Editor’s Note: Last Thursday John McWhorter, professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the recent book Losing the Race, spoke to CSPC’s Wednesday Morning Club at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. What follows is a complete transcript of his prepared remarks, along with an introduction by CSPC President David Horowitz.
DAVID HOROWITZ: Our speaker today teaches at Berkeley and has been an outspoken contrarian on these issues that are so vital to the communities that make up our nation and unfortunately have such, oh, such an aura about them. It drives some people crazy in one form or another.
John McWhorter is a Professor of Linguistics at Berkeley. I actually had the pleasure of reading an earlier book, Losing The Race, which was about linguistics, during the ebonics controversy and learned quite a bit from John’s book. I think John speaks five or six languages, so you’re dealing with a high-powered intellect here.
However, politics, and a lot of this is about politics, it’s often not intellectual fortitude, or intellectual brilliance I should say, that’s the issue. I was really struck by an article that John wrote about how he began to have the kinds of perceptions he has today and that it was his mother telling him to watch television, particularly, you know, watch Roots and watch All In The Family and pay attention to Archie Bunker. Because, of course, you know, one of the great best-kept secrets is that the civil rights revolution was won. And that, while we don’t have a society that’s free of racists and bigots, we probably never will.
But what we do have is a public space which was defined through the efforts of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, as a space in which we need to respect all people-- in which we need to have a single standard for judging them-- in which the African-American community in particular, which was oppressed and then excluded for so long is to be a part of the American family. That’s our national creed and we all-- it’s a daily fight to keep that. But it probably cannot get a lot better. The prejudice is ingrained in the-- in human beings. It’s been with us for 5,000 years. It’s gonna be with us probably for the next 5,000.
Anyway, so John was sent by his mother to learn because he might not encounter obvious racists like [indiscernible]. I can’t remember, Father Coughlin and people from that generation. And watching Archie Bunker, it occurred to this young man that the show and the writers of the show and the arguments of the show always went against Archie. And that he-- instead of being a lesson in, you know, the racism where he would be the victim, it was clear to him that Archie Bunker was the weaker of the characters in this.
And that’s a perception that doesn’t take a lot of intellect. But strangely enough, there’s a tremendous number of people in our society that never get there. And that’s where the other aspect comes in which I would call intellectual fortitude. There’s a kind of courage that it takes to stand up against the current and say things that seem pretty obvious. But people have a very, very hard time understanding. They will fight to the death to prevent you from enlightening them.
One of the things that struck me in my whole ad campaign is that I could not understand why people were getting so offended by it. What was most offensive was a statement to the effect that actually African-Americans are doing quite well in this country. I mean we do have in our inner cities -- there’s a section of the African-American community that has been left behind. But there’s a great Black middle class out there and actually three-quarters of African-Americans are not poor, which many people are surprised to learn.
This was what was most offensive. And I looked at the letters that students wrote. And let me just say, since, you know, I’ve been attacked as being a racist for making that statement, since I did the ad, I came up with, or I discovered statements by people like Zora Neale Hurston. I’m gonna give just her statement. Zora Neale Hurston, of course, is a great African-American author who lived in a time of segregation and of fierce discrimination in this country.
What she said was that a kind of, I don’t know if she was addressing the subject of reparations, but she might as well have been -- said that the slave owners who owned my ancestors are dead. My ancestors are dead. I will not go beating on old graves. Then she said of herself, she said I’m not one of those sobbing Negroes who thinks that we’ve got a down dirty deal on everything. I got civilization and the price my ancestors paid for it was worth it. Which is a sober view in my -- of the kind of ironies of our history.
But anyway, I looked at these statements by young African-American students at the University and particularly Berkeley, who said that their feelings were hurt and they were in a lot of pain over my ad which said things like this. And I could not for a while understand what was going on. And then it dawned on me.
These students, when they come in, they come into orientation sessions where they’re told that they’re oppressed. Their entire identity has been bound up in the feeling of victimhood. And if I say or if somebody tells them that Blacks in America are 20 to 50 times richer than Black people anywhere else on this earth, that is an immediate threat to who they are. If your identity is being a victim and somebody challenges it, they are really challenging you and your basic being.
