And We Are Not Saved : The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice

Derrick Bell

This is a really interesting piece.  I like how we get two views in the text on racial justice and black interpretations/plans for addressing said injustice.  The fact that these are filtered through a somewhat gendered lens is also interesting/problematic.


a.  Chapter I – Chronicle of the Constitutional Contradiction – In this chronicle the heroine of sorts visits the Constitutional Convention to examine the original contradiction in the Constitution.

b.  Chapter II – Chronicle of the Celestial Curia – This chronicle details the pragmatic questions of whether law and litigation can address social justice or if revolution or violent reaction is necessary.

c.  Chapter III – Chronicle of the Ultimate Voting Rights Act – This section address the limitations on the voting rights of blacks and asks whether and ideal “ultimate” voting rights act would not only survive constitutional challenge but be effective as well (8).

d.  Chapter IV – Chronicle of the Sacrificed Black Schoolchildren – This chronicle focuses “speculates about the policies that might have more effectively improved the quality of education for black children, but weren’t tried because of the civil rights community’s commitment to achieving school segregation through racial balance (8).

e.  Chapter V – Chronicle of the Black Reparations Foundation – “The question whether the cost of a black reparations program is the main basis for white society’s opposition to improving the economic status of blacks . . . This question leads to a discussion of the reverse discrimination” (8).

f.  Chapter VI – Chronicle of the DeVine Gift – This section considers affirmative action

g.  Chapter VII – Chronicle of the Amber Cloud – This chapter posits that a national crisis might get us past race politics.

h.  Chapter VIII – Chronicle of the Twenty-Seventh-Year Syndrome – This focuses on black male sexism and white racism and how these two ism’s have harmed the Black community.

i.  Chapter IX – Chronicle of the Slave Scrolls – This chronicle discusses self-help and if it’s even possible.

j.  Chronicle X – Chronicle of the Black Crime Cure – Geneva’s ultimate strategy for racial justice – asks for “new ways of seeing and using old civil rights strategies in situations where a positive outcome, while not assured, can still be hoped for (10).


In this section, the narrator constructs an interesting picture of an intellectual that isn’t necessarily invested in the goals of a race convention because he is frustrated with the inevitable progress toward confrontational identity politics instead of coalition building.  He identifies the main two strands at the conference – the nationalists/emigrationists and the assimilationists – and hopes for a 3rd stream politics of coalition building that “were advancing more flexible and realistic alternatives to either all-out integration or black nationalism” (17).  The N. also mentions that “In the end, we seek and sincerely want consensus, the need to sacrifice the hard-gained independence of personal action proves too high a price to pay. Not recognizing either inner conflict or its unconscious resolution, each of us has a person investment in our strategy.  Thus is agreement rendered impossible and conflict inevitable” (18).

Geneva eventually makes the claim that “We have made progress in everything yet nothing has changed.  Our people’s faith has altered the law of the land, yet their lives are deprived and stunted” (22).  This gets at the heart of Geneva’s problem – how has litigation in the way of civil rights legislation actually improved the plight of the A.A. community?  If it hasn’t, what alternative do we have?

Chapter I : The Chronicle of Constitutional Contradiction

There are a couple of arguments advanced in the actual Chronicle.  They are:

a.  The founding fathers supposedly valued human rights above all others in the Constitution; however, it would appear that they gave “priority to property over human rights” (29) in denying franchisement for A.A. citizens. (31)

b.  The purpose of the gov’t. is to protect private property and is supported by that property in the form of taxes.

c.  Argues that humanity should be the doctrine to be protected

d.  Received counter arguments from the delegates that the “means justify the ends” in that “Slavery has provided the wealth that made independence possible” (34).

e.  The position that sacrificing the rights of some (slaves) is acceptable to secure the rights of others and the liberty for all  –  huge contradictions in this position.

f.  The exposition of the economic justification for slavery in class relations.  What I mean is that the ruling elite demonized and villianized slaves in order to solidify an otherwise restive poor white population.  This was orchestrated through racist discourse.  In effect, the elites white aristocracy was deflecting the realities of poor whites by projecting problems/fears onto slave populations who were incapable to rebel because of issues of access to technology.

In response we get some interesting discussions.  Huge amounts of data are presented in this section to demonstrate that the gains in litigation by A.A. has not actually improved their economic plight.  This economic inequality between white and black is rooted in the framing document of the US.  Geneva reflects at the end of the chapter that:

They would not, or could not, take seriously themselves or their ideals.  The men who drafted the Constitution, however gifted or remembered as great, were politicians, not so different from the politicians of our own time and, like them, had to resolve by compromise conflicting interests in order to preserve both their fortunes and their new nation.  What they saw as the requirements of that nation prevented them from substantiating their rhetoric about freedom and rights with constitutional provisions – and thus they infringed on the rights and freedom not only of the slaves, who were 1/5 of the population, but, ultimately, all Americans.

Chapter Two: The Chronicle of the Celestial Curia

This was a really great chapter.  The goal of the Curia sisters, though framed often in terms of race, is fleshed out on pg. 52.  They “immediately launched into a concerned discussion about the delay in a much-needed transformation of an industrial nation’s social structure that, as presently organized, espouses liberty for the individual but prospers through the systematic exploitation of the lower classes, particuarly those who are not white” (52).  In responding to this goal, the sisters diverge in how to fix it.  One sister, on the left, urged “disruptive protest and strident resistance to the multiple injustices” and her sister on the right “advocated a massive exodus by the nation’s colored peoples and a new beginning in some more receptive land” (53).

In redressing this situation, the Curia sisters have asked Geneva to become their Conservative Crusader.  So, here’s how that looks.  The C.C. will make her way to the nation’s highest court.  From this position of power, she will make extremely conservative decisions that punish the poor and reduce the subsidies/welfare, etc. they currently get to nothing.  By taking such a conservative position, the poor will be incited to actual action instead of relying on small gestures by the aristocratic elite that sustain but don’t actually improve A.A. positions.  There are some really great pieces in this section that speak in revolutionary voice (53-56).  Eventually, Geneva must repeat the following (abbreviated) mantra:

1.  Equality cannot be obtained by enacting laws or winning court cases.

2.  Equality will not come through an array of social programs that provide minimum relief but also make the poor support the status quo.

3.  True reform movements are motivated by adversity not by the beneficence of do-gooders who themselves are profiting from the misfortunes of those they claim they wish to help up.

Questions and Answers between N. And G. in this section:

a. G: Why do civil rights people place such faith in courts?

N:  Because groups with little real economic or political power feel they must rely on courts to arbitrate social justice.

b.  Why the courts?

N:  Because legislation is much slower and requires such a larger amount of agreement.

The Hidden Truth About Desegregation:  Also in this section, N. and G. discuss how the courting 3rd world countries during the cold war was the real reason why desegregation had to move forward.  As spheres of influence became codified in the geopolitical world order, the US had a difficult time justifying themselves as the land of the free while still oppressing a people based on race – this is a problem the communists didn’t have (well, it was less visible anyway).

Chapter 3 : The Chronicle of the Ultimate Voting Rights Act

In this chapter, G. recounts a dream where she ends up rescuing a racist white senator from the south.  Though the experience is supposedly only happenstance (on G. end), mysticism plays a big role here.  Anyhow, the senator, in return, proposes an ultimate voting rights act that has two parts:

a.  People will be paid $100 to vote.  This will come from campaign funds of the politicians running (which shouldn’t be that odd as many routinely spend far more than that to get votes).  This will combat lower-class folk’s inability to give up a day of work to register and a day of work to vote.

b.  Part II stipulates that a proportionate amount of A.A. elected officials will represent the population.  So if there are 23% Black folks in your community, 23% of the elected positions must be filled by those people.

There are a lot of problems in this argument.  The N. raises the following:

a.  You can’t use religious or racial lines to draw voting districts because this is contradictory of the democratic project / polis (the Lincoln tradition).  As such, geography is the least limiting district mechanism and must be used in the place of things like class, religion, or race.  G. parries by noting that this is absolutely not the truth.

b.  This policy could backfire.  This is especially true if there are 33% or so A.A. folks in a community.  If the elected officials align on race, instead of politics (which of course are informed by race), then the 33% black vote will never prevail.

c.  Finally, as N. notes, “proportioning political representation gives power to small splinter groups able to supply marginally essential votes far out of proportion to their numbers.  It offers representation to lunatic fringe and hate groups. . .” (97).

Chapter IV : The Chronicle of the Sacrificed Black Schoolchildren

In this chronicle, all of the black children who were about to attend their first day of school in a newly integrated school district suddenly disappear.  After this happens, the motivations for integration for the benefit of whites becomes more apparent.

a.  How Blacks were hurt by the integration:  Black teachers lost their jobs and the one black school that did a really wonderful job was forced to abandon its mission.

b.  How Whites were helped by integration:  teachers’ salaries were to be increased to help the strain of incorporating black students, school buses and new hires of drivers and mechanics were a boon to local economies, new school construction infused lots of $ to local economies all the while providing an excuse to close Black schools, federal funds would have been used to help integration efforts, local funds would have done the same, tax rates were increased to fund the desegregation process, the town annexed unincorporated areas to increase white enrollment, the city school system paid millions to local lawyers to fight for integration.

The overall argument in this section is that desegregation of schools wasn’t really a huge help to the Black community as much as it was an economic boon to whites.  In a perfect world, the courts would have ordered representation on the administrative end of school boards so that Black would have control over proportionate amounts of school funding.  In the N.’s  words, “courts would have given priority not to desegregating student but the money and the control (113).  Further, an economic imperative follows later in the discussion between N. and G. when they note, “Are you suggesting that the attainment of ‘equal educational opportunity’ must await a time when we are at least moving in the direction of ‘equal economic opportunity?'”  G. “In a country where individual rights were created to protect wealth, we simply must find a means to prime the economic pump for black people, particularly those of us living at the poverty level” (121).

Chapter V : The Chronicle of the Black Reparations Foundation

In this chronicle a Jewish philanthropist addresses the poverty and inequality of the A.A. condition by pledging 25 billion dollars in reparations.  In his scheme, A.A. will not simply be gifted the money; rather, their pay will be supplemented to compensate for the inequity in compensation and to make up for the years of exploitation experienced at the hands of government sanctioned oppression.

Fundamentally, this is another argument in wealth redistribution from a private source – so like a philanthropist Marxist of sorts. . . The challenges raised to this format included: 1)the payment was discriminatory, 2)interstate commerce clause enacted to stop discrimination in 1964 was used in the reverse to address this discriminatory process (138).

Chapter VI : The Chronicle of the Divine Gift

In this chronicle, G. is given a “Devine” gift by a wealthy businessman.  She uses his clout and stature to raise the amount of minority representation on the faculty at the law school where she works.  After raising the minority faculty count from one to six, the dean informs her that she will not be allowed to hire another minority.  In response, G. threatens litigation, then resigns her position.

This chapter is a discussion of affirmative action.  In response to the challenge of discrimination litigation, the N. poses a defense: the law school was representing its image.  As an already diverse faculty, the inclusion of another minority – thereby changing the racial makeup to proportion of minorities greater than the general or student population – would not be protected by discrimination statutes.  Hence, suing on the basis of discrimination would not be a possibility.  Ultimately, the N. sums up the reality:

The influx of qualified minority candidates threatened, at some deep level, the white faculty members’ sense of ideological hegemony and caused them to reject the 7th Candidate.  Even the first black or second or the third no doubt threatens the white faculty to some extent.  But it is only when we reach the 7th, or 10th, that we are truly able to see the fear for what it is” (158).

Chapter VII : The Chronicle of the Amber Cloud

In this chronicle, G. describes something of a plague – like the one in Exodus that kills the Egyptian first born – descends on the first born of the nations white, upper class families.  This distemper – characterized by amber skin color, lethargy, suspiciousness, withdrawnness, and insecurity – is suspiciously like the affliction that effects children in poverty stricken situations.  After huge sums of money and time are invested, a cure is developed at the shocking cost of $100,000 per treatment.  Congress quickly cuts the defense budget and funds the treatment for victims of the Amber Cloud, but not for the poverty-ridden subjects that are also afflicted with the same condition.  The question here is:  Is this legal?

In essence, this challenge to the concept that national crisis will generate racial harmony hits the N. hard.  Eventually, after much court case review, the realities of the US in the cold war era would certainly force the government to offer treatment.

Prologue to Part II :

In this section, the N. encounters Delia – one of the Curia sisters.  After rescuing her from a racist police officer by tapping into white systems of power (friends), D. describes in detail her plan for A.A. emigration.  With much respect for Marcus Garvey, D. outlines her plan for N. before getting out of the car.  After returning the next morning, G. deduces that N. actually had an encounter with one of the Curia sisters and is a bit irritated.

Chapter VIII : The Chronicle of the 27th Year Syndrome

This is definitely the most contentious portion of the entire narrative as it centers around the issue of Black masculinity, patriarchy and the double oppression of Black women.  In this story, notably told by the N., black women of a higher socioeconomic class and educational attainment and unmarried are struck by a kind of sleep.  After waking, they are struck with a sort of amnesia about their professional/educational training.  In response, the government, not willing to fund research into finding a cure, recommended that black women register if they fit into the afflicted demographic.  In response, Black men did not automatically go out and propose to Black women because they saw this action as yet another symptom of the oppression and suffering Black women have endured.

In the conversation that follows, a long explication of gender roles and social norms in A.A. communities is laid out.  In explaining why Black men often marry white women, the N. claims that their similar semi-oppression at the hands of the white man draw them into an economic attraction because of a lack of “access to opportunities for higher status” (207).  G., characteristically, has problems with the chronicle because it “ignores all the black males with problems like yours, and elevates to the level of indisputable truth the sexist ideal of men as the natural protectors of women” (210).  In response, N. notes that the Black male experience has also been one of loss and addressing this loss is inherent in the role of male as protector.  There is a lot more in this section that I didn’t hash out.

Chapter IX : The Chronicle of the Slave Scrolls

In this chronicle, G. recounts how as a Black minister, she finds some scrolls composed by slaves on a slave ship while she was visiting Ghana.  After discovering them, she brings them back to the US and uses them to facilitate “healing” sessions.  These sessions manage to heal all Black folks of their “deficiencies.”  I found the paragraph on the bottom of 218 an example of this.  Yet, it also seems like an airing of white grievances.  Anyhow, the Black folks fall in line with what White folks expected they should do as a population.  This of course causes problems for white folks because the A.A. population became so incredible successful.  In fact, they threatened the established economic order through prosperity in enterprise.  This began to upset the overall control of poor white populations by white aristocratic elites.  As a response, the government banned the slave scrolls and violently reacted against the movement.  The scrolls were burned and the movement was banned.

G. draws an analog between the events in this Chronicle and the history of Black Americans after the civil war during the Reconstruction period.  As A.A. began to prosper in this period, they threatened white hegemony.  As G. notes, “The Chronicle is not suggesting that black people need to be taught how to succeed, but reminds us that they have learned very early that too much success in competition with whites for things that really matter like money and power threatens black survival” (223).  Later, G. notes another Marxist interpretation, “the ideology of consumerism, fundamental religion, and, in recent years, a form of media-packaged nationality that integrates patriotism with religion have served to mask the fact that domestic policy has increased the gap between rich and poor for whites as well as for Blacks” (232).  In response to G. criticisms of the slave scrolls, the N. responds that he thinks that “self-help” is their only chance.

Part III

After noting the science-fiction nature of his trip, the N. returns the focus of the story to the convention.  After reading the chronicles, most delegates deduce that the real message was stark: “white society would never grant blacks a fair share of the nation’s benefits and would continue . . . to identify blacks as ‘them’ and set us apart as separate – and less worthy – category of beings” (241).  Yet, as G. breaks onto the scene and recounts the “Chronicle of the Black Crime Cure” things get interesting.

In this chronicle, Blacks take a piece of rock candy and become cured of what White society sees as their primary problem: a natural tendency to commit crime.  In response to the lack of crime by Black folks, the onus of authority and policing shifts to white-collar, white-dominated crimes.  As this is certainly not an acceptable site of investigation, authorities blow up the site where the crime cure comes from and Blacks eventually return to their original plight.

In light of such a pessimistic story, G. wonders what in the world is actually the goal of the Chronicles.  The Curia Sisters give her the wisdom of the “Ultimate Civil Rights Strategy.”

In fighting for this strategy, it is first necessary to recognize that it is wrong to fight for the same rights of white folks because “you would, if achieved, simply make them (A.A) the exploiting rich rather than the exploited poor, the politically powerful rather than the pitifully powerless, the influential and prestigious rather than the ignored and the forgotten” (250).  Next they urge G. to, using the function of the Bible as a precedent, to invert the social order and strive for a new consciousness.  G.’s moment of self-realization: “I see then, sisters, that you view the Chronicles as parables of our efforts to achieve what whites possess rather than what we, and they, might become” (253).  In fighting for the 3rd way, G. must 1) require that we seek justice for all through a systematic campaign attacking poverty as well as racial discrimination and 2) utilize traditional civil rights strategies.  In doing this, “future campaigns, while seeking relief in traditional forms, should emphasize the chasm between the existing social order and the nation’s ideals” (255).  Luckily for G. “the structure of your country’s government, as well as the interpretation of the basic law of the Constitution. . . is in constant flux – a fluidity you must take advantage of to make the laws reflect the needs of both blacks and whites” (255).  The final solution, in this case, is a leveling of the socioeconomic differences that make racism in the US possible.

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