ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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One of the most interesting phenomena that I have covered in my courses

on American business history is the genre of the "success book," which

constituted a standing unit in my course.  I recently found results of about 11,600,000

 

 

Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Business Industry and Education for Success

By Wilson J. Moses

Lines written to a close friend, a representative American intellectual, and anti-intellectual, who not surprisingly, holds a prestigious advanced degree in the liberal arts from a major university.  Not sent,  Friday, November 9, 2007, in response to the following anti-intellectual statement: 

Of course, these are [my] views of one who has about as much regard for the academy as you for business.  The former being a blood-sucking nihilistic benefactor of the latter's practical benefits brought to society.  I'm sure you can see the errors of such a belief.—[Name withheld]


Dear Anti-Intellectual,

How can you possibly imply such a dichotomy between business and the academy?  There is a seamless, joyous, celebratory, and mutually nurturing connection between the American academy and the American business world.  Penn State has an outstanding business school, ranked 18th in the nation, and the business faculty are better paid than the faculties in mathematics and the natural sciences.  I improved my position considerably, when I came to this business-oriented university and decided to introduce my business history course, which was highly "successful."  As a good capitalist should, I invested my subsequent salary increments, instead of spending them. 

I am surprised by your presumption of my [dis] regard for business.  I have served on the Liberal Arts Committee on Business Education for many years.   I cooperate profitably with the Penn State Business programs, and I am exploring the possibilities of developing closer ties between the history department and the Business School's program in Besançon France. For several years I taught a course on the history of American business, which was officially approved as a social science elective for the business major and which enjoyed popularity with business undergraduates.  

My interpretation of American history is "Hamiltonian." Translation: I argue that the American Civil War represented the triumph of industrial capitalism over the traditional slave-based agrarian economy of Jeffersonian democracy.  In fact, I argue that slavery fell
as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, in his poem "Wealth"due to the rise of industrial morality and the triumph of the Hamiltonian capitalist ethic.  My theory, while distinctly my own, is nonetheless indebted to both Adam Smith and Karl Marx.  It is not a "cult theory," based on some thankfully moribund deconstructionist jargon.   My theories owe something to my immersion in the thought of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.  Contextualizing their ideas has contributed tremendously to my theory of African American business mythology, as I hope is discernable in the chapters in my most recent book Creative Conflict (2004). 

Thus, it should be evident that my positions on business, commerce, and industrial capitalism, are subtle and complicated.  I should like to think that they are at least as ironic as those of Thorstein Veblen, who distinguished between the "industrial process" that produces goods and services for the benefit of mankind, and the greedy parasitism that in the name of "business enterprise," does nothing but cripple industries, exploit workers, inflate real estate, speculate in futures, and manipulate money supplies.  I praise the industries that produce steel, electricity, transportation, and medical technologies. 

The "academy" is obviously an active partner to numerous business communities, and fiscally consecrated to their sustenance and celebration.  Nonetheless, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a distinguished professor at the Business School at Stanford, warns his students that, while the MBA can be an intellectually stimulating degree to pursue, it does not necessarily have many practical applications.  See Jeffrey Pfeffer: "The Value of an MBA" an interesting and witty interview for NPR's "Morning Edition," August 28, 2002, Audio File, 3:15 minutes.  I have heard a version of Pfeffer's statement from a wealthy and successful Business School alum of Penn State University, as well.  Check out the audio at the Stanford Business School home page:
Stanford Archive

One of the most interesting phenomena that I have covered in my courses on American business history is the genre of the "success book," which constituted a standing unit in my course.  I recently found results of about 11,600,000 for my Google search on "success books."  I found another 480,000 results for my search on "success seminars."  The genre of the black business book, for example George Frazer's Success Runs in our Race, is also well established in America.  Such books are flawed by the inability of their authors to provide rational definitions of race, or of success.   The traditionalism of Frazer's approach, can easily be observed by a visit to his web site: FraserNet

Like my colleague at the Stanford MBA program, I am a modestly "successful" capitalist. But I offer my students no illusion that I can teach them how to achieve "success" in business, or any other field.  Neither does my honest colleague at the Stanford Business School.  The project of Frazer is to sell books and CDs and charge admission fees for seminars and conferences, with an obvious profit-motive in mind.   His "product" is the promise to assist African Americans along the road to success.  He markets this product to African Americans.  He is too much the "businessman" to donate his advice gratuitously. 

People who seek such assurances as Frazer offers will, of course, purchase his product, and participate in his African American bourgeois "success" seminars, or select from among the multitude of other traditional "Success Books,"  black and/or white, which continue to proliferate.

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Speak My Name

Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream

Edited by Don Belton

It is rare in America for African-American men to have the opportunity to express who they are, what they think, or how they feel. As the nemesis in the American psyche, they have been silenced by an image that is at once celebrated and maligned. In this first anthology of contemporary African-American men's writing, black men share their experiences as the revered and reviled of America. Through the voices of some of today's most prominent African-American writers, including August Wilson, John Edgar Wideman, Derrick Bell, and Walter Mosley, Speak My Name explores the intimate territory behind the myths about black masculinity. These intensely personal essays and stories reveal contemporary black men from the vantage point of their own lives - as men with proper names, distinctive faces, and strong family ties.

Writing about everything from "How it Feels to Be a Problem" to relationships between fathers and sons, these men reveal to us both great courage and in an amazing love for each other and themselves. In a stunning tribute to a centuries-old brotherhood of heroes, black men come together to challenge America finally to see them as individuals, to hear their long-silenced voices—to speak their names.

