Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

Overview

The noted civil rights activist uses allegory and historical example to present a radical vision of the persistence of racism in America. These essays shed light on some of the most perplexing and vexing issues of our day: affirmative action, the disparity between civil rights law and reality, the “racist outbursts” of some black leaders, the temptation toward violent retaliation, and much more.

This series of allegorial stories and encounters with fictional ...

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Overview

The noted civil rights activist uses allegory and historical example to present a radical vision of the persistence of racism in America. These essays shed light on some of the most perplexing and vexing issues of our day: affirmative action, the disparity between civil rights law and reality, the “racist outbursts” of some black leaders, the temptation toward violent retaliation, and much more.

This series of allegorial stories and encounters with fictional characters sheds light on some of the most perplexing and vexing issues of the day: affirmative action, disparity between civil rights law and reality, "racist outbursts" of some African American leaders, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

Nation
A testament of faith—faith in the importance of fighting back.
New York Times Book Review
A starkly existentialist vision . . . chilling. . . . The stories challenge old assumptions and then linger in the mind.
Washington Post Book World
Stingingly effective....He is pushing a sort of racial existentialism...anchored in what is rather than in hopes of what will be.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Even the unconverted will have to admit that the fictional parables that function as his sermons are powerful in their eloquence.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. $25,000 ad/promo. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Bell, in the news because he is on leave from Harvard Law School to protest its never having hired a tenured black woman, has written a provocative and creative book that nicely follows his And We Are Not Saved ( LJ 8/87). His ``interweaving of fact and fiction'' and an ``unorthodox form'' make for stimulating reading and clarify for white readers the obstacles continually faced by black Americans and the miseries they endlessly endure. No other book features, as does this one, a Racial Preference Licensing Act, Racial Data Storms, Afroatlantica Emigration, Space Traders (guess who they are coming to take away?), the Anne Frank Committee, and White Citizens for Black Survival. Bell's thoughts about Minister Louis Farrakhan and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are a contribution to the public dialog on those figures. An especially important and relevant publication for public and academic libraries.-- Katherine Dahl, Western Illinois Univ., Macomb
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465068142
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 459,262
  • Lexile: 1340L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.76 (w) x 5.24 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Derrick Bell

Derrick Bell, a visiting professor at New York University Law School, was dismissed by Harvard University from his position as Weld Professor of Law for refusing to end his two-year leave through which he protested the absence of minority women on the law faculty. He is also the author of Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Confronting Authority, and And We Are Not Saved.

Biography

Renowned as the professor who gave up his tenured position at the Harvard Law School in protest of the university's lack of minority women faculty members, Derrick Bell is also an innovative, insightful and unorthodox scholar and writer. Bell, now a professor at New York University's School of Law, helped pioneer a new style of narrative scholarship, mixing allegory and anecdote together with analysis and fact.

Bell was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh, where he was the first member of his family to go to college. After serving in the U.S. Air Force in Korea, he entered the University of Pittsburgh Law School with the goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer. He began his legal career at the Justice Department, then was recruited by Thurgood Marshall to join the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the NAACP. In 1971, Bell became the first black tenured professor at Harvard Law School.

Bell published Race, Racism and American Law, now a standard law school text, in 1973. Its critique of traditional civil rights legislation helped spark the academic movement toward critical race theory, in which scholars such as Richard Delgado, Kimberle Crenshaw and Kendall Thomas sought new paradigms for understanding and addressing racial injustice. The book's fourth edition appeared in 2000.

As a writer, Bell is best known for his series of books featuring the fictional civil rights leader Geneva Crenshaw. The books, which include And We Are Not Saved, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Gospel Choirs, and Afrolantica Legacies, interweave fables and philosophical dialogues with Bell's analyses of legal history. "I suppose there would be a problem if everyone wrote about race in the Derrick Bell style," Jeremy Waldron wrote in a New York Times review of Gospel Choirs. "We need analysis and we need social science as much as dream, dialogue and narrative. But we would certainly be the poorer if no one wrote like this; for even to be disconcerted by Mr. Bell's technique is to open oneself to the challenge of his thesis and the soaring power of the music that sustains it."

At the age of 70, after a lifetime of passionate commitment to social justice, Bell wrote Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth. The book draws on the lives of role models like Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, and Medgar Evers, as well as on Bell's own life, to explore what it means to live and work with integrity, dignity and compassion. "We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained," Bell writes. His own accomplishments are an inspiration to the brave souls willing to buck that system.

Good To Know

Bell gave up his tenured position at Harvard Law School in 1992, when he refused to return from the two-year, unpaid leave of absence he took to protest the school's failure to hire and tenure minority women.

Bell had launched a similar protest before, while serving as dean of the Oregon Law School. He resigned his Oregon position in 1985 after the faculty directed that he not extend an offer to an Asian-American faculty candidate who was third on the list for a faculty position. When the top two candidates (both white males) declined the position, the law faculty decided to reopen the search rather than hire the Asian-American woman.

In 1994, the story "Space Traders" from Bell's book Faces at the Bottom of the Well was made into an HBO movie starring Robert Guillaume.

President Barack Obama was a student of Bell's at Harvard Law School.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction. Divining Our Racial Themes 1
1 Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy 15
2 The Afrolantica 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
9 The Space Traders 158
Epilogue. Beyond Despair 195
Notes 201
Index 215
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