Blackness as Folly

Debra Dickerson gambles on telling blacks to give up

White reviewers, like her e-mailers, did respond well. Maslin's review was by far the most enthusiastic. Calling the book "a dazzling diatribe that reveals Dickerson as a Molotov-cocktail polemicist," Maslin said even enraged readers would not be able to "ignore the range and ferocity of her attack." Finally, she declared, "Whatever else this book accomplishes, it makes her a star."

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, writing in The Washington Post, praised Dickerson's "welcome declaration that 'blackness is collapsing under the weight of its contradictions, just as overt racism did.' " But after listing many of the generalized critiques of all black people, Lasch-Quinn charged that whites were stereotyped.

"Dickerson's entire argument—that blacks need to let go of old notions of black identity and the forms of identity politics and racial grievance at their core—is subverted early in the book by a surprising [my italics] chapter on 'white intransigence' in which she presents a litany of complaints against whites," wrote Lasch-Quinn. "Here she lumps all whites together—just the thing she opposes in the case of blacks—and casts them as still in denial about the nation's racial crimes. . . . After urging blacks to forsake old patterns of complaint and redress for a newly courageous civic participation . . . she invokes the usual culprit—white supremacy—as if it were an unmitigated and eternal force."

Dickerson: "I'm like a  working-class, work-ethic conservative."
photo: Rick Reinhard
Dickerson: "I'm like a working-class, work-ethic conservative."

This is downright amusing because Dickerson repeatedly states in that same chapter that whites no longer want to hear about racism and white supremacy, and identifies one white strategy for maintaining privilege as claiming to be victimized by blacks.

Black reviewers, on the other hand, were an unhappy crew, led by Gerald Early, who wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "The problem is that the author does not know enough, has not researched enough, to write an incisive book on African-American life or American racism." Darryl Lorenzo Wellington in The Christian Science Monitor found the book "a patchwork" that "suffers from the very confusions it seeks to critique." Brian Palmer in Newsday said the author lost her way "in a thicket of recrimination and frustration." Sylvester Brown Jr. of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concluded, "A huge dose of credibility could have been added to the book had the author used polling data, statistics or surveys—anything validating that blacks actually feel and think the way Dickerson says they do. . . . [The] book is a rant marketed as a scholarly thesis on racial advancement."

Is Dickerson just another neo-conservative? "I have a lot of friends who are black Republicans," she said. "We argue a lot. We end up at the same places, but we get there by different routes. I'm like a working-class, work-ethic conservative. In a more just world, I would be a libertarian."

Asked if she really thinks we black folk are, all of us, waiting for white folks to say they're sorry and "send a giant Hallmark card," she replied: "Yes, I do. Not consciously, but yes. I think this book can help with that." I didn't know we were waiting for that card, but since Dickerson won't need it, forward it to me.

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