 

tinue the struggle that eventually led to the Civil War and 
emancipation. 

"And where and how might slavery have ended had a new 
government not been formed? On what foundation would the 
post-Civil War amendments been appended? Sacrifices by 
blacks were made, but those sacrifices were both necessary and 
eventuaUy rewarding to blacks as well as the nation." 

In countering the anti-Trade contention that the sacrifice 
of black rights was both evil and unprecedented, pro-Traders 
claimed, "Beginning with the Civil War in which black peo- 
ple gained their liberty, this nation has called on its people to 
serve in its defense. Many men and women have voluntarily 
enlisted in the armed services, but literallv millions of men 
have been conscripted, required to serve their country, and, 
if necessary, to sacrifice not simply their rights but also their 
lives." 

As for the argument that the sacrifice of black rights in 
political compromises was odious racial discrimination, pro- 
Trade forces contended that "fortuitous fate and not blatant 
racism" should be held responsible. Just as men and not 
women are inducted into the military, and even then only men 
of a certain age and physical and mental condition, so only 
some groups are destined by their role in the nation's history 
to serve as catalyst for stability and progress. 

"All Americans are expected to make sacrifices for the 
good of their country. Black people are no exceptions to this 
basic obligation of citizenship. Their role may be special, but 
so is that of many of those who serve. The role that blacks 
may be called on to play in response to the Space Traders' 
offer is, however regrettable, neither immoral nor unconstitu- 
tional." 

A tremendous groundswell of public agreement with the 
pro-Trade position drowned out anti-Trade complaints of un- 
fairness. Powerful as would have been the notion of seeing the 
Space Traders' offer as no more than a formitous circum- 



190 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

Stance, in which blacks might be called on to sacrifice for their 
countr\% the "racial sacrifice as historic necessity" argument 
made the pro-Trade position irresistible to millions of vot- 
ers — and to their Congressional representatives. 

// January. Unconfirmed media reports asserted that U.S. 
officials tried in secret negotiations to get the Space Traders to 
take in trade only those blacks currendy under the jurisdiction 
of the criminal justice system — that is, in prison or on parole 
or probation. Government negotiators noted that this would 
include almost one half of the black males in the twenty- to 
twenty-nine-year-old age bracket.* Negotiators were also re- 
ported to have offered to trade only blacks locked in the inner 
cities. But the Space Traders stated that they had no intention 
of turning their far-off homeland into an American prison 
colony for blacks. In rejecting the American offer, the Space 
Traders warned that they would withdraw their proposition 
unless the United States halted the flight of the growing num- 
bers of middle-class blacks who — fearing the worst — were 
fleeing the country. 

In response, executive orders were issued and implemented, 
barring blacks from leaving the country until the Space Trad- 
ers' proposition was fuUy debated and resolved. "It is your 
patriotic duty," blacks were told by the White House, "to allow 
this great issue to be resolved through the democratic process 
and in accordance with the rule of law." To ensure that the 
Trade debate and referendum were concluded in a "noncoer- 
cive environment," all blacks serving in the military were 
placed on furlough and relieved of their weapons. State offi- 
cials took similar action with respect to blacks on active duty 
in state and local police forces. 

*In 1990, the figure was 24 percent, according to Justice Department data contained 
in a study funded by the Rand Corporation/ The National Center on Institutions and 
Alternatives reported that 42 percent of the black men in the District of Columbia, 
aged eighteen through thirty- hvc, were enmeshed in the cnminai justice system on 
any given day in 1991.' 



The Space Traders 191 

12 January. The Supreme Court, citing precedent dating 
back to 1849, rejected a number of appeals by blacks and their 
white supporters whose legal challenges to every^ aspect of the 
referendum process had been dismissed by lower courts as 
"political questions" best resolved by the body politic rather 
than through judicial review.^ 

The Supreme Court's order refusing to intervene in the 
Space Trader proposition was unanimous. The order was brief 
and per curiam, the Court agreeing that the Space Trader litiga- 
tion lacked judicially discoverable and manageable standards 
for resolving the issues.'" The Court also noted that, if in- 
ducted in accordance with a constitutionally approved con- 
scription provision, blacks would have no issues of individual 
rights for review. Even if the Court were to conclude that 
rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were deserving of 
greater weight than the authority of the new constitutional 
amendment up for ratification, the standards of national ne- 
cessity that prompted the Court to approve the confinement 
of Japanese Americans during the Second World War,'' would 
serve as sufficient precedent for the induction and transfer of 
African Americans to the Space Traders. 

While not claiming to give weight to the public opinion 
polls reporting strong support for the Trade, the Court noted 
that almost a century- earlier, in 1903, Justice Oliver Wendell 
Holmes had denied injunctive relief to six thousand blacks 
who petitioned the Court to protect their right to vote.'^ The 
bill alleged that the great mass of the white population in- 
tended to keep the blacks from voting; but, in view of such 
massive opposition. Holmes reasoned that ordering the blacks' 
names to be placed on the voting list would be "an empty 
form" unless the Court also mandated electoral supervision by 
"officers of the court."* 



*Justice Holmes wrote: "Unless we are prepared to supervise the voting in that state 
by officers of the court, it seems to us that all the plaintiff could get from equity 
would be an empty form. Apart from damages to the individual, relief from a great 



192 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

14 January. With the legal questions of the Trade resolved, 
the U.S. government announced that as a result of intensive 
negotiations with the Space Trader leaders, the latter had 
agreed to amend their offer and exclude from the Trade all 
black people seventy years old, and older, and all those blacks 
who were seriously handicapped, ill, and injured. In addition, 
a thousand otherwise-eligible blacks and their immediate fami- 
lies would be left behind as trustees of black property and 
possessions, all of which were to be stored or held in escrow 
in case blacks were returned to this country. Each of the 
thousand black "detainees" was required to pledge to accept 
a subordinate status with "suspended citizenship" until such 
time as the "special service inductees" were returned to the 
country. The administration selected blacks to remain who had 
records of loyalty to the conservative part)' and no recorded 
instances of militant activity. Even so, many of those blacks 
selected declined to remain. "We will, like the others," said one 
black who rejected detainee status, "take our chances with the 
referendum." 



1 5 January. Many whites had, to their credit, been working 
day and night to defeat the amendment; but, as is the usual fate 
of minority rights when subjected to referenda or initiatives,''' 
the outcome was never really in doubt. The final vote tally 
confirmed the predictions. By 70 percent to 30 percent, Amer- 
ican citizens voted to ratify the constitutional amendment that 
provided a legal basis for acceptance of the Space Traders' 
offer. In anticipation of this result, government agencies had 
secretiy made preparations to facilitate the transfer. Some 
blacks escaped, and many thousands lost their lives in futile 
efforts to resist the joint federal and state police teams respon- 



political wron^, if done, as alleged, by the people of a state and the state itself, must 
be given by them or by the legislature and political department of the Government 
of the United States."" 



The Space Traders 193 

sible for rounding up, cataloguing, and transporting blacks to 
the coast. 



16 January. Professor Golighdy and his family were not 
granted detainee status. Instead, the White House promised 
him safe passage to Canada for all his past services even 
though he had not made the patriotic appeal the President had 
requested of him. But, at the border that evening, he was 
stopped and turned back. It turned out the Secretary of the 
Interior had called to countermand his deparmre. Golighdy 
was not surprised. What reaUy distressed him was his failure to 
convince the black leaders of the anti-Trade coalition to heed 
their own rhetoric: namely that whites in power would, given 
the chance, do to privileged blacks what, in fact, they had done 
to all blacks. 

"I wonder," he murmured, half to himself, half to his wife, 
as they rode in a luxury limousine sent, in some irony, by the 
Secretarv of the Interior to convev them to the nearest 
roundup point, "how my high-minded brothers at the con- 
ference feel now about their decision to fail with integrity 
rather than stoop to the bit of trickery that might have saved 
tiiem." 

"But, Gleason," his wife asked, "would our lives have really 
been better had we fooled the country into voting against the 
Trade? If the Space Traders were to depart, carrying away with 
them what they and everyone else says can solve our major 
domestic problems, wouldn't people increasingly blame us 
blacks for increases in debt, pollution, and fuel shortages? We 
might have saved ourselves — but only to face here a fate as 
dire as any we face in space." 

"I hope your stoic oudook helps us through whatever lies 
ahead," Golightly responded as the car stopped. Then guards 
hustied him and his family toward the buses being loaded with 
other blacks captured at the Canadian border. 



194 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

17 January. The last Martin Luther King holiday the nation 
would ever observe dawned on an extraordinary sight. In the 
night, the Space Traders had drawn their strange ships right up 
to the beaches and discharged their cargoes of gold, minerals, 
and machinery, leaving vast empty holds. Crowded on the 
beaches were the inductees, some twenty million silent black 
men, women, and children, including babes in arms. As the 
sun rose, the Space Traders directed them, first, to strip off all 
but a single undergarment; then, to line up; and finally, to enter 
those holds which yawned in the morning light like Milton's 
"darkness visible." The inductees looked fearfully behind 
them. But, on the dunes above the beaches, guns at the ready, 
stood U.S. guards. There was no escape, no alternative. Heads 
bowed, arms now linked by slender chains, black people left 
the New World as their forebears had arrived. 



EPILOGUE 



Beyond Despair 



Dear Geneva, 

Beyond the despair of your final narrative, I am reminded 
that our forebears — though betrayed into bondage — survived 
the slavery in which they were reduced to things, property, 
entided neither to rights nor to respect as human beings. 
Somehow, as the legacy of our spirituals makes clear, our 
enslaved ancestors managed to retain their humanity as well as 
their faith that evil and suffering were not the extent of their 
destiny — or of the destiny of those who would follow them. 
Indeed, we owe our existence to their perseverance, their faith. 
In these perilous times, we must do no less than they did: 
fashion a philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we 
face, and enables us to recognize in those dangers opportuni- 
ties for committed living and humane service. 

The task is less daunting than it might appear. From the 
beginning, we have been li\nng and working for racial justice 
in the face of unacknowledged threat. Thus, we are closer than 
we may realize to those in slavery who struggled to begin and 
maintain families even though at any moment they might be 



196 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

sold, and separated, never to see one another again. Those 
blacks living in the pre-Civil War North, though deemed 
"free," had to live with the ever-present knowledge that the 
underground railroad ran both ways. While abolitionists pro- 
vided an illegal network to aid blacks who escaped slavery. 
Southern "slave catchers" had an equally extensive system that 
enabled them to kidnap free blacks from their homes or the 
streets, and spirit them off to the South and a life in bondage.' 

In those times, racism presented dangers from without that 
were stark and terrifying, but they were hardly more insidious 
than those blacks face today in our inner cities — all too often 
from other blacks. Victimized themselves by an uncaring soci- 
ety, some young blacks vent their rage on victims like them- 
selves, thereby perpetuating the terror that whites once had to 
invoke direcdy. We should not be surprised that a society that 
once legalized slavery and authorized pursuit of fugitive slaves 
with littie concern about the kidnaping of free blacks, now 
views black-on-black crime as basicaUy a problem for its vic- 
tims and their communities. 

In the context of such a history, played out now as current 
events, is a long continuum of risks faced and survived, our 
oppression barring our oppressors from actually experiencing 
the freedom they so proudly proclaim. The late Harvard histo- 
rian Nathan Huggins points out in Black Odyssey, a book about 
slavery from the point of view of the slaves: "Uncertainty, the 
act of being engaged in an unknown and evolving future, was 
their common fate. In the indefinite was the excitement of the 
possible. . . . That sense of possibility and that dream have 
infected ail Americans, Africans no less than Europeans. 
. . . Yet the dream has been elusive to us all, white and black, from 
that first landfall [at Jamestown where the first twenty Africans 
landed]."^ 

Huggins argues that Americans view history as linear and 
evolutionary' and tend to see slavery and racism as an aberra- 
tion or pathological condition: "Our national history has con- 



Epilogue : Bejond Despair 197 

tinued to amplify the myths of automatic progress, universal 
freedom, and the American dream without the ugly reality of 
racism seriously challenging the faith.'"* Those who accept 
these myths, consider our view that racism is permanent to be 
despairing, defeatist, and wrong. In so doing, they overlook the 
fact that the "American dogma of automatic progress fails 
those who have been marginalized. Blacks, the poor, and 
others whom the myth ignores are conspicuously in the center 
of the present, and they call for a national history that incorpo- 
rates their experience."'* 

Such a new narrative, and the people who make it — among 
whom are included those who pursue equality through legal 
means — must find inspiration not in the sacrosanct, but utterly 
defunct, glory of ideals that for centuries have proven both 
unattainable and poisonous. Rather, they must find it in the 
lives of our "oppressed people who defied social death as 
slaves and freedmen, insisting on their humanity despite a 
social consensus that they were 'a brutish sort of people.' "^ 
From that reality, Huggins takes — as do you and I, Geneva — 
hope rather than despair. Knowing there was no escape, no 
way out, the slaves, nonetheless continued to engage them- 
selves. To carve out a humanity. To defy the murder of self- 
hood. Their lives were brutaUy shackled, certainly — but not 
mthout meaning despite being imprisoned.^ 

We are proud of our heroes, but we must not forget those 
whose lives were not marked by extraordinary acts of defiance. 
Though they lived and died as captives within a system of slave 
labor, "they produced worlds of music, poetr\', and art. They 
reshaped a Christian cosmology to fit their spirits and their 
needs, transforming Protestantism along the way. They pro- 
duced a single people out of what had been many. . . . Their 
ordeal, and their dignity throughout it, speaks to the world of 
the indomitable human spirit."^ 

Perhaps those of us who can admit we are imprisoned by 
the history of racial subordination in America can accept — as 



198 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

slaves had no choice but to accept — our fate. Not that we 
legitimate the racism of the oppressor. On the contrary, we can 
only ^(?legitimate it if we can accurately pinpoint it. And racism 
lies at the center, not the periphery; in the permanent, not in 
the fleeting; in the real lives of black and white people, not in 
the sentimental caverns of the mind. 

Armed with this knowledge, and with the enlightened, 
humilit\'-based commitment that it engenders, we can accept 
the dilemmas of committed confrontation with evils we can- 
not end. We can go forth to serve, knowing that our failure to 
act will not change conditions and may very well worsen them. 
We can listen carefully to those who have been most subor- 
dinated. In listening, we must not do them the injustice of 
failing to recognize that somehow they survived as complete, 
defiant, though horribly scarred beings. We must learn from 
their example, learn from those whom we would teach. 

If we are to extract solutions from the lessons of the slaves' 
survival, and our own, we must first face squarely the unbeara- 
ble landscape and climate of that survival. We yearn that our 
civil rights work will be crowned with success, but what we 
really want — want even more than success — is meaning. 
"Meaningfulness," as the Stanford psychiatrist Dr. Ir\Mn 
Yalom tells us, "is a by-product of engagement and commit- 
ment."* This engagement and commitment is what black peo- 
ple have had to do since slavery: making something out of 
nothing. Carving out a humanity for oneself with absolutely 
nothing to help — save imagination, will, and unbelievable 
strength and courage. Beating the odds while firmly believing 
in, knowing as only they could know, the fact that all those odds 
are stacked against them. 

