Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Losing the [Understanding of the Importance of] Race, Evaluating the Significance of Race and the Utility of Reparations

Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Losing the [Understanding of the Importance of] Race, Evaluating the Significance of Race and the Utility of Reparations

Article excerpt

Professor John H. McWhorter inhabits a strange world. Professor McWhorter, one of the leading linguistics scholars in this country, first came to national prominence in the Ebonics debate of the late 1990s. He argued the controversial-but understandable1-position that Oakland schools should make no accommodation for children who came from homes where "proper" English was not spoken.2 Losing the Race provides a fully developed view of Professor McWhorter's world: it is one of a United States in which African Americans have full opportunity to succeed, unhindered by legally sanctioned segregation. Their income approaches that of whites; they are rarely the victims of police or other state-sponsored discrimination and, when they are, those incidents are usually minor. Yet, McWhorter argues, African Americans are not achieving as much as they could because of a pervasive cult of "victimology" and "separatism," and a pervasive ethic of anti-intellectualism. You might summarize his world in the sentence: IMAGE FORMULA6

Racism is not holding us back, we are holding us back.3 This essay discusses McWhorter's argument in Losing the Race and addresses the implications of that argument for the growing debate over reparations for slavery.

I. The Structure of McWhorter's Argument

Losing the Race begins with three chapters that establish the basic premises: that there is a pervasive cult of victimology among African Americans; that there is a cult of separatism; and that African American culture is anti-intellectual. A brief fourth chapter, which discusses the supposed origins of the culture of anti-intellectualism, serves as a bridge to the remainder of the book: two chapters applying those three premises to the Ebonics and affirmative-action movements, and a final chapter with a grandiose title but simple plan: "How can we save the African-American Race?" (His answer is to eliminate affirmative action.)

The first chapter, on the cult of victimology, is probably the most important. McWhorter makes the case that African Americans are generally being treated well and that they have constructed in their minds the myth that they are victims of a racist "white America."4 Because how we view African Americans' achievement today is central to where we go from here, I will spend some time on his argument. McWhorter breaks the cult of victimology into what he refers to with disdain as "articles of faith." There are seven "articles of faith," what I call straw arguments:5

1. Most black people are poor;

2. Black people get paid less than whites for the same job;

3. There is an epidemic of racist arson of black churches;

4. The U.S. government funneled crack into South Central Los Angeles;

5. The number of black men in prison is due to a racist justice system;

6. The police stop-and-frisk more black people than whites because of IMAGE FORMULA11

racism; and

7. Police brutality against black people reveals the eternity of racism.

McWhorter is selective in his choice of straw arguments; not surprisingly, some of them are selected to make his opponents look foolish. There is relatively little discussion these days that the CIA funneled crack into Los Angeles.6 Given this country's shameful history of mistreatment of African Americans, which includes experimentation on poor, sick African Americans,7 as well as the conditionning of public medical assistance on sterilization,8 it is understandable that many might beleive that the givernment infused crack into a minority community. But to say that it represents one of the "articles of faitj [that are] carefully taught and fiercely represented in the black community" is stretching the case.9

All of McWhorter's claims deserve close scrutiny; in review I shall focus on three. beginning with two of his most serious contentions: that African American income is comparable to white income (and the closely related contention that African Americans are now doing well economically); and that African Americans are incarcerated at rates comparable to their commission of crimes. …

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