The End of Blackness


“This book will prove and promote the idea that the concept of ‘blackness,’ as it has come to be understood, is rapidly losing its ability to describe, let alone predict or manipulate, the political and social behavior of African Americans.” Such is the explosive enterprise of what is sure to be one of the most
controversial books of recent times.

How has the notion of “blackness” bamboozled African Americans into an unhealthy obsession with ...

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“This book will prove and promote the idea that the concept of ‘blackness,’ as it has come to be understood, is rapidly losing its ability to describe, let alone predict or manipulate, the political and social behavior of African Americans.” Such is the explosive enterprise of what is sure to be one of the most
controversial books of recent times.

How has the notion of “blackness” bamboozled African Americans into an unhealthy obsession with white America? What are the deleterious consequences of this? How has “blackness” diminished the sovereignty of African Americans as rational and moral beings? How has white America exploited the concept to sublimate its rage toward and contempt for black America? Is American racism an intractable malaise, and who gets to decide when the past is over?

In this unstinting, keen, and brutally funny manifesto, Debra Dickerson critiques “race” as a bankrupt scientific and social construct, exposing the insidious, manipulative racial myths and prejudices still held by American blacks and whites. She examines much statistical rubbish that passes for sociological fact, the purposeful corruption of American history, and the resulting social ills and pathologies bedeviling both the black and white communities.

She bravely argues that, whether or not African Americans still have a moral claim against this country, they must now be fiercely self-reliant, ignoring the hackneyed presuppositions and expectations of whites and other blacks still stuck in tired and fruitless ways of thinking.

As the New York Times remarked about her highly acclaimed memoir, AnAmerican Story, “it is a startling thing to hear an American speak as frankly and un-self-servingly about race as Dickerson does.”

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Author of the prize-winning memoir An American Story, which told of her admirable rise from a family of former sharecroppers to Harvard Law School, Dickerson sets out to criticize contemporary approaches to race, whether they originate on the political left or right, and in doing so exhibits a praiseworthy independence of mind. Questioning everyone from the "Black Politburo" -- the civil rights establishment, which sets the tone of black politics -- to white apologists who still downplay the ravages of slavery, she argues that the civil rights movement remains incomplete as long as blacks continue to define themselves by the terms of blackness they have inherited. — Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn
The New York Times
… a dazzling diatribe that reveals Ms. Dickerson as a Molotov-cocktail polemicist. Drawing tacitly upon the racial self-doubt she experienced within her family and even reacting to the racial favoritism that she says paved her way to Harvard Law School, she has distilled a lifetime's worth of eye-opening realizations into a furious, bitterly funny indictment. Even readers whom she enrages -- and there will be many -- cannot ignore the range and ferocity of her attack. — Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
In order to make progress possible, blacks have to give up on the past-that's the core argument of this inflammatory, cogently written book. Dickerson, a lawyer and journalist, continues the examination of black self-reliance that she introduced in her first book, An American Story. This time, however, she leaves her own experiences out of it and focuses on breaking down racial myths, social concepts and prejudices with the help of statistics and citations by such figures as W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin. Racism, according to the author, "is compounded by black cooperation and by fruitless black jousts with intransigence, while winnable victories are ignored because they do not center on whites and because they are unglamorous." Dismissing Afrocentrism as "self-eliminative and isolationist," Dickerson encourages blacks to focus on their own talents and ignore the expectations of whites and other blacks. She fearlessly condemns the black community for defending the actions of O.J. Simpson and Marion Barry, and for scorning "Uncle Tom" figures like Julian Abele, a black architect who designed Duke University in the 1920s despite its whites-only policy preventing him from ever visiting the campus. "The great architect never got to see his creation, but those for whom he left it in trust-knowledge seekers of all races and nationalities-do. Thank God he was an Uncle Tom," she writes. Few of the book's assertions are new or groundbreaking, but Dickerson updates and expands the arguments by using references to current television sitcoms, mass-mailed Internet jokes that reinforce stereotypes and the emergence of hip-hop artists as individualistic thinkers to back up her statements. Addressing an incendiary issue in a straightforward and un-self-serving manner, this polemic is likely to provoke thoughtful discussion. (Jan. 13) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this controversial critique on race, Dickerson (An American Story) exposes racial myths and biases held by both blacks and whites today while critiquing the purposeful corruption of American history and the nonsense that passes for sociology. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A full-bore assault on white racism on one hand and black orthodoxies on the other, one that finds the author well-prepared for the inevitable backlash. At which point, journalist Dickerson (An American Story, 2000) says, "the next time a 'new Afrikan' steps up to me at one of my readings . . . and questions my Negritude for my interracial marriage or my insufficient (to them) engagement with the black community, they better come loaded for bear." Black America is too diverse to be stereotyped, she suggests, and far too many blacks are enjoying material and social advantages that are historically supposed to be beyond them to believe that the old laws of racism have as much force as they used to-illustrating, in one of her rare instances of cheerleading, that "no one can stop the American, black or blind, who is determined to succeed." Which is not to say that racism is not a reality-it is, and the author offers a repellent catalogue of ongoing sins by white against black. But, she adds, blacks need to stop relying on racism as a means for explaining failure, to stop presuming that "the moral high ground [can] be bequeathed like a hereditary title or a trust fund." Instead, Dickerson argues, the black community should look toward the future: "It is time to chart black life after the movement." By way of example, she points to the successes of hip-hop entrepreneurs such as Russell Simmons and Chuck D, who "are exerting powerful, politicized, and well-financed leadership among their peers, all with little recourse to, or much respect for, the civil rights establishment." One sign of that leadership, she writes, is the emergence of "hip-hop politicians" running against "movement blacks" inNew York and New Jersey. Of any politician, whether old-school or new-, she counsels, the questions need be asked, "Would she know what to do with herself if white racism ended tomorrow? How invested in continued black failure has he become?" Arguments that are crisply delivered and guaranteed to irritate vast constituencies. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375421570
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/13/2004
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Debra J. Dickerson was educated at the University of Maryland, St. Mary’s University, and Harvard Law School. She has been both a senior editor and a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, and her work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, The New Republic, Slate, The Village Voice, and Essence. She lives in Albany, New York.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Prologue: Blackness Before the Dawn 27
1 Taking the Words out of Black Mouths: Narcissism, Know-Nothingness, and White Intransigence 51
2 Kente Cloth Politics: The White Man's Ice, Know-Nothingness, and Black Futility 124
3 Gone Native: The Uncle Tom Imperative 248
Notes 259
Acknowledgments 281
Bibliography 287
Index 291
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Interviews & Essays

