by James Davison, Jr.; New York, Prometheus Books, 2008, 275 pages, $24.95
Dr. Bell is president and chief executive officer of Community Mental Health Council, Inc., and clinical professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
I have reviewed 80 books for various scientific journals, and I have always found that there is value in their pages; but I did not find much of value in this text. The author exhorts African Americans (the apparent audience for the book—who, if he is correct, will never read such a book), to let go of their "we are family" orientation and strive for the last step to black freedom. He demeans African-American solidarity, and it is his opinion that such camaraderie is dragging the group down.
The author maintains that the overt threats to African-American safety are gone, and to continue to wallow in the past injustices of racism is only an excuse not to engage in self-mastery and take advantage of all the United States has to offer. Thus he divides African Americans into "delayers" and "advancers." He advises "delayers" to liberate themselves from what he views as a dysfunctional quagmire of self-pity and white blame because this approach is not the best way to take responsibility for one's destiny.
In one chapter, he admits that his reason for going into psychology was to meet girls, and then he proposes simplistic Piagetian and attribution theories for why he thinks African Americans act the way they do, but his theory lacks evidence and rigor. My experience is that behavior is complex and multidetermined, and, rather than an either/or perspective, a both/and perspective is more likely to represent the complex reality of life. Suggesting that African Americans stop sticking together is like suggesting to Jews that they forget the Holocaust.
Research suggests that African-American unity and connectedness and racial socialization is responsible for African-American resiliency. For some reason, the author seems unable to feel any empathy for black people who need to broaden their horizons and to believe in themselves. He says that he "personally hold[s] little hope for people," a message that comes through loud and clear in the book. There is research that African Americans are resilient and have high self-esteem and a propensity to flourish. He makes the point that some African Americans rail that "education is Whitey's thing," but having been taught in predominantly black contexts, I am clear that many African Americans understand and appreciate black scholarship.
Part 3 attempts to address African-American identity beyond the struggle, and the author suggests untested ways to achieve psychological freedom. He notes how he partied in the "hood" but was not stuck there as a way to assuage the pain of Blackness, and admonishes others to do the same. I simply do not see the unbridgeable dichotomy, because most people can do both/and instead of either/or, that is, you can party and still be a scholar.
Part 4 is an odd hodge-podge of diatribes. For example, Chapter 29, entitled "E-mail to a Dying Breed" is a two-page offering that talks at African Americans who are having a difficult time making it in life. The book is strangely organized. There are notes and suggested reading at the end of each of the book's four parts instead of at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book where these additions could be easily found while reading the book.
I would suggest that rather than writing kitchen-table, pop psychology, those of us who are well trained engage in serious scholarship and produce high-quality research investigating the complexity of African-American behavior.