Racism, victimhood, and American culture

people and relationships, politics

People wonder why middle-class black students still have these low grades and scores. There’s no reason to wonder. Part of it is that there’s an element in black culture that is a legacy of racism, and another part of it is that there’s no reason for that to go away, because everywhere a black person turns, they’re given a pass. That has to stop.

– John McWhorter quoted in an interview with Salon.com

Within the span of a few pages, McWhorter shuns prominent black leaders, shoots down affirmative action, calls Britney Spears black, and much, much more.

He does not hold back, and his interview makes for both fascinating and frustrating reading.

On one hand, at least some of McWhorter’s assertions make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t it be more logical, after all, providing college scholarships to a poor white kid with uneducated parents over a well-off black kid whose dad is a doctor?

But on the other hand, McWhorter is quick to offer criticisms but ultimately unable to come up with much in the way of solutions on his own. And indeed, it’s neither a sign of bravery or brilliance to question the character and ‘leadership’ of folks like Al Sharpton, even from a fellow black.

McWhorter’s basic message — that blacks need to move beyond victimhood and take personal responsibility for their success — certainly has substantial merit. But without attention paid to equally deep and related issues, McWhorter’s sentiments seem to be as stark and painful as a diagnosis without a prescription.

2 comments… add one
  • mark Jan 14, 2003

    I went and read some of McWhorter’s interview.  He had some positive things to say, and some very dangerous things to say. 

    Affirmative Action is a very broadly used and typically poorly defined—in the realm of conversation—term.  To discuss it without first defining the term is at the very least irresponsible;  since I know very little about him, its difficult for me to not assume that he is saying this just to sell books.

    Secondly, he makes a lot of assertions—which seem to be commonly held by anti-affirmative action folk.  One, that affirmative action means lesser qualified folk get in—is possible. Though its also possible, as pro-affirmative action folk might retort, that more qualified but over looked or under-priviledged get in.  At the very least, it would be more compeling if he would provide numbers and a source.  Proofs by vigorous handwaving are never very enlightening—though they can be very entertaining.

    I was once an asian-american studies major.  One of the interesting factoids (no source, I was never a good not taker, though I try to find it from time to time—If I ever succeed, I’ll post it) I got from class was that the demographic group to “rise” the most during the affirmative action years was. . .(drum roll please). . .caucasian women.  You know what—good for them 🙂

    Lastly, like so many conservative folk, his statements seem to imply that he believes that we live in a great big meritocracy.  I think that is what frightens me the most. 

    Looking around I see lots of folk who work very hard for very little, and lots of folk who have a lot more than they’ve earned.

  • Adam Jan 15, 2003

    Good points, Mark.

    You (and others) may wish to check out the Salon.com Letters to the Editor that also address McWhorter’s interview:
    http://www.salon.com/books/today/2003/01/16/mcwhorter_chua/index1.html

What do you think?