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Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul

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A powerful polemic on the state of black America that savages the idea of a post-racial society
America’s great promise of equality has always rung hollow in the ears of African Americans. But today the situation has grown even more dire. From the murders of black youth by the police, to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, to the disaster visited upon poor and middle-class black families by the Great Recession, it is clear that black America faces an emergency—at the very moment the election of the first black president has prompted many to believe we’ve solved America’s race problem.
Democracy in Black is Eddie S. Glaude Jr.'s impassioned response. Part manifesto, part history, part memoir, it argues that we live in a country founded on a “value gap”—with white lives valued more than others—that still distorts our politics today. Whether discussing why all Americans have racial habits that reinforce inequality, why black politics based on the civil-rights era have reached a dead end, or why only remaking democracy from the ground up can bring real change, Glaude crystallizes the untenable position of black America--and offers thoughts on a better way forward. Forceful in ideas and unsettling in its candor, Democracy In Black is a landmark book on race in America, one that promises to spark wide discussion as we move toward the end of our first black presidency.

274 pages, Hardcover

First published January 12, 2016

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About the author

Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

14 books486 followers
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University and author of Democracy in Black.

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
November 7, 2020
Breaking Out of the Cage

They will get you. If you are black in America, they will get you. They will get you before they get anyone else. And they will get you more forcefully and more ruthlessly just because you are black. Everything depends on this: politics, economics, education, crime, defence, corporate health and the general well-being of America. It is the unwritten constitutional guarantee of the country - whatever happens will happen first and worst to black folk. Glaude is unequivocal: “Our democratic principles do not exist in a space apart from our national commitment to white supremacy.”

Black wealth, and the lives associated with it are the insurance premium paid involuntarily by black people to cushion national disaster. Everyone paid for the financial insanity of Wall Street in 2008, for example. But black people paid most, as they have paid most in the various American international military adventures during the last 60 years. They will also pay most during the current Covid-19 crisis. More will be impoverished, more will die proportionately than anyone else. Black people are the shock absorbers of American culture; they are disposable. This is the function they perform in a society that considers this normal by not considering it at all.

And yet, incredibly, this is not a central issue in American politics. “What happens in black America is not a matter of national concern—unless, of course, it threatens people who ‘really matter.’” Unless they shoot someone, or are shot by police, black people are politically invisible in America. Black misery has been privatised. This is three or four generations after the civil rights leaders and their victories in the 1960’s. How did this happen? How did a rising political and economic power in America become so marginalised, so irrelevant to its existence?

“The United States remains a nation fundamentally shaped by its racist past and present.” The forces that were temporarily overcome in the 1960’s were never eliminated. The white supremacy that has existed from its founding continues to run the country. The proof of this is that black people are less valued by any reasonable standard - unemployment, health, mortality, rates of incarceration, education, pay. The gap in value between white and black is part of the American DNA. “At every crucial moment in our nation’s history, when there have been fundamental changes in how we’ve dealt with race, white people asserted the value gap and limited the scope of change.”

The political strategy by which race became a non-issue in America has many sources. But I think the dominant meme is that of ‘identity politics.’ Race has progressively become incorporated into a portmanteau of ‘interests.’ Everyone has interests. And according to the logic of democracy, diverse interests must balanced against each other. The interests of the financial entrepreneurs who create new trading instruments or the real estate developers in large cities are analogous to other ‘life-style’ interest-groups - gay, LGBT, feminists, veterans, environmentalists, and religious adherents.

The civil rights gains against racism in the 1960’s revealed the possibilities for addressing injustice in many areas. But racism is not one among many injustices. It is the root of them all. To treat it otherwise is to make it subservient to the interests of the entrepreneurs and the developers. Race is not an interest. It is not an ambition or a hope that people have. It is not something that can be accumulated or a means to a more fulfilling life. And it is certainly not something that can be ‘balanced’ against the well-being of others.

Race is an existential not an economic, political, or even sociological category. It cannot be changed, modified, mitigated, or traded-off against what others want, need, deserve, or have. Ultimately race is not even a criterion for the attainment of justice. Race is an absolute right which has been degraded into an arbitrary desire with the explicit purpose of making it irrelevant. This is an elemental subversion of democracy by those who reject that fundamental principle.

The degradation of race to the status of interest is the mechanism of white supremacy in America. It allows racism to be practised while never using the historical terms of racial abuse or the arguments of racial inferiority. Economic slurs about the ‘takers’ in society; sociological references to ‘criminal classes’; religious tirades against unAmerican ‘values,’ are now the ways in which racial hatred is expressed. As Glaude says, “Republicans wrapped the flag around their bigotry and couched it in criticisms of big government.” In this way white supremacy disappears, except as extremist nutcases on the FBI watch-list. But the real racism is acted out systematically by conceiving race as just one more claim to be politically assessed.

Glaude, therefore, is treading a dangerous line when he opens with his examples of black poverty. He knows this. Poverty is a consequence of race, but the issue is race not poverty. Actions to alleviate poverty may be required for humanitarian and ethical reasons. But, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, such actions have no significant impact on the fundamental issue. Race is non-negotiable. The recognition of race is not a political variable; it is a pre-condition for democracy tout court. The existence of systematic racism in America is a fundamental block to democratic politics. If you are black in America, democracy simply does not exist. This is the “great legacy of unfreedom at the heart of the American project.”

Glaude is insistent that white supremacy is so deeply built into the thing Americans call democracy as to be the standard of democracy. “We keep treating America like we have a great blueprint and we’ve just strayed from it,” he says, “But the fact is that we’ve built the country true. Black folk were never meant to be full-fledged participants in this society.” Without recognising this, American democracy will remain a caricature, a bad joke, a regime as oppressive and depressing as that of any other preferential ideology. That this may be difficult to comprehend is evidence of just how successful this ideology has been. It hides in plain sight; it is so pervasive that it cannot be seen except by those it crushes.