Both engagement and commitment connote service. And 
genuine service requires humility. We must first recognize and 
acknowledge (at least to ourselves) that our actions are not 
likely to lead to transcendent change and may indeed, despite 



Epilogue : Beyond Despair 199 

our best efforts, be of more help to the system we despise than 
to the victims of that system whom we are trying to help. 
Then, and only then, can that realization and the dedication 
based on it lead to policy positions and campaigns that are less 
likely to worsen conditions for those we are trying to help and 
more likely to remind the powers that be that out there are 
persons like us who are not only not on their side but deter- 
mined to stand in their way. 

Now there is more here than confrontation with our op- 
pressors. Continued struggle can bring about unexpected 
benefits and gains that in themselves justify continued en- 
deavor. We can recognize miracles we did not plan and 
value them for what they are, rather than always measure 
their worth by their likely contribution to our traditional 
goals. As a former student, Erin Edmonds, concludes, it is 
not a matter of choosing between the pragmatic recognition 
that racism is permanent no matter what we do, or an ideal- 
ism based on the long-held dream of attaining a society free 
of racism. Rather, it is a question of both, and. Both the rec- 
ognition of the futility of action — where action is more civil 
rights strategies destined to fail — and the unalterable convic- 
tion that something must be done, that action must be 
taken.' 

This is, I believe, a more realistic perspective from which 
to gauge the present and future worth of our race-related 
activities. Freed of the stifling rigidity of relying unthinkingly 
on the slogan "we shall overcome," we are impelled both to 
live each day more fully and to examine critically the actual 
effectiveness of traditional civil rights remedies. Indeed, the 
humility required by genuine service will not permit us to 
urge remedies that we may think appropriate and the law 
may even require, but that the victims of discrimination 
have rejected. 

That, Geneva, is the real Black History, all too easily lost in 



200 FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL 

political debates over curricular needs. It is a story less of 
success than of survival through an unremitting struggle that 
leaves no room for giving up. We are all part of that history, 
and it is still unfolding. With you and the slave singers, "I want 
to be in that number." 

Your friend as ever 



NOTES 



Preface 

1. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum ed., 1989), 31. 

2. Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (I960), 26. 

3. Franz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks (1967), 228-29. 

4. Ibid., 187. 

5. Ibid., 229 (first emphasis added). 

6. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., 
(lames Washington, ed. 1986), 313, 314. 

7. Robert L. Carter, book review of Mark Tushnet, The NAACP's 
Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, Michigan Law Review 86 
(1988): 1083. 



Introduction: Divining Our Racial Themes 

The epigraph is from Maya Angelou, "I Dare to Hope," New York Times, 

25 August 1991, 15. 
1. Alex Haley, Roots (1976); see John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. 
Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (1988), 425 (calling Roots "one 
of the most successful and fascinating works of this period"). 



202 Notes 

2. William Wiecek, Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America: 
1760-1848 (1977), 62-63. 

3. David Swinton, "The Economic Status of African Americans: 'Per- 
manent' Povert}' and Inequality," in The State of Black America (Na- 
tional Urban League, 1991), 25. 

4. Ibid., 36-37. 

5. Act of 2 July 1964, P.L. 88-352, 42 U.S.C.A. §§2000e-2000e-17. 

6. Fair Housing Act of 1 968 (1 970) (as amended 1 988 in § 1 3(a) of Pub. 
L. 100-430, short tide "Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988). 

7. Kimberle Crenshaw, "Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transfor- 
mation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law," Hansard Law 
Reriew 101 (1988): 1331, 1380-81. 

8. Edmond Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), 8. 

9. Derrick Bell, "The Racial Imperative in American Law," in The Age 
of Segregation: Race Relations in the South, 1890-1945 (1978). 

10. Herbert Hill, Black Labor and the American Legal System (1977); Wil- 
liam Gould, Black Workers and White Unions (1977). 

11. Kevin Phillips, Politics of Rich and Poor (1990). 

12. bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (1984), 54. 

13. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944), xix. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Jennifer Hochschild, The New American Dilemma (1984), 203. 

16. Ibid., 5. 

17. Ibid., 5. 

1 8. Linda Myers, Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to an 
Optimal Psychology (1988), 8. 

19. Ibid. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (1982), 76. 

22. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973), 11-12. 



Chapter 1 

Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 

The epigraph is from Langston Hughes, "Puzzled," in Selected Poems of 
iMngston Hughes (1990), p. 191. 

1. See for example, Langston Hughes, The Best of Simple (1961). 

2. } cyclopaedia Bri/annica (1977), V, 187. 

3. National Urban lx;ague. The State of Black Amerrca 1984 (1984), 151. 



Notes 203 

4. John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, (ed. 
6th 1988), 444. 

5. Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son," in Don't You Turn Back: Poems 
by Langston Hughes, Lee Bennett Hopkins, ed. (1967), 20. 

6. Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace, Signifying Rappers: Rap and 
Race in the Urban Present (1990). 

7. John Edgar Wideman, preface, Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contempo- 
rary African American Fiction (1990), v-x. 

8. Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 301 (1955) (returning the 
cases to the district courts with the admonition that orders and 
decrees be entered to admit plaintiffs to public schools on a racially 
nondiscriminator}' basis "with all deliberate speed . . ."). 

9. Patricia Williams, "Alchemical Notes: Reconstructing Ideals from 
Deconstructed Rights," in A Less Than Perfect Union: Alternative 
Perspectives on the United States Constitution, J. Lobel, ed. (1988), 56. 

10. Ibid., 64. 

11. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1988), 244. 

12. "City Called Heaven," Songs of Zion (1981), 135. 



Chapter 2 

The Afrolantica Awakening 

The epigraph is from Julius Lester, "The Necessity for Separation," 
Ebony, August 1970, pp. 166-69. 

1. Bergen Evans, Dictionary of Mythology (1970), 36. 

2. City of Richmond v.] . A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989) (ruling that 
policies intended to remedy past discrimination must be adjudged 
by the same strict scrutiny standards previously applied only to 
invidious racial classifications). 

3. See Derrick Bell, Race, Racism and American Law, 1st ed. (1973), 
114-17. 

4. S. Harris, Paul Cuffe: Black America and the African Return (1972). 

5. W. Foster, The Negro People in American History (1954), 173. 

6. John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, 6th 
ed. (1988), pp. 320-22. See also E. Fax, Garvey (1972); E. Cronon, 
Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improve- 
ment Association (1969); Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of 
Marcus Garvey, A. Garvey ed., 2d ed. (1968). 

7. Franklin and Moss, From Slavery, 322. 



204 Notes 

8. The authorities are collected in E. Osofsky, Come Out From Among 
Them: Negro Migration and Settlement, 1890-1914 (1966); see also, 
Nicolas Lemann, The Promised luind (1991). 

9. Franklin and Moss, From Slavery, 189. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Vincent Harding, There Is a River (1983), 154. 

12. See Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, Anjplace But Here (1945); G. 
Groh, The Black Migration (1972); and Lemann, The Promised hand 
(1991). 

13. Wallace v. Brewer, 315 F. Supp. 431 (M.D. Ala. 1970). 

14. New York Times, 17 May 1970, p. 32, col. 2. 

15. Edwin Redkey, Black Exodus (1969), 32. 

16. Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States 1790-1860 
(1961), 259. 



Chapter 3 

The Racial Preference Licensing Act 

The epigraph is from Matthew S. Goldberg, "Discrimination, Nepo- 
tism, and Long-Run Wage Differenuzls," Quarterly Journal of Economics 97 
(1982): 307. 

1. Plessy V. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) (upholding statute requiring 
segregated railway coaches). 

2. Havens Realty Co. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363 (1982). 

3. Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sees. 1971, 1975a-1975d, 
2000a-2000h-6 (1988). 

4. Civil Rights Act of 1991, Public Law No. 102-166, 105 Stat. 1071 
(1991). 

5. See, for example. Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 
241 (1964), and Kat^enbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964) (both 
cases upholding the public facilities provisions of Tide II). 