And this really, in a way, is something that I learned from John McWhorter because this is, in some measure or in large measure, what his book is about--Losing the Race. Anyway, without more ado, I want to introduce you to somebody who has influenced me and whom I admire for his courage in following his thoughts exactly where they will take him. [applause]
JOHN MCWHORTER: Thanks David. I’ve been profoundly influenced by David’s work as well. It’s helped me understand a lot about what’s going on. And what strikes me the most about our race "dialogue" in this country is that it’s often felt that that dialogue has not happened yet. And I just want to explore why there is often that feeling and perhaps lend some insights for the future.
This is not a summary of the book; these are ideas that I’ve had since the book has come out. And basically it seems to me that one of the things that stands in the way of a really intelligent and progressive race dialogue in this country is one misconception which itself seems rather mundane -- but which I think actually stands at the heart of what our problem is.
And that is an idea that until all racism has disappeared in this country, that all Black achievement is a matter of luck or extraordinary ability. That seems rather abstract at first, but I think that this is what cuts across quite a bit. The idea that until there is no racism left in any White person’s heart, that Black achievement is all but impossible and that if it happens then it’s just a fluke.
That lies at the heart of a lot of why we have so much trouble understanding one another at this point. And the most pernicious aspect of that idea is that it’s felt covertly not overtly. This is the sort of thing that lies at the heart of much of the student response to David’s reparations ad. And it’s why it’s so hard to talk about these things. Because if you tell somebody, you know, your identity is founded upon victimhood, most people are not aware of this. You know, most people when told that, will talk about how their people have survived, etc., etc.
What we’re talking about is a covert kind of ideology that I think especially any Black person who is, I think, about 40 or under, ends up being steeped with. It’s very difficult to escape it. I was brought up with it and I think that it’s something that we really need to address and be aware of when we work on these issues.
What I mean is exemplified by something like the Tulsa race riots of 1921. About two years ago, it started getting around on the Internet, not that it wasn’t known before then, that there was a thriving Black business district in Tulsa in the first two decades, roughly, of the 20th century. And it was a beautiful district, anything that a Black person wanted that a White person had could be gotten in this district.
Now in 1921, there was a race riot and it was burned down and that was a tragic fact. The way this got around on the Internet was a "watch out" story. The idea was generally look at what White people did in 1921 and watch out that they might not do this again. That was what the Tulsa message was supposed to be.
The message I took from the Tulsa story was look at what African-Americans could do at a time when racism was so pervasive that actually the Supreme Court Chief Justice was a former Klan member at the time. Edward White had been in the Klan. So this is how deep racism was at the time. And yet there was this district.
I thought of that as a "here’s how" story, not as a watch out story. The idea that residual racism is fatal to any kind of meaningful Black advantage or advancement automatically makes the Tulsa story something that makes people think about how evil the ruling class is as opposed to seeing it as constructive.
You also see this when you read about the history of the civil rights movement. Very often a Black American is encouraged to think that what our history is, is slavery. And, you know, that, that was a big part of it. But there was more to it than that. And Dubois is particularly good in that, parsing a lot of the things that he said, particularly in the first half of his life. Often he seems to be coming from another planet in terms of what passes for civil rights leadership today.
This is a statement that Dubois made in 1912. And what he was doing was advocating that African Americans join the Progressive Party. And this was his proposed, what we would today call African-American plank.
He said the Progressive Party recognizes that distinctions of race or class and political life have no place in a democracy. Especially does the party realize that a group of 10 million people who have, in a generation, changed from a slave to a free labor system, reestablished family life, accumulated one billion dollars in property including 20 million acres of land, and reduced their illiteracy from 80 to 30 percent, deserve and must have justice, opportunity and a voice in their own government.
Now on the surface that sounds like some sort of, you know, innocent boilerplate, but it isn’t. And the reason is that today, if a Black leader were trying to justify anything in the name of Black people, the leader would list the pathologies. It would be a list of disasters. It would be a list of terrible things. Dubois spontaneously listed what had gone well. That was what he was more interested in. That’s what he thought was the point.
