Academic Responsibility and Black Scholars

March 23, 1994|By SELWYN R. CUDJOE

WELLESLEY, MASSACHUSETTS — Wellesley, Massachusetts. -- Black scholars come from a distinguished and exemplary tradition, yet it is necessary to re-emphasize the importance of our responsibility particularly at a time when this tradition is being tested anew.

This is especially true when students at Kean College applaud loudly when Khallid Muhammad calls Jews ''blood-suckers of the black nation and the black community;'' when students at Howard University chant in unison against what they perceive as the sins of the Jews; and when Tony Martin of Wellesley College teaches from texts proclaiming ''Jewish involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and African slavery.''

It is important to recognize that the venom spewed forth by Mr. Muhammad and that in Dr. Martin's book, ''The Jewish Onslaught,'' was not aimed at Jews alone. Dr. Martin derides his black critics as ''handkerchief heads'' and ''Uncle Toms'' and, in one case, ''a good Negro'' who married a white woman. Similarly, such ''gangsta history'' as that contained in ''The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews'' is meant to demean and to defame others and to bring them into disrepute, rather than to enlighten and to lead us to a more complex and sophisticated understanding of social phenomena. It ought to be labeled anti-Semitic.

Its methodology is questionable in that it generalizes from few facts and organizes its material as though the Jewishness of the participants in slavery is the important aspect of their activity. It suggests that Jews entered the slave trade or slavery because they were Jewish rather than because of their desire to make money. Some made fortunes, while others must have lost fortunes. Their Jewishness was irrelevant to their activities and thus has no serious explanatory force in explicating the period under study.

Moreover ''gangsta'' researchers parade the activities of the Jewish financiers without trying to demonstrate that they participated in the social, cultural, political and economic forces of their time. The researchers simply insist that somehow Jewishness is the central category of analysis rather than capitalist practices and enterprise.

One startling aspect of distortion occurs when the Nation of Islam's researchers contend that the Reconstruction period laid ''the foundation of the modern [exploitative] relationship between blacks and Jews.'' On the contrary, W.E.B. DuBois sees this period as ''not simply a fight between the white and the black races in the South or between masters and ex-slaves, . . . but the desperate effort of a dislodged, maimed and ruined oligarchy and monopoly to restore an anachronism in economic organization by force, fraud and slander . . . in the face of a greater labor movement of white and black, and . . . a new capitalism and a new political framework.''

In ''The Jewish Onslaught,'' Dr. Martin projects himself as a BTC victim of the wrath of Jewish students and faculty who are intent to suppress his right of free expression. He never tells his readers that the president and academic dean of his college and the chairman of his department defend his right to teach ''The Secret Relationship,'' but we demanded that he explain why this text was so important to his academic enterprise.

In ''The End of Afro-Fascism,'' Marcellus Andrews argued that the recent outbursts of Jewish-black tension ''are signs of a collapse of support for liberal democratic ideals and institutions in the aftermath of a quarter-century of right-wing dominance in American politics. More importantly, the emergence of a new authoritarian racism among black collegians and intellectuals signals a radical retreat from politics and open debate that threatens to stifle black intellectual and economic development for the foreseeable future.''

Mr. Andrews also points out that the rapid social and economic integration of blacks into the mainstream of American society in the post-civil rights years was blocked by the end of the post-World War II economic boom and the slowdown of the American economy. Certainly the insistence on white privilege, racism and the persistent neglect of black people during the conservative era did little to enhance their economic and social liberation, a condition that Julius Wilson documented convincingly in his book, ''The Truly Disadvantaged.''

Thus, when black people turn to Minister Louis Farrakhan and his organization they do so not because they perceive him to be anti-Semitic or anti-white; they turn to him because they are desperate for jobs, because their living standards have eroded, and because they feel excluded from the American consensus. They turn to him because no one seems to speak out so directly about the callous disregard that so many show toward the condition in which black people have found themselves over the past 20 years.

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