My plan is to blog about John McWhorter’s Losing the Race every day that I read it, but I often feel that I should hold off on commenting before I finish the book and read other perspectives, since I don’t know enough to comment. This is especially the case regarding the following issues:
1. McWhorter asks why prominent African-American leaders don’t “pool
their resources and provide start-up loans” so that African-Americans
can start businesses in their neighborhoods, rather than complaining
about Korean businesses there (page 43). I can’t comment on this, for I
don’t know what prominent African-American leaders do or don’t do when
it comes to supporting African-American enterprise. I read that Michael
Eric Dyson defends Al Sharpton in his book about Bill Cosby, so it will
be interesting to see how Dyson believes that Sharpton helps the
2. McWhorter states that African-Americans who defend O.J. Simpson
do not give a positive impression of African-Americans’ intelligence to
outsiders, for it is obvious from the evidence that O.J. Simpson was
guilty of murder. Well, my copy of Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal has a chapter on the O.J. Simpson verdict, and it will be interesting to see what he has to say.
3. McWhorter appears to take a swipe at the welfare state on page
70, arguing that African-American employment in New York City was
actually on the rise when welfare “was expanded there”, and that welfare
was expanded for African-Americans out of white guilt. McWhorter
states that “an influential cadre of white leftist activist
intellectuals became convinced that to expect blacks to work their way
out of poverty was reminiscent of debt peonage in the South and thus
unethical” (page 70).
I have read conservatives make that sort of argument: that a number
of African-Americans were fairly successful before the Great Society
came along. I don’t discount that African-Americans had businesses
prior to the Great Society, but I am skeptical of any claim that
African-American poverty was not a problem in the 1960′s (not that
McWhorter says this explicitly); on page 196 of Stephan and Abigail Thernstroms’ America in Black and White—-a
book that McWhorter uses—-we see the proportion of African-American
families to white families with incomes at least double the poverty line
from 1940 to 1995: in 1940, it was one African-American family with
such an income level to twelve such white families; in 1970, the figure
was 39 to 70. I doubt that the 1960′s were much better for
African-Americans than the 1970′s were. McWhorter himself acknowledges
that the 1950′s-1960′s were times of racism against African-Americans,
particularly when he argues that things have improved by the 1990′s.
I do not mean to imply that McWhorter is against welfare, for he
does say on page 70 that “Certainly our country needs a welfare program
of some kind to assist those helpless, down on their luck, or
disabled.” McWhorter on page 43 calls enterprise zones in the
inner-city, an idea that a number of conservatives support, “misbegotten
but at least proactive”, so he does not swallow conservative
talking-points. Wikipedia quotes
McWhorter’s description of himself as a “cranky liberal Democrat.” I
see that McWhorter later in the book has a section about Lyndon Johnson, so it will be interesting to read what he says there.
I can give more examples, but I’ll stop here.
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