Jesse Jackson would never do that. And as we know, Jesse Jackson would be uncomfortable talking about how many middle class Black people there are. How many good things have happened. Somehow that wouldn’t be the point because the idea is that we are trying to eradicate all racism in all people’s hearts. And until that happens, Black people are too weak to really do much of anything. And if anybody does, then really they’re just kind of a sellout.
That is the underlying impression. That is why an Al Sharpton would never talk about what went well. Another example, as David has said, is the idea that most Black people are poor. That one thing is the very hardest thing to get through to very intelligent African-American audiences in my experience. I’ll say it at the beginning, and then I’ll notice after about 15 minutes that I have to repeat it because there is a habit that we have settled into, of thinking that Black means poor.
A very difficult conception to get across. And it’s because it’s all that we’re told. It’s all that all Americans are told. When the simple fact is that there are now more middle class Black people than poor ones. Simple as that.
Now, people of various political stripes can argue about the exact numbers, whether we’re talking about families, whether we’re talking about people. Of course for many, what counts as middle class is suddenly defined very high up when we talk about African-Americans. But no matter how you quibble, more middle class than poor. And it is, you know, it’s by a wide, wide margin.
This is something which is basically suppressed in academia and something we don’t hear outside for the simple reason that it’s assumed to be against the program. Because all racism hasn’t gone away – and I don’t think any of us would suppose that it has – the idea that the African-American race could possibly now be more middle class than poor, kind of doesn’t fit and you almost don’t want to talk about it because of course our idea is to get rid of all racism. If we talk about Black success, then White people might suppose that everything is okay. That’s where this sort of thing comes from.
It’s very interesting. For many African-Americans very concerned with progress, you are not supposed to say there are more middle class Black people than poor ones. Or more to the point, you see an unusual kind of paradox. Many African Americans are very upset about what is often called today the racialization of poverty. And so if there’s a story about welfare on 60 Minutes, and they deign to show a Black welfare mother, this is considered a problem.
And within the Black community, it’ll be said, you know, White people think we’re all poor. But then the very same people could never bring themselves to say most Black people aren’t poor, where anybody but their family could hear it. It would catch in the throat. That’s because it’s considered against the program to actually mention that that’s true.
Another issue that this idea that racism is the key thing ends up creating is a tacit mis-impression that there is no such thing as an African-American problem that is due to anything but White malevolence. And this ends up leaving a lot of Black people miserable in my opinion.
For example, Losing The Race is often called a controversial book and I suppose it is. But most of that controversialness comes from two chapters which are the ones where – it was originally written as one chapter actually. I didn’t think of it as the meat of the book. But two chapters where I say that I think that most of the problem with Black children in school is due to a sense in Black peer culture since the mid ‘60s, that to do well in school is to sell out to the White man. You were considered to be acting White.
I saw a little of this when I was a kid. I didn’t suffer from it. It’s not an emotional thing that makes me write about it. I was taught how to defend myself against it and I am such a hopeless nerd that once I got this I couldn’t – I could not think to myself that I’m going to leave what I like to do in order to go be Black. You know, I just kind of found the right people. But that’s not what happens.
You know, most people are not nerds no matter what color they are. And if you get teased for, you know, selling out to the evil person, for liking school, nine times out of ten, you’re not going to do as well in school. And there is a great deal of academic study which shows it. Big surprise – the media don’t tend to pick up on it. The most prominent journals tend not to publish studies that come to these conclusions. But these things are overwhelmingly proven by any number of articles, reports, studies, books and it’s just something that I don’t think you can grow up African-American and miss.
You know, any African-American has either been the brunt of it, participated in it or seen it. Out on the circuit, I’ve now met two African-Americans who told me they had never seen it. One was somebody who I don’t think had met another Black person until she was about thirty. And the other one, I’m not sure what Black is, but she was not, there was a mixture. God knows where she grew up. That’s two people out of hundreds. I mean you can’t miss it.
And it’s often thought that this could not possibly have anything to do with school performance. Yet we see that in plush, plush, plushly funded, very middle class suburban districts, that regularly African-American kids tend to cluster at the bottom of the very good schools. And we’ve seen this particularly graphically demonstrated in Shaker Heights, Ohio. When I wrote the book that was the most prominently described case.
