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Scholar Says Public Intellectuals are Failing Their Communities

Houston Baker was at the first one-day Celebration of Black Writing party 25 years ago, when he was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, Baker, 66, is a distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University, whose latest book, "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era" advances his reputation as a no-holds-barred cultural critic.

In his book, Baker contends that many of the black public intellectuals who appear on network and cable television talk shows have essentially turned their backs on poor African-Americans.

"They are saying if people are in a bad place – if they are impoverished and disproportionately imprisoned and racially-profiled and killed in drive-by shootings – it’s a result of bad behavior," Baker said in a telephone interview last week.

"It has nothing to do with municipal or state or federal laws and policies such as those that put some drug users in rehab and others in prison."

Among the black intellectuals that Baker is most sharply critical of are well-known conservative writers and thinkers such as Hoover Institute senior fellow Shelby Steele, Manhattan Institute fellow John McWhorter and comedian Bill Cosby, who has criticized poor black parents, Baker said, "for the way they talk and dress when they probably don’t have two quarters to put together."


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