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Reflections on the State of Black America

edited by Joanne Griffith

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-87286-546-4
Publisher: City Lights

Anthology of interviews with notable black scholars, focused on the prospects for social justice in the age of Obama.

The book is a companion volume to the Pacifica Radio Archives, which has long documented “voices from the black freedom movement.” Journalist Griffith, who has been researching and presenting this material on BBC since 2007, describes the archive as containing “stories of African American struggle and triumph…for those who wish to listen and learn from the people who defined a movement,” including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. Here she presents seven interviews with community organizers, legal scholars, academics and activists, attempting to capture a moment in which Obama’s presidency arguably obscures ongoing racial inequities, exacerbated by a weak economy and continued discrimination by law enforcement. Griffith provides historical context in her conversation with Dr. Vincent Harding, a theologian best known for co-authoring Dr. King’s famous antiwar speech of 1967; Harding observes that the civil-rights movement was more accurately concerned with “the expansion and deepening of democracy in America.” Legal scholar Michelle Alexander offers disturbing thoughts regarding policies of mass incarceration and the “War on Drugs” that visit disproportionate (and hypocritical) harm on black communities. Dr. Julianne Malveaux probes the racial aspects of the ongoing recession, grimly noting that “[Obama’s] employment legislation is just pathetic, frankly…they tiptoed around issues of black unemployment.” Ramona Africa, one of two survivors of the notorious 1985 bombing of the radical MOVE compound in Philadelphia, provides a unique perspective on police brutality toward African-Americans. Other notable participants include Temple University journalism professor Linn Washington Jr. and one-time Obama appointee Van Jones. Griffith concludes by wondering if progressives have been “lulled into a satisfied slumber” by Obama’s election, and whether Dr. King’s ambitions have been betrayed by this complacency.

Multifaceted discussions regarding the challenges faced by African-Americans during the Obama presidency.