II. The Integrationist Illusion and the Myth of Racial Comity

The African American community's gains from the Civil Rights Movement are indisputably significant. The community transitioned away from second-class citizenship and political disenfranchisement in merely four decades. Substantial improvements were made amidst the frenzy of the racial mayhem of the sixties and early seventies where African American radical activists and leaders constantly decried--with all the force and vehemence that come with *352 embitterment and disillusionment--the evil white communities. There was first optimism that postwar prosperity would trickle down to the bottom ranks of the African American community--that the day when this community would be liberated from the shackles of poverty and marginalization had finally come. The integrationist movement was growing full-fledged, allured by the liberal discourse of black and white mainstream politicians and by the concrete material assets spread across class and racial lines in a new age of “equal opportunity” for all, regardless of race and ethnicity. The struggle to desegregate schools, colleges, and public facilities finally paid dividends when, enticed by a new generation of enthusiastic young liberals, the federal government started its long-term crusade against racism, discrimination, and poverty. Even by contemporary standards, the legal and legislative gains of the mid-sixties were profoundly sweeping and revolutionary, and yet landmark legislations such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act were only a stepping-stone for further legislation and policies that marked the evolution of race relations in the United States for decades to come. Early integrationists' optimism was nonetheless short-lived, and black social mobility over the next forty years significantly slowed. By 2013, for example, the unemployment rate among African Americans was about twice as high as that among white Americans. All that the racial riots of the late sixties and early seventies did was question the ability of politics to change a social and cultural *353 reality that African Americans suspected from the outset was irredeemable. The relative socioeconomic progress achieved by this community during the second half of the 1970s was not sufficiently reassuring, and other minority activists and intellectuals started to question the basis of white power structure from an academic, political, and activist's perspective. Minority intellectuals and activists' denunciation of the methods by which knowledge was produced and transmitted focused on schools and colleges, the classic bastions of white knowledge systems. This movement was later referred to as multiculturalism. What is important to note, however, is that the latter helped organize and channel the disparate discontented voices from among the portions of the African American community that failed to take advantage of the expanding economic opportunities of the age.

The revival of black radicalism in the 1980s and 1990s was, therefore, preconditioned by the gradual erosion of the previous socioeconomic gains and the increasing popularity of the multicultural movement. The recurring racial incidents--the best known of which were the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the officers who had beaten Rodney King, a black taxi driver who allegedly resisted arrest--gave second thoughts to several former, moderate black leaders who began to gravitate toward Black Nationalism, which continues to benefit from the support of substantial numbers of intellectuals, students, and *354 activists up to this day. This time, the critique of white racism took on better organized forms. Easier access to information and the diversification of the mass media gave African Americans the opportunity to publicize racist and discriminatory practices, while an influential academic elite began speaking on their behalf. They started refining the earlier Afrocentric theories which a scholarly and political framework within which African Americans grounded their expressions of separateness. The final outcome is that, today, the call for a separate identity and a common destiny for African Americans has become all the more legitimate and better structured theoretically and methodologically than it used to be in Malcolm X's time.