zachsw's review

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"The Black Campus Movement" makes several important and exciting contributions to the study of student movements, universities, and black radicalism in the 20th century. Ibram X. Kendi dramatically extends the timeline of black student activism backward into the early 20th century, chronicling the self-activity of The New Negro College Movement as well as similarly understudied black student activism in the 1930s and 1940s. This alone would make this text a valuable one, but Kendi also offers a deeply researched account of black student organizing in its more conventionally recognized high-water mark, from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, with an impressive breadth and depth of archival research.

I do have several criticisms of this book. Some are merely stylistic - at only 169 pages of text, (itself a feat,) one would hope that there would be room to avoid the idiosyncratic and distracting acronym system that the text adopts, rarely spelling out school names in full and instead relying upon a strange system of proper name plus hyphenation plus first initial of the type of institution, e.g., Cornell-U, Spellman-C, etc. There are also some problems with word choice, as when the author several times uses the word "rampage" to refer to black student protests. (This is problematic because of the racialized and animalized etymology of the phrase.). Both of these seem to me to be editorially-induced problems, and I hesitate to raise them here for that reason.

Kendi outlines four pillars against which the black campus movements organized - the "moralized contraption," the "normalized mask of whiteness", the standardization of exclusion, and "ladder altruism." While the underlying concepts here are strong and helpful, the nomenclature is at times counterintuitive. Why altruism? Why contraption? Whether these were terms students themselves used or terms Kendi has himself fashioned is unclear in the text. Assuming the latter, the decision to go with "moralized contraption" over "moralizing ideology" remains curious. Kendi uses "ladder altruism" to describe an ideology of trickle-down leadership and hierarchy that conservative HBCUs sought to instill in students. He transposes ladder altruism against the "grassroots altruism" of student It's an important and useful concept, but again there is no explanation of why "altruism" is the relevant idea here and where this converges and where it breaks with other such ideologies of leadership, service, and power.

There are other, more theoretical questions -- the relationship between revolutionary nationalism and Marxism-Leninism/Maoism and Cedric Robinson's Black Radical Tradition, that might have been taken up more as well. However, this remains an important and impressive work of historical scholarship, particularly exciting for its highlighting of the long black campus movement's roots in the early decades of the 20th century.