Now we’ve seen this in almost ten other districts. It happens again and again and it’s not about laziness. It’s certainly not about stupidity. It’s about a sense, since the days of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, that the White man is evil and that the White man must be resisted. And it is right around that time that Black kids started teasing each other for acting White when school was in question. This is something that Blacks of an older generation do not remember. It was prevalent then. It starts with the Black power era.
Now, this is a problem. You cannot condemn the kids for this. However, I think that it has a decisive effect and I’ve seen its effects at Berkeley. And the point is that that is where I take all of my heat. It is considered nothing less than evil among a certain vocal minority of African-American critics. That I would say that this problem is not due to racism. It must be due to ability tracking. It must be due to subtle racism on the part of White teachers. It must be that all Black kids go to terrible schools and that these schools that I’m talking about somehow exist in some alternate universe.
It couldn’t be that there is now a cultural internal trait, and even though it has a legacy in racism, that crying racism isn’t gonna help it now. The reason being that the assumption is that residual racism is the problem. And that, until residual racism is gone, a group cannot achieve. And yet that’s not – that’s certainly not true.
And finally the whole idea about Black conservatives being evil, it’s often thought that for some reason African-Americans don’t understand that people can differ. It’s not that. Everybody, any human being understands that there can be different opinions. The idea among Black radicals about Black conservatives, whatever those categories mean, is that when it comes to the particular instance of Black conservatives, that the Black conservative is immoral.
It’s not necessarily that people – it’s not that somebody like a Maxine Waters or an Ishmael Reed feels that their fiefdom is being threatened. I’ve spoken to people like that and I’ve never heard that. It’s not that conscious. The idea is that because residual racism must be it, that until Black people really don’t see race, you know, as if that’s ever gonna happen in our lifetimes – until Black people, you know, don’t need to think about race – that we can’t achieve.
The idea is that to talk about anything else is so anti-empirical that you must have some agenda. It truly surprises me how deeply felt this is. Ishmael Reed, I don’t know what kind of resonance he has. I mean, outside of Berkeley and Oakland, I don’t know whether he’s famous, but he’s got salt and pepper hair and he’s very radical and very earnest and very nasty.
And Ishmael Reed has decided that I must be backed by some right wing organization and he’s actually looking. He’s calling people up. He wants to write an article exposing me as, you know, somebody’s buying me a house with a pool and that’s why I’m saying these things. He means it. You know, this is not just some sort of pose. He really assumes that I don’t mean what I say because it couldn’t possibly be true. That is the sort of thing that we’re working against.
Now, this idea that racism has to go away is not one which is willfully wielded. I find myself respectfully disagreeing with the interpretation of some that what this is people wanting to get votes or, you know, people feeling threatened. It’s not that. These people mean it, they really mean it. You know, I’ve had a lot of exposure to it over the past year in particular. These people are not acting. They really are genuinely upset when they hear the whole racism explanation challenged.
And the reason I think is because of insecurity. It’s because of insecurity about being Black. There is a self-hatred in this race. It would be surprising if there wasn’t and it comes from, you know, slavery and then segregation and then any number of things afterward. And it’s graphically demonstrated by the famous experiment of African-American children preferring Black dolls.
No surprise. That experiment was reproduced recently, so that was not something that only happened in the days of black and white newsreels. That’s happens now. That’s a serious issue. There are other indications of that stain. And this is not high-handed because I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a tiny, tiny part of me that even felt it. You are suckled on it. It is something that is given to you, not only by Whites, but also by Blacks. And I would say, in my case, more by Blacks.
But here’s how you hear it. Affirmative action at Berkeley – I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this justification, especially after the wine started flowing. Black kids should be exempted from high grades and high test scores because White athletes and legacy students always have been. Why is that considered a valid argument? Why are these proud Black people so willingly comparing us to people who have always been considered to be the campus joke? Moose in the Archie comic books is not somebody I ever looked at as a model. But somehow that’s supposed to be, you know, a real Black man.
You know, I’ve known legacy students. I’ve known several of those, particularly at Stanford where I got my graduate degree. It’s not a pretty sight. You know, once again, I did not think to myself, this is who I would like to be. But still, you see Black administrator after Black administrator using that argument.
Why? It’s because there’s a thought that, especially when it comes to knowledge, I think it’s that we’re not as good. There is a quiet sense that that’s really about all we’re worth. Or for example, if I may, the tendency for African-Americans to call one another "nigger." I get it. You know, I completely understand the folk meaning of this term. It’s not meant as a slur. Nevertheless, there’s an interesting contrast.
There are many other groups where the slur, the fill in the blank slur you can imagine was never used in that way. And if you can think of another group that does use slurs in that way, they are groups which could be argued to suffer from a self-image problem as well.
There is a sense that to be Black is less. And it’s perfectly understandable that there is that. But this is why we have this idea that residual racism has to go away. The idea is that White people don’t like us and this hurts us very much and this makes us feel less. And until that goes away, the problem hasn’t gone away because that’s the problem. That’s what all of this really responds to.
When you take away the victim status of somebody who has been taught to be addicted to that sort of thing, why they are so angry and why they are so hurt – and I think they really are – is because you are plucking on that string of the sense of inferiority that it’s difficult not to grow up with. The idea, especially if you’re a Black person who takes the other line, it’s are you implying that you don’t feel inferior to them like the rest of us?
Because since I feel that being Black is a stain, if you’re Black and you don’t feel it, then it means that you’re a Black person, i.e., a lower one, who thinks that you’re better than me. That makes a person extremely angry – completely understandable. But we also have to get past this. The idea is to work beyond this.
There are some people who will never be convinced. That’s fine, you know, they are great people except for that one thing. They won’t be changed. But we have to get beyond it. And a real civil rights revolution or a new revolution is not one that can continue in the same vein that we’ve had so far. It’s not doing anybody any good. You know, it may feel good, there’s a rock kind of glamour to it. But it’s not really, it’s not helping anybody.
Basically what we need to do is that we need to realize that a people can achieve despite there being racism, especially residual racism. It doesn’t matter that maybe all White people don’t think Black people are too wonderful. That changing is not what is required for a group to move up. And therefore our solutions to our problems must aim at giving the Black community inner pride through its own accomplishment.
That doesn’t mean that the government can’t help any, but the idea is not to give handouts but to give people a sense of true pride rather than a kind of tee-shirt, "Black is Beautiful," my people have survived "pride," which we see, over the past 37 years, doesn’t really make anybody feel any genuine pride. You just get a kind of an agitprop and it does not really help anybody.
So as far as I’m concerned, there’s something that Black people can do, there’s something that all of us can do and there’s something that White people can do. Let’s start with the White part first. And this room probably doesn’t need this message as much as some rooms do. But I think that if I were White, and I’ve been told that I project too much – I’m always putting myself into people’s heads. And I think I’m good at it and I’m told by girlfriends and friends that I’m not as good at it as I think I am – but I am.
I can put myself – I can think as if I were White. I can do it. And if I were White, what I would tell me, the White me, is we have to check the pity. Pity is important to an extent, but the person who you pity is somebody who you may like, but it’s not somebody who you really respect. And a lot of the responses of Whites to Black Americans, especially since the mid ‘60s have been based on pity.
So you know, there are whole books which I call the pity books, you know, for example, The Shape Of The River by William Bowen and Derrick Bok is all about how wonderful racial preferences is. It’s the book of pity. You know, they think that we are just so piteous and it’s so sad. They’re not at all interested in our advancement. They think of Black people as separate from academic achievement beyond a certain point. We don’t need that.
Peter Edelman, retiring from the Clinton administration because he didn’t like welfare reform, that’s about pity. You know, he’s married to Marian Wright Edelman and I found myself thinking he pities his spouse. It’s about pity. It’s not about real concern for moving the race forward. That’s what White people can do.
Now, what can we all do? Now, as far as I’m concerned, one thing that we all need to think about is how central the affirmative action, and in higher education in particular, is to a real civil rights movement. I think that affirmative action in university education is an obsolete idea. I know many people think that it never should have happened. I would disagree, but I would say that it’s now about 15 years obsolete.