Q&A with Debra Dickerson

Why did you write the End of Blackness?
One simple reason: I am sick and tired, physically sick and tired, of being spoken for by what passes for leadership in the black community. Mostly, I refer to local ‘leaders' more so than those at the state or national level (though most of them annoy me, too. It's just that, to maintain their positions, they have to be more judicious in their pointlessness). If I hear one more underemployed, overeducated child of the over-entitled black bourgeoisie spend 70% of his speech on white people and what they need to do or stop doing, and the other 30% denouncing any black who dares disagree with the party line, when his speech is entitled "Restoring the Black Family" or some such, I'm going to lose it. Rolling my eyes and sighing dramatically just isn't doing it for me anymore. Ditto the kente-cloth-ed ‘New Afrikan' and his demands that half the continental US landmass be given to blacks as the New Motherland.

Someone should tell those folks that there was a Civil Rights Movement and that it worked. There was a time when black uplift was impossible without white involvement, but that time has long passed. It simply no longer matters whether or not whites hate blacks. It only matters whether blacks are determined to achieve their goals or whether they are determined to prove how racist some whites are. We're free. Not home free. Just free. Free to work our bums off for the dream for which so many gave their lives. Only public humiliation will make these malcontents either hush up or grow up, because attention is all that really motivates them. That, and a terrible secret: theybelieve the lie that blacks really are stupid, ugly, incompetent and deserving of abuse. That's why racism must be endlessly hunted for so that these kinds of blacks can explain away black problems. The other option, of course, is to hunt down black problems and, like, fix them. The End of Blackness is my vote for Plan B.

