Sellout by Randall Kennedy

I’m on a mission.  I want to create a library in my house, reminiscent of the Beast’s library in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. I want the ladders and everything. I figure to complete this mission I should start early so whenever I am on a break from law school I pick up a few books from Barnes and Noble hoping to finish them before school starts again.  A few months ago I picked up a book entitled Sellout by Randall Kennedy.  I was not familiar with the author but I figured this was a Michael Eric Dyson esque book which would solidify my belief that sellouts in the African American community are horrible and we should HATE them with a passion, a strong passion.  Yeah that didn’t happen.

The author combines strong historical background with legal analysis.  It’s like this book was written just for me!  Then he opens up by mentioning the BIGGEST sellout of them all. Clarence Thomas.  My disdain for him is strong.  I have wholeheartedly argued that he is a sellout to the black community with my conservative colleagues.  I even assisted one of my law school classmates in removing Clarence Thomas’ picture from a Black History Month display in the law school library.   Although I do have a newfound understanding of Clarence Thomas, I must say including him in that display was offensive and I do not regret it!

Kennedy argues that we cannot slap the “sellout” label on just anyone. We should have strong evidentiary support for our arguments.  Evidence that shows that their actions are knowingly and intentionally.  My initial response to that was yeah so???  Kennedy then provides Cory Booker as an example.  Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark was quickly labeled an Ivy League educated sellout after he received praise from white politicians. Mayor Booker recently spent his time shoveling people out of the recent snowstorm. He even answered calls for help on twitter!  That does not fit my definition of a sellout.   It’s also troubling that his education made him an easy target. The quick labeling of Booker opened my eyes to the flaws of this “sellout” label.

I began to question how this term was being used in African American society today.  Then I had to ask what exactly are we selling out from?  Who decided that African Americans are supposed to believe this or that? I have a strong feeling that somewhere Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are making decisions on what we should and should not believe in as African Americans and that just disturbs me!  For one I never voted for them to be the leaders of the black community, and their intellect is suspect.  I am also really suspicious of any “professional” in a church suit.  Furthermore the African American community is not a political party that takes a stance on an issue.  Although we share the same color and history we are not all the same.  From social economic background, religion, and education the differences among African American people are worth noting. Even more importantly, these differences illustrate that we as a people cannot possibly all share the same views and opinions on hot button topics such as welfare or even abortion.  So why are we expected to?

In the past we were fighting for one goal, equality.  That one goal united us.   I always think back to Jackie Robinson who realized that in everything he represented African American people.  He could not fight any and everyone who called him a “nigger” when he took the field because this opportunity was not just about him.  Then I fast forward to Michael Jordan, and realize that things have changed, dramatically.  I am not saying that Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier so that Michael Jordan could become a mega star and sell $150 sneakers to kids in the hood.  The distinction between Robinson and Jordan shows that we are now at the table and free to be who we are and not carry the burden that every action must be for the benefit of our race.   I cannot say that I will take this “freedom” as far as Michael Jordan because I do have a passion for the plight of African Americans in America today.   I feel as though so many people fought and died for us to be able to fulfill and live our dreams just as other Americans have always done.  If my dream is to become a partner in a huge firm rather than public interest work in inner city communities I should be able to do this without being called a sellout.

If we are free to be the people that God created then we should not attack people like Clarence Thomas for their views simply because they do not fall inline with what we believe the majority of African American’s think.   Lets raise real questions about his stances from a legal standpoint not from a racial standpoint.  So now I will just say that Clarence Thomas is an idiot whose arguments against affirmative action are weak and ridiculous.  I will not attack him for not following the “party line” i.e. African American community.   I will not attack him for using the great Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the Supreme Court to attack policies that Marshall worked so hard to establish. I will not even hit below the belt and discuss his choice in mates.  This may be difficult.

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2 thoughts on “Sellout by Randall Kennedy

  1. UrFavESQ says:

    So while I agree that not all black people have the same agenda, I do still believe that Clarence Thomas is a sell out… Why you ask? Because he votes against the very things that made him Clarence Thomas. Without welfare his mother would not have been able to feed him and his siblings. Without affirmative action he would not have attended an ivy league law school or maybe any law school for that matter. He is a sell out because he made it to be “successful” yet he wishes to pull the ladder up so that no one else with a similar background can be successful as well. A sell out is not someone who sell out “black folks”. A sell out is someone who used his/her poor upbringing, played the race card when it was convenient, and now try to play down the fact that they are a part of this community. I will forever call someone a sell out if they do things as Clarence Thomas has.
    I went to high school and college with a young lady who reminds me very much of Clarence Thomas. Her mother did not raise her because of drugs. Her grandmother did. Her grandmother received everything the state of Illinois offered. Now this young lady is an accountant with an MBA and she often discuss how she wished people would get a job so HER tax money would not have to pay for them to stay home. I find this very troublesome. I guess because, if tax payers had not paid taxes when she was a child she would not have been able to eat…
    This young lady as well as Clarence Thomas should be ashamed of themselves for becoming a SELL OUT!! lol

  2. erikastruth says:

    From reading this book I found that Clarence Thomas truly believes that he is helping African Americans! Crazy I know. All I am saying is that we should raise the conversation about Clarence Thomas and others like him. One of the great things about the Civil Rights movement is that it gave us the opportunity to be the people that God intended us to be and move beyond the label of “black” and all that the white america attached to that. I will never agree with Clarence Thomas stance but I feel that it is his right to reject what African American believe to be the consensus among our race.

    The reality is there will be more people like Clarence Thomas because our community is no longer as “homogeneous” as it once was. More of us are attending college and graduate school and reaching the dream of middle class America. With that our views on topics like welfare are different. It is unfortunate that the young lady that you mentioned forgot what welfare did for her but I would rather make the argument that she forgot where she came from, she forgot that a little girl who eats every month because of food stamps can aspire to be an accountant one day. I think that really gets at the issue rather than just labeling someone a sellout. She does not have to buy into the ideas that the African American community sells but it is important that she remember where she came from. She should remember her own personal struggles before she passes judgment on others. I also think that Clarence Thomas suffers from this and to him I would “how soon we forget” as opposed to the weak term “sellout”.

    Thanks for your comments lady! I look forward to seeing your blog in the near future!

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