The most important thing, like David, you talked about the Art of Political War – if we’re gonna talk about affirmative action, the philosophical arguments are not gonna work. I’m talking about how affirmative action is antithetical to the notion of democracy or that it’s unfair to White people. It only preaches to the converted. That doesn’t work. I’ve had a lot of experience trying to get, in particular, African-Americans and real lefty Whites to understand the damage that affirmative action does.
And what people tend to respond to is the fact that affirmative action only preserves the problem that it was intended to help. I’ve noticed that with a middle class African-American person, you just have to ask. If they say that they’re in favor of racial preferences in universities, you just have to ask okay, so what did affirmative action do for you? You know, you were admitted with lower grades and scores. What good did that solve? I have rarely seen a person who had a ready response to it because, frankly, with all due compassion, there is none.
If you’re about my age, you never knew an America where there wasn’t affirmative action. So you just assumed that it is just. But the fact is that it doesn’t help. And if this is a race where there is a legacy of racism which is to think of doing really well in school as unauthentic, the simple fact of the matter is that if you tell that race you only have to do so well, big surprise, most of the kids will only do that well.
There will be the shooting stars, there will be exceptions. But the average will be that you go to Shaker Heights, Ohio and you see 91 percent of the Black student body clustering in the lower fifth of the school. Their parents drive Lexuses. I mean there’s something wrong with that. We have to fix it. And that is the problem.
Now, if that is the problem then we have to work on that from the other end and this is where fixing the school systems comes in and rethinking education, rethinking why vouchers has to be associated with a particular political party. But in the meantime we can’t have lower standards at the top. Very simple. This is one that works. The Art of Political War on affirmative action.
Lowered standards equals lowered performance. There’s your slogan. That’s it. There is not one group in the world – and I’ve been asking around, I’ve been talking to historians – there’s not one group in the world where standards have been lowered where the group has then jumped over the bar. And that doesn’t surprise any of us. When you take the bar and you lower it to here, everybody goes to about here except for the strange. You know, every now and then you get somebody like that [makes hand motion]. But for the most part everybody just stops right here. Simple as that.
And so you ask a person, you know, can you give me any groups, you know, where you lowered the standards and you didn’t get lowered performance and you will watch a silent person. I have never seen anybody have a response to that who thinks affirmative action is so wonderful. So this is something that we could all use. You know, when we talk about affirmative action, we have to do it in ways that really move people.
Here’s what I think that African Americans can do. We must seek solutions that allow us to help ourselves. We must be suspicious of the handout. I am a history fanatic. I particularly love social history. And another kind of projection that I can do, or think that I can do, is I like to imagine that I was alive at a time when I wasn’t. And I think about the little stuff like apparently in 1945, if you had an icebox, there’s the ice up here, soda wasn’t as cold because you would keep the meat up near the ice and the soda would be down in the bottom. So whenever I imagine myself in ‘45, I think I’m a person who couldn’t have a really cold Coke. You have to really imagine that you were there.
Now I can imagine what it would have been like in 1964, you know, I can put myself there, the haircut, everything, and I can make myself White, put on those glasses, and think how do we uplift what would have been called the Negro? And you think well let’s, for example, let’s take the unwed mothers and let’s just give them money to raise themselves up. That must have made a lot of sense. It failed. You know, we saw generation after generation. That clearly didn’t work. You know, I don’t think we need studies to prove.
So we need to have the sorts of things that really help. Nothing is sadder than watching the faith based and community initiatives get lost in arguments about do you really want your money going to Hare Krishnas? For goodness sake, who cares? I mean what it’s really designed to do is to help inner city Black communities help themselves. That’s important. That’s what I call civil rights. Not crying about welfare reform, which actually is a good thing for any African-American as far as I’m concerned.
There are all sorts of things that are done that we don’t hear about. We don’t hear about the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. You know, somebody – we talk about reparations and you know, it’s said that Whites have never done anything for us. That’s because a lot of the things that are being done are kept quiet.