Trump is right: the system is rigged. But not against him and his supremacist allies. Their gripe is that the system might become unrigged, that voting rights will continue to be curtailed, that police will continue to be justified in providing ‘special treatment’ to black youth, that spending on black education and social welfare will be a fraction of that for white folk, that black infant mortality should remain twice the national average, that the American rate of incarceration is the highest in the world,wildly over represented by black people. All these things have to be ‘dis-remembered’ in order to bluster about maintaining American ideals. These are the ideals. They are what the system wants not incidental or accidental damage. This is Glaude’s central point. And it’s very difficult to find fault with it.

The ‘unit of change,’ as it were, that Glaude has in mind is not law, or attitude, or mental state but “racial habits,” those aspects of behaviour which are the carriers of racism. Primary among these is language. While the old fashioned racial epithets are largely gone from intelligent company, they have been replaced by the PC phrases which are the modern equivalent of the epithets that were common in my lifetime. And first among these is that race is not mentioned at all. We are to pretend that the way to deal with killings by police, riots, even complaints of racism, is by not referring to race. Race should be removed from the analysis and discussion of these issue as inflammatory and not relevant to their resolution. This is a racist tactic to divert attention from the pervasive fact of racism.

The second related habit can be summarised as white fear. This is “a deeply felt, collectively held fear shared by people who believe, together, that some harm threatens them and their way of life.” It is group behaviour passed from generation to generation through advice and admonition. Fear too is generated through language. Such fear is not a response to threat but to myth: “It isn’t based in any actual threat of harm. Instead, the idea of black violence or crime does all the work. The mere possibility of danger is enough to motivate us to act as if we are in immediate danger.” One cannot help but notice that the language of drugs is really that of racism revealing itself as moral panic - something repeatedly demonstrated about race throughout American history.

Ultimately the solution to bad racial habits has to do with unravelling the stories told by Reagan Republicans and their descendants about what race is in America. “We have to tell better stories about what truly matters to us” Thereis no alternative. This involves constantly harping on the real racial history of America and its legacy. To a significant degree, this means recapturing the spirit of Dr. King, black religious congregations and organisations like the original NAACP who sought to create a new narrative for being black in America. This narrative is not that of the co-opted liberal establishment for which race has become a political bargaining chip, one among many. It is a narrative which “will disrupt how society responds to black suffering and imagines black political participation.” This Glaude calls “a civil power outage.”

This undoubtedly means action in the streets rather than the statehouse, and making noise as well as writing and speaking. And, therefore, likely tear-gassing and arrests. And hostile media coverage. This is a necessary complement to voting in the non-democracy that is America, which may indeed involve an “electoral blank out,” the submission of blank/spoiled ballots to demonstrate disgust for the system. For Glaude, this is a route out of the political cage that the black population is in. I don’t know if this is good advice or not. But I can understand entirely the justified rage which provokes it.

Postscript 23 April 20: https://thebaffler.com/latest/ill-wil...
Profile Image for Monica.
620 reviews631 followers
September 12, 2020
Over the few years, I've read many books about race, racism and racial equality in the US and the world at large. This book looks at the state of the world through a passionate, black intellectualism. Eddie Glaude, a professor at Princeton University and a respected media pundit, presents an unfiltered yet somewhat idealistic view of the state race in America. Written in 2016, it comes across like a time capsule. There has been so much social/racial turbulence that the period now seems like racial halcyon days of the end of Obama's Presidency. A well written book with an updated, 21st century feel reminiscent of The Mis-Education of the Negro written in 1933. This was a passionate treatise for Black people encouraging us to take the reins of our future.

The book was written about and for Black people. Glaude presents what we collectively have learned from history and an analysis of the lens through which we were supposed to view it. Glaude was instructive and effective. He clearly loves and respects African American people. It's a very good book that in my view suffered in a karmic, self-fulfilling prophecy. Clearly Glaude is not a great seer where implicit bias can blur social visions. To be honest, for me that too was reminiscent of The Mis-Education of the Negro...

3.5 Stars rounded up

Read on kindle
Profile Image for Grady.
642 reviews41 followers
August 17, 2017
I am grateful to have received an early reviewer copy of this book.

Overall, Democracy in Black is worth reading, with a couple caveats. Written by a Princeton professor whose specialty is African-American religious history, the book is well organized and the writing is a real pleasure to read. It opens with an analysis of racial inequality in America today, coming out of the Great Recession. The author then sets out his central argument:
"When we think about the differences between whites and blacks in high school and college graduation rates, in mortality rates, in access to health care, in levels of wealth, in salary differences with comparable education, in the childhood poverty rate, we can see that in this country, white people, particularly those with money, matter more than others....no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we've made, the belief that white people are valued more than others continues to hold the center of moral gravity in this country." (p.31)

Glaude describes this as the 'value gap', and he locates it in habits of racist thinking and white fear of blacks. He then steps back in history, and traces the hijacking of the words and image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by conservatives and centrists, leading into a critique of black liberals for trying to ignore rather than challenge the value gap. He calls for a 'revolution in value' that "involves three basic components: (1) a change in how we view government; (2) a change in how we view black people; and (3) a change in how we view what ultimately matters to us as Americans."(p.184) He finishes by pointing to some promising paths that (in his view) could lead toward this revolution.