6. Fair Housing Act of 1968, Pub. L. 90-284, Tide VIII, secdons 
801-19, 42 U.S.C. SS 3601-19 (1970) (as amended 1988, Section 
13(a) of Pub. L. 100-430, short dde "Fair Housing Amendments 
Act of 1988"). 

7. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). 

8. See City ofRjchmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989). 

9. Brown v. Board of I education II, 349 U.S. 294 (1955). 

10. Alexander Bickel, The I^ast Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the 
Bar of Politics (1962), 247-54. 



Nofes 205 

11. Derrick Bell, "Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client 
Interests in School Desegregation Litigation," Ya/e Law Journal 85 
(1976): 470. 

12. Comment, "Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Conver- 
gence Dilemma," Harvard Law Review 93 (1980): 518. 

13. See Derrick Bell, Race, Racism and American Law, 2nd ed. (1980), 
2-44. 

14. Ibid., 33. 

15. Gar\' Becker, The Economics of Discrimination, 2nd ed. (1971). See, for 
example, Richard Epstein, Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Em- 
ployment Discrimination Laws (1992); Richard A. Posner, Economic 
Analysis of Law, 3rd ed. (1986), 621-23; John J. Donohue, "Is Tide 
VII Efficient?" University of Pennsylvania Law Review 134 (1986): 141 1; 
Richard A. Posner, "The Efficiency and Efficacy of Tide VII," 
University of Pennsylvania Law Review 136 (1987): 513; John J. Dono- 
hue, "Further Thoughts on Employment Discrimination Legisla- 
tion: A Reply to Judge Posner," University of Pennsylvania Law Review 
136 (1987): 523; and Strauss, "Law and Economics." See also John 
J. Donohue and Peter Siegelman, "The Changing Nature of Em- 
ployment Discrimination Litigation," Stanford Law Review 43 (1991): 
983; John J. Donohue and James J. Heckman, "Re-Evaluating Fed- 
eral Civil Rights Policy," Georgetown Law Journal 79 (1991): 1713. 

16. Donohue, "Is Tide VII Efficient?" 1411-12. 

17. Posner, "Efficiency and Efficacy of Tide VII," 513, 521. 

18. Ibid., 516. 

19. David A. Strauss, "The Law and Economics of Racial Discrimina- 
tion in Employment: The Case for Numerical Standards" Georgetown 
Law Journal 79 (1991): 1619, 1630. 

20. Matthew Goldberg, "Discrimination, Nepotism, and Long-Run 
Wage Dmerentinh" Quarterly Journal of Economics 97 (1982): 307. 

21. See Economic Report of the President, H.R. Doc. No. 28, 92d Cong., 1st 
Sess. 119 (1971). 

22. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 22a-6b (West Supp. 1990). 

23. Act of 7 August 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-96, 91 Stat. 714, codified as 
amended at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7420(2)(A) (1988 & Supp. 1990). 

24. Act of 7 August 1977, as amended at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7503(1)(A) 
(1988). 

25. "There's Another Way to Honor King," Chicago Tribune, 18 Novem- 
ber 1990, sec. 4, p. 3. 

26. George Will, "Bush's Blunder on Racial Scholarships," Newsday 27 



206 Notes 

December 1990, p. 95 (characterizing Fiesta Bowl officials' actions 
as a "penance for the sin of playing football in Arizona"). 

27. See Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 
(1987), 110-40, 165-69. 

28. Herbert Wechsler, "Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional 
Law," Harvard Law Review 73 (1959): 1 (suggesting that the Brown 
decision may have arbitrarily traded the rights of whites not to 
associate with blacks in favor of the rights of blacks to associate 
with whites). 

29. For a summary- of black reparations efforts in both the nineteenth 
and the twentieth centuries, see Bell, Race, Racism, AA—41. 

30. Herbert Wechsler, 'Toward Neutral Principles," Harvard Law Review 
73 (1959): 1, 34. 

31. The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Julius Lester, 
ed. (1987), 10, 15-16. 



Chapter 4 

The Last Black Hero 

1 . "What's Love Got to Do with It," by Terry Britten/Graham Lyle, 
Myaxe Music, Ltd., 1984. Recorded by Tina Turner on album, 
"Private Dancer," Capitol-EMI, ST- 12330 (1983). 



Chapter 5 

Divining a Racial Realism Theory 

1. James H. Cone, Martin & Malcom (& America (1991), 207. 

2. See Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1865- 
1877 (1988); W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstuction in America (1981); 
and C. Vann Woodward, Reunion and Reaction (1981). 

3. For a good explication of realism's roots, see Edward A. Purcell, Jr., 
"American Jurisprudence Between the Wars: I^gal Realism and the 
Crisis of Democratic Theory," in Lawrence M. Friedman and Harry 
N. Scheiber, eds., American Imw and the Constitutional Order (1988), 
359-63. See also Kcrmit L. Hall, The Magic Mirror in .Imerican History 
(1989), p. 269. 

4. See Hall, Magic Mirror, 269. 

5. Coppage V. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1 (1915) (finding the due process clause 



Nofes 207 

protected the right of workers to contract with their employees 
without interference by the state). 

6. See Elizabeth Mensch, "The Histor\' of Mainstream Legal 
Thought," in David Kair>'s, ed., The Politics ofluiw, rev. ed. (1989) 13, 
20. 

7. G. Edward White, "From Realism to Critical Legal Studies: A 
Truncated Intellectual Histor)'," Southwestern haw Journal AQ (1986): 
819, 821. 

8. Roscoe Pound, "Law in Books and Law in Action," American Law 
Review AA (1910), 12. 

9. Arthur S. Miller, "Pretense and Our Two Constitutions," George 
Washington Law Review 54 (1986): 375. This thesis is developed at 
length in Arthur S. Miller, The Secret Constitution and the Need for 
Constitutional Change (1987). 

10. Regents of the University of California v. ^akke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) 
(upheld the use of race as a consideration in educational admissions 
decisions). 

1 1 . Elizabeth Mensch, "The History of Mainstream Legal Thought," in 
David Kairys, ed.. The Politics of Law, rev. ed. (1989), 13, 21. 

12. Ibid., 21. 

13. Ibid., 23-24. 

14. Ibid., 23. 

15. See Anita Allen, "Legal Philosophy," in Stephen Gillers, ed., Looking 
at Law School (1990), 305 (drawing connections between legal real- 
ism and critical race theory). 

16. Purcell, Jr., "American Jurisprudence," 359, 362. 

Chapter 6 

The Rules of Racial Standing 

1. Langston Hughes, "Note on Commercial Theatre," in Selected Poems 
ofLangston Hughes (1990), 190. 

2. "Encouragement," in The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar 
(1970), 296. 

3. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United, 454 U.S. 464, 472 
(1982) (organizadon dedicated to separation of church and state 
failed to idendf)' any personal injur)- suffered by them as conse- 
quence of alleged constitutional error in transfer of federally owned 
property to religious organization without financial payment there- 
for). 



208 Nofes 

4. Actually, the standing doctrine has often served as a barrier for 
blacks seeking relief from undeniable racial abuse: for example, in 
A//e» V. W'ngh/, 468 U.S. 737 (1984), the Court denied standing to 
black parents who contended that the Internal Revenue Service had 
not carried out its obligation to deny tax-exempt status to private 
schools practicing discrimination based on race as approved the 
year before in Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 
(1983). The Court in Allen cited O'Shea v. Uttleton, 414 U.S. 488 
(1974); Ki^o v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1975); and City of Los Angeles 
V. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983). In these cited cases, plaintiffs sought 
injunctive relief against systemwide law enforcement practices, but 
were denied standing for failing to allege a specific threat of being 
subjected to the challenged practices. 

5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947). 

6. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) (enabling a criminal 
defendant to make out a prima-facie case of jury discrimination 
solely on the evidence concerning the prosecutor's exercise of the 
peremptory challenges at the defendant's trial). 

7. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, International Union of 
Operating Engineers, 388 F. Supp. 155 (E. D. Pa. 1974). 

8. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (holding segregated 
schools unconstitutional). 

9. Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (1975). 

10. David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the South- 
em Christian Leadership Conference (1986); David J. Garrow, The FBI 
and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1983). 

1 1. Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954—63 
(1988). 

12. Philip H. Melanson, The MURKIN Conspiracy: An Investigation into the 
Assassination of Dr. Martin lather King, Jr. (1989). Other important 
biographies include James A. Colaiaco, Martin Luther King, Jr, Apostle 
of Militant Nonviolence (1988); and Lionel Lx)kos, House Divided: The 
Life and legacy of Martin Luther King (1968). 

13. James H. Cone, Martin (& Malcolm <& America (1991); Vincent Hard- 
ing, Hope and History (1990); Bernard C. Watson, W^e Shall Overcome: 
Martin iMther King, Jr, and the Black Freedom Strugi^le (1990); C. Eric 
Lincoln, Martin lather King, Jr: A Profile (1985); Vincent Harding 
and Walter E. Flukcr, They I jooked for a City (1989); David L. Lewis, 
King: A Biography (1978); Lcrone Bennett, Jr., What Manner of Man: 
A Biography of Martin Ij^ther King, Jr (1968); Ix)uis E. Lomax, To Kail 



Nous 209 

a Black Man (1968); and L. D. Reddick, Crusader Without Violence: A 
Biography of Martin Luther King, ]r. (1959). 

14. Gloria Joseph, "The Incompatible Menage a Trois: Marxism, Femi- 
nism, and Racism," cited in bell hooks. Feminist Theory: from margin 
to center {\99,A), 51. 

15. bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990), 11. 

16. See Randall Kennedy, "Racial Critiques of Legal Academia," Har- 
vard Law Review 102 (1989): 1745. 

17. See, for example, Randall Kennedy, "Race Relations Law and the 
Tradition of Celebration: The Case of Professor Schmidt," Columbia 
Law Review 86 (1986): 1622; "Commentan,': Persuasion and Distrust: 
A Comment on the Affirmative Action Debate," Harvard Law Review 
99 (1986): 1327; "CoUoquy: A Reply to Philip Elman," Harvard Law 
Review 100 (1987): 1938; "McCleskey v. Kemp: Race, Capital Pun- 
ishment, and the Supreme Court," Harvard Law Review 101 (1988): 
1388. 

18. Charles Rothfeld, "Minorirv Critic Stirs Debate on Minorit\' Writ- 
ing," New York Times, 5 January 1990, sec. B, p. 6, col. 3 

19. Stephen L. Carter, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby (1991). 

20. Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide when the 
rainbow is enuf (1975). 

21. For a discussion of the criticism surrounding Alice Walker's 1982 
book. The Color Purple, particularly criticism of the Steven Spielberg 
film based on the book, see bell hooks, Yearning (1990), 70-71, 
176—79. See also Jack Matthews, "Three Color Purple Actresses 
Talk About Its Impact," Los Angeles Times, 31 Januar}' 1986, sec. 6, 
p. 1; Jack Matthews, "Some Blacks Critical of Spielberg's Purple," 
Los Angeles Times, 20 December 1 985, sec. 6, p. 1 ; Clarence Page, 
'Toward a New Black Cinema," Chicago Tribune, 12 January 1986, 
sec 5, p. 3. 

22. I Samuel 17:46. 

23. Sam Roberts, "Blacks and Jews in New York Condemn Farrakhan's 
Views," New York Times, 4 October 1985, p. Al, col. 2. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Lucius J. Barker, Our Time Has Come: A Delegate's Diary of Jesse 
Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign (1988), 62-87. 

27. Bernard VCeinraub, "Reagan Joins Kohl in Brief Memorial at Bit- 
burg Graves," New York. Times, 6 May 1985, p. Al. 

28. hooks. Yearning, 1 1 . 



210 Not 



es 



29. Nancy Lawson, "Paradise Revised: Development of a Dmg-Free 
Success Story," Washington Times, 5 July 1991, sec. B, p. 3. 

30. Stephen L. Carter, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby (1991). 

31. Lucius J. Barker, Our Time Has Come (1988), 84. 

Chapter 7 

A Law Professor's Protest 

The epigraph is from John Newton's "Amazing Grace," Songs of Zion 
(1981), 211. 

1. Harvard's Affirmative Action Plan (Spring 1988). 

2. Ibid. 

3. Richard Chused, "The Hiring and Retention of Minorities and 
Women on American Law School Faculties," University of Pennsyl- 
vania Law Review 137 (1988), 537, 538-39. 

4. This data was obtained from the academic deans during the meet- 
ings on which the Association's report is based. For a more detailed 
review of this data and the deans' explanations for the small number 
of minority faculty, see Derrick Bell, "The Final Report: Harvard's 
Affirmative Action Allegory," Michigan Law Review 87 (1989): 2382. 

5. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Seventh Son: The Thought and Writings ofW. E. 
B. Du Bois (1971), vol. I Q. Lester, ed.), 385. 

6. This 31 December 1988 letter from Professor Robert Paul Wolff to 
the author was published in Derrick Bell, "The Final Report: Har- 
vard's Affirmative Action Allegory," 87 Michigan Law Review (1989), 
2382, 2405. Reprinted with permission. 

7. Mari Matsuda, "Affirmative Action and Legal Knowledge: Planting 
Seeds in Plowed-Up Ground," Harvard Women 's Law Journal 1 1 
(1988): 1, 8. 

8. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, International Union 
of Operating Engineers, 388 F., Supp. 155 (E.D. Pa. 1974). Judge Leon 
Higginbotham denied the defendant union's motion that he recuse 
himself from hearing a civil rights case. The motion alleged personal 
bias because of the judge's reputation as a black scholar in race 
relations and his presentation of a pro— civil rights speech to a 
mainly black historians' association that did not mention the de- 
fendants or the case. 

9. Robert Williams, Universit)- of Arizona Law School; Angela Harris, 
University of California at Berkeley Law School, Kimberle Cren- 
shaw and Mari Matsuda, UClJ\ Law School; Jerome Gulp, Duke 



Notes 211 

Law School; Richard Delgado, University of Colorado Law School; 
Gerald Torres, Minnesota Law School; Lani Gunier, University of 
Pennsylvania Law School; Charles Lawrence, Stanford Law School. 
Other minority teachers whose writings reflect critical race theory 
influences include Paulette Caldwell and Peggy Davis, NYU Law 
School; Linda Greene and Patricia Williams, Wisconsin Law School; 
Harlan Dalton, Yale Law School; Kendall Thomas, Columbia Law 
School; Dwight Green, Hofstra Law School; Girardeau Spann, 
Georgetown University Law School. 

10. See, for example, Mari J. Matsuda, "When the First Quail Calls: 
Multiple Consciousness as Jurisprudential Method," Women's Rights 
Law Reports 11 (1989): 7; Jerome Culp, "Toward a Black Legal 
Scholarship: Race and Original Understandings," Duke Lau> Journal 
(1991): 39 (legal scholarship remains one of the last vestiges of white 
supremacy in civilized intellectual circles); Angela Harris, "Race and 
Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory," Stanford haw Review 42 
(1990), 581, 586 ("My suggestion is only that we make our catego- 
ries explicidy tentative, relational, and unstable, and that to do so is 
all the more important in a discipline like law, where abstraction and 
'frozen' categories are the norm"); Richard Delgado and Jean Ste- 
fancic, "WTiy Do We Tell the Same Stories?: Law Reform, Critical 
Librarianship, and the Triple Helix Dilemma," Stanford Law Review 
42 (1989), 207, 219-20 (criticizing the absence of combined refer- 
ences for race and gender discriminadon in law indices); Deborah 
King, "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Content of 
a Black Feminist Ideology," Signs 14 (1988), 272, 295, (arguing for 
a multivalent, interactive pedagogical model of categorization to 
capture black women's consciousness, instead of the traditional 
additive analysis where bkick women's consciousness is shaped by 
tzcc plus sex or vice versa); Kimberle Crenshaw, "Demarginalizing 
the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of 
Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Poli- 
tics," University of Chicago Imw Forum (1989). 

