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

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

by Derrick Bell
     
 

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"Racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society." So begins this powerful and moving book by the controversial civil rights activist and author of the acclaimed And We Are Not Saved. As he did in his earlier book, Derrick Bell drives home his point through a series of allegorical stories and encounters with fictional characters ranging… See more details below

Overview

"Racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society." So begins this powerful and moving book by the controversial civil rights activist and author of the acclaimed And We Are Not Saved. As he did in his earlier book, Derrick Bell drives home his point through a series of allegorical stories and encounters with fictional characters ranging from Geneva Crenshaw, the lawyer-prophet who was the heroine of And We Are Not Saved, to an anonymous limousine driver in New York; from a conservative black economist working with the White House to a radical white activist he meets in the Oregon woods. Each chapter draws on legal precedents, historical excellence, and fiction of an earlier era to shed light on some of the most perplexing and vexing issues of our day. Bell's themes include affirmative action, the disparity between civil rights law and reality, the "racist" outbursts of some black leaders, and the temptation toward violent retaliation. To elucidate these often incomprehensible issues, he invents a "Racial Preference Licensing Act," tells an interracial love story, and crafts a parable about space invaders who offer solutions to all earthly problems - and in return demand to take America's black population to their planet. Via this unique format, a blend of imagination and real experience, the book sends a sobering message: Racism is so integral a part of American life that no matter what blacks do to better their lot, they are doomed to fail as long as the majority of whites do not see that their own well-being is threatened by the inferior status of blacks. Bell calls on blacks to face up to this unhappy truth and abandon the misleading vision of "we shall overcome." Only then will blacks, and those whites who join them, be in a position to create viable strategies to alleviate the burdens of racism.

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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
Roland Wulbert
Two years ago, law professor Bell took unapproved leave of absence from Harvard to protest his department's failure to hire a tenure-track black woman. When his absence exceeded university limits, he was fired. But readers who therefore expect him to be an Ice T with a Ph.D., denouncing white racists, will be disappointed. Bell's tone in these essays is not confrontational but persuasive. That is, when it is not playful, as when he posits Atlantis resurfacing with an atmosphere only blacks can breath, or a Racial Preference License, whose purchasers may exclude persons on the basis of race. He has one long dialogue with the fictional namesake of one of Langston Hughes' fictional interlocutors, another with the fictional Geneva Crenshaw from his allegorical work "And We Are Not Saved" (Basic, 1989). One of the two themes unifying the essays--that U.S. racism will not change until "whites perceive that nondiscriminatory treatment for us will be a benefit for them"--may contradict the other--that U.S. racism, sustained by alienated institutions, will never change--but this won't prevent Bell's book from finding a ready audience.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465068173
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
10/13/1992
Pages:
240

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