This is a coherent and jargon-free take on American politics, civil rights, and race, and it's hard to imagine the concept of the value gap being better explained. Yet, the concept itself strikes me as slippery (to be clear, I agree that structural racism and personal inherent bias are both very real). For Glaude, since black people suffer structural racism and injustice, and our society has not corrected this despite decades of opportunity, we must by definition value black people less than white. If you don't accept this step - that cumulative impact can be attributed as a collective or average intent - then Glaude's analysis is less resonant. But, whether you agree or not, the book is worth reading for the way it outlines the argument.

That said, taken on its own terms, the book suffers from some weaknesses. The first is the lack of a genuinely radical vision. Glaude seems to want to lay claim to one, and roundly condemns black liberals, including Barack Obama. That's fine, but when it's time for Glaude to say what Obama should have done, his complaints mostly dissolve into griping that Obama hasn't been sufficiently accountable to black voters (he acknowledges Obama has faced unparalleled obstruction from the Republican Congress, but dismisses that as a 'red herring', p.174). That's not a radical posture; it's just another disaffected liberal, and it doesn't really sound that different from most of the perpetually disaffected white liberals I know.

That misalignment continues when Glaude points to the first of a handful of solutions. He describes attending a Forward Together march in Raleigh, NC, in February 2014. I participated in that march, too; I remember the bitter cold, and was deeply moved - as Glaude was - by the closing speech of Reverend William Barber, a portion of which Glaude quotes at length. The passage Glaude quotes includes this line: 'we need the kind of language that's not left or right or conservative or liberal, but moral, fusion language that says look: it's extreme and immoral to' [suppress the vote/ deny Medicaid/ cut taxes on the wealthy while raising them on working families](p.196). This is the classic 'fusion' coalition of civil rights and workers rights. So far, it has not transformed North Carolina's current hard right politics. It may - but as soon as it does, elected leaders who want to move forward any progressive goals will have to start compromising - not because they are weak or out of touch as leaders, but because the need to compromise is a feature of our legislative institutions, when they are working properly and not dominated by crudely gerrymandered districts.

The final straw, for me, comes in the last chapter of the book. There, Glaude recommends that black voters in 2016 show up to the polls, and decline to vote for any Presidential candidate, as a way to 'reboot politics'. He adds: 'some might say what I'm recommending amounts to electoral nihilism. We would end up giving the presidency over to Republicans and their extremist base' (p.226). Yes, that's exactly what would happen. And yet, Glaude insists that however destructive the results, throwing away one's vote is a good way to renounce having to choose 'the lesser of two evils', and to force change. This is just naive. Glaude might have done better to take a page from the right wing of the Republican party and urge a focus on Democratic primaries - that kind of emphasis on ideological purity can be destructive, and I don't favor it, but there's at least an argument it generates results. Protest voting in the general election doesn't.

Overall, the book is better read for its social, economic, and historical analysis than for its political recommendations or solutions.
Profile Image for Andre.
542 reviews146 followers
January 16, 2016
Professor Eddie Glaude Jr., of Princeton comes out firing on all cylinders in this book. He really has his pulse on the race situation that continues to plague America and has come up with some thoughts that I'm sure will become part of the prescript of any discussions concerning race. One such idea is the "value gap", which Eddie describes as, "...(the belief that white people are valued more than others) and racial habits (the things we do, without thinking, that sustain the value gap) undergird racial inequality, and how white and black fears block the way to racial justice in this country."

"We talk about the achievement gap in education or the wealth gap between white Americans and other groups, but the value gap reflects something more basic: that no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we’ve made, white people are valued more than others in this country, and that fact continues to shape the life chances of millions of Americans. The value gap is in our national DNA."

This is an interesting new angle in which to view the issue of racism, i.e., white supremacy. When you frame white supremacy in those terms, there certainly isn't much to argue with there. Clearly white people and white lives are valued more than others in America. In support of this "value gap" theory he quotes from Dr. King,
"that in this country the idea of racial equality remains 'a loose expression for improvement.'"

And by the way his understanding of Dr. King is superb, many try to lock King into a dream state, but if you listen to and read King from 1967 to the time of his assassination, you would think of him as a totally different person than the I have a dream King. And the radical King is rarely mentioned or praised in print, public or schools. Eddie is unafraid to raise the radical King, though I'm not of the belief that courage is needed in doing this, truth is truth. There is a chapter in the book titled Restless Sleep After King's Dream. I digress.

But here is what the author is attempting to convey in this book, "Most Americans see inequality—and the racial habits that give it life—as aberrations, ways we fail to live up to the idea of America. But we’re wrong. Inequality and racial habits are part of the American Idea. They are not just a symptom of bad, racist people who fail to live up to pristine ideals. We are, in the end, what we do." Is that not correct? We all have heard the arguments of reverse racism, I'm not a racist, Black people need to take responsibility, etc. etc.

Eddie does a fantastic take down of these rhetorical devices while clearly establishing that "Our democratic principles do not exist in a space apart from our national commitment to white supremacy. They have always been bound tightly together, sharing bone and tissue." Eddie provides several anecdotes that intelligibly illustrate the "value gap" and how it effects the lives of Black people.

President Obama takes a heap of criticism from Eddie and even those who disagree will find Eddie's arguments logical, though I did detect a bit of contradiction. He also takes to task the modern civil rights leaders and their failure to move the needle. His definition of liberal is quite different from what usually comes to mind and challenges readers to redefine their own definitions. So what of solutions? Eddie offers up, a revolution of values and a more strident democracy as the way forward. "A revolution of value upends the belief that white people are more valued than others....It involves three basic components: (1) a change in how we view government; (2) a change in how we view black people; and (3) a change in how we view what ultimately matters to us as Americans." He has great respect and admiration for the Forward Together moral movement as well as the #blacklivesmatter campaign.

