Wide-ranging essay on the challenges African-Americans face in shaping a history to call their own.
Marable (The Great Wells of Democracy, 2003) argues that that very history has been altered, co-opted and otherwise ill served by a variety of agents. On one hand, for instance, there are well-meaning liberals who “are unwilling or unable to question the dispossession of wealth from African Americans in the form of unpaid labor exploitation”; on the other are the heirs of Malcolm X and C.L.R. James, who, for one reason or another, have failed to put papers and other archival materials in order, so that a trove of Malcolm’s documents have fallen into unscholarly hands merely because someone neglected to pay storage-locker rent. Marable throws up great walls of language: “Any conceptual break from the rigid orthodoxies of global apartheid and U.S. structural racism . . . forces upon us the necessities to delegitimize all existing privileged systems of racial hierarchies and categories, and simultaneously to construct a new social paradigm.” Break a paradigm, make a paradigm: A real-world example or two would benefit the mystified reader, who may still be wondering whether confronting evidence of the racist past in the form of street names and the like is not to be preferred to sweeping that evidence away, the better to soothe modern sensitivities. In his opening essay, Marable seems undecided on the point, but he is far more confident when writing of such things as the curious process by which The Autobiography of Malcolm X came to be (Malcolm and Alex Haley, his as-told-to writer, did not agree on much) and the need to address structural racism and classism lest we develop into “an unequal, two-tiered, uncivil American society” in which African-Americans do not have much voice—or about what we have now.
Useful arguments with some interesting turns: What would have happened if the promise of 40 acres and a mule had been kept?