"The Vocation of Black Scholarship Identifying the Enemy"

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    The Vocation of Black Scholarship Identifying the Enemy [1] None of our Black institutions, none of our lives, none of our aesthetic creations may be properly understood apart from the mechanisms of American slavery and colonization. To identify the enemy is to identify the mesmerizing fear, the debilitating veneality [sic], the lack of moral and intellectual [self-discipline], the opportunism, the pathological lying, and the self-defeating desire for public recognition and praise[,] which dwell among us. What this means is that there can be no talking sense to the people unless the enemy is clearly identified. For colonized peoples cannot be honestly studied in isolation from their colonizers, and we are no exception. Any proper understanding of our present situation to say nothing of our past and future must speak to the [truth?] about white America and its deepest intentions and actions toward us. None of the Black institutions, none of our lives, none of our aesthetic creations may be properly understood
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    [2] apart from the mechanism of American slavery and colonization, apart from the long resourceful Black struggle to break their hold and transcend their power; nothing that is Black and whole and alive in American can be fully comprehended apart from the endless white thrusts towards our exploitation, deracination, death and dismemberment. Indeed, only then can we fully understand and celebrate the miracle of our continued vibrant living prescence [sic]. Only then can we properly understand the nature of the dying among us. Therefore no discussion of schools, or banks, or Black mayors, or Black production workers, or Black music, Black literature, Black politics or Black religion in America can make sense to the people unless we identify the enemy. Enmeshed as we are in the machinery of white American systems of life and thought, hesitant as most men and women are to look straight at evil, voluntarily bound by an oath of aseptic 'objectivity' which often helps to mask both our anger and our fear; Black scholars
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    [3] have great difficulty with this element of the truth–at least in public. Nevertheless once we recognize and admit that the mass of Black people live as unmistakably colonized victims (yet more courageously as more than victims) of white America, there is no escape from the knowledge that white America and its systems of domination are the enemy. Nor is there any escape from acting on that truth. Educational systems[,] which invariably spawn wretched schools and powerless officials in Black communities[,] are the enemy. Political systems which use code words like "bussing," "welfare," "no quota systems" and crime in the streets to signal their fear of Black people and their willingness to hold us powerless as long as they can–these are the enemy. Economic systems which reject so many of the basic human needs of the poor and the weak in favor of the wealthy and their subalterns are the enemy. Healthcare systems which provide neither health nor care for the powerless and the poor are the enemy. Legal and penal systems which persistently place us in large. Large overwhelming numbers behind bars and which place whites in almost all the seats of authority
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    [4] from the Judge’s bench to the turnkey’s–these are the enemy. Energy conservation systems which give our needs the lowest priority and literally leave us out in the cold are the enemy. A military system which serves as the only respectable alternative available to Black Youth who have been manacled and rejected by America’s other systems, a military force which then is ironically guaranteed to be used in the future only against other non-white people that is the enemy. Cultural systems which in an age of such as this still manage[s] to pretend that humane man began and will end with the peoples of Europe are the enemy. Nor is there any difficulty in recognizing the total impenetration [sic] of these systems[.] They do not exist in any ultimate tension with each other where the future of Black people is concerned, and it is part of the vocation of Black scholarship to identify that enemy. Systems do not exist apart from individuals. They are indeed, the creation and expression of men and women. Therefore in spite of the pain it often causes us, black scholars must not stop with systems when we identify the enemy[.] For there is no escape from the fact that all those "good" white people who support, acquiesce in and encourage Blacks to believe in these systems are the enemy.
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    [5] It really makes little difference whether such people fervently grasp this American way of Death out of their fear of freedom or cooly [sic] consent because of their cynical refusal to believe that fundamental change toward a renewed humanity is possible what ever the reasons they fit the identification. We need not be reticent in this arena od our vocation, for we did not choose our enemies. We chose only hope, freedom, and justice and the spirits chose us to be Blacks. Because of those things and others, the systems and the people chose us as their enemies. Therefore there is no need to be ashamed to clarify what their choices have done to our relationships. The more clearly they are seen in their flight from justice, the more likely they will be recognized not as our enemies alone but as the enemies of life and joy, enemies of the people of Indo-China, and the waters of the Chattahoochee and the children of the natives of this land. For these our enemies are friends only to themselves and to their weapons and to their profits[.] The Black scholar must speak the truth about the enemy nationally and locally. We must produce and encourage precise carefully documented
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    [6] studies of the educational, political, economic, military and cultural systems of white oppression. We study these systems which have scourged the lives of us and other non-whites. They are systems built on the blood and subjugation of our ancestors. We seek to know them in order to speak the truth and to free our minds so that we may sweep past their deathly hold, disassemble the structures, ravage the very foundations of evil and more towards the new acts of building which are the first calling of every humane society. There are still impediments to that movement forward, there are still obstacles to the new task of building which are exceedingly painful to face. To identify the enemy and speak to the truth is to identify the enemy within ourselves. Thus the role of the Black scholar is to identify the enemy within the Black community within ourselves, within our own people. Here we will consider tendencies, commitments, and directions which war against the movement for freedom, justice, and self-determination. The mesmerizing fear, debilitating venality, the lack of moral and intellectual [self-discipline], the opportunism, the pathological lying, and the [self-defeating] desire for public recognition and praise which dwell among us.
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    [7] We, the Black Scholar, must speak the truth to our tendencies, to place all responsibility for Black crime upon white people, to clarify our unspoken desire for white models, white recognition, white legitimization. To identify the enemy is to point to our failure to believe in ourselves and our tremendous potentials. All these things are mentioned in all human societies. They are developed to cancerous levels in a situation of oppression. When they are identified, when we can take responsibility for them, then can our minds be freed from a horrible dependency upon the external enemy. For it is in the struggle to overcome those inner weaknesses that we generate much of the strength, the energies, and the commitment to move us toward the new building, the new society, the new men and women which are our ultimate goal. Septima P. Clark
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"The Vocation of Black Scholarship Identifying the Enemy"
Clark, Septima Poinsette, 1898-1987
Handwritten essay by Septima P. Clark "regarding identifying enemy within both white and black communities."
Septima P. Clark Papers, ca. 1910-ca. 1990
Contributing Institution:
Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston
Media Type:
Personal or Corporate Subject:
Clark, Septima Poinsette, 1898-1987
Topical Subject:
African Americans--Civil rights, African Americans--Education, African Americans--History--20th century, African American women teachers
Shelving Locator:
AMN 1000 Box 03 Folder 48
Internet Media Type:
Digitization Specifications:
300 dpi, 24-bit depth, color, Fujitsu fi-7160, Archival masters are tiffs.
Copyright Status Statement:
Copyright © Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
Access Information:
For more information contact archivist at the Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street, Charleston, SC 29424.