The PJ Tatler

Derrick Bell’s Afrolantica, Part 9: The Birth of 'Blackness'

Part 1: A Guided Tour Through Derrick Bell’s Afrolantica Legacies

Part 2: A ‘Euphoria of Freedom’

Part 3: What Could it Mean to Be White?

Part 4: The Wages of Antisemitism

Part 5: Thomas Jefferson, A Symbol of American Racism

Part 6: Why Meritocracy Must Die

Part 7: Unemployment Creates Crack Dealers

Part 8: We Have a Right to Your Property

From Page 28 of Afrolantica Legacies, the conclusion of Geneva Crenshaw’s response to Bill Clinton’s imaginary speech:

“Blackness is a concept distilled from the degradation of slavery and the exploitation of racism. It is a reminder that black and odious are not identical terms. The concept of blackness reassures us that we are worthy, despite the hostility to our presence we endure, the insensitivity to our pain we abide, and the inner rage we deflect — all too often on ourselves.”

Derrick Bell believed racism to be a permanent problem ingrained into the documents defining the American Idea. In this passage we begin to understand more why. His identity as a black man depends on understanding himself and “his people” as a class of permanent victims. In adopting the Marxist theology of human history as continued variations of proletariat vs bourgeoisie struggle, Bell designated his “blackness” as relegating him to a state of ongoing cultural warfare. (More on Bell’s Marxism and his embrace of Communist icon Paul Robeson in coming posts…)

Here Bell admits that the concept of “blackness” serves as an emotional crutch to “reassure us that we are worthy” and calm “the inner rage.” (Perhaps the kinds of feelings generated through knowing and admitting you’re a “nobody among world famous intellectuals”?)

Why is it necessary to carry around symbols of perpetual victimhood? Because as long as you’re a victim you’re not responsible for your situation in life and you’re powerless to fix it. Luck is all that matters, save when social justice (via affirmative action and reparations for slavery) can tip the imaginary scale back into balance.