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"Sound Bites of Protest Ushers in Obama Era - Reviewed by Jack Moscou"
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With the transformational election of President Barack Obama and the introduction of Michelle Obama as First Lady, Sound Bites of Protest, by Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, is the must- read book of 2009. Particularly for White Americans interested in a greater understanding of the long, but little known, African-American tradition of intellectual attainment, this book opens eyes and creates a context for President Obama's victory.
Evidence of this information gap appeared when Harvard-educated candidate Obama's intellectual power and social graces - certainly positive, expected outcomes to the white world from a top-level education and international exposure -- were criticized as "elitist" by the media and presidential contenders, apparently because he is Black.
This collection of essays written between 1991 and 2008 is remarkable for the relevance of each of the topics and the startling prescience of many of the insights that inform our current political discourse.
Scruggs-Leftwich is an African American woman with her own rich heritage from her writer-educator ancestors to her Ph.D. from the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. Her Fulbright Fellowship for scholarly study in Germany, her academic posts, governmental positions, and numerous books and publications make her ideally situated to interpret and tell the story of African-American women.
That she tells the story so deftly, in a series of short essays, each with insights of startling candor, offering not only Sound Bites of Protest, but also Sound Bites of Political Clarity in the context of a broad humanist vision, is an added bonus. Space does not permit an extensive review of each essay, but a few examples will illustrate the indispensable value of this book.
In “Keeping Black Women’s Advancement in Perspective” written in 2000, discussing Ebony Magazine’s paean to 100 successful Back Women, Scruggs-Leftwich writes:
“One would think that the Black Community must be on its way to solid middle class nirvana, given the impressive number of Black Women who have overcome historic obstacles …(to rise) to top-ranked jobs in business, industry, Congress, state and local governments, as well as for their achievements in the more traditional entertainment, sports, and lively arts arenas”.
The central theme of . Scruggs’ essay is that these women are not overnight sensations. They are not simply affirmative action beneficiaries, nor remarkable exceptions, but part of a long , arduous journey traveled by many. Coupled with her reminder that poverty and income disparity are still the reality for most Back Women, this essay is a much needed corrective to the glib punditry that too often passes for informed commentary.
Her essay, “Hardcore Rap Does Not Deserve a Constitutional Shield” written in 1993 and delivered in less than 350 words, is both brilliant and brilliantly succinct. One can only hope that President Obama, who has spoken so movingly about personal responsibility within the Black, and larger, community and his desire to bring about a more civil and caring society , will be given this gem by a staff member as part of his daily briefing.
In a much longer essay, originally a Convocation address delivered at The University of The District of Columbia in 2001 just weeks after 9/11,. Scruggs is alternately brilliant, funny, self-effacing, prophetic, prescient, inspirational, and deserving of the widest audience possible.
On the premise that everyone can make a contribution to "Change," Scruggs-Leftwich provides a profile of 28 advocacy organizations from which individuals can choose to offer their support. And the six-page Bibliography informing her commentary is rich and ranging.
For those of you who will read this review but not be sufficiently motivated to buy the book, I leave you with this quote from Mrs. Mary McCloud Bethune, iconic founding President of the National Council of Negro Women, with which Scruggs closes an essay:
“I leave you love. Love builds. It is positive and helpful. It is more beneficial than hate. Injuries are quickly forgotten, quickly pass away. ...Personally and racially our enemies must be forgiven. Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice.”
It is an appropriate Coda for a book whose Introduction is written by Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, the Congressional Medalist and current iconic President of the same organization. The election of Barack Obama, who clearly embraces the above sentiments, was presaged and made inevitable by Sound Bites of Protest.
Jack Moscou is a long-time labor activist and Vice-President for Marketing of
The Geneva Group, an organizational change collective. He lives in New York City.