Community development corporations are accomplishing so much. Unfortunately it seems to be that they’re accomplishing a lot in every inner city except Oakland. So whenever I talk about this in Berkeley or Oakland nobody knows what I’m talking about. But they are really creating miracles in a lot of communities. Most people don’t know what a community development corporation is and I certainly didn’t until about two years ago. We need to spread the word about things like that. We need to encourage one another to work in them, etc.
So the idea is not that we’re not supposed to have a civil rights movement, but it has to be a movement now where people just throw money at us and leaders exploit it, but we have to have the sorts of things that encourage us to help ourselves. These things are not glamorous often.
A community development corporation is not something that you would make a movie about. Unfortunately however, in having the wherewithal to have an African-American family buy a house in their inner city neighborhood, take interest in the neighborhood, start working towards lowering crime in the neighborhood, encouraging other people on the block to start buying their houses. And pretty soon you have a stable lower income community.
No magic – life is never magic – but you have a stable lower income community. That is a beginning. To me, that is glamorous, that’s much more glamorous than open-ended welfare forever where the only glamour ends up being movies like The Corner and New Jack City about the horrible lives that are led in them. That to me is not – I don’t get off on that. What we need is a much more proactive Black sort of uplift. And so these are the things we need to think about.
In general, none of this is that, shall we say radical a message. I really – people often ask how the book has gone over and actually I get much more positive feedback than negative from people of both races. And I get an incredible amount of feedback. Race obviously touches a lot of people. I have literally considered hiring an undergraduate as a secretary to take care of all the mail and the e-mail that I get because my policy is to answer everything. I’ve had to pull back because I just can’t. But I’ve gotten literally almost 2000 pieces of mail on e-mail or physical mail about this book.
And one thing that I find with African Americans is that I think more African Americans understand these things than don’t. But there’s a kind of a new double consciousness which is that if you bring this sort of thing up at a Thanksgiving, and I speak from experience, or at a barbecue, most of the room agrees with you. You know, there are two or three people in the corner who are your professional victimologists and they leave on the defensive.
You know, those people who are doing the, you know, the White man this, the White man that, that’s not the majority of the Black community on any class level or on any level of education. However, the minute the mikes are on, the minute White people are listening at the office the next morning, all of a sudden there is a sense that the responsible African American must take the victim line.
I’ve seen this. I’ve seen at night, two glasses of wine, you have, you know, relatives of mine who sound like Larry Elder. Then, the next day at the office or at some forum, all of a sudden, because they were trailed in a store once, they are, you know, victims in the same way as their slave ancestors, they weren’t promoted as quickly. All those things are very real, but there’s such a thing as degree and all of a sudden you’re not supposed to acknowledge the progress.
Very often, it always seems to be in fast food that somebody walks up to me with this one. An African-American person will come up and say – this is very reasonable – I like what you’re saying, but, you know, I’m a little nervous about where you’re saying it. And I say, you mean White people shouldn’t hear it, and they say yeah. It’s a very heartfelt feeling.
Now I may be naive. I’ve been told that and I’m open to seeing it. You know, when I’m 55, I’m gonna look back and see whether I was naive at 35. I don’t think that we are in danger of having the hoses turned on us again at this point. You know, life is complicated, but I don’t think that White people hearing what I’m saying is going to hurt anyone. And I think that all – I think Black people know this deep down. I think that everybody who is interested in Black achievement knows this deep down.
And this is the sort of thing that we have to do. We have to check the double consciousness. I think that Whites need to realize that there is that double consciousness and that the situation is not as intractable as it seems. It often looks as if African-Americans are a very unreasonable people from White people’s eyes, I guess, I project. It’s not that way. It’s just a matter of what African-Americans are taught to say in public. There is a bridge that is possible here. It’s just a matter of how things are put.
So, in sum, my feeling is that racism, and this is the theme of Losing The Race in a way, although I don’t put it this way – racism is not "what we always need to be talking about." Not only is it a tired topic, but it is not the problem that it’s often thought to be.
To continue to hold that as a tacit assumption, but a decisive assumption, is to stray from the path that the civil rights leaders of the past laid down. And it also condemns this race to a status of being eternal also-rans and that’s not good for any race. We can do better than this and we will do better than this and I hope to play a part in making sure that we do. Thank you. [applause]