Reviews

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
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

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.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.