Losing The Race , by John McWhorter

Book Review


Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
285 Pages
Paperback
320 pages
Hardcover - 285 pages
First Edition, August 2000
Published by Free Press
ISBN 0684836696

Paperback Reissue - 320 Pages
August 2001
Published by Harper Perennial
ISBN 0060935936

In Losing The Race John H. McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, blames "victim mentality" rather than racism for most of the problems of black communities, including educational and career underachievement.

The author reports that, in his own classes, black students have a greater than average tendency to resist homework, taking notes, regular attendance, etc., particularly during the study of literary classics. In general, they display a tendency to consider learning to be uncool. However, he doesn't base his conclusions on personal experience alone. He has compiled data from school districts in Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Houston, and numerous other cities. Even in schools where the teachers have done virtually everything right for the objective of promoting the enthusiasm and self-confidence of all students, black students appear disproportionately in the lowest twenty percent of the class according to test grades, and disproportionately fail to appear in the top twenty percent.

Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter

McWhorter believes that it is an insult to black students to assert that the mere existence of racism in society somehow obliterates their intellectual abilities. (The instructor is also black.) A more reasonable explanation for the trend, he says, is that many black students have a culture which discourages them from fully applying effort. One form of evidence for this conclusion is that a significant number of black students are observed to tease and ostracize others for "acting white" if they enjoy learning for its own sake, or if their test grades are superior. Unfortunately, it has become fashionable in modern society quickly to dismiss such conclusions, and to assert that any explanation for black student underachievement which doesn't blame racism is itself an expression of racism.

The author begins the preface to the book with a story intended to illustrate the irrational results of the ideology that he calls "victimology" --

In January 1999, David Howard, the white ombudsman to the newly elected mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams, casually said in a budget meeting with two coworkers, "I will have to be niggardly with this fund because it's not going to be a lot of money."

Niggardly is a rather esoteric word meaning "stingy." Its resemblance to the racial slur nigger is accidental. It has been used in English since the Middle Ages, when black people of any kind were unknown in England, and had been imported to the country by Scandinavian Viking invaders in the 800s, in whose tongue nig meant "miser."

Howard's coworkers were a white person and a black person. The black coworker immediately stormed out of the room and would not listen to Howard's attempt to explain. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Williams curtly accepted Howard's resignation, his official position being that in a predominantly black city with a history of racial tension, Howard's choice of words was grounds for dismissal, akin to being "caught smoking in a refinery that resulted in an explosion."

[Excerpt from the Preface]

In the preface, McWhorter outlines three "manifestations" or "currents" among African Americans which he considers counterproductive:

Table of Contents
Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America , by John H. McWhorter
Preface
 
1. The Cult of Victimology
2. The Cult of Separatism
3. The Cult of Anti-intellectualism
4. The Roots of the Cult of Anti-intellectualism
5. African-American Self-Sabotage in Action : The Affirmative-Action Debate
6. African-American Self-Sabotage in Action : The Ebonics Controversy
7. How Can We Save the African-American Race?
 
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index

The ideological sea of troubles plaguing black America and keeping black Americans eternally America's case apart regardless of class expresses itself in three manifestations.

The first is the Cult of Victimology, under which it has become a keystone of cultural blackness to treat victimhood not as a problem to be solved but as an identity to be nurtured.

... The second manifestation is Separatism, a natural outgrowth of Victimology, which encourages black Americans to conceive of black people as an unofficial sovereign entity, within which the rules other Americans are expected to follow are suspended out of a belief that our victimhood renders us morally exempt from them.

... Separatism spawns the third manifestation, a strong tendency toward Anti-intellectualism at all levels of the black community. Founded in the roots of the culture in poverty and disenfranchisement, this tendency has now become a culture-internal infection nurtured by a distrust of the former oppressor.

... One of the most important things about these three currents is that whites in America do nothing less than encourage them. This is partly, as Shelby Steele argues, out of a sense of moral obligation that leads most whites to condone Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism as "understandable" responses to the horrors of the past. More than a few whites have come to see the condescension inherent in this, but only the occasional few dare express their opinion openly or at any length, since such an act is as likely to attract excoriation from other whites as from blacks.

... One misconception about these three currents is that they are merely fringe phenomena, minor overswings of the pendulum that need not concern us in the long run.

... The most serious misconception about these three currents, however, is that there is nothing wrong with them, and even that they are an evolutionary advance that other identity groups would benefit from adopting. On the contrary, these three currents hold black Americans back from the true freedom that so many consider whites to be denying them.

Victimology is seductive because there is an ironic and addictive contentment in underdoggism. However, it also inherently gives failure, lack of effort, and even criminality a tacit stamp of approval.

... Separatism promises the balm of a sense of roots, and offers an escape from the vicissitudes of making our way into realms so recently closed to us.

... Black Anti-intellectualism can often seem like a jolly and even healthy alternative to sterile nerdishness, but it is also, as I have noted, the main reason blacks underperform in school. On a broader level, a race permanently wary of close reasoning and learning for learning's sake is one not only spiritually impoverished, but permanently prevented from forging the best techniques for working toward a better future.

[Excerpts from the Preface]

In Chapter 1, entited "The Cult of Victimology," McWhorter says that "Victimology" is "a subconscious psychological gangrene."