That title, The End of Blackness, is really provocative. What do you mean by it?
When I told my sister the title, she said with mock alarm, "How long do I have?" What I mean is that for four centuries, ‘black,' the lowest caste, has only really meant the opposite of ‘white,' the highest caste, with all the political, cultural, aesthetic, psychological, and financial overtones that implies. It serves no purpose beyond maintaining hierarchies of privilege (with whites at the top) and shoring up the status quo. It most benefits whites yet it is blacks who are most determined to hold on to a tautology they have morally, intellectually and culturally demolished beyond all repair – why else demand that Tiger Woods consider himself ‘black' or think of Bill Clinton as the first ‘black President'? Mind you, we'll still be black. Maybe we'll always be black. We just need to redefine what ‘black' means. ‘Black' should only mean those descended from African slaves brought involuntarily to labor in the USA. Everything beyond that is up for grabs. It doesn't mean Democrat. It doesn't mean protestant Christian. It doesn't mean caring about civil rights. It certainly does not follow from the discovery of a scintilla of dusty African DNA in your gene pool. It also does not mean, as it does now, that our moral failings cannot be address until all of whites' have been admitted to and redressed. It means what any individual black person says it means. You're black if you say you are and not if you say you're not, whatever you look like, wherever you live, whatever your mother, or a traffic cop, thinks. Redefining blackness obviously doesn't mean the world will treat you in accordance with your preferences. It just means that you will not be told by anyone who you are, what you think, how to organize your life. On both the individual and collective levels, we have to stop living our lives and building our personas with whites in the equation. Remember, it's the content of our character, not the color of our skin. A lot of air will be let out of the balloon of racism the moment blacks stop paying attention to it and focus on their own internalities.

Why do you include so many quotes from thinkers like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, E. Franklin Frazier, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison?

The more disillusioned I became with this current crop of post-Movement leaders, the more I despaired that all we'd ever had in our moral and intellectual kit bag was gospel songs and bewailings of white racism. Who are we apart from our history of oppression? Are white folks all we'd ever thought, sang, or prayed about? If the answers are ‘no one' and ‘yes,' then weren't the racists right that we added nothing to the world, that we truly were a useless race? I decided to read our foundational thinkers just to see what was behind those Chicken McNugget-ized bromides from Black History Month. Having done so, I felt so robbed. We have been lied to about our true heritage, and not by The Man. All those people we invoke so sonorously every February were offering intracommunal critiques, not analyses of what exactly was wrong with white people and how good life would be for us once the white man changed. I was also struck by how unreactionary they were and bowled over by how much they truly loved and respected black people, not that they ever put it that way. They assumed black leadership and excellence and just plain wonderfulness. When you listen to our current leaders, you realize they don't assume these things because it's all about how white people have to stop doing what they're doing for us to get ahead. Woodson actually commended whites for taking such good care of themselves and exhorted us to get similarly busy. He ordered us to get even, by competing and winning, not by wailing so loud no one else could get anything else done. Pre-Civil Rights Act, pre-Rosa Parks, pre-Freedom Rides and pre-Tiger Woods, he assumed we'd win as soon as we stopped trying to make folks love us. Reading all these thinkers, I realized we'd been bamboozled, but not in the way we thought. Our black leaders today think we're losers. They really do. That, as long as white racism exists, blacks will always be on the bottom of the pile. That's not what the son of slaves, Woodson, thought and I want my people to know that. We used to believe in ourselves, not the unstoppable evil of whites. Now, blacks are the white supremacists.
Given that most folks aren't nerds like me who like hundred year old books, I decided to salt the End of Blackness with as much of that knowledge as possible. I have never been so proud to be black in my life as while reading the incredible wisdom and transracial humanity of which black men facing the distinct threat of public lynching were capable. I developed a distinct crush on Douglass (circa the 1850's) and Woodson (circa the 1930's), in particular. These are men so ahead of their times as to be mind boggling. They thought ‘race' was silly, whether coming from ‘us' or from ‘them'. It annoyed and bored them. These are elders blacks really need to get to know.

You also use a lot of pop-culture references. Why?
I'm a nerd. Most other folks aren't. I think lots of folks will either skim or skip the archaic language of our geniuses, knife in my heart though that is, but might be enticed to read a download from or a quote from Vibe magazine. Knowledge isn't relegated to dusty books which is why I read compulsively. I see so much that's important in our culture reflected in odd places, like sitcoms and Top 10 lists, that I just couldn't resist making the connections. Hopefully, I was able to illuminate the weird interstices of pop culture, literature, history and politics that define all our lives. What we say we think about our world and each other is not always, or even often, what we actually think. When we're being less serious, as in mass market movies, we let all sorts of interesting things slip out. I see pop culture as the way America talks in its sleep.

