How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era
Houston A. Baker Jr. condemns those black intellectuals who, he believes, have turned their backs on the tradition of racial activism in America. These individuals choose personal gain over the interests of the black majority, whether they are espousing neoconservative positions that distort the contours of contemporary social and political dynamics or abandoning race as an important issue in the study of American literature and culture. Most important, they do a disservice to the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who have fought for black rights.
In the literature, speeches, and academic and public behavior of some black intellectuals in the past quarter century, Baker identifies a "hungry generation" eager for power, respect, and money. Baker critiques his own impoverished childhood in the "Little Africa" section of Louisville, Kentucky, to understand the shaping of this new public figure. He also revisits classical sites of African American literary and historical criticism and critique. Baker devotes chapters to the writing and thought of such black academic superstars as Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Hoover Institution senior fellow Shelby Steele; Yale law professor Stephen Carter; and Manhattan Institute fellow John McWhorter. His provocative investigation into their disingenuous posturing exposes what Baker deems a tragic betrayal of King's legacy.
Baker concludes with a discussion of American myth and the role of the U.S. prison-industrial complex in the "disappearing" of blacks. Baker claims King would have criticized these black intellectuals for not persistently raising their voices against a private prison system that incarcerates so many men and women of color. To remedy this situation, Baker urges black intellectuals to forge both sacred and secular connections with local communities and rededicate themselves to social responsibility. As he sees it, the mission of the black intellectual today is not to do great things but to do specific, racially based work that is in the interest of the black majority.
"Baker succeeds in making his case... How fitting that Baker offers not just words here but action too." — Erin Aubry Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
"A courageous book, raising much needed questions in this our brave new world." — Lolis Eric Elie, The Times-Picayune
"I highly recommend this exceptional work of scholarship, for it is worth the price of the ticket." — Hanes Walton Jr., Political Science Quarterly
"Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era is a vernacular broadside, brave and funny by turns. Houston A. Baker Jr. has written as cantankerous and eloquent a defense of the legacies of the civil rights movement as one is likely to find anywhere. With relentless irony, he bares the narcissism, trickery, and entrepreneurial doublethink of neocon America, especially its black representatives. Neither do the black academostars of the Ivy League escape his wrath, sharing as they do the neocon analysis that the agony of being black in America has to do with 'pathological' behavior rather than brutal structural inequalities. An urgent and persuasive book." — Timothy Brennan , University of Minnesota, and author of Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right
"Who speaks in the interest of the black majority? Houston A. Baker Jr. scathingly argues that too many African American public intellectuals speak in profit-generating self-interest, ignoring the real challenges that confront African Americans in the twenty-first century in favor of a facile condmenation of the masses. If Martin Luther King Jr. or W.E.B. Du Bois is the yardstick, Baker suggests, too many don't measure up Who pe. Some of these truths are hard to read, and some of them are arguable, but Baker's Betrayal is an important, and absorbing, meditation." — Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women
Introduction: Little Africa
Jail: Southern Detention to Global Liberation
Friends Like These: Race and Neoconservatism
After Civil Rights: The Rise of Black Public Intellectuals
Have Mask, Will Travel: Centrists from the Ivy League
A Capital Fellow from Hoover: Shelby Steele
Reflections of a First Amendment Trickster: Stephen Carter
Man Without Connection: John McWhorter
American Myth: Illusions of Liberty and Justice for All
Prison: Colored Bodies, Private Profit
Conclusion: What Then Must We Do?
Winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation