The tip-off for the kind of book Rampersad has written comes in its blurbs, four of five of which are provided by writers who comprise the main body of the African American intellectual establishment in America: the literary critic and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., the biographer (of W.E.B.Du Bois) David Levering Lewis, the philosopher Cornel West, and the novelist Toni Morrison. (Where, one wonders, was Maya?) In his play Purlie Victorious, Ossie Davis has one of his characters say to another, "You are a disgrace to the Negro profession." This, really, is the charge, the organizing principle behind Arnold Rampersad's attack on Ralph Ellison: He was a disgrace to the Negro (now African-American) profession. Ellison would, of course, have understood, for there were few things he disliked more than the notion of black establishments and an African-American profession.
Here, without the tedium of his repeated charges, is Rampersad's bill of complaint against Ralph Ellison: He was an ungrateful son, a bad brother, a cheating and otherwise often cruel husband, an unreliable friend. He was a spendthrift (on himself), a cheapskate (when it came to other people), a snob, an elitist, an ingrate, ill-tempered; also condescending, disloyal, a sloppy, sometimes mean, drunk. Did I neglect to mention that he was a misogynist, pretentious, and without elementary sympathy for the young? And, oh yes, he was a boring teacher--though, for some unexplained reason, he failed to sleep with his students. Other than that he was not at all a bad guy.
It’s interesting to me that socially, at a certain point, he seemed to become interested in WASP patronage. In that respect, I don’t think he’s that different from certain Jews. In the book I [call it the] “platinum card of social prestige” associated with WASPs like Robert Penn Warren.. . . One thing that it could be said about Ralph Ellison and Jews is that he remained loyal to what he regarded as the best of Jewish culture to the end of his life. He never surrendered to any kind of anti-Semitism, even though his social climbings took him out of the world of Jews to the world of highly cultivated and wealthy WASPs. When Mrs. Guggenheimer, the person to whom he dedicated Invisible Man, died, he made a distinction between younger Jews and older Jews, who had known more suffering, who had greater difficulty in negotiating the territory between foreignness and Americanness and the old ways and the new ones. And he came down for the older people, who had paid a higher price for that negotiation of the American territory. That’s not a bad reflection on his part. It’s something a lot of people would sympathize with in seeing American Jewry.Jews are the platinum card of social prestige? The WASP is the Gold Standard? What valuation might Arnold Rampersad's semiotic hierarchy of valuation place an Irish Catholic from Chicago ? Copper? Tin? Lead?
Among the many 'crimes' Arnold Rampersad indicts Ralph Ellison for future 'disappearnce' is the great man's refusal re- identify himself, much less allow snippy academic eunuchs to identify him.
:“Who wills to be a Negro?” Ellison says. “I do. I will to be a Negro. I’m proud to be a Negro.” Well, he should have recognized that many blacks could not say that and really mean it. I think he meant it. He believed in it. But they needed the therapy of the Black Power and black arts years in order to get a firmer grip on their sense of themselves and their belonging to America, even though there was a great deal of destructiveness that took place at that time. And I think, personally, that many people lost their way and might have been better served by being closer to Ellison’s definition of blackness or Negroness than the more volatile definitions that were emerging in the ’60s and ’70s.
How dare one? Easily, if you stands for something and refuses to fall for anything.
Well, ban me blind.
* Kapp was drafted in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, who owned his rights to play professional football in the United States. After the draft, Washington did not contact him, so his only choice was to accept the offer from Jim Finks, the general manager of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.