RITUALS OF BLOOD by Orlando Patterson


Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries
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There are at least 95 good reasons, if there’s one, why this is an immensely readable and eye-opening new work by Patterson. A Harvard sociologist, Patterson won the National Book Award in 1991 for Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. The current volume is his second in a trilogy on race and the legacy of slavery that started with Ordeal of Integration (1997). In this work he offers three very different but linked essays on the obstacles still facing Afro-Americans at the end of the 20th century; he examines relations between Afro-American men and women, the cult of lynching as ritual sacrifice, and a portrait of the Afro- American male as a media figure. He succeeds in each essay not least because, whether writing of slavery or of the relatively short life span of the black male (64.9 years), he does not indulge in a kind of woe-is-me hand-wrenching that leaves both reader and writer in a strange state of paralysis. However grim the facts, he states them and moves on. Also he accepts but is unafraid to challenge authorities in other fields, whether it’s Ralph Ellison or William Julius Wilson. Then again, he is an unabashed supporter of black radical feminists Michelle Wallace and Ntozake Shange. Indeed, unlike many social scientists, Patterson makes frequent forays into other disciplines if he feels it better explains his point. Finally, he is inclined to disturb and challenge African- American readers. Debunking, for example, the liberal assessment that Afro-Americans who have been lynched were all innocent, Patterson asserts that many of them “were heroically guilty, notwithstanding the fact that many mistakes were made by the lynch mobs in sacrificing the wrong person.” At another point he concludes that one of the byproducts of slavery is the high infidelity rate among black males (27 percent, as compared with 19 percent for white men). The latter may seem like a stretch. But what is problematic in Patterson is unfailingly provocative.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-887178-82-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic Civitas
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999