We can't all work in the inner city. And, I don't even think that it is incumbent upon an African-American intellectual to be concerned in their work with problems of race and class. It's just one of the things, that we here at the DuBois Institute, are concerned about.
For black America needs a politics whose first mission isn't the reinforcement of the idea of black America; and a discourse of race that isn't centrally concerned with preserving the idea of race and racial unanimity. We need something we don't yet have: a way of speaking about black poverty that doesn't falsify the reality of black advancement; a way of speaking about black advancement that doesn't distort the enduring realities of black poverty.
We have chaos reigning in the Middle East. There is a great deal of instability. In the past, people would have turned to their church, and some still do. Counterintuitively, people are now turning into themselves to find their roots. The way you do that is through your family tree. "Where did I come from?" There is an urge to preserve the names of the people who produced you.
Our society is driven today by so much ethnic discord. We have Black Lives Matter, which I praise and celebrate. We have the demagogues stereotyping Muslims and resurrecting racist stereotypes they used to visit on us. The larger goal is to show that we are all the same, we all come from Africa, and we all have the same larger family tree. It's about the fundamental unity of the human community.
It's not white versus black any more, it's haves versus have-nots. Unless the black middle-classes unite to promote the interests of the black underclass, tension between them is inevitable. What we, the black middle class have to do, is think of a strategy to avert that.
You can find virtually everybody black back as far as the 1870 census. Why 1870? That's when the ex-slaves first have surnames. But if you find your great-great-grandfather in 1870 and it says he's 50, that means he was born in 1820 and you're back to 1820 already. For an American that's pretty damned good, you know?
You can say I had a severe case of 'Roots' envy. I wanted to be like Alex Haley, and I wanted to be able to... do my family tree back to the slave ship and then reverse the Middle Passage, as I like to put it, and find the tribe or ethnic group that I was from in Africa.
The Dominican Republic says 'We're black behind the ears.' And in Mexico, 'there's a black grandma in the closet.' They know, they've just been intermarrying for a long time. But if we did the DNA of everyone in Mexico a whole lot of people would have a whole lot of black in them.
So when you do your family tree and Margaret Cho does hers, and... Wanda Sykes and John Legend... we're adding to the database that scholars can then draw from to generalize about the complexity of the American experience. And that's the contribution that family trees make to broader scholarship.
The only people who live in a post-black world are four people who live in a little white house on Pennsylvania Avenue. The idea that America is post-racial or post-black because a man I admire, Barack Obama, is president of the United States, is a joke. And I hope no one will even wonder about this crazy fiction again.
I try to be sensitive, but the atmosphere I create is very supportive. One overriding premise of the series is that guilt is not heritable. It's good to know about them, but you are not responsible for them. You don't have to apologize for them. It's a process of knowing, and the more you know, the richer the sense of yourself. The firmer your foundation as a human being is
Everybody wants to have sex - you don't have to have a baby when you're 16. You don't have to do drugs. I think our Sunday schools should be turned into Black history schools and computer schools on the weekend, just like Hebrew schools for Jewish people, or my Asian friends who send their kids to schools on the weekend to learn Chinese or Korean.
It's important to debunk the myths of Africa being this benighted continent civilized only when white people arrived. In fact, Africans had been creators of culture for thousands of years before. These were very intelligent, subtle and sophisticated people, with organized societies and great art.
Very few Black people ever embraced back to Africa movements, and very few actually, a tiny number actually went back to Africa. They said, "We are going to make America live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States." They produced one of the world's great cultures; they produced individuals who were just as brilliant and made contributions to the world civilization. In fact, they produced a world-class civilization, the African American civilization, in music, in dance, in oratory, in religion, in writing.
We have to stop making excuses. One of the things that I'm careful to show is the horrendous effects of institutional and structural racism, but in the end, you can't wait for white man or a Black man to come riding in on a white horse to save you. We have to save ourselves, and that's the lesson of "The African Americans."
It's very lonely being a prominent black intellectual at an institution where you're the only prominent black intellectual. That was the model that was followed in the late 60s when black studies started. You'd get one here and one there and one here, like Johnny Appleseed.