What do you expect the response to be?
Shock. From whites and blacks (there being no other races), liberals and conservatives, young and old. My analysis is not unique or even that new (just chat with any black person 35 years old or younger), but it has yet to bubble up beyond the political and hip hop margins with much force yet. The preview audiences I've spoken to certainly seemed shocked in that positive way for which we writers pray. I drool over the prospect of lots of energized young blacks sidling up to me and exhaling because, finally, someone's saying what they've been thinking but thought they couldn't say without bringing about the re-enslavement of their people. As news of the book dribbles out (mostly through my eponymous website) that's happening more and more. Hooray! Of course, from the other side, I expect to be fitted for a lynch rope. The reactionary, groupthink black wing of the community says it considers people like me a danger to the community. What they mean is that no one is allowed to disagree with them or, more importantly, fail to participate in the cartel that controls invitations, speaking opportunities and networking in the grievance industry. It's about money and power, basically. I'm not playing the game and I'm endangering their hold on power and access to microphones and do-nothing jobs. Oh, there'll be vocal denunciations of me. Very few debates, but lots o' insults. I look forward to brawling with them, so they can bring it on. I got some Douglass and some Al Murray for them to contend with so I'm not too worried about Derrida and Foucault.

Who do you suspect your audience will be?
This book will be funny in this regard and I must say I'm looking forward to hearing people justify why my analysis of white political dysfunction is brilliant while mine of blacks' is demented and vice versa. Can't wait. I hope The End of Blackness will find its way to the open minded, future-focused black leaders in the next generation. It's a new era: how are they supposed to know when to be black, when to be Americans, when to be fiscal conservatives, when to subsidize a group or program, when to be pacifists and when to fight? Do we even need a politics of blackness anymore? Our leaders need guiding principles for a new day but which remain true to blacks' core principles without reference to the preferences or behavior of outsiders. The Movement models should be studied and revered, but not necessarily emulated. Different strategies are required today (otherwise, aren't we really saying that the martyrs accomplished nothing?). I want them to have a reference tool to combat the foolishness both from within and from without our community. I want them to have some guidance, gleaned from our own sages, on how to conduct themselves and how to know to know what's best for our people, our country, our world because I submit that nothing can be truly good for any of those entities without being good for all of them, so often, there's no need to be ‘black'. Not if we believe in the transcendent principles we claim to. I know I'm not alone and I want to help those who agree with me find their voices and the courage it takes to stand up to both the conventional wisdom and to deal with only that racism which presents an actual, tangible problem. Let whites take responsibility for their own hearts and minds as long as it doesn't affect blacks' actual lives. Ignore the polls, deal with concrete problems concretely. If there isn't a discrete measure to be taken (like firing someone or finding a way to fund more day care centers, for example) it's really not a black problem though blacks might prefer a different outcome and though it may well be a black mark on some white person's soul.

I hope it's read by that majority of Americans of all races who are decent people and know that neither the NAACP or the RNC, the LADP or the ACLU has it quite right. I suspect, however, that one member of what I call the Black Politburo will skim the book, then use the jungle drums to spread the word as to which pro forma, preformatted, by-the-numbers denunciation of me to start spewing on their McCarthyite listservs, obscure conferences, and foaming-at-the-mouth talk radio shows. Can't wait to see whether they pronounce me more self-hating, insane, or money hungry. All three probably, those being the only reasons any black person would ever think differently from them.

What is the one thing you hope people take from the End of Blackness?
I know that America will tick me off by ‘hearing' what I'm saying incorrectly. I am not saying that black people bring all their problems on themselves by expecting handouts or by blaming others for their problems or that whole run of nonsense. I know I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to get right wingers to stop patting me on the hand for supposedly thinking that. Here's what I am saying: however blacks got to this point in history, whoever's fault it is (read: whites'), the only way out and up is by ‘divorcing' both the past and whites, qua whites, and starting all over again psychologically. We have to take responsibility for our actions, not monitor whites', and decide that it's time we actually began acting like we really were free, autonomous, moral and rational human beings rather than the group constantly protecting itself from a rapacious oppressor.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2004

    Black People must think for themselves.

    The book is one that I can relate to and understand. She believes that Black people can think differently without aligning oneself with the Liberal or Conservative ideology that exploits and negatively sterotype Black people. Keep up the good work Ms.Dickerson and don't apologize for standing up for what is right.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2004


    I am reading the book right now and some of the author's views and opinion are enlightening! In my opinion, she isn't denouncing the African/American/Black/Negro race. I think she's just pointing out that there has to be an adjusting of thinking on being a person of color in America-how African Americans/Blacks/Moorish Americans/Negroes need to accept responsibility for his/her condition, conditions in their communites and stop being defined by societie's definition of 'blackness'. However, I would love to know what her husband thinks of the book and her commentary about 'non' people of color.

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