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For over a century, the idea that African Americans are psychologically damaged has played an important role in discussions of race.​ In this provocative work, Daryl Michael Scott argues that damage imagery has been the product of liberals and conservatives, of racists and.
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Contempt and Pity : Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

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Contempt and Pity | University of North Carolina Press ~ Daryl Michael Scott | Preview

At times Mays employs the tools of the social scientist or the historian, blurring and complicating the apparent distinctions between the remembered and the documented. Early chapters that attempt to depict life under Jim Crow are carefully corroborated with oral interviews of other African-Americans in his own age group, and statistics on lynching are offered. The final chapter begins with a history lesson on the attempted solutions to the race problem proffered by Americans in the past.

In these places, Born to Rebel is a collaborative effort Mays had others conduct the interviews and uses figures and materials from other sources , which raises even more interesting questions about the nature of autobiography, and when and where in the text Mays merely recounts his own memories, and when, where, and especially why he attempts to "set the record straight" apart from his own experiences.

Another striking aspect of Mays's text is his constant attention to social and personal dignity as demonstrated by Southern naming practices under segregation. In his final chapter, he concludes that "Love is wonderful; but if I could not have both, I would prefer respect" pp. Mays's insistence on proper address is perhaps a product of New Negro sensibilities, but it is not without complexity. He admits, "I know virtually nothing about my ancestors" p.

Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

For Mays this sense of identity is clearly connected to personal dignity, to his refusal to countenance white supremacy. To paraphrase Ellison's Invisible Man , Mays is not ashamed of being the descendant of slaves, and unlike Invisible, he has no reason to be ashamed for having at one time been ashamed. This near obsession of Mays's comes as no surprise given his social status and personal relationships, as well as his tremendous accomplishments, among them leadership in several national and international organizations, a Ph.

Along these lines, Mays's autobiography acts as a topography of the talented tenth, and of an entire cadre of liberal African-American clergymen and educators--that generation who came before the civil rights movement, lending to it their ideas about the proper function and purpose of American democracy, the nature of self respect, and the damaged moral contours of a segregated society. Carey, and many others; leaders who are now being given increased attention as scholars expand the periodization of the civil rights movement and further investigate its intellectual and social origins.

Mays's account offers a glimpse into vast webs of social connection and into the organizations that formed the resource network for the civil rights movement in terms financial, moral, and intellectual. Particularly in the last chapter, "Retrospect and Prospect," Mays describes his affinity with black power and his ambivalence about and hurt due to the actions of some of its adherents, who, in his estimation, lacked a coherent vision to accompany their rhetoric.

Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

Especially interesting for this relationship is Mays's consistent use of damage imagery to describe the effects of segregation on the personalities of black people. It may be that this notion of damage reflects not precisely "the triumph of the therapeutic" in American thought and culture, but a strain in black liberal religious thought before, during, and even after the civil rights movement that attempted to preserve something of the wholeness of human personality when faced with an increasingly atomistic and morally confusing social world. More or less than this, by invoking the image of the damaged black psyche as the tragic result of white racism and counteracting it with notions of dignity, personhood, and "somebodyness" , Mays and Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps the clearest point of departure between the two sides was in terms epistemological, Mays and his cohort positing the human as their starting point, and many of their critics, "blackness.

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Ultimately then, Mays's autobiography has continuing relevance for scholars and students alike. It remains a compelling account of an impressive man's confrontation with a racist society and his tremendous success in spite of it.

For this reason and for those detailed above, one hopes that Dr. Benjamin Mays and his autobiography will garner more attention in scholarly circles than he and it does at present. Carey, Jr.


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Mays is most explicit about this problem in his introduction, "The segregated system was so cruel, so inhuman, and so destructive to the development of manhood and character that white America can never really know the damage it did to the mind and spirit of millions of Negroes who lived and died under that system" p.

Note Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: The Uses of Faith After Freud New York: Harper and Row, : "religious professionals have reason to hope for survival, precisely because they have become aware of their situation and are seeking ways to alter it, in a fresh access of communal purpose, centered in the Negro protest movement, or some other movement of protest against the effects of that very dead culture which they think, by protesting so belatedly, to survive," p.

This damage debate is one that continues to the present day. Citation: Peter Kuryla.


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