Review: Beyond Black and White: From Civil Rights to Barack Obama
This book is a comprehensive history and critical analysis of the events from the Civil Rights era of the 1960s all the way through the election of President Obama. Manning Marable backs up each essay with scores of intensive statistics and data to further beef up the arguments. Each chapter is essentially an essay written at a specific time in Manning Marable’s life, but the overarching theme of the book itself is to examine the ways Black leaders have led the fight for Black liberation and civil rights. Manning spares no one from his critical eye, and evaluates where leaders failed and where they succeeded, and the impact that has had on the population of African-Americans.
This is a college course contained in a book. The style of writing is a mixture of academic writing in some chapters, and then more historical writing for the lay person in other chapters. The examination of historical facts and the impact of specific people on the civil rights movement is thorough. Manning spares no one from his critical gaze, not even himself, but also provides a framework to explore better solutions to the current problems that the civil rights movement faces today in this so-called “post racial society.” Our society is anything but “post racial,” and the questions Manning poses digs deep into the divides between various marginalized groups as well as the ways these groups are interconnected in their struggle for basic civil rights within America.
He examines closely each of the individual strategies toward civil rights. One is the inclusionist strategy, where the goal is to assimilate within the current structures and enact change from that point. Another is the separatist strategy by building black owned businesses and neighborhoods to create black capital separate from the white supremacist societal structure. Manning Marable rejects both strategies and argues for a third, multi-ethnic strategy that brings together all non-white people into a coalition, to go beyond the black and white dichotomy. Verso Books defines the thesis of the book succinctly: “he argues powerfully for a “transformationist” strategy that retains a distinctive black cultural identity but draws together all the poor and exploited in a united struggle against oppression.” His argument for the “transformationist” strategy echoes the writings of Angela Davis and is bolstered by historical analysis that Manning Marable carefully builds up through the course of the book.
The version I read is the updated version, released recently, that added a few chapters to bring the book up to date with Barack Obama’s presidency. I highly recommend reading this to not only better understand the history of America and the fight for civil rights, but to rectify a glaring omission in the history courses of high school and college. The history contained in this book should have been taught to all Americans in high school, and I’d love to see an entire course cover the history of race and the civil rights movement from the perspective of those like Manning Marable, Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, and others. In many textbooks, the topic is treated as an event of the 60s instead of an on-going, still active movement that is yet to be realized today. Manning Marable’s text here provides the history many American textbooks lack, and gives an in-depth look into Black culture and politics.
As many a Black Activist has cried, “until all of us are free, none of us are free.” Marable calls for a “transformationist” strategy that draws together all the oppressed is a hope for a more equitable, just, equal, sustainable, and loving future. But to get there, we need to be grounded in the knowledge of our history, the lessons to be learned from that history, and an intersectional approach to how we communicate with one another.
For the history, I would recommend reading Manning Marable’s book along with Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide for a thorough analysis of race and civil rights in America.