The End of Blackness

Debra Dickerson's fresh take on blackness in America.

It's characteristic of this blunt and bracing book on being black in America that author Debra Dickerson says, "Get over it." She's speaking to blacks who are still holding out for white admissions of guilt for slavery and racist oppression, but it's as if she were speaking to a self-defeated friend who blames adult woes on a miserable childhood. Many grown-ups had unhappy childhoods, she is saying, and they have accepted that they can't go back in time and fix it. So, "get over it." Look to the future.

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Dickerson's ambitious aim in this book is to clear the ground for fresh thinking about race in America. She argues persuasively that while America is no racial utopia, it has become, in the long aftermath of the civil rights movement, a place where racism no longer blocks blacks from "playing the game." Indeed, she believes that "no one can stop the American, black or blind, who is determined to succeed." She also highlights such social dysfunctions in black communities as low scholastic achieve- ment, crime, and "family breakdown" that have not improved in the two full generations since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. "There is work to do," she writes, "and it must be done by black people, regardless of how whites behave."

The End of Blackness is a solidly researched account of the evolution of black identity in America (her "prologue" is about as concise and direct an account of slavery and its long-standing effects as you are likely to find). Dickerson is issuing a tough-minded challenge to her fellow blacks "to shoulder the adult's full responsibility as a member of the polity." "Crime is crime," she writes. "Sloth is sloth. Merit is mostly measurable," and it is debasing to believe and act otherwise, regardless of race. In this turned-off age when so few eligible adults are even bothering to vote, let alone assume other vitally important responsibilities of citizenship, Dickerson's is a message for all Amer- icans, not only those who are confused about how to think about race.