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Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism.

Langston Hughes had his alter ego in Jesse B. Semple. Law professor and author Derrick Bell has Geneva Crenshaw. And the redoubtable Ms. Crenshaw is no less profound and disputatious in the Faces in the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism as she was in Bell's first allegorical plunge, And We Are Not Saved

At the fulcrum of Bell's inspiration is the contention that racism is an immutable, permanent problem in American society. Since it can't be eradicated, at least, in his fertile imagination, it can be toyed with and ridiculed. Two stories in this latest collection--the Afrolantica Awakening--and "The Space Traders"--are evocative and underscore the futility of excising racism from the body politic. They also make the point for African-Americans that any notion of a promised land jutting out of the ocean or their being spirited away by space voyagers is illusory.

Bell insists love cannot be legislated and racism is here to stay. But the intractability of this should not discourage our struggle.

Sure, the book concludes on a dire note, however, as he notes in the preface, quoting Brazilian social scientist and human rights activist Paulo Freire, to struggle for freedom is an individual's ideal, not a myth. "It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion."

Though she never states it, the struggle for freedom is Ms. Crenshaw's quest. That along with her sworn conviction to "harass white folks" at every turn.

Bell has made his mark in the world of law. He is a sturdy advocate of equal justice under law and was Harvard Law's first African-American tenured professor before challenging the law school dean to change its racist, sexist ways. But Bell, now visiting professor at New York University Law School, need not worry about burning any bridges. He should cross on over into the realm of literature and not look back: Success is assured.

--Herb Boyd Faces at the Bottom of the Well. The permanence of Racism, by Derrick Bell, Basic Books, New York, 1992,222pp, $20
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Author:Boyd, Herb
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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