Perhaps his boldest and most controversial recommendation is the "blank-out" campaign. A trip to the presidential ballot box in 2016, but instead of choosing the lesser of two evils that no doubt imprisons us to the status quo, we write in none of the above, thereby calling for a new democracy while still exercising the franchise to quell the screaming crowd of citizens who instinctively cry, "you must vote." I'm sure he will be roundly criticized for this suggestion.

Though I have some minor quibbles, none worth mentioning, this is a 5star effort. The book is not at all academic, which in this case I mean as a compliment and
he supplies plenty of analogies to help readers grasp his explanations, these analogies make an already accessible book that much more of an easygoing read. Surely you will see this book on many year end "best" lists.
Profile Image for Beverly.
1,640 reviews351 followers
September 1, 2016
This was a 4.5 read for me.

Professor Glaude provides us with an illuminating, coherent, thoughtful tome on the historical and timely issue of racism directed towards African-American. In a powerful and passionate voice the necessary examination of structured and unknowing racism through polices and misguided assumptions in a logical way provides the groundwork for the next set of deeper scrutiny Glaude will present. For me the strength of this book is the discussion why we do not/cannot move forward on this much needed discussion. The concepts of being “willfully blind” to racist discrimination/actions until it results in a crisis, how “masking” hides racial beliefs, and the “value gap” which is exposing the fact that white lives matter are uncomfortable to confront within ourselves and our society. The take-no-prisoners attitude may push readers out of their comfort zone but is nicely formatted to allow for constructive discussions. The book effortlessly moves on to proposed solutions and consequences for no action. Even if you do not agree with all that is presented in the book, it is necessary to know these facts so a fully informed discussion can begin. The added touch of personal anecdotes provides the humanness to the facts presented.
Highly recommend this essential book!

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,650 followers
February 19, 2016
I have some quibbles with this book--the main being that it's criticisms of Obama and other black leaders are not grounded in reality. Glaude admits that we all projected our expectations on Obama, but then doesn't hold back when it comes to being disappointed in his not meeting our expectations. The book is a fast read and it really captures the race problem today. Also, I would love to hear more conversations about his proposal that blacks not vote in 2016. I completely understand the logic that he lays out and by the time you get to the end, it makes sense. I would love to hear more.
Profile Image for Jay.
175 reviews14 followers
March 15, 2020
I’ll have a lot to say in due time. I’ll say this for now: he wrote in the Conclusion that there are people in America who are willing to turn their backs on democracy in order to protect their privileges. He’s right: it’s happening now. Mas tarde.
Profile Image for Terrence.
12 reviews1 follower
July 11, 2016
I read MICHELLE Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" - I worried that this would be a carbon copy or closely aligned. It's not! It stands solidly on its on footing with an urgent and uncomfortable message that needs to be read, discussed, and used as a resource for substantive action.
Profile Image for Martha.
423 reviews13 followers
March 22, 2016
real rating: 4.5

Glaude does impressive work here in his patiently constructed, disciplined presentation of how white supremacy works, and the way it has impacted both black Americans and the options left to those who try to improve the lives of African Americans through political channels. What's perhaps most valuable about the first part of the book is the language Glaude uses and how clearly he makes his case -- in so doing, he very likely will open the eyes of some Americans to the realities they've previously been able to deny (if, that is, they pick up and read the book).

All of the work Glaude does in the first 75% of his book, though, exists largely to provide a foundation for the last section, in which he introduces his solution to the ingrained racism and political stasis of this country. It's hard for anyone to make a convincing case that they know how to solve such a massive, long-lasting problem, but Glaude has made an impressive attempt at it, pointing to specific examples of action (the Ferguson protests, not surprisingly, are central here) and presenting a truly intriguing alternative approach to the 2016 presidential election -- he proposes a sort of skewed revolution, but one that defies expectations and, in its originality and potential, is almost thrilling.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
1,044 reviews336 followers
February 6, 2019
This is simply an excellent book on the current status of race relations in America. Glaude doesn't hesitate to call out black liberal leaders, including our nation's first "post-racial" president, as being part of the problem more than part of the solution. He has quotes from Obama from 2008 and before showing that, even then, Obama was ready to give the Bill Cosby speech more than truly dealing with underclass black problems.

He extends this issue to black "movement" leaders. Al Sharpton gets repeatedly called out, over Ferguson and Black Lives Matters issues. Jesse Jackson does to a somewhat lesser extent, only because Sharpton has passed his image level.

Glaude also notes that class does complicate some black issues.

At the same time, he ties that issue back to black liberal leaders, talking about how they, in essence, espouse black trickle-down economics.

Honest throughout and searing at times. Glaude, as a professor of both African-American studies and of religion, has a good perch from which he writes this.
Profile Image for Tonstant Weader.
1,206 reviews69 followers
February 23, 2016
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul contributes important ideas to the struggle of black liberation. The author, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. argues that the core of the issue is a “value gap” that is woven into the entire fabric of our society, from its foundational myths and documents through its laws, customs and its values. That value gap is the simple, incontrovertible fact that black lives are valued less than white lives. If anyone seriously doubts that fact, I can refer them to the U.S. Constitution where with mathematical precision, black lives were valued at merely 60% of white lives. If there is still any doubt, we can see the judicial and societal acceptance and approval of police meting out capital punishment for such crimes as jaywalking, having a broken taillight or not signaling a lane change, or for no crime at all in the cases of John Crawford and the child Tamir Rice.

I did not need persuading that America as a whole values black lives less than white lives. The proof is in the snide responses to #Black Lives Matter and the joke memes such as “Black Labs Mattter/All Labs Matter.” That Americans think the never-ending murder of black men is something to joke about proves their moral culpability in the devaluation of black lives. That American police refuse to do their jobs because Beyoncé hurt their feelings while they defend the murder of black children by police is just another example of white lives (and tender feelings) matter more than black lives.

