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The Head Negro in Charge Syndrome: The Dead End of Black Politics (Nation Books) Paperback – May 20, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: Nation Books
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (May 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560255846
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560255840
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 4.8 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Kelley does not spare anyone or any segment of U.S. culture and politics in his books."

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on July 6, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This an awesomely clear and well written book. I give it six stars.
In his effort to shed some light on a difficult problem, the so-called "black problem," Mr. Kelley has used his well-honed craft as a journalist, deftly. He deserves credit for shinning the spotlight in many of the dark places in black culture (and on some of its most sacred of "sacred cows") where it is sorely needed-especially on the moribund black church, lack of an overall cultural strategy, and by picking holes in all of the past half-baked tactics. He correctly demonstrates that even when blacks win, they eventually lose.
However, importantly, he fails to give us the answer to the most perplexing question of all, why this is always the case?
By exposing the nakedness of the HNIC, the last Emperor of an otherwise dying black culture, he all but puts the last nail in a coffin that surely appears to need being shut forever. Instead of nearing the finish line of the last mile of freedom, Kelly demonstrates (whether he intended to or not) that black cultural chaos and self-destruction is all that there is as far out into the future as the eye can see.
There is a minor problem however with Mr. Kelly's astutely crafted analysis. How is it that while walking very slowly down the path to their last mile of freedom, the great minds of black intellectual culture have all made the same wrong turn in the fork in the road? Why have they all turned down the well-lighted path of collective cultural self-destruction?
Mr. Kelly's analysis does not ask or answer this question.
How easy it is to beat a dead (black) horse, which is also what Mr. Kelly, accuses the "Black Conservatives" of doing.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on April 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Norman Kelley has taken on black leadership in America and attempted to expose its delicate underbelly. He accuses them of missing the point when it comes to what the black populace needs in order to succeed in this country. Kelley feels especially hostile toward those he labels the "niggerati" (a term coined by Zora Neal Hurston) who are the black intellectuals. Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, bell hooks, and Henry Lewis Gates all take something of a beating at his capable hands. He states that they are able to "dazzle the white world with their mixture of "street" analysis and postmodern argot." I get the distinct impression he thinks that dealing with the hip hop generation is merely a way for them to keep their names in the news while not really saying or doing anything helpful.

While many of his comments are on the mark, he doesn't explain just what black leadership should do to effectively help the common people. He doesn't discuss the issues that the black leaders themselves face in that they are not welcome at the American table - either as politicians or as leaders of a people the white American leadership would prefer to ignore. I feel that he omitted the many roadblocks that have faced black leaders from DuBois to Sharpton. It's almost as if he's suggesting that if black leaders did x, y, or z differently, then the problems would be solved, while totally leaving out the racism that caused them in the first place. (RAW Rating: 3.5)

Reviewed by alice Holman

of The RAWSISTAZ™ Reviewers
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Andre M. on June 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
While not as conservative as Jesse Peterson, Star Parker, or Kin Hamblin (but closer to that of John McWhorter), this is a necessary and accurate critique of current Black "leadership" that avoids conservative dogma and sticks to the facts.
Having met and experienced some of the "Black leadership" of which Mr. Kelley discusses, I can vouch for what he says about Modern "leadership" amounting to a charasmatic road show of sound and fury signifying nothing, but fear of white supremacist backlash keeps the Black masses (especially those of the Jim Crow generation)afraid to openly dismiss some of these people for the frauds that some of them are.
Mr. Kelley will be criticized for this, but since he does not appear to be a supporter of ultraconservative reactionaries as is the case of Star Parker, Jesse Peterson, Ward Connerly, or Ken Hamblin, that might blunt the sting of any criticism he may receive.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Dumain on August 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
The author is very sharp. I especially relished his evisceration of 'market intellectuals'. Politically he is a more popular version of Adolph Reed, Jr., his major contemporary influence. His intellectual heroes of earlier times are Du Bois and Harold Cruse, which I think is symptomatic of his boundaries. What concerns him most about today's black intellectuals is not just the bankruptcy of their ideas but the question of their connection to the creation of effective political power.

While I have no quarrel with him on overt political matters, on a more subtle philosophical level I think differently, and this is where the intellectual qua intellectual divides from practical politics. Another way of saying this is that there's a limit that his political thinking reaches which is also the limit of his intellectual thinking, beyond which an unspoken new dynamic must open up, which involves the precarious role of the creative thinker at a time when all of society is organized against him or her.

There's also a deeper question of the conception of ethnic identity for the 21st century, which I don't think he delves into as deeply as he should.

The next question is: what is the relationship between creative intellectual work and the practical political situation? This is the toughest question of all, one that challenges the imagination in an era of the imaginatively-challenged. I addressed this issue when I had the opportunity to meet Kelley. His response was that intellectuals are irrelevant. He admits to being a member of the tiny reading class, but he says that people who read books are irrelevant. This is why he is directing his attention to the political economy of black music.

This is the juncture at which I part company with Kelley, but as his frame of reference is the quest for efficacious political organization, he is an important person to learn from.
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