When understanding the dynamic of marginalized people in this country, it is important to understand the connections to power that have set the historical precedent set for injustice and inequity. This understanding is the basis of scholar and author Clyde Ford's latest tome. After being inspired by the legacy of Lerone Bennett, his former professor and mentor and a former senior editor at EBONY Magazine, he revisited his undergraduate thesis which he manifested into a book Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives and the Making of White Power and Wealth.
EBONY sat down with Ford to discuss the makings of the book and understanding wealth, power and privilege as it pertains to the United States.
EBONY: What propelled you to write this book?
Clyde W. Ford: It's so interesting because I actually went back 50 years to my senior thesis at Wesleyan University—inspired by being a student with Lerone Bennett—on Africans in Virginia, from 1619 to 1700. As I looked at that work and started going through my file cabinets, I said, "Oh my God, we're now 2020 and I bet there is more information available now than there was to me when I first did this paper." I thought, now's the time and this revelation was shortly before the pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, I didn't have anything else to do. So for the next nine months, I didn't do anything except get up, write, research, write and go to sleep. That was pretty much my routine for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Because of that, I was able to get this book out in a relatively short period of time. Fortunately, I had a great editor at HarperCollins, Tracy Sherrod, who recognized the importance of a book like this as well.
Your decision to push this book out during the pandemic is significant as it's been a time that we are reckoning, analyzing and reconfiguring our connection to different power structures and dynamics, especially in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery—the list goes on. We are also in the era of “eradicating Critical Race Theory (CRT)." Why are folks so apprehensive to reckon with this conversation about wealth and privilege?
Thank you for saying it in that way, I think that is really important to center in this conversation. I believe it's a lot easier for people to hide behind their fears than to face the truth. Particularly for our white brothers and sisters who are looking back at their past, it's a lot easier to throw up a bogus boogeyman, like critical race theory, and hide behind that than it is to face the truth of American history. I'm a big believer in truth and reconciliation. I really think that the issues that we deal with in this country, particularly around race, demand a kind of truth and reconciliation, like what took place in South Africa, and is still going on in Canada. However, one important thing that many people forget is that you don't get to the reconciliation until you get to the truth. I wanted to write this book as a way for people to reckon with the truth, before they started to talk about the reconciliation.
Do you believe that America will ever be on a path to a true reconciliation or reckoning with our past?
The motto of this country is "E pluribus unum," which means "toward a more perfect union." That motto says we're not there yet and that we can continue to make it more perfect. I think it is going to be up to the young people who are out in front of the protests African American descendants as well as our white American brothers and sisters, Native American brothers and sisters and generally people of goodwill. This is the same demographic of people who 50 years ago were in the Black freedom struggle. So I do believe that this is the direction we are going.
Barack Obama used to love to use a quote from Dr. King—although it's not actually King's original saying— that says "the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." I do believe that that is true and it also bends towards healing and reconciliation. But along that arc, you've got to come to terms with the truth. Young people today know that well. There's a generation of young folks in which there is a resurgence of wanting to know the truth and to confront the truth. America needs this. Without that, we are going to continue to limp along with a wound that never heals.