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White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race i

Jonathan L. Walton

White Money/Black Power might not make the best Kwanzaa stocking stuffer. But for those interested in understanding the ways philanthropy and politics are inextricably tied to intellectual production and academic projects, this is your book.


White Money/black Power

Publisher: Beacon Press
Length: 256
Subtitle: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education
Price: $25.95
Author: Noliwe M. Rooks
US publication date: 2006-02
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There is an oft-repeated trope in the African American community concerning the role of cultural memory. In effect it states, "You can't know where you are going if you don't know where you have been." Though this phrase is nauseatingly clichéd, it appropriately articulates the aim and value of White Money/Black Power. For those concerned with the future direction of Black/African American/African Diaspora Studies as an academic discipline, White Money/Black Power is a must read.

Professor Noliwe Rooks, associate director of the Program in African American Studies at Princeton University and child of the Black Power movement, provides the complicated history of the institutionalization of Black Studies as an academic entity on college and university campuses across the country. In the first two chapters Rooks offers a thick description of student protests on the campus of San Francisco State University that led to the inaugural Black Studies program in 1969. As opposed to painting heroic pictures of Afro-donning, militants clad in black leather jackets and Ray Ban sunglasses taking over the administration building, Rooks contends that these protests were led by multiracial student coalitions and community activists that desired San Francisco State to diversify their curriculum and actively participate in antiracist efforts within the larger community. According to Rooks, the events at San Francisco State should be viewed as the culmination of a long decade of resistant activity by such organizations as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (largely black), Students for a Democratic Society (largely white), and other local campus groups that were rallying against the injustices of racism, classism, and militarism. The implementation of Black Studies programs were believed to be a viable response to help ameliorate the codification of injustice in America's system of higher education.

The author demonstrates that from the outset there were competing interests concerning the shape and ends of Black Studies. The demands for its institutionalization ran the full political gamut. Some viewed the emerging field as a means to further desegregate white college campuses. Many college administrators and African American academics saw Black Studies as a tool to diversify student bodies, faculties and even academic curriculums that marginalized, if not wholly ignored, black experiences in America. On the other hand, others saw the promise of Black Studies as an independent political entity to be used in the service of underprivileged African Americans in the larger community. Nationalist leaders and activists desired the resources of institutions of higher learning to foster Black Studies as a militant arm of the bourgeoning Black Power movement.

Indicative of the historical moment, the institutionalization of Black Studies became a site of contestation between integrationist and nationalist strategies of racial uplift. However, the author reveals that neither the descendants of Martin Luther King nor the followers of Stokely cast the deciding ballot concerning the direction of the field. Rooks raises the historical curtain to reveal that the true arbiter of the institutionalization of Black Studies was the Ford Foundation under the direction of McGeorge Bundy. Over a period of five years over 500 Black Studies programs were implemented on college campuses across the country with the financial resources of philanthropic organizations. While the author is not saying that the Ford Foundation is the reason that Black Studies came to be, she does identify it as the major force behind its institutionalization. Via selective grant giving that was guided by an agenda of racial diversity, McGeorge Bundy was able to shape, almost single-handedly, the direction and future of Black Studies.

In fairness, Rooks is appreciative in her assessment of Bundy's pivotal but problematic role in the institutionalization of the field. McBundy is not depicted as a white, liberal interloper in the affairs of black humanity. To the contrary, McBundy comes across as one genuinely concerned with integrating African Americans into campus curriculums, faculty and student bodies. But as an acknowledged controller of the philanthropic purse strings, Rooks does not shy away from the natural comparisons of McBundy with other 'funding Wizards' in the history of African American education such as Dale Carnegie and Nelson Rockefeller. Rooks analysis demonstrates that there is a fine line between philanthropy and paternalism, which always proves to be a substantial stumbling block on the road to social progress. It is for this reason that Bundy and other well-meaning university administrators' desire to use Black Studies as a means to attract black students and faculty helped to cast a shadow of ineptitude over the field. Rather than being a headlining academic act alongside other traditional disciplines, Black Studies, along with the faculty and students therein, became viewed as a collection of diverse yet intellectually deficient background dancers on the campuses of major universities.

Such a stigma has grave implications. Today certain gifted black faculty members and students avoid African American Studies like the plague. This is true even when their subject matter is firmly rooted in African American cultural practices. In the academy one may commonly hear, "I am a historian that examines black life." As if being an African Americanist scholar is somehow less credible. Thus, there appears to be an overarching conception among many that identifying too much with the field will injure one's academic reputation. This sentiment alone proves just how much the normative gaze of white supremacy continues to cloak the academy 37 years after San Francisco State. Though some programs and departments have been able to resist this condition, the vast majority remain intellectually stunted. Also Rooks notes that with a disproportionate amount of first and second generation African immigrant and Caribbean students attending elite academic institutions, meta-definitions of blackness are proving to mean so much that historically and culturally grounded understandings of the black experience mean nothing at all. As a response, emerging Ethnic Studies programs have swept the particular experiences of America's blues people up under the throw rug of ethnic sameness.

To be sure, though this is a fascinating and thoroughly researched text, I am certain Mukasa Dada (formerly known as Willie Ricks of the Black Power movement) is in the Salem Road Barber Shop right now fuming over Rooks' historical account. To discredit one of the concrete victories of the Black Power movement by placing power back in the hands of 'the white man' is culturally heretical at best and traitor-like at worst. For this reason, White Money/Black Power might not make the best Kwanzaa stocking stuffer. But for those interested in understanding the ways philanthropy and politics are inextricably tied to intellectual production and academic projects, this is your book. Rooks understands that by wrestling with the convergence of antiracist activity from a range of locations (the streets, the academy and philanthropic organizations) in the late 1960s and early '70s one can identify resources to both explain and confront the contemporary challenges facing the field of African American Studies. These challenges include the competing interests of the field as a political versus academic project, its prevailing image as a repository of Affirmative Action recipients rather than a site of intellectual production, and dealing with how the inclusive yet insipid rhetoric of 'ethnicity' can supplant the fight for antiracist activity across the black/white binary.

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