While Glaude provides a valuable service making a case for why black lives matter less than white lives and showing how that has been true throughout history, he omits some of the forces that are instrumental to that devaluation. Most importantly, he underestimates the force religion has played in that process from the initial declaration by protestant religious leaders that black people had no souls which made American chattel slavery significantly worse than slavery in Catholic countries where slaves still had some rights including the right to marry and keep their family together, were allowed to learn to read and write, were encouraged to join the church and could not be summarily executed. The pernicious role of religion continues to this day with the widespread prosperity gospel providing a theological defense of white supremacy and societal neglect for the poor and dispossessed.

Glaude is best when he describes the opportunity deserts that urban communities have become, though he understates the case. In fact, it is even worse than he describes it. How can people find work when the jobs are no longer in the city and public transit has been hollowed out. He is exactly right about the Great Black Depression that continues despite the “end” of the recession. He does not mention the destruction of public education by the charter school movement and while he focuses a lot on incarceration, he does not mention the repressive impact of school discipline in urban schools being handed over to the police, resulting in black people being confronted by an adversarial criminal justice system from kindergarten on up.

He does not think it is hopeless. He thinks we need a movement rooted in changing three things, how we view our government (expanding its role in creating the conditions that make success possible), change how we view black people (and of course, value them), and change what matters to us as Americans (Valuing people over property is one crazy idea we might consider.) These are big changes and will take a lot of work, work that has to build from the grassroots because those in power are in power precisely because they subscribe to the “racial habits” that sustain the status quo.

I agree with him on so much and think he is correct that fundamental changes are necessary. We know from the speed with which southern whites abandoned economic populism that people would rather be poor than equal. Their racism changed their view on what government should do; they valued white privilege more than getting ahead themselves. Borrowing from Scot Nakagawa who wrote that “blackness is the fulcrum of white supremacy,” I would argue that racism is the fulcrum on which economic inequality is levered. One way folks at Oregon Action addressed that was to work on economic justice issues, but only issues that could be framed and organized around racial justice and to deliberately incorporate that racial justice frame into all the messaging on that issue.

Glaude expresses a lot of contempt for black community leaders and he names names. Conservatives who call them race-hustlers will find ample comfort in this book, because Glaude seems to see them in the same light. He is particularly harsh in his critique of Obama, in particular calling him out for not speaking out about race enough. On the other hand, while it would be great for Obama to speak more honestly about race, we have seen many times that the moment he gives his opinion, racial justice issues become polarized in unhelpful ways. Just about everyone agreed that the cop who arrested Henry Louis Gates for trying to enter his own home was a jackass, until Obama called him one. Then suddenly, the petite and elderly Gates was a dangerous black man who disrespected an officer of the law. When Trayvon Martin was murdered by the violent thug George Zimmermann, there was widespread condemnation of the failure of police to arrest the murderer. But then Obama said Trayvon made him think he could have been his son and all of a sudden there were fake pictures of Martin in the media and he was a criminal wannabe and so on. Obama’s comments were not helpful in the least. Some honesty about how careful he has to be is in order.

My greatest disappointment, though, and something that made me want to throw this book across the room in disgust is Glaude’s prescription for change. He suggest that black people go to the polls and vote for everything down-ballot but leave the vote for president blank. A blank-out campaign to show their disgust and disappointment in the process, he thinks will be empowering. Instead, it will guarantee a Supreme Court that will finish their incomplete efforts to eliminate the Voting Rights Act, who will rubber stamp Voter ID laws that keep blacks from voting, who will approve Texas’ racist attempt to redefine one-person/one vote to disappear the far-too-many black people who are prohibited from registering to vote because of racist judicial practices, who will continue to erode all the gains and protections from the Civil Rights Act and set democracy back fifty years. I could not think of a more disastrous thing for black people and this is what he advocates.

I liked the writing. It is urgent, fast-paced and clear. He outlines his arguments well and makes a solid case for the value gap being a flaw built right into our foundation as a society. He makes a good argument about the causes of the unrelenting despair in the black community. He is right that we need major changes in how we think about government, black people and what is valuable. He could not possible by more disastrously wrong about how to change that.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Profile Image for Todd Miles.
Author 3 books138 followers
June 9, 2020
Important book for me to listen to (literally - on Audible). There was much that was hard to hear and there was some with which I disagreed fundamentally. But I needed hear this perspective. Though I do not think that government is the ultimate or final solution, it has been a huge part of the problem since before the nation's founding. Therefore, it has to play some significant role in the solution. The question is what will that role be. There is where the need for wisdom is greatest.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
605 reviews15 followers
October 8, 2017
I initially picked up this book to better understand the issues with the race issues that currently exist in our country. To me, there were hits and misses in this book - from my perspective.

My parents raised me, pretty much to the effect of Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of people being judged by the content of their character. So for me, I always saw people for who they were - not what they looked liked. Furthermore, I learned skin color is determined by your ancestor's exposure to the sun - so it's rather silly to make skin color matter when it comes to how to view or treat someone. I'm sure Eddie Glaude Jr. would say I'm colorblind. And well, perhaps I am - although I am not denying that problems don't exist - for the simple fact that race issues still exist, nor do I think everything needs to stay the same.

The first four chapters were difficult for me, because either I still had questions (i.e. Why were the mortgage rates all of a sudden raised for some?) or I felt much the material didn't just apply to blacks - but to all poor and low-income communities. The closing of small shops and cultural places has decreased for EVERYONE with the shift to big corporate stores and chains taking over nearly EVERY community it one fashion or another. I do not believe that black communities were solely targeted. I feel that America as a whole was targeted. Also many of the problems and issues discussed are any race vs. white, the "fear" is instilled as anyone who might be different, it's not exclusive to just black or African Americans. I also felt at times the author twisted things to his benefit at times.

