Peter W.D. Bramble, a retired Episcopal priest, reissues his1989 manifesto on how African-Americans can overcome their historical struggles, updated to counter what he sees as a “new doctrine” that a “permanent state of victimhood” exists among black people.
Bramble’s disagreements with “Critical Race Theory” (itself a disputed term) will irk many, but he doesn’t devote much space to this critique. Instead, he develops his own prescriptions for achieving racial justice, arguing that his community, haunted by a history of slavery and legalized discrimination, “remain[s] politically, socially, economically, culturally, and conceptually trapped.”
The author urges the adoption of a new mindset that views “black liberation” as an already-attained goal, not one far off in the future. Bramble lays out a “rite”— informed by religious ideas but not itself religious—modeled after Passover, which he believes enabled the Jewish people to see themselves over a long history of persecution as transcending often terrible circumstances.
In place of Moses, Bramble offers Martin Luther King, Jr., whose Christ-like sacrifice would be commemorated in a “black Passover” dubbed “The Overcome.” The ultimate victory is not over white racism but internalized prejudice and a defeatist attitude.
Some readers will undoubtedly see Bramble’s stance as “victim blaming.” Less potentially controversial is a later, headily philosophical section about how language molds thought. Drawing on famous thinkers like Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, Bramble argues that a deeper understanding of the words and concepts we use daily can allow us to improve our mindset.
Bramble’s treatise sometimes falls into repetition and, given the idiosyncratic and sometimes provocative quality of his ideas, seems unlikely to achieve its wildly ambitious goal of winning over African-Americans en masse to a radically new system of thought.
However, his argumentation is often intellectually engaging for its own sake and provides a good example of philosophy’s relevance to contemporary life. Ultimately, the book is a sometimes intellectually knotty but richly thought-provoking exercise in philosophy and theology.
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