Interview with the Author of Social Crisis and Social Demoralization by Kam Williams
Ronald Kuykendall was born (on February 24, 1958) and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. The third of six children, he received his elementary and secondary education in the public school system before matriculating at Southern University.
It was there that he began to clarify and sharpen his political consciousness, a consciousness that was formed and molded by the militancy of his father and the humanitarianism of his mother. After graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science, he married Janelle Moore, his wife of 24 years.
Kuykendall credits his spouse with serving as a sounding board and critic for many of his ideas over the years. Although, he originally intended on becoming an attorney, he instead accepted admission to Purdue University's graduate program in political science.
Ron currently teaches in the Social Science Department at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina where his research interests are in the area of radical African-American social and political thought. While Social Crisis and Social Demoralization is his first book, he has previously been published in The Journal of Black Studies and The Western Journal of Black Studies.
Here, he expounds on some of the incendiary ideas contained in his controversial new book.
Kam Williams (KW): Isn't your book essentially an update of W.E. B. DuBois' Talented Tenth theory?
by Ronald Kuykendall
Ronald Kuykendall (RK): Yes, in the sense that it recognizes the necessity of intellectual leadership, it is comparable to DuBois' thinking. It also coincides with Harold Cruse's discussion of African American leadership. However, I introduce the additional component of this leadership being therapeutic and performing the therapeutic intervention necessary for the development of African-American class-consciousness.
KW: Your book has a pessimistic tone. Are you advocating revolution?
RK: The book does indeed have a rather gloomy tone, but it is difficult to discuss severe social adversities that have made African Americans highly susceptible to social crisis and social demoralization and the emotional stress these conditions engender. And yes, I am advocating social revolution, but I recognize this is something in the distant future and must be preceded by the construction of revolutionary theory with a therapeutic function that first heals the African-American psyche, transforms consciousness, and then proceed to the development of political class-consciousness and political class struggle.
KW: Are you familiar with Ellis Cose's The Rage of a Privileged Class? Do you expect that your ideas will resonate with that demographic?
RK: I am only familiar with reviews I have read, and from what I can gather Cose's book reinforces my thesis that race relations are status relations.
KW: Given the hyper-materialism of the gangsta rap role model, do you think that black culture is moving in the direction of accommodating itself to the individualistic ideals associated with capitalism?
RK: In general, I don't think the African-American struggle has ever been totally anti-capitalist. The struggle has primarily been opposed to the exploitative and dehumanizing use of capitalism against African-Americans.
There have always been individual African-Americans willing to use capitalism in its exploitative and selfish form for material profit, and to some extent rap culture has selfishly and unethically used the African-American condition in very negative and denigrating ways for profit.
KW: How do you feel about gangsta rap? Do you consider it self-hating and misogynistic?
RK: I'm really not a fan of rap music, but I think its self-hating and misogynistic content is a good example of my interpretation of social demoralization: a socio-psychological state in which an undermining of confidence, discipline, and willingness take place, where disorder and confusion reign, courage is shaken or destroyed; it is a state of dispirited. So submerged in the state of oppression many African-Americans display fatalism, self-depreciation, dependency, and infatuation which are characteristics of social demoralization. Also, symptomatic of social demoralization are sub-cultural pathologies and the production of an 'opposition culture' which becomes the norm. So in many ways gangsta' rap music is an expression of social demoralization.
KW: If black entertainers are willingly denigrating black people, how can any white people be blamed for oppressing African-Americans, unless they're putting guns to these artists' heads?
RK: Because of the long historical individual and collective oppression of African-Americans by whites, the situation has shaped and conditioned the structure of thought displayed by African-Americans. In many ways, African-Americans have absorbed the white oppressor within themselves, thus impairing their perception about themselves and their situation. This partly explains why African-Americans become oppressors or sub-oppressors of their own people. In this way, the oppressor lives within the oppressed. The situation of oppression produces an adhesion to, and identification with, the oppressor. Consequently, as Carter G. Woodson explained, 'When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.' He will find ways to further oppress himself.
KW: When we were growing up, I believe black culture probably had a much more collective feeling to it, with extended families and people generally feeling responsible for each other. Do you think that sensibility still exists?
RK: No. I think to a significant degree African-American communities, or more specifically some individuals in those communities, are more individualistic, isolated, suspicious, and self-interested. And I think this is elucidated by my thesis. Long periods of adversity have a way of making life meaningless, hopeless, loveless, coldhearted, and mean-spirited and so extinguishing any sense of community, solidarity and responsibility.
KW: In your book, you devote a lot of space to discussing and dismissing three different theories of racism. Why so?
RK: In order to make my argument I needed to demonstrate the explanatory weakness of these previous theories. So, as a means of entering the debate on race relations, it was necessary to establish the context of the debate.
KW: I try to not use the word 'race' anymore, because the Genome Project has proven that there's only one race, the human race. Therefore, I think that racism really has to do with discrimination based on skin color. Do you agree?
RK: I have no problem with that, but because race is meaningless biologically does not mean it is socially and politically insignificant.
Race is a social construction and as such has social meaning. Because of this, racism has real behavioral consequences. And although discrimination is a significant variable for understanding racism, it is an interdependent variable connected to cultural, political, and economic variables.
KW: How do you envision eradicating the host of woes visited upon the ghetto?
RK: A therapeutic intervention is necessary to begin addressing the many problems within the ghetto. This therapeutic intervention must transform consciousness so as to eject the oppressor housed within African Americans. Without them, the oppressor could not exist. Only by ejecting the oppressor can true autonomy and responsibility emerge, and the many problems confronting the ghetto find resolution.
KW: Is it possible that maybe middle-class and upper-class blacks simply no longer have anything in common with those in the slums, aside from a shared legacy of slavery?
RK: I address this issue in the book. I point out that African-Americans are unified by race consciousness, a sentimental interest and therefore may be divided on the basis of social, economic, and political interests.
However, this can be overcome by class-consciousness, a product of the political situation and a more cohesive element in the development of a political class, a power group whose membership crosses social-class lines, is class-conscious, and is organized for conflict. Because the race problem is a political class conflict, it must be resolved through revolutionary political class struggle.
KW: what did you think about Bill Cosby's comments about underachieving African-Americans?
RK: I was not offended by his comments; however his comments lacked a
theoretic frame of reference and therefore appeared blameworthy, insensitive,