FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL: The Permanence of Racism by Derrick Bell

FACES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL: The Permanence of Racism

Email this review


Here, as he did in And We Are Not Saved, Harvard Law School professor Bell offers dramatized accounts of the dilemma of race relations in America. Bell uses stories and fables to examine such themes as desire for homeland; the role of violence; interracial relationships; and scapegoating. He argues that ""racial nepotism"" on the part of whites allows de facto discrimination to exist even without animosity: ""When whites perceive that it will he profitable or at least cost-free to serve, hire, admit, or otherwise deal with blacks on a non-discriminatory basis, they do so. When they fear--accurately or not--that there may he a leas, inconvenience, or upset to themselves or other whites, discriminatory conduct usually follows."" Such racism will be with us forever, Bell contends. In the face of this, he calls for blacks to ""fashion a philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we face, and enables us to recognize in those dangers opportunities for committed living and humane service."" Bell's method of making his points through stories allows for a certain moral complexity: Thoughtful persons work menial jobs; a dynamic black leader who has dedicated his life to his people and worries about his place in history falls in love with a white woman; space aliens who speak English with Reagan's voice arrive with gold, safe nuclear power, and ""special chemicals capable of unpolluting the environment""--and all they ask in exchange is that America's black citizens be turned over to them. But the stories, for all their fablelike power, are laden with great chunks of orotund exposition and numerous overworked adverbs. By using them, Bell forfeits the polemical passion of his introductory essay, while their simplistic dramatizations jar with the impressive legal erudition apparent elsewhere. Still, despite his lackluster writing, Bell offers insight into the rage, frustration, and yearning of being black in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1992
ISBN: 0465068146
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic Books