Tuesday, May 03, 2005

John McWhorter

One of my goals during Black History Month was to post here a list of recent books that deal with the contentious but crucial issues of race in America. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Anyway, perhaps now is as good a time as any to start posting some things.

I believe--with many--that this is one of the most crucial issues of our time. But I disagree with most in the presuppositions and analysis of the issue. No matter what one's perspective, I think all can agree with what Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom write in their landmark volume, America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible--Race in Modern America:

The topic of race raises fundamental questions about who we are, where we're going, how we get there. To talk about race is to talk about America--and vice versa. The question pops up everywhere; one can't escape it.

One of the most significant and controversial books to come out in recent years is John McWhorter's Losing the Race: Self-Sabatoge in Black America. McWhorter is an thirtysomething, tenured, noted linguist, teaching at the ultra-liberal UC Berkeley. He is not exactly a die-in-the-wool conservative. His thesis, roughly stated, is that while racism is real and still exists, it is greatly exagerrated by blacks, and that the deeper reason for the lack of black progress in contemporary America is threefold: (1) a cult of victimology; (2) the cult of seperatism; and (3) anti-intellectualism. McWhorter's credibility on these issues is strengthened by his career as an academician, dealing with upper middle-class black students at a top-tier insitution.

Many will dismiss McWhorter's analysis out of hand and not even consider it. But it is an excellently written book, and his arguments should be subjected to rational evaluation, not dismissal.

To get a flavor for McWhorter and for what he does and doesn't say, you can check out this interview with him about the book.

Here is one way to test your instincts with regard to analyzing the problem and the solution for the lack of black progress in America. Fact: blacks from families earing over $70,000 a year have lower average SAT scores than whites from families making less than $10,000.

I believe your answer to the questions (1) why is this so? and (2) what can be done? will reveal a lot about your worldview on this issue.