The Future of the Race

Henry Louis Gates, JR., Author, Cornel West, With Knopf Publishing Group $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-44405-3
Two preeminent black American scholar/ authors, both affiliated with the department of Afro-American studies at Harvard, offer contemporary responses--reflections rather than policy recommendations--to W.E.B. Du Bois's famous challenge to ""the Talented Tenth"" about service to the black community. Given the ambitiousness of the title, the essays are brief--not much longer than Du Bois's 1903 essay plus his own later self-critique (both published in an appendix here)--and somewhat derivative of the author's previous writings. Gates recalls his passage to the Ivy League 25 years ago and the subsequent American political retrenchment and black middle-class's sense of guilt. The two black men he admired the most at Yale died young and unfulfilled; Gates suggests that his generation may find the quest for identity within their community more daunting than the struggle against white America. West, more directly critiquing Du Bois, argues that the patriarch disdained all but elite culture, and that black ""cultural hybridity"" (Coltrane, Wright, Morrison, etc.) best engages the challenge of America's ""twilight civilization."" Thus the Talented Tenth faces an identity crisis: it must decide whether to retreat into cultural rootlessness and hedonism or to strive, as West has argued often, for ""radical democracy."" (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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