Book Review: Faces at the Bottom of the Well

Written by Derrick Bell | Reviewed by Jennifer Morgan

After the words “Critical Race Theory” began increasingly to be batted around in the media and by politicians, I began looking for a book to help me understand what Critical Race Theory

actually was. Several books were recommended, and Faces at the Bottom of the Well stood out to me as a good place to start. Derrick Bell is one of the founders of CRT, and through a variety of allegorical stories in this book, he exemplifies the basic tenets of his theory.


CRT is not the history of slavery in America, as some would have us believe, nor is it the history of post Civil War liberation and the Civil Rights movement. It is a method of looking critically at racism and its roots, and our attempts, by both blacks and whites, to bring equality and social justice to our country. Dr Bell agues that racism is ordinary and not aberrational, that social construction and interest convergence, among other things, work against the efforts of creating real equality. Our frequently stated belief that “things have continued to improve for black people in the United States” in an ever positive straight line does not stand up to real critical observation.


Dr. Bell’s stories are very creative- sometimes providing imaginative new laws to ponder and clever situations impossible to resolve fairly. He has an imaginary civil rights lawyer, Geneva Crenshaw, with whom he discusses the issues brought to the fore in his stories. (She also appears in a previous book by Derek Bell And We Are Not Saved.)


I learned a great deal from reading and later discussing Faces in a book study. But if the reader is looking for solutions to the issue of racism, this is not the book. However, I still recommend it for what it is: a critical look at our attempts at solving racism and a heart and eye-opening look to the difficulties we still face. Even more importantly, Dr. Bell does not by any means say that we should give up:


“That, [a realistic perspective] Geneva, is the real Black History, all too easily lost in political debates over curricular needs. It is a story less of success than survival through an unremitting struggle that leaves no room for giving up. We are all part of that history, and it is still unfolding. With you and the slave singers, I want to be in that number.”


Check out Faces at the Bottom of the Well and many other books from the Covenant Library!

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