He identifies seven "articles of faith" as "the foundation of victimology," seven articles which are "carefully taught and fiercely resented in the black community." Furthermore, he says, "They are so deeply entrenched in African-American thought that any argument outside of the Victimologist box falls largely on deaf ears, white as often as black." The subheadings in this discussion are:

... Article of Faith Number One : Most Black People Are Poor

... Article of Faith Number Two : Black People Get Paid Less Than Whites for the Same Job

... Article of Faith Number Three : There Is an Epidemic of Racist Arson of Black Churches

... Article of Faith Number Four : The U.S. Government Funneled Crack into South Central Los Angeles

... Article of Faith Number Five : The Number of Black Men in Prison Is Due to a Racist Justice System

... Article of Faith Number Six : The Police Stop-and-Frisk More Black People Than Whites Because of Racism

... Article of Faith Number Seven : Police Brutality Against Black People Reveals the Eternity of Racism

[Excerpts from Chapter 1]

I find fault with McWhorter in his inclusion of article six, recognition of a racially biased stop-and-frisk pattern in many police departments, which, I am convinced, is no myth, but a fact. Due to my lack of personal research into the other six "articles of faith," I will defer judgment about them.

I think the the author also deemphasizes the extent to which "anti-intellectualism" is a problem among adolescents generally. There are few teenagers who work in school to their full potential, and few who find cerebral exercises to be enjoyable. Regardless of pigmentation, a disturbingly great proportion of young people in modern times feel that learning is "uncool." McWhorter is credible, however, in his research findings that an elevated level of this problem is correlated with a particular culture or community.

Professor WcWhorter has written a rational discussion of a hotly controversial issue, with numerous social observations that are of great importance to the formation of better parenting and teaching strategies.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
285 Pages - ISBN 0684836696
Paperback
320 pages - ISBN 0060935936

Book Description from the Publisher

Is school a "white" thing? If not, then why do African-American students from comfortable middle-class backgrounds perform so badly in the classroom? What is it that prevents so many black college students in the humanities and social sciences from studying anything other than black subjects? Why do young black people, born decades after the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, see victimhood as the defining element of their existence?

In this explosive book, Berkeley linguistics professor John McWhorter reports from the trenches of today's college classroom to offer a daring assessment of what's plaguing the children of yesterday's affirmative-action babies. The Civil Rights revolution was the pinnacle of American history, freeing African Americans from centuries of disenfranchisement. Yet, as McWhorter shows, it has had a tragic side effect. As racism recedes as a serious obstacle to black advancement, most black American leaders and thinkers have been misled into a self-destructive ideological detour. Victimhood is exaggerated and enshrined more than constructively addressed. Following from this, young black people are shepherded into a separatist conception of "blackness" defined largely as that which is not "white." This in turn conditions a sense, embedded in black American culture as a whole, that academic achievement is a "white" realm that the "authentic" black person dwells in only for financial gain or to chronicle black victimhood and victories.

McWhorter addresses these problems head-on, drawing on history, statistics, and his own life experiences. He shows that affirmative action in university admissions, indispensable 30 years ago, is today an obsolete policy that encourages the counterproductive ideologies of what he calls Separatism, Victimology, and Anti-intellectualism. Most perniciously, it prevents black students from demonstrating the abilities our Civil Rights leaders gave them the opportunity to nurture, and it deprives them of the incentive to strive for the very top.

Racism is not dead -- but as McWhorter so persuasively argues, dealing it a death blow will require a reinvestment in the strength that allowed black Americans to triumph and survive this far. His pathbreaking book is certain to shock, inspire, and ignite debate among all those who care about race and education today.

Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
285 Pages : ISBN 0684836696
Paperback
320 pages : ISBN 0060935936

Book review by Amazon.com reprinted with permission

For the past two decades, an academic cottage industry has developed to analyze -- and some would say overemphasize -- the social and educational problems of African Americans. Such writers as Dinesh D'Souza, Shelby Steele, Armstrong Williams, and Ken Hamblin have all contributed in this area; now add to that list John McWhorter, a Berkeley linguistics professor and the author of Word on the Street, an examination of Ebonics and Black English. The basic idea he presents in this occasionally insightful if flawed book is that African Americans are not advancing socially as a result of victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism.

According to the author, victimology "has become a keystone of cultural blackness to treat victimhood not as a problem to be solved but as an identity to be nurtured," while "separatism encourages black Americans to conceive of black people as an unofficial sovereign entity, within which the rules other Americans are expected to follow are suspended out of a belief that our victimhood renders us morally exempt from them." Anti-intellectualism is a belief that "school is a 'white' endeavor." McWhorter suggests that only blacks embrace such opinions, placing most of the blame on them while underemphasizing the institutional racism that facilitates such views. Needless to say, McWhorter has no love for the likes of Al Sharpton, Hazel Carby, June Jordan, or Patricia Williams and their ilk. His chapter on Ebonics, his specialty, is the most nuanced, though certainly not the final word on the matter. And though some readers will be turned off by his use of tired anti-affirmative-action, right-wing clichés, anyone interested in the education of African Americans in the post civil rights era will find Losing the Race a worthy read.

-- Eugene Holley Jr.

Losing The Race : Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
ISBN 0684836696 - 285 Pages
Paperback
ISBN 0060935936 - 320 pages