Chapters five to eight were the chapters I felt like I learned from and that I could clearly understand the author's POV. Here he talks about the fight for equality post-Martin Luther King Jr. and criticizes everyone from Obama to Rev. Sharpton to Jesse Jackson and even including the NACCP- rightly so - he defines these politicians to be a group of black liberals that are enforcing status quo rather than making any radical moves. Glaube isn't necessary rude but rather honest. He asks that to invoke change that we need new, younger leaders. Likely those that know more first hand what is going on and who are creating peaceful demonstrations (I would have liked his commentary on the violence that was not planned but came out of many protests - were these people part of the original group? Those protesters seemed to be omitted from much of this narrative).

Glaube states that we have "disremembered" King's message and that many times King's image is used for things that he may or may not have actually been in support of. "The ritual act of disremembering became a ritual of expiation: the sins of our racial past gave way to an emphasis on individual merit and responsibility. Racial inequality was not seen as the result of deeply ingrained habits, racist policies, or actual discrimination, but rather, as the result of a culture of pathology, which produced bad, irresponsible black people." Here was when I began to understand Glaube's plight and our wrong perceptions of issues.

In the end, Glaube calls for a "blank-out" meaning that voters go to vote, but cast blank ballots. He believes that this will send a message. I am not so certain. In fact, all that angers me is that there seems to be so many different groups who want to make a change but that they keep just voting for the two biggest parties - why not pull together to make a real 3rd party option? I'm not talking about the party lines that Republicans and Democrats take over so they are running on more than one party line - but a true third party. Similar to the Greens or Libertarians. Help build a base! I think that is still worth reading this book because I think that everyone will gain something of value from it - even a small understanding of perspective.
Profile Image for Arlena.
3,218 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2017
Title: Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul
Author: Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.
Publisher: Broadway Books
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: Four

"Democracy in Black: How Race Stills Enslaves the American Soul" by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.

My Thoughts...

What a read that Dr. Glaude gives the reader some interesting perceptions of 'why the 2008 recession disproportionately' did impact black people and so much more. Yes, this is a book about race. Now, I will say I had to sit back and think about that and as I did I believe I was able to understand some of this author's thought pattern. As he continues on in the read Dr. Glaude talks about the value gap which to me is very true but yes there are many people who feel that are more valued than black people. Why is that one may say? Well, if one really thinks about it and just how some things have gone on in today's world...well I will say the writing is definitely there on the wall for anyone to see. I liked how this author Dr. Glaude didn't pull any punches on stated it like it is..with letting all know that 'anyone is fair game for criticism, not just the conservatives'...which as one knows how our President Obama received some of the worst of it all and even though when he left office he still gets it. Now, why is that?

Now, I will say some of Dr. Glaude's ideas I was not in agreement with but again I could also understand why he might want to take that route...'electoral black-out?' I did feel by reading "Democracy in Black"I was able to get some other knowledge that could help me in having a better conversations in the future about our race. I also did find this novel 'interesting, eye opener on several discussions relating to African-Americans racial discrimination' that is so prevalent in the United States of American. The question that I am left with is how will these problems be fixed? We talk and talk but when will one go deep into all the basics of the problems that are presented in the book and be able to move from theory to action? This will have to be well done before anything is truly solved.

So, if you would like to read about the political and economic insights of the lives of African-Americans you may certainly find this novel of great interest. No, it may not be a comfortable read however who ever you are I believe its a good read where it will leave you with thoughts long after the read as you are left to take a good look at the history of this country and see some of the wrongs that have been ignored far too long.

Profile Image for Rachel.
746 reviews14 followers
September 4, 2016
In Democracy in Black, Glaude discusses in detail how and why the 2008 recession disproportionately impacted black people. He also writes about the value gap – the fact that white people are valued more than black people. His analysis is hard to dispute. Glaude doesn’t pull any punches. Anyone is fair game for criticism, not just conservatives. In fact, President Obama receives some of his harshest.

I’m always looking for more articulate ways to explain systematic and institutional racism to people and this book gave me some great ideas of how to do so. I thought this line was particularly good:

“Somehow people absurdly believe – and they have done so for most of our history – that black social misery is the result of hundreds of thousands of unrelated bad individual decisions by black people all across this country.”

The major thing I didn’t agree with was him calling for black people to participate in an “electoral black-out” in 2016. I’m not sure black people voting none of the above would accomplish what he wants it to and for the 2016 election, it’s a really bad idea for obvious reasons.

