March 29, 2016

Glaude and Taylor Explore Paradoxes, Call for Change in U.S. Race Relations


RACE AND DEMOCRACY: Eddie Glaude Jr. signed copies of his new book “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul” and responded to students’ questions after his forum at Labyrinth Books with fellow professor Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor on the need for radical change in race relations in the United States.

In 2008 America elected its first black president. A Forbes Magazine headline that year proclaimed “The End of Racism.” And seven years later the nation is trying to understand the recent tragedies of Ferguson, Flint, Baltimore, the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and others. 

“What’s going on here? We are in the midst of a great Black Depression,” stated Eddie Glaude Jr, Princeton University professor of religion and chair of the department of African American Studies, speaking to an audience of about 150 on March 10 at Labyrinth Books on Nassau Street.

Mr. Glaude and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, also a professor of African-American Studies at Princeton, shared the stage to discuss their recently published books and explore the paradoxes of race and democracy in contemporary society.

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, Mr. Glaude’s new book, “delivers a stirring reflection on the state of black America,” according to Labyrinth, “making a grand argument as to how we’ve reached such an impossible place — and how we can move past it.”

In her new work, From#BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Ms. Taylor “surveys the historical and contemporary ravages of racism and the persistence of mass incarceration and unemployment,” arguing, Labyrinth reported, that “the Black Lives Matter movement holds the potential to reignite a broader push for black liberation.”

The third scheduled participant in the forum, Imani Perry, also professor in Princeton’s African-American Studies Department, did not attend the session. Ms. Perry, who had been embroiled in a recent controversy over a traffic stop for speeding and an arrest for outstanding parking tickets, and had complained that her race was a factor in the police action, did not want to divert attention from Mr. Glaude and Ms. Taylor’s’ discussion. According to Labyrinth’s Dorothea von Moltke, Ms. Perry chose not to attend the session “in light of the fallout from recent events and in consideration for her colleagues.”

Mr. Glaude cited a wealth of evidence that “all this talk about recovery doesn’t really apply.” He pointed out that African-Americans lost 240,000 homes during the past eight years, that 38 percent of black children in this country are brought up in poverty, that, for the first time ever, there are more poor African American children than white children, that many black youths have been killed “at the hands of the police.”

“The list goes on and on,” he stated. “I couldn’t make sense of that so I decided to write a book.”

The idea that best expresses his frustrations and disappointments with race and democracy, Mr. Glaude stated, is the idea of a “value gap, a basic belief that white people matter more than others.” He added that democracy is repeatedly promoted and promised but never fulfilled. “There’s a reason why democracy is always in suspension in this country. Our lives are distorted by the value gap.”

In order to close the value gap, Mr. Glaude called for a “revolution of values, to uproot those racist values — to change our view of government, our demands of government, our view of black people and our view of white people.”

“The revolution begins,” he added, “with our ability to see that this world can be different.”

Ms. Taylor echoed many of Mr. Glaude’s concerns. She described not an American Dream for black people, but “what Malcolm X described as an American nightmare of economic inequality and unchecked injustice.”

She talked about the Obama presidency as striking evidence of African-American inclusion in the mainstream in what should be “the heyday of American race relations,” but “paradoxically, we have simultaneously entered a new period of black protest, black radicalization, and the birth of a new black left.” Mentioning the “profound disappointment that leads to a particular kind of action,” Ms. Taylor noted how Obama originally “raised hopes and expectations around the ideas of hope and change,” but the “hopes were dashed again and again.”

In reaction to these disappointments, according to Ms. Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the important issues and awakened a new generation of activists.

Digging into the larger issues of structural racism and systemic injustice, Ms. Taylor asked, “How do we organize a different kind of society, a different kind of world that doesn’t rely on the police to manage the consequences of inequality?”