Eschewing both left-wing political clichés and stereotyped opinions derived from the 1960s civil rights era, Adolph Reed Jr. has forged his own intellectual path. In this impressive collection of essays, Reed turns his keen intellect on a variety of issues, many of which revolve around the decline of the American Left since the '60s and the rise of race-based demagogues like Louis Farrakhan. He also examines what he sees as the hopeless nihilism expressed in hip-hop music, debunks the belief that black anti-Semitism is on the rise, and analyzes the phenomenon of black intellectuals acting as cultural gatekeepers for whites all the way back to Booker T. Washington. A political science professor at New York City's New School of Social Research and the author of W.E.B. Du Bois and American Political Thought
and Stirrings in the Jug
, Reed confronts fellow thinkers such as Robin D.G. Kelley, William Julius Wilson, and others on the topic of American poverty in a firm, though respectful, way. Reed has carefully observed what has been going on in the United States for nearly 35 years and is capable of expressing cultural highs and lows with admirable clarity and sensitivity. "The failure of disciplined strategic thinking on the left is a serious problem," he writes. "It reflects and stems from the extreme demoralization and isolation that has plagued us for two decades. We'll never be able to build the kind of movement we need unless the left can find its moorings and approach politics once again as an instrumental, rather than an expressive, activity." --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
Reed (The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon) doesn't have much patience with what he views as the mushy liberals of the Democratic Party and black intellectuals like Michael Dyson and Cornel West. In these essays (most of which have appeared in publications such as the Progressive and the Village Voice), Reed offers his bracing opinions on race and politics in the 1990s from a "left-critical perspective." Black "leadership" substitutes for popular mobilization, he argues, while nostalgia for black unity under segregation falsifies the past and serves reactionary interests. He finds consonance between the black establishment and Louis Farrakhan in that they consider the inner-city poor "morally defective," and contends that the white Left won't confront the complexity of black politics ("They simply do not see political differences among black people"). In perhaps the most memorable essay, Reed pungently analyzes what he calls the "crisis of black intellectual [life]" (in which a "lucky few," West and Henry Louis Gates Jr., for instance, direct themselves more to a white audience than to blacks). The author, a leader in the nascent Labor Party, values the primacy of class politics over so-called cultural or identity politics ("If we don't organize on a class basis, we'll be picked off one at a time, as we were with 'welfare reform' "), preferring "real" class politics, based on people's daily lives. But his snapshots of such organizing based on class are too briefly presented for readers to evaluate. Similarly, his forceful but too-brief argument against stigmatizing the "underclass" ("poor people are just like everyone else") invites a deeper critique of the work of those (e.g., Nicholas Lemann) whom he attacks.
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