Even though I read a lot about race, I felt like this book expanded my knowledge even more and will help me have better conversations with people about race in the future.
Profile Image for Erin O'Riordan.
Author 43 books135 followers
May 12, 2017
This book is excellent at describing what the problem is, but a bit lacking in practical solutions on how to solve the problem. Professor Glaude isn't responsible for single-handedly solving the race problems in the U.S.A., of course, but I did think that at the beginning of the book he said that he would focus on what could be done other than more preaching to the choir. The #1 problem, as summed up in this book, is that white Americans fundamentally need to change the way we view African-Americans before anything will truly change. Professor Glaude then goes on to describe how contemporary African-American politics, including the presidency of Former President Obama, exacerbate rather than deal with the problem. Namely, the Black Left is too worried about placating and catering to white ideas of what an African-American politician should be to be considered "acceptable." The result is that the Democratic Party counts on the support of the African-American voting block without actually creating policies that do anything to make Black life in America any better. It's a huge frustration, quite disheartening, and a problem that grass-roots activism is going to have to work really, REALLY hard to make a dent in.
Profile Image for N.D..
Author 43 books412 followers
February 3, 2016
I won this ARC through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Glaude does a wonderful job outlining, through discussion, statistics, and antedotal narratives the current plight of black America. "The reality is that by every relevant statistical measure (employment, wages, wealth, etc.) black America has experienced and is experiencing a depression. This is more like the symptoms of a national congenital disease than the flu." For any one who knows the stats (e.g., graduation rate, incarceration rate, high school drop out rate, special education rate, etc.) this statement is sadly too true and not at all new. The question, as it has always been, is what will be done about such inequities? "We have marched. We have rebelled. We have loved, and we have hated. And in each moment America has succumbed to the belief that some people are better than others because they are white." Glaude concludes with the appeal to "close the value gap and uproot racial habits by doing democracy..."
Profile Image for Felix.
4 reviews
October 22, 2016
Glaude's fundamental arguments and analysis are sharp and necessary. Glaude's critique of Black liberals is the strongest chapter, showing how traditional Black liberals (e.g., John Lewis), conservative Black liberals (e.g., Clarence Thomas), and post-Black liberals (e.g., Obama) all stifle more liberatory visions that figures like Du Bois and Robeson fought for. Glaude's prose, though, is at times repetitive and overly simplistic. For a stretch of the book, almost every paragraph opens with some variant of "We need" or "We must," and does not appear to be for rhetorical effect. Still, the ideas in Democracy in Black are crucial for understanding this current moment, how we got here, and where do we go from here.
Profile Image for Theresa.
1,065 reviews18 followers
September 13, 2019
Glaude writes a clear and readable narrative of racism, how it is the foundation of the country, how it is built into virtually every system created by our government and institutions, and how liberal calls for everyone to get along will not change anything. Our country has a vested interest in keeping racism alive and well, though often couched in dog whistle. What I especially liked was his tribute to young activists who are paving their own creative pathways to revolution and to the intersectional quality of the modern anti-racist movement. He credits feminism and queer politics for being guiding principles for this movement.
Profile Image for Sofia Lemons.
5 reviews
October 21, 2016
Very interesting perspective on structural racism, even though many of the facts will likely not be news to those informed on racial bias and its impact on black communities. The arguments pertaining to the value gap give good language around implicit bias and the realities of racism. Does a good job of dispelling the myth of racism being conscious and/or individual. The arguments are well situated in historical and contemporary contexts, including discussion of the newer models of anti-racist organizing and the weaknesses of older models.
Profile Image for Nancy.
470 reviews
May 27, 2017
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway.
This gives a very good perspective on being black. Though he outlines the issues and frustrating parts of racism in this country, not voting is the wrong step. Handing the leadership of this country to the likes of Cruz or even worse Trump would be worse than what we are living in today. Remove that from this book!
Profile Image for Justin.
180 reviews59 followers
September 1, 2020
I guess this book is geared towards a more general audience because it's not particularly academic and traffics in a lot of surface level black history (so much time spent on MLK) and pop culture politics (I forgot Michele Bachmann was a thing). I think the first half has something to offer to those who have never thought about contemporary black politics. The second half begins to get more in depth even if not as critical as I might like (the division of black liberals was so extensive as to make me think he was just talking about individual people).
I do think there is something to be said about how far left Glaude actually is. He seems sympathetic to leftist causes but in the final score actually does have more critique of communism than capitalism. Glaude is probably a social-democrat but it's not clear he'd be on the front line of totally overturning our political and economic system (I could be wrong, I can only go off of what I see in this text).
I think Glaude's call to refuse to vote for either the Republican or Democratic nominee for President is his most important claim. He lays out in clear ways why the only responsible choice for black voters is to reject both parties rather than give in to our fear and vote for the lesser of two evils. While at the time of writing he was referring to not voting for Trump or Clinton, the message is perhaps even more apt as we now stare down a choice between Trump and a man who supported segregation and wrote the 1994 Crime Bill.
Profile Image for Jocelyn Khan.
8 reviews
March 9, 2017
I found Prof. Glaude's book to be both painful and thought provoking. I think he is absolutely correct about the existence of a value gap wherein in white people are more valued than people of color, and that this is associated with a variety of racial habits. However, like many complex social problems, it's one thing to talk about diagnoses and another to come up with meaningful cures. The author identifies three components of a "value revolution": (1) a change in how we view government; (2) a change in how we view black people; and (3) a change in how we view what ultimately matters to us as Americans. I fully agree that governmental action is required to address many of the racial problems in this country including black poverty, mass incarceration, and voting rights. However, bringing about change in longstanding attitudes is much more difficult and may take generations to occur. I can understand his frustration with President Obama, Democrats in general, and traditional liberals - both white and black. However, ultimately we may have to settle for incremental change over a long period of time. I highly recommend Carol Anderson's book, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which makes the case that every advance made by black people in this country, going back to the abolition of slavery, has been followed by white backlash. Glaude was disappointed that the election of a black president did nothing to address the value gap and recommended that blacks leave the choice for president blank in the 2016 election. I considered this to be a mistake. Although in interviews, he later recommended voting for Clinton in battleground states, we ended up with Trump who had strong support from white supremacists. There is no question that a subtext for Trump's call to "make America great again" was "make America white again." This is just another example of white backlash against the election of a black president and growing diversity within the country. While I understand his disdain for Hillary Clinton, we are now left with the consequences for black America of a Trump administration. To his credit, Glaude did recommend voting for downstream candidates and efforts to bring about electoral change at local, grassroots levels. Despite these concerns, I believe that Glaude's book should be widely read by all Americans - especially whites who deny that race influences their attitudes and behavior toward blacks and all people of color.
Profile Image for H. Dair Brown.
Author 7 books18 followers
February 25, 2016
I rounded up again from 3.5. I did so because I really appreciate many of the points he's making and many of the issues he highlighted in this book. Here's just one excellent passage:

"Racial habits are formed by the outcomes we see in the world rather than by the complex processes that produced those outcomes. We see black and white sides of town and internalize certain assumptions about what that separation means, but rarely are those assumptions informed by the history of deliberate policies that created a dual housing market and residential segregation. We simply live where we live. We see double-digit black employment and infer things about black people from this statistic, but we rarely invoke the history of unfair labor practices, the exclusion of black people from labor unions, or the dual labor market that tracked certain folks to certain jobs. Responding based on habits formed without context, it's no surprise that so many white Americans believe black people are lazy: that they don't want to work and are looking for a government handout."

