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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.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1996
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Knopf