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This diverse anthology, mainly of original essays, serves as an excellent counterpoint to media stereotypes of black men. Topics include black male images, relations with women, family life and heroism. Some favorites: soft-voiced scholar Robin D.G. Kelley recounts how his newly shaved head scared people; novelist Randall Kenan recalls a mysterious, kind and loving mentor; Quinn Eli faces the tendency of black men to accuse black women of not being supportive; filmmaker Isaac Julien and poet Essex Hemphill debate whether black unity can include gay men; novelist Walter Mosley muses about why his PI protagonist, Easy Rawlins, needs the backup of the remorseless killer Mouse to survive in an oppressive world. Belton, a former reporter for Newsweek who teaches at Macalester College, contributes his own touching effort, which treats the gap between himself and the ghetto-trapped nephew he loves.—Publishers Weekly

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Black masculinity has built and shaped America. It is an old story which our fathers taught us; it is measured by their quiet dignity as well as their fears. What is heroic about Speak My Name is the fact that the contributors are men who decided to become writers. They all made the decision to use words instead of fists. They are writers shaped by the 1960s, like Arthur Flowers, who writes:

And, understand, the 60s were more than street battles or sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, the 60s were about commitment. We cared. We tried. It was important (and do-able) for us to make a better world. It was important to save the race. And it still is.

While our society still attempts to come to grips with the lyrics of tappers, Don Belton's book is a gift which offers insight into how a few Black men think and feel. For sisters who are still waiting to exhale, it serves as testimony that there are good men in the world and we only have to speak their names.

Belton's purpose for editing the volume was to "experience a richer sense of community and communion among other Black male writers." This is evident in the interview conducted by Lewis Edwards of Albert Murray. Here, a young writer sits at the feet of an elder with an acknowledgment of inheritance and a respect for tradition. When Murray (author of The Omni-Americans and Train Whistle Guitar) talks about his friendship with Ralph Ellison during their days at Tuskegee, he conveys to Edwards how two Black men enjoyed reading and developing their intellect.

Speak My Name , according to Belton, is structured in "jazz music's compositional model of theme and variation, giving my contributors a series of extended solos that develop toward visions of masculinity as a struggle for hope." Belton divides his book into five sections, although these categories are unnecessary. One can enjoy the entire volume the way one appreciates the old Ornette Coleman "Free Jazz" album; just open the door to the studio and let the brothers play. The music will find its own center.Black Issues in Higher Education, March 7, 1996 by E. Ethelbert MillerFindArticles 

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Race Men

By Hazel V. Carby

Race men is a term of endearment used by blacks to signify those high-achieving African American men who "represent the race," disproving bigoted notions of black inferiority. In this engaging study, Yale African American Studies Professor Hazel V. Carby seeks to ask "questions about various black masculinities at different historical moments and in different media: literature, photography, film, music, and song." She does so by discussing the lives and works of myriad types of race men. Frederick Douglass's uncompromising fight against slavery, W. E. B. Du Bois's masterful The Souls of Black Folk, Martin Luther King's nonviolent struggles, and Malcolm X's fiery rhetoric articulate the intellectual-political prisms of black activism, for example, while actor Danny Glover represents the dilemma of the black/white sidekick and the fight for a more multidimensional Afro-American image.

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Carby compares Toussaint L'Ouverture, the ex-slave who liberated Haiti from the French in the 19th century, to Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James, whose Marxist interpretation of the Haitian Revolution, the Black Jacobins, unveiled the complexities of colonialism, class, and the sexist aspects of radical black leadership. She discusses jazz icon Miles Davis's quest for freedom and his misogynistic persona articulated in his autobiography, then praises science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany's Motion of Light in Water as "an effective counterpoint to Miles ... a magnificent attempt to reject the socially created obstacles separating desire from its material achievement, and in the process demolishing and transcending the limitations of heterosexual norms."

Indeed, for Carby the major flaw of race men is that their upholding of "the race" does not prominently address the concerns of African American women as well.—Eugene Holley Jr.

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In a discussion of "The Body and Soul of Modernism" Carby reads Nicolas Murray's nude photographs of Paul Robeson, as well as black male nudes by other European and American artists, and argues that for these modernists the black male body represented "essentialized masculinity." However, because the black subject was unable to "gaze back at the viewer," these photographic texts reproduced "the unequal relation of power and subjection of their historical moment" in the early twentieth century. Carby also discusses Robeson's roles in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings, concluding that, in contrast to the character Robeson portrays in Oscar Micheaux's film Body and Soul, O'Neill utilized a "strategy of inwardness" to present racialized emotional conflicts for Robeson's character, rather than outward resistance and rebellion. Carby's notes that, with his expanding political consciousness and increased commitment to the advancement of the working classes worldwide in the 1930s, Robeson rejected these types of roles. Unfortunately, how these ideological changes were reflected in Robeson's racial consciousness (was Robeson a "race man"?) are left unexplored.

Carby describes the authentic and inauthentic nature of the relationship between ex-convict and folk singer Huddie (Leadbelly) Ledbetter and folklorist John Lomax and his son Alan. She believes that this unusual partnership demonstrated an attempt to use "the aesthetics of the folk" to create a "fictive ethnicity of blackness" that allowed the incorporation of potentially threatening black males into the national community. For C. L. R. James the cricket field in England's colonial territories not only was the space where "ideologies of masculinity" were put to the test, but also was "the battleground out of which nationhood . . . [had to] be forged." Carby argues that in James's Beyond the Boundary (1963) and the novel Minty Alley (1936), "intellectual practice, racial politics, and cricket were . . . unquestioningly imagined within a discourse of autonomous, patriarchal masculinity." In Black Jacobins(1938) James posits the existence of a "revolutionary black manhood that, both individually and collectively, gives birth to an independent black nation state."—African American Review, Fall, 2000 by V.P. Franklin, FindArticles

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  /  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 28 November 2007

 

 

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