Review of “Race in the Global Era” by Clarence Lusane

In Race in the Global Era written in 1997, Clarence Lusane (Professor of International Race Politics, inter alia, at American University) endeavored, through a series of essays, to evaluate the status of “blackness” at the beginning of the 21st century. His topics range from welfare, to poverty, O.J., crack cocaine, Tupac, Louis Farrakhan, and gender politics.

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He asks us, “What are white folks thinking about in these days of great transitions when they think about race?” His answer is that “they are thinking some pretty appalling, disturbing, and wrong ideas.” In fact, much of the thrust of his essays is aimed at setting out, and setting straight, media distortion on the realities of race. He offers data to counter some of the more egregiously incorrect notions that many whites have about blacks as revealed by polls from the date of his manuscript.

Several riffs of thought stand out in his essays. Professor Lusane asserts that color blindness is advocated in the mainstream as an attempt to neutralize the social power of race. What he means is that policies can legitimately be deemed “color-blind” only if all parties can start from the same place. But what “color-blind” policies do is to jettison “the ramifications of a long history of racial oppression marked not only by the oppression of people of color, but significantly, by substantial white privilege.” Thus:

…underneath the progressive notion that race is a social “construct” and should not matter, is an insistence that race will not matter even in circumstances where racial inequities prevail…. In this way, liberals blind themselves to real racial issues, and conservatives ‘use the rhetoric of color blindness to justify the elimination of social programs and policies deemed to remedy problems that disproportionately affect racial minorities.’”

Whites do not want to incur either the responsibility or the sacrifice for the plight of the poor, Professor Lusane charges. Instead, cherished American doctrines of self-reliance and responsibility (always more relevant to myth than to reality) are invoked to help dissipate guilt and sympathy, as well as to deflect attention from the roles of government, policymakers, and corporations in determining conditions of black life.

Professor Lusane gives admirable coverage to the patriarchal nature of much of black music, religious thought, and even political organizing. He observes:

. . . while black women have made great strides in countless fields – even as they continue to carry the disproportionate, multiple burdens and responsibilities of childrearing, homemaking, and socialization – they have become the demons of choice for New Democrat liberals, old-line conservatives, and prominent black nationalists.”

He bemoans the characterization of black women as “traitorous” for exposing less than admiral behavior in prominent black males (e.g., Clarence Thomas, Marion Barry, etc.) He also excoriates the role of “gangsta” rappers in promulgating negative attitudes toward women.

The arguments in this book are well-taken, but they aren’t universal enough to elevate this book to a timeless status. With the wonderful diversity of African-American voices now on blogs and the election of Barack Obama and Donald Trump to the presidency, much of what the author discusses could use updating. The book definitely provides a useful overview of current black culture, however, for those just starting out in their studies.

Published by South End Press, 1997.

Professor Lusane

Professor Lusane

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