1 1 . "Dissatisfied Women and Minorities: Dire Predictions of a Mass 
Exodus Prove Unfounded," National I mw Journal {2^ May 1990): S9. 
(The study showed that more than half (52 percent] of the black 
lawyers surveyed said they planned to change their legal environ- 
ment.) 

12. James Bennet, "Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds," 
New York Times, 27 December 1991, B 16, col. 3. 



212 Notes 

13. Psalms 96, 98, and 149. 

14. Isaiah 42:10. 



Chapter 8 

Racism's Secret Bonding 

1. Frederick Douglass, speech at Rochester, N.Y., 5 July 1852, in 
Carter G. Woodson, ed., Negro Orators and Their Orations (1 925), 1 97, 
209. 

2. Kimberle Crenshaw, "Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transfor- 
mation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law," Harvard Law 
Review 101 (1988): 1331, 1380-81. 

3. Toni Morrison, "The Pain of Being Black," Time, 22 May 1989, p. 
120. 

4. Jennifer Hochschild, The New American Dilemma (1984), 5. 

5. Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," in 
The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975), 281-82. 

6. bell hooks. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (1984), 54. 

7. Andrew Hacker, "The World According to Andrew Hacker," Am- 
herst, FaU 1991, 8, 12. 

8. Ralph Ellison, "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks," in 
Ralph Ellison, Going to the Territory (1986), 104, 111. 

9. Ibid., 112. 
10. Ibid., p. 111. 



Chapter 9 

The Space Traders 

1. See John Yewell, Chris Dodge, and Jan Desirey, eds.. Confronting 
Columbus: An Anthology' (1992). 

2. Military Selective Service Act, 50 USCS Appx §451, et seq. See, for 
example. Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U.S. 366 (1918). 

3. L. Lev)', K. Karst, and D. Mahoney, eds., Encyclopedia of the American 
Constitution, II (1986), 761. 

4. Langston Hughes, "Note on Commercial Theatre," in Selected Poems 
oflMngston Hughes (1990), 190. 

5. John Newton, "Amazing Grace," in Songs of Zion (1981), 211. 

6. Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the Historians (1981); Lucy S. 



Nous 213 

Dauidowicz, ed., A Holocaust Reader (1976); Asher Cohen, Joav 
Gelber, and Chad Ward, eds., Comprehending the Holocaust: Historical 
and Literary Research (1988); Judith Miller, One, By One, By One: Facing 
the Holocaust (1988); Yehuda Bauer, The Holocaust (1978). 

7. Da\'id Savage, "1 in 4 Young Blacks in Jail or in Court Control, 
Study Says," Los Angeles Times, 27 Februar\' 1990, sec. A, p. 1, 
col. 1. 

8. Jason DeParle, "42% of Young Black Men Are in Capital's Court 
System," New York Times, 18 April 1992, sec. A, p. 1, col. 1. 

9. Luther v. Borden, 48 U.S. (7 How.) 1 (1849) (Court refused to 
determine which was the legitimate government of Rhode Island). 

10. See Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962) (exploring the "political 
question" doctrine in definitive fashion). 

11. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) (sustaining a militar\^ 
order under which Americans of Japanese origin were removed 
from designated VC'est Coast areas). See also Hirabajashi v. United 
States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943) (upholding a militar}- curfew imposed on 
persons of Japanese ancestn,- in the West Coast during the early 
months of the Second NX'orld War). 

12. Giles w. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903). 

13. Ibid., 488. 

14. See Derrick Bell, "The Referendum: Democracy's Barrier to Racial 
Equality," Washington Law Review 54 (1978):1. 



Epilogue: Beyond Despair 

1. See Donald L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 
1765-1820 (1971), 286 (discussing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, 
which, while including severe penalties for those assisting escaping 
slaves, "prescribed no penalties for those who sought to kidnap and 
re-enslave freed Negroes"); Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave, 
Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, eds. (1968) (real-life autobiography 
of a free man kidnapped in New York and sold into slaven,', where 
he spent twelve years until his wife successfully petitioned for his 
release). 

2. Nathan Huggins, Black Odyssg (1990) 244 (italics added). 

3. Ibid., xvi. 

4. Ibid., xiii. 

5. Ibid., hi. 



214 Notes 

6. Ibid., Ixxiv. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Irvin Yalom, Iu)ve's Executioner (& Other Tales of Psychotherapy (1989), 
12. 

9. Erin Edmonds, "Civil Rights According to Derrick Bell," unpub- 
lished manuscript. 



INDEX 



Abyssinian Baptist Church (Har- 
lem), 121 

Affirmative action, 8, 9; black crit- 
ics of, 115-17, 136, 166-67; at 
Harvard University, 127-38. See 
also entries beginning Civil rights 

Africa, 37-39, 40, 43, 67, 120, 121 

African Americans: as critics of 
affirmative action, 115-17, 136, 
166-67; cultural role of, 156- 
57; doctorates earned by, 131, 
131«; homeland of, 30, 32-46, 
67, 168; as public officials, 20, 
23-24, 27-28, 115, 122; as 
scapegoats, 8-12, 153-55; as 
underclass, 3—5, 163—65; white 
bonding and, 8—12, 151-55 

Afrolantica (fictional), 32-46 

Allen V. Wright, 208;;4 

"Amazing Grace" (song), 127, 178 

American Dilemma, The (Mvrdal), 
9-10 



And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive 

Quest for EMcial Justice (Bell), 12, 

53 
Angelou, Maya, 1, 4 
Anti-Semitism, 120-22, 186-87 
Arizona, 57 
Asia, 43 
Association of Harvard Black 

Faculty and Administrators, 

127-38 
Adantis, new (fictional), 32-35 



Baker v. Carr, 213«10 
Bakker, Jim and Tammy, 184 
Barker, Lucius, 124 
Batson v. Kentucky, 208«6 
Becker, Gar}', 54« 
Beloved (Morrison), 29 
Berr\', Mar\', 19 
Bickel, Alexander, 50-51 



216 



Ind 



ex 



Black Histor)' Month, 16 

Black Muslims, 95, 95«; Louis Far- 

rakhan and, 118-25; Malcolm 

X and, 20, 67, 95, 95«; in St. 

Clair County, Alabama (1969), 

41^2 
Black Odyssey (Huggins), 196-97 
Blacks. See African Americans 
Boh Jones University v. United States, 

208«4 
Branch, Taylor, 113 
Brown v. Board of Education, 50—51, 

61 «, 104, 113, 203«8, 206«28, 

208«8 
Brown v. Board of Education II, 50, 

204«9 
Bush, George, 115, 122 
Butts, Calvin O., 121 



Camus, Albert, x 
Cardozo, Benjamin, 104 
Carter, Robert L., xi 
Carter, Stephen, 116, 124 
Central America, 37 
Chused, Richard H., 129« 
City of Las Angeles v. Lyons, 208«4 
City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 

203«2 
Civil rights, xi-xii; Constitution 

and, 2-3, 24-26, 39, 104-5, 

2()3«8; lack of progress in, 98; 

law enforcement model of, 55— 

56; whites and, 4—5. See also 

Affirmative action 
Civil Rights Act (1964), 49 
Civil Rights Act (1991), 49, 204«4 
Civil rights laws, 6, 49, 92-93, 101, 

104 



Civil War, 8, 39-40, 54, 98, 104, 
168-69, 189 

Clean Air Act, Sin 

Commonwealth of Penn. v. l^cal 
Union 542, International Union 
of Operating Engineers, 208«7, 
210«8 

Constitution, 185-88; civil rights 
and, 2-3, 24-26, 39, 104-5, 
203«8; due process clause and, 
100-103; First Amendment 
and, 41-42; Fourteenth Amend- 
ment and, 53-54, 102, 168, 191; 
law on books vs. law in action 
and, 102; "moral" behavior 
and, 51; racial preference and, 
48; slavery and, 2—3, 3«, 98, 
104-5, 168-69, 18&-89 

Conyers, John, 19 

Coolidge, Calvin, 38 

Coppage V. Kansas, 100, 206«5 

Crenshaw, Kimberle, 8, 144, 151, 
211«10 

Crime, 149; black public officials 
and, 23; blacks and, 190, 190«, 
196 

Critical race theory, 144-46, 
211«10 

Cuba, 43 

Cuffe, Paul, 37 

Culp, Jerome, 211wl0 



David, and Goliath, 119 
Delany, Martin R., 37 
Delgado, Richard, 144, 211«10 
Desegregation. See School deseg- 
regation 
Dinkins, David, 23 



Ind 



ex 



217 



Dominant circle, 8, 151 
Donohue, John J., 54«-55/; 
Douglass, Frederick, 46, 172; anti- 
slaver)' speech of, 148; on black 
emigration, 40 
Du Bois, W. E. B., 21, 129, 130, 

132-33, 139 
Due process clause, 100—103 
Dunbar, Paul Lawrence, 110 



Eagleton, Terr)-, 143 

Eastern Europeans, 152 

Economic factors, 98. See also In- 
come 

Edmonds, Erin, 199 

Education, 8, 39; as key to race 
problem, 150-51, 155-56; level 
of attainment and, 131, 131«, 
149; minority scholarships and, 
57, 205«26; school desegrega- 
tion and, 1 8-1 9. See also School 
desegregation 

Egypt, 44, 147 

EUison, Ralph, 111, 155-57 

Emancipation Proclamation, 24, 
42, 53-54 

Empathy, racial reform and, 
150-51 

Employment discrimination, 6, 7, 
117, 149; racial nepotism in, 
57-58; Racial Preference Li- 
censing Act and, 47-64, 92; ra- 
cial standing rules and, 111-13; 
testing in, 48«; Tide VII (Equal 
Employment Opportunity Act) 
and, 55« 

Enhanced racial standing, 114—17, 
124 



Equal Employment Opportuni- 
ties Act (1965), 7, 55« 
Equal opportunit)-, 104 
Ethiopia, 38« 
Evers, Medgar, 20, 67 
Exodus, Book of, 35-36, 147 



Fair Housing Act (1968), 7, 49 

Fanon, Franz, x 

Farrakhan, Louis, 118—25 

Fiesta Bowl, 57, 205«26 

Final Solution, 186 

First Amendment, 41-42 

Fisk University, 129 

For colored girls who have considered 

suicide when the rainbow is enuf 

(Shange), 117 
Fourteenth Amendment, 53—54, 

102, 168, 191 
Franklin, Benjamin, 168 
Franklin, John Hope, 19, 39 
Freedom of association, 41—42 
Freire, Paulo, ix-x 



Garrow, David, 1 1 3 
Garvey, Marcus, 21, 37-38, 44, 67 
Genovese, Eugene, 19 
Goldberg, Matthew S., 47 
Goliath, and David, 119 
Great Depression, 39, 100 
Gun control, 90-91 
Gunier, Lani, 144 



Hacker, Andrew, 155 
Haiti, 30, 37, 40 



218 



Ind 



ex 



Haley, Alex, 2 
Harding, Vincent, 19 
Harris, Angela, 144, 211«10 
Han'ard Law Review, 8 
Harvard Law School, 115-16 
Har\'ard University: Affirmative 
Action Plan at, 127-38; faculty' 
conservatism at, 139-44; first 
black facult)' member at, 138; 
tenure at, 139, 142, 144; toke- 
nism at, 130, 141-42; white su- 
periority at, 1 39-44; women at, 
142 
Hayes, Roland, 31 
Hayes, Rutherford B., 98« 
Hayes-Tilden compromise (1877), 

98« 
Health care, 8, 149 
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United 

States, 204«5 
Helms, Jesse, 17« 
Higginbotham, I^on, 210«8 
Hindemith, Paul, 143 
Hirabayashi v. United States, 21 3«1 1 
Hochschild, Jennifer, 10, 152 
Holmes, Oliver WendeU, Jr., 100«, 

191, 191«-92« 
Homeland, 30, 32-46, 67, 168 
Horton, Willie, 9 
Housing, 8, 149 

Housing discrimination, 6, 7, 49, 
181; racial nepotism in, 57-58; 
testing in, 48« 
Howard, Jacob Merritt, 168-69 
Howard University, 69, 71 
Hubbard, Maceo, 112 
Hudson, Dovie and Winson, xii 
Huggins, Nathan, 19, 196-97 
Hughes, Langston, 15, 16-17, 19, 
21, 109, 176 



"I Don't Feel No Ways Tired" 

(song), 87-88 
Income, 149; African- American, 

3—5; disparities in, 8-9, 181. See 

also Poverty 
Infant mortalit}', 149 
Inner cities, 4, 196 
Internal Revenue Service, 208«4 
Interracial marriage, 76—88, 182 
Invisible Man (Ellison), 1 1 1 
Isaiah, 146 
Israel, 44, 121, 122, 147 



Jackson, Jesse, 27-28, 122 
James, Book of, 89 
Japanese Americans, 191, 213«11 
Jews, 35-36, 44, 120-22, 186-87 
Jim Crow statutes, 5, 54, 59 
Jones, James Earl, 109 
Jordan, Michael, 28 
Joseph, Gloria, 113—14 
Jur)' discrimination, 113 



Kat^enbach v. McClung, 204/;5 

Kennedy, Randall, 115-16 

King, Coretta Scott, 19 

King, Deborah, 211«10 

King, Martin Luther, Jr., x-xi, 66- 
67, 113; assassination of, 27«, 
142; birthday of, as national 
holiday, 16-21, 57, 160, 194; 
Nobel Peace Prize and, 26 

Klugcr, Richard, 113 

Korematsu v. United States, 213wll 

Ku Klux Klan, 42 



Ind 



ex 



219 



Labor unions, 8; "yellow dog" 

contracts and, 100 
Lawrence, Charles, 144 
Legal formalism, 100«, 101-4 
Legal profession: blacks in, 

211«11; problems of, 145, 

2\\n\\ 
Legal realism, 99-105 
Le Guin, Ursula, 153—55, 157 
Lester, Julius, 32 
Liberia, 40 
Licensing: environmental, 57, 51 n; 

racial, 47-64 
Life expectancy, 149 
Lincoln, Abraham, 24, 39-40, 

168, 172 
Utde, Malcolm (Malcolm X), 20, 

67, 95, 95« 
Litwack, Leon, 19 
Loury, Glenn, 115 
Luther v. Borden, 213«9 



MacDonald, Biona, xii 
Malcolm X, 20, 67, 95, 95« 
Marriage, interracial, 76—88, 182 
Marshall, Thurgood, 20 
Mathis de Maler (Hindemith), 143 
Matsuda, Man J., 140-41, 144, 

211«10 
Matthew, Book of, 74 
Mayors, black, 23-24 
Miller, Arthur S., 102 
Minority scholarship fund, 57, 