He seriously loses me, however, when he advocates for Black voters to write in "none-of-the-above" on the 2016 presidential ballot. Waaaay too much at stake. I feel like I heard nearly this exact argument Nader-style in 2000 (except obviously it was throw your vote away by voting for someone who has no chance of winning). That strategy seemed to backfire pretty spectacularly at accomplishing much of anything (other than leading to a lot of backsliding on issues the Nader voters cared about for 8 long years). So, please, voters of any color, DON'T GO THERE! Instead, take this quiz (http://www.isidewith.com/), find out who most agrees with your positions, and vote for them, THEN go ahead and also continue to use the other tactic he proposes (i.e. protest and pressure at especially the local level).

I wonder what we could do if we really and truly were able to get past this issue? If we, as a country, could stop blocking/limiting segments of our population from contributing to their full potential? If we could permit everyone to live their lives without fear? If we could acknowledge and eliminate forever these policies that have led us here.
67 reviews
April 26, 2017
This is a novel in which the author's voice is clear and impactful to the reader. Reading this work reminded me of some of my college seminars. I wanted to underline and dog ear and write notes to myself, so that I could go in the next day and ask "what were your thoughts behind this passage?" or "can you provide clarity and deeper insight on this subject?" Democracy in Black inspires discussion, or at least it should. My difficulty with the book was that I was reading it on my own and did not have a group of people to discuss this with. At the heart of the novel is an anger and frustration that simmers beneath the surface. To unpack this, I think it would be beneficial to have at least one other person to discuss this novel with. At times, I felt that the author's voice overwhelmed the message he was trying to portray.

Glaude Jr. outlined his major themes and concepts well in this novel. At times, the work really challenged my way of thinking, and even more basically made me think and absorb what I was reading. I originally went in to reading this novel thinking that it was more of a political novel, however I found it more in line with the social sciences. Glaude Jr. discusses historical concepts and social factors that I believe would be very helpful to someone starting out in the field of social justice. It joins a wider body of work that I would recommend as a starting point in understanding areas of our society in the U.S. that have been "disremembered" as the author terms it, a phenomenon that once explained is seen everywhere. The concepts discussed in this novel stick with the reader well after putting the book down. One caveat I would add is that this novel really challenged me and my beliefs. While it may not have changed some of my views, it really challenged me to think of why I held those views, something of which I acknowledge I was slightly defensive of at the time I read the work. This view changed after allowing time to really examine what the purpose of the statements were.
97 reviews
May 11, 2016
This book expresses many of the reasons I roll my eyes every time someone says America is the greatest democracy, like I should be happy I am not living somewhere else because the oppression would be even worse. We do not have to choose between the lesser of two evils when it comes to democracy - a great reminder as the 2016 presidential side show continues to unfold. The author's idea of a "blank-out" for the upcoming election, or turning in blank ballots in protest of our options for president, is appealing if it would actually hammer home to politicians that voters want more than pandering from our elected officials. But a "blank-out" must be coupled with actual votes for the politicians (mostly at the local level) who and organizations that advocate for the change we desire. Lofty ideas, sure. Not feasible, maybe. But something needs to be done. Which brings me to the main point of the book: black people, we have a lot of work to do in our communities. If we value every member of our community, outsiders will follow suit. If we stop supporting leaders and policies that harm our community, those leaders and policies will change. Maybe the younger generation will make that leap, because the older generation seems too afraid that any meaningful dissention will (further) cost blacks any gains we have made. Either way, we must do something other than appeal to the morals of others and hope that the world around us changes.
Profile Image for AJourneyWithoutMap.
791 reviews74 followers
January 14, 2016
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is an interesting, insightful, enlightening and eye-opening book on the issues it “threatened” to discuss and dissect, including American polity, issues relating to Africa-Americans, and the rampant racial discrimination widely prevalent in the country. Author Eddie S. Glaude Jr. may be a professor at Princeton University, teaching in the religion department and the Department of African American Studies, but that does not guarantee the cure to the problem.

Hopefully, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. will be the start of a renewed attempt to properly address the issues raised in the book instead of attempting to fix the problems through academic endeavors. While the ground reality has been well understood, and properly discussed in the book, what is crystal clear is that the days of rhetoric and lip service is well and truly over. One has to go deep into the basics of the problem, lock its horns and move from theory to action if the problems are to be solved for good.
18 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2016
Democracy in Black blends history, anecdote, and fact to create a smart analysis and an astute critique of black liberal politics and racial democracy. Well-researched with a structure crafted with the classroom in mind, Democracy in Black is written persuasively and clearly enough to be accessible to those outside of academia as well. That being said, this book is not for the uninitiated. The pacing of Democracy in Black is very much driven by Glaude’s passion; he doesn’t wait for you to get with the program, as he expects the reader to already be there because it should be demanded of society at large to already be there. It’s a shame that Glaude’s provided solutions are either vague/generic or unrealistic (like his black-out voting plan), because Glaude putting all this passion behind a tenable solution would certainly be a force to behold.

I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.
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