The New Yorker has a David Remnick interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor, New Yorker contributor, and eminent scholar of Afro-American studies:
because my dad worked two jobs—in the daytime, at the paper mill, and then as a janitor at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company—he had the highest income of any Black person in Piedmont. We had the nicest house. Wealth and poverty are always relative. In that context, we were in the Black upper-middle class.
Why was Yale such a paradise for you?
I entered Yale as a sophomore. I transferred after a year at Potomac State College, in Keyser, West Virginia. In the summer, I was working in the offices at the paper mill. The phone rings and the secretary says, "It's for you." It was an admissions officer saying the admissions committee had just met, and "I'm pleased that you are going to be a member of the sophomore class." Oh, man, that was one of the happiest days of my life. I walked down to the platform where my father was working just to tell him, and he was very happy. Then he said, "Who's going to pay for that? I said, "They're going to give me a scholarship, Daddy. It's going to be O.K."
Then my father told me, "Now, boy, I'm going to give you some advice." ... He said, "Don't go up there sitting at something called a Black table. Don't go up there getting Black roommates. Get yourself some white roommates." He said Jewish people been good to our people, and he said, "Get to know some Jewish people. Maybe they'll help you in your career." He knew that Jewish people had been involved with the founding of the N.A.A.C.P. and that they had been supporters of the movement.
For FutureOfCapitalism purposes the interesting part was the link Gates draws between economic growth and prosperity—or the lack of it—and racism: "ultimately the roots of racism can be traced to economic fear and anxiety. That is the cause. When we had an expanding economy under Lyndon Johnson, when we had guns and butter, that's when affirmative action was invented. That's when the Civil Rights Act of '64 was enacted. You could be generous when you had enough money in the bank. When there was a pie and only one piece is left? Well, I might like you, but I don't like you enough to give you that last piece of pie." And, relatedly, this:
You speak of the economy. I was watching an interview with you which was conducted in West Virginia. And you were asked about your politics, and you said, "Look, I'm left of center on issues about race, social justice, and many more things. When it comes to economics, not so much—I'm much more conservative on that." What did you mean?
I mean that I'm not a Marxist, not a socialist. I think that a humane form of capitalism is one of the best systems of advancement and realization of innate potential in the economic life of an average person ever practiced in the history of the world. That's what I meant. Entrepreneurship is part of my DNA, and over all the African American people were overwhelmingly pro-capitalist and entrepreneurial. Look at the oldest institution in the history of Afro-America, the church, which was the birthplace of Black capitalism. Without Black capitalism, there wouldn't be a church. They weren't getting money from rich white people—it was collected from the members. They were institutions created by Black people and funded by Black people communally.... I can't think of a society where racism has disappeared because of socialism.