205«26 
"Moral" behavior, 51 
Morrison, Toni, 29, 151-52, 155 
Moses, 147 
Muhammad, Elijah, 95w 



Music, 143; gospel, 87-88, 178; 

rap, 22 
Myers, Linda, 11 
Myrdal, Gunnar, 9-10 



Native Americans, 1 1 

Nazi Germany, 122, 186-87 

Nepotism, racial, 47—64 

New American Dilemma, The (Hoch- 

schild), 10 
New Deal, 101-2 
Newton, John, 127 
North Star (newspaper), 40 



"Ones Who Walk Away from 
Omelas, The" (Le Guin), 153- 
55, 157 

Operation PUSH, 27-28 

Organization of Afro-American 
Unity, 95, 95« 

O'Shea v. Uttleton, 208«4 



Patterson, Orlando, 11-12 

Phillips, Kevin, 8-9 

Plato, 32 

Plessy V. Ferguson, 47, 49, 54, 204«1 

Pollution, 8 

Posner, Richard, 54«-55« 

Poverty, 39; African-American, 
3—5; black public officials and, 
23; in Great Depression, 100. 
See also Income 

Progressive movement, 100« 



220 



Ind 



ex 



Quotas, racial, 9, 102-3, 207«10 



Racial animus, 56 

Racial bonding, 8-12, 151-55 

Racial discrimination: and blacks 
as scapegoats, 8—12, 153—55; 
lack of obvious signs of, 5—6; 
modern forms of, 6-7; prefer- 
ence of whites vs., 7-8, 47—64, 
92; prevalence of, 3—5; quotas 
and, 9, 102-3, 207«10; Racial 
Preference Licensing Act and, 
47-64, 92 

Racial equality: Constitution and, 
98; as hoax, 95 

"Racial forgiveness" principle, 50 

Racial nepotism, 47—64 

Racial Preference Licensing Act 
(theoretical), 47—64, 92; advan- 
tages of, 61-64; described, 47- 
49; enforcement of, 49-52; jus- 
tification for, 53—61 

Racial quotas, 9, 102-3, 207//10 

Racial rage, 29, 196 

Racial realism theory, 93-108; 
basis of, 97-98; legal realism 
and, 99-105; racial equalit}- as 
hoax and, 95; themes of, 98-99; 
underground railroad and, 93- 
94,99 

Racial standing, rules of, 111-26; 
discounted status and, 111-14; 
enhanced status and, 114-17, 
124; importance ot understand- 
ing and, 125-26; superstanding 
status and, 118-25 

Racial symbol(s), 15—31; black 
public officials as, 20, 23-24, 



27—28, 115, 122; homeland as, 
30, 32-46, 67, 168; law and, 18- 
19, 23—26; Martin Luther King 
birthday as, 16-21, 26; rap as, 
22; of slavery, 18, 24 

Racism, ix-xi, xii, 30, 196; civil 
rights laws and, 92-93, 104; 
denial of, 5; education as key to, 
150-51, 155-56; interest in 
abolishing, 9—10; interracial re- 
lationships and, 76—88, 182; 
permanence of, 13—14, 197— 
200; racial realism and, 93—108; 
racial standing and, 111-26; 
white bonding and, 8—12, 
151-55 

Rand Corporation, 190/; 

Rangel, Charles B., 120, 121 

Rap, 22 

Reagan, Ronald, 122, 159; Martin 
Luther King birthday and, 18«, 
21 

Realism, legal, 99-105. See also Ra- 
cial realism theor}' 

Reflections of an Affirmative Action 
Bahy (Carter), 116 

Regents of the University of California 
v. Bakke, 102-3, 207«10 

Revolutionary War, 37 

Rite of Spring (Stravinsky), 143 

Ri^i^o v. Goode, 208«4 

Robeson, Paul, 21, 66 

Roofs (Haley), 2 



Scapegoats, blacks as, 8—12, 

153-55 
Scholarships, minority, 57, 205«26 
School desegregation, xi-xii, 18- 



Ind 



ex 



221 



19; Brown v. Board of Education 
and, 50-51, 61 «, 104, 113, 
203«8, 206«28, 208«8 

Supreme Court and, 24—25, 203«8 

Segregation, 8, 47-64 

Selective Service Act (1918), 
165-66 

"Separate but equal" standard, 
35-36, 47, 49, 104 

Shange, Ntozake, 117 

Sierra Leone, 37 

Simple Justice (Kluger), 113 

Slavery, 147-48, 195-97; Book of 
Exodus and, 35—36; Constitu- 
tion and, 2-3, 3«, 98, 104-5, 
168-69, 188-89; Emancipation 
Proclamation and, 24, 42, 53— 
54; heritage of, 1-3, 8-12, 76; 
homeland and, 35—37; racial 
rage and, 2—3; racial realism 
and, 94, 98, 104-5; under- 
ground railroad and, 41 «, 196 

Souls of Black Folk, The (Du Bois), 
132-33 

South Africa, 120, 121 

South America, 43 

Southern Christian Leadership 
Conference (SCLC), 67 

Sowell, Thomas, 115 

Steele, Shelby, 115 

Stefancic, Jean, 211//10 

Strauss, David A., 55« 

Stravinsky, Igor, 143 

Sunkist Growers, Inc., 57 

Supreme Court, 191; black justices 
on, 20, 115, 1 62; civil rights 
and, 2-3, 49-52, 58, 204«4; 
Fourteenth Amendment and, 
54; housing discrimination and, 
7, 48«, 49; jur)' discrimination 



and, 113; legal formalism and, 
102; New Deal and, 101-2; ra- 
cial quotas and, 102-3, 207«10; 
school desegregation and, xi- 
xii, 18-19, 24-25, 203«8 
Swaggart, Jimmy, 184 
Symbols. See Racial symbols 



Talented Tenth program, 1 32-34, 
137 

Television Evangelists of Amer- 
ica, 184-85 

Tenure, 139, 142, 144 

Testament of Hope, A (King), x-xi 

Testing, for discrimination, 48« 

Thomas, Clarence, 20, 115 

Tide VII (Equal Employment 
Opportunit)' Act), 55« 

Tokenism, 130, 141^2 

Torres, Gerald, 144 

Turner, Henry M., 44 

Turner, Nat, 21 

Turner, Tina, 77 

Tuskegee Institute, 171 



Underground railroad: modern 
version of, 93-94, 99, 186; slav- 
ery and, 41 «, 196 

Understanding an Afrocentric W'^orld 
]/iew: Introduction to an Optimal 
Psychology (Myers), 1 1 

Unemployment, 8, 39; African- 
American, 3-5; black public 
officials and, 23; black v. white, 
149 



222 



Index 



Universal Negro Improvement 

Association, 37 
Universities, affirmative action 

and, 127-38 



Valley Forge Christian College v. 

Americans United, 207 «3 
Voting rights, 191, 191«-92« 



White, G. Edward, 100-101 
Wideman, John Edgar, 22 
Wiecek, William, 3« 
Williams, Patricia, 25, 144 
Williams, Walter, 115 
Wolff, Robert Paul, 139«-40« 
Women: black men's treatment 
of, 68-88, 116-17; at Harvard 
University, 142; in legal profes- 
sion, 211«11 
Wonder, Stevie, 19 
Woodward, C. Vann, 19-20 



Washington, Booker T., 171 
Watson, Lawrence, 136« 
Wechsler, Herbert, 61 « 
"What's Love Got to Do with It?" 

(song), 77 



Yale Law School, 116 

Yalom, Irvin, 198 

"Yellow dog" contracts, 100 



Faces at 
E185.615 



the bottom of 
.B395 1992 



the wel I 



lilllililliiiil 



: the pe 
21715 



Bell, Derrick A. 

NEW COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA 



(SF)