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The Future of the Race

The Future of the Race

2.5 2
by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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Almost one-hundred years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois proposed the notion of the "talented tenth," an African American elite that would serve as leaders and models for the larger black community. In this unprecedented collaboration, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cornel West--two of Du Bois's most prominent intellectual descendants--reassess that relationship and its implications


Almost one-hundred years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois proposed the notion of the "talented tenth," an African American elite that would serve as leaders and models for the larger black community. In this unprecedented collaboration, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cornel West--two of Du Bois's most prominent intellectual descendants--reassess that relationship and its implications for the future of black Americans. If the 1990s are the best of times for the heirs of the Talented Tenth, they are unquestionably worse for the growing black underclass. As they examine the origins of this widening gulf and propose solutions for it, Gates and West combine memoir and biography, social analysis and cultural survey into a book that is incisive and compassionate, cautionary and deeply stirring.

"Today's most public African American intellectual voices...West and Gates have made a valuable contribution."--Julian Bond, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Brilliant...a social, cultural and political blueprint...that attempts to illumine the future path for blacks and American democracy."--New York Daily News

"Henry Louis Gates., Jr., and Cornel West are among the most renowned American intellectuals of our time."--New York Times Book Review

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Gerald Early
''The Future of the Race'' is a short volume consisting of an essay by Mr. Gates, an essay by Mr. West and two essays by the father of the modern black intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, preceded by an informative preface by Mr. Gates.... Mr. Gates and Mr. West are writing essays about not only why they exist but, in essence, why they should. Naturally, wishing to demonstrate their racial solidarity with and their concern (and relevance) for those less fortunate, they are rather predictably liberal in their political views....Neither essay represents its writer at his best. The pieces seem hastily written....''The Future of the Race'' provides the great service of reprinting the Du Bois essays, which still make singular reading -- better reading than Mr. Gates's or Mr. West's pieces. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two preeminent black American scholar/ authors, both affiliated with the department of Afro-American studies at Harvard, offer contemporary responses-reflections rather than policy recommendations-to W.E.B. Du Bois's famous challenge to "the Talented Tenth" about service to the black community. Given the ambitiousness of the title, the essays are brief-not much longer than Du Bois's 1903 essay plus his own later self-critique (both published in an appendix here)-and somewhat derivative of the author's previous writings. Gates recalls his passage to the Ivy League 25 years ago and the subsequent American political retrenchment and black middle-class's sense of guilt. The two black men he admired the most at Yale died young and unfulfilled; Gates suggests that his generation may find the quest for identity within their community more daunting than the struggle against white America. West, more directly critiquing Du Bois, argues that the patriarch disdained all but elite culture, and that black "cultural hybridity" (Coltrane, Wright, Morrison, etc.) best engages the challenge of America's "twilight civilization." Thus the Talented Tenth faces an identity crisis: it must decide whether to retreat into cultural rootlessness and hedonism or to strive, as West has argued often, for "radical democracy." (Mar.)
Library Journal
In this thought-provoking collaboration, Gates and West explore the challenge of W.E.B. Dubois's famous essay "The Talented Tenth" and consider the future of African American society in light of it. Gates (Colored People, LJ 5/1/94) and West (Race Matters, LJ 3/15/93) are noted African American intellectuals on the faculty of Harvard University's Afro-American Studies program. Envisioning themselves as grandchildren of the "talented tenth," the authors examine the responsibility of the successful and talented black middle and upper classes to uplift the impoverished. In two long essays, Gates and West respond to the challenges placed before them by DuBois. While Gates writes of the sense of guilt and attachment of black intellectuals to the lower class, West challenges the naivet of DuBois's belief in empowerment through education. The text includes DuBois's "The Talented Tenth" and, reprinted for the first time, his 1948 critique of it. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/95.]-Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., Ind.
Bonnie Smothers
Ever since W. E. B. Du Bois' "The Talented Tenth" (1903) was published in "The Negro Problem", his idea of educated blacks dedicated to uplifting the race was embraced like a prayer, a hope made tangible. Over time, Du Bois was criticized for advocating the creation of a black elite; he himself realized he erred in thinking that sacrifice is more natural than selfishness. In 1948, he reframed his message in "The Talented Tenth Memorial Address," stressing the idea of service by the "tenth" to the black underclass. These pivotal essays, included in this book, are touchstones for an argument waged by contemporary black scholars Gates and West. Gates dedicates his essay to two influential black students that he met at Yale in the sixties, and it's more than a dedication. His is a personal essay that reviews his life as a black student benefiting from the political gains of the 1960s and seeking ways to do service, ending with reflections on the lives of so many of his fellow "talented tenth," who did not survive the skirmish to win the war (for other books about U.S. race relations see the Focus column, "Troubles in the U.S.A.," p.969). West dissects the problems he finds in Du Bois' thought and, seemingly, draws parallels to concerns of more contemporary thinkers in questioning the need, or indeed, the suitability of a "talented tenth" to rescue the sinking black underclass. It's an argument that compels one to think about sacrifice for the good of humanity, whatever its rewards.
Kirkus Reviews
Two of our most prominent and eloquent black intellectuals confront the challenge of W.E.B. DuBois and the notion of the "Talented Tenth" as it applies to themselves and other African-American thinkers at the end of the 20th century.

In a 1903 essay, DuBois outlined what he saw as the responsibility of the most fortunate, gifted, and successful minds in the black community to "uplift the race." Over 90 years later, Gates (Colored People, 1994, etc.) and West (Race Matters, 1993, etc.) are perhaps the embodiment of that exalted group. In the two essays that make up the bulk of this slender but important volume (which also includes DuBois's original essay), they examine that sense of responsibility in light of the past half-century of rapid change. Gates points out that the growing African-American middle class has become more uncoupled than ever from its impoverished inner-city kin. Gates writes elegantly of the sense of guilt that intellectuals carry in the face of this social phenomenon: "If your name is Auchincloss, say, you do not worry overmuch about those impoverished Appalachians who share your Scottish descent; few blacks have the luxury of such detachment." West, by contrast, confronts the ghost of DuBois head-on, finding the concept of the Talented Tenth "inadequate," a naive faith in the power of education to transform the polity. Where this will lead is impossible for either writer to say, but Gates is on the money when he writes, "We need something we don't yet have: a way of speaking about black poverty that doesn't falsify the reality of black advancement; a way of speaking about black advancement that doesn't distort the enduring realities of black poverty."

Thoughtful and, particularly in the Gates essay, deeply felt. A useful introduction to important contemporary thinkers and the question that has plagued African-American intellectuals for over 200 years.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Future of the Race 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Future of the Race by Professors Gates and West is one the most accessible yet intellectual pieces that I have read in recent memory. One of the things that I liked about this book is the fact that the authors both celebrate the works of prototypical African American scholars such as W.E.B. Dubois while also providing us with a useful critique of their work. One of the most fascinating criticism is that of Dubois who for all of his scholarly rigor never came to grips with the reality of the problem of evil. I think that anyone trying to understand race relations in the United States should read this book along with a few classics such as those of Dubois and Carter G Woodson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago