The “Democracy in Black” Interview
with Kam Williams
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. is the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies and the chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Princeton University. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the 2002 Modern Language Association William Sanders Scarborough Prize for his book, Exodus!
Professor Glaude is on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, African-American National Biography and Contemporary Pragmatism. Professor Glaude's work also includes African-American Religious Thought: An Anthology (2004), co-edited with Dr. Cornel West.
Here, he talks about his new book, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul.
Kam Williams: Hi Professor Glaude, thanks for the time. I really appreciate it.
Eddie Glaude: I really appreciate you.
KW: What inspired you to write Democracy in Black?
EG: Two things. All of this talk about economic recovery, when all of the data suggests that African-Americans were still wallowing in what I call "The Great Black Depression." What does it mean to talk about recovery when white wealth is 13 times that of black wealth, and 38% of our children are in poverty? And that led me to the idea of the "value gap," a belief that underneath all this white people are valued more than others. And that belief animates our social practices and informs our political arrangements and economic realities. The second motivation was the death of Trayvon Martin and, of course, Mike Brown. Trying to come to terms with all this senseless death, I felt like I needed to intervene in this moment.
KW: But haven't African-Americans made significant progress since the civil Rights Movement?
EG: Of course there's been progress. But what hasn't changed is the belief that white people matter more than others. And as long as that informs and shapes how this society is organized, the outcomes will be the same, no matter what the inputs are. So, part of what the book attempts to do is lay bare that reality, and how that has happened even with a black man in the White House.
KW: You come down pretty hard on Obama.
EG: The book isn't just about him. But the reality is that, over the last 8 years, we're not doing well by every statistical measure. The level of unemployment in the black community is still at a crisis level. Many of us have been kind of taken with protecting the President from the vitriol coming from the right. What we haven't seen at appropriate levels are folks crying from the rooftops that our communities are in crisis, that we are witness a devastation, whether it's schools closings, flatlining wages, the jobs crisis, long-term unemployment and, of course, mass incarceration. Black Lives Matter has pushed him to address that. so, the second part of the book is really about our complicity. What we've seen over the decades since the assassination of Dr. King, is a narrowing of black political life. All of this has happened on the watch of black liberals. I'm not saying we need to embrace black conservatism; I'm just arguing for a much more robust form of black politics.
KW: It's amazing how Obama got a pass from the black community, his most loyal constituency, despite not attending to its agenda.
EG: You can see how over the course of these past 8 years there's been an insistence on a kind of discipline vis-a-vis President Obama. However, this isn't about Obama bashing, but about the narrowing of African-American politics. It's the traditional black liberals versus the post-racial black liberals, and in between the black poor is languishing in opportunity deserts and falling farther and farther behind. So, the book is really a challenge to the black political class, because they've failed us over the past few decades.
KW: So, what's the solution?
EG: We need a revolution of value. We need to change our view of government by changing our demands of government. We need to change our view of black people which means we need to change the view of white people. And we can't be greedy, selfish and narcissistic. We can't live in a world where 62 people own more than 3.5 billion people. That's sick. That's evil. A revolution of value requires a strategy for the streets, a strategy for the court room and a strategy for the ballot box. We have to do something dramatic to break loose of the stranglehold of the current political landscape.
KW: Blacks certainly haven't been rewarded for loyalty to the Democrat Party.
EG: For decades, political scientists have talked about the black community as a kind of captured electorate that the Democrats herd us to the polls every 2 or 4 years, as if we're cattle chewing cud. And then they have no reason to deliver on policy, because we have no place else to go. Whatever this is, this ain't democracy.
KW: Well, the book is certainly incendiary and thought-provoking.
EG: It's a provocation to get us to have a conversation. If I've achieved that, then I've done exactly what I set out to do when I sat down to write the book.
KW: Thanks for kickstarting an overdue political conversation, Eddie.
EG: You got it, Kam. Thanks so much.
To order a copy of Democracy in Black, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0804137412/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20