The African-American experience is a reflection of America’s dark past and its bright future. Jim-Crow, anti-miscegenation laws and other legal conditions, provided roadblocks to the social and economic advancement of black Americans and other minorities. However, over time, individuals once considered minorities have made great strides and achieved great success. In spite of this, black America finds itself confronted with issues that cause many to wonder what is really holding black men, women and children back? When I saw this book on Amazon, I thought to myself that whoever wrote this book is beyond brave and was undoubtedly subject to attacks from all angles by those who wish to refute his conclusions. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the book was written by a black American, John McWhorter, who is a professor in English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He has also worked at the University of California, Berkeley. His experiences while tenuring at UC, Berkeley are what form the backbone of this book.
McWhorter provides three conditions which are adversarial to the black Americans: Victimology, Separatism and Anti-Intellectualism. He provides compelling arguments for each and I do believe that many black Americans who decided to read this book will find common ground on many of the ideas he presents. There are those who will have a knee-jerk reaction and write off the book as the ravings of a deranged self-hating crackpot. But to do so would unfortunately result in the point McWhorter being proved.
Victimology is presented as the idea that black Americans are eternal victims resulting from the brutal system of discrimination in America. But as McWhorter explains, the America that existed in 1960 and prior, is different from the America today. Furthermore, the victim role can be a curse in disguise. Its permeation into “woke” discussions and the rhetoric of numerous public figures, has created a cycle of which the very people inside are sometimes unaware of. McWhorter hopes to end that cycle and discusses why the idea of the eternal victim does nothing to help black Americans. Sure, there are true victims among us, typically older black men and women born well before 1965. The younger generation finds itself at an advantage that older generations could only dream of.
Separatism touches of the idea of a separate black existence, culture and consciousness. But in the era of integration beyond anything Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) could have imagined at the time, does separatism do more harm than good? And if equality truly is the end goal, does it benefit black Americans to maintain a separate existence based on “blackness”? The author provides an in-depth analysis of the many pitfalls of separatism and why it needs to be abandoned so that black Americans can form the social connections necessary for advancement in society.
Anti-Intellectualism is without a doubt the most controversial part of the book. But McWhorter does not shy away from it and confronts the subject head on. His idea is frank and addresses the ingrained aversion to higher learning, which comes in the form of books, literature and other things considered to be for white people. I have no doubt that some readers will either cringe or be filled with anger at McWhorter’s words, calling him a sell-out and possibly other unprintable names. But if we pay close attention, he does not lay blame at the feet of black America for its anti-intellectual culture. He readily acknowledges that the creation of the culture is the result of legal and condoned oppression and discrimination. The goal is to fix what was inherited and remove the obstacles that impede success for black Americans.
As always, there are exceptions to every situation. Here is no different and there are thousands if not millions of black Americans who do exceedingly well in education and in life. And many of them love books and intellectualism. McWhorter is fully aware of this and states such. But unfortunately, they are often in the minority. And that is the trend which must be reversed. Only then, can black America as a group, claim to be fully integrated in American society. While addressing the education issue, McWhorter touches on affirmative action, one of the most debated practices in American academia. It was implemented with the best intentions, to help correct what had been going wrong for so many years. But more than 40 years later, is it still needed? This book was published in 2001, but even today, questions remain about the effectiveness and contribution to true equality of affirmative action. McWhorter’s confessions about his own advancement might surprise some readers.
In McWhorter’s defense, he does not ignore that racism still exist. The cover of the book may convey the notion that black America is its own worst enemy but I can assure you that is not the case. To highlight his full awareness that racism does play a role in our lives, he recalls random acts of discrimination he faced during his youth. The point of his book is not to absolve white Americans of all guilt but instead to call attention to where black America has to work a little harder. He is not shaming black America or putting it down. His mission is to reverse trends that hold back rather than promote intellectualism and achievement for millions of black men and women. His words are tough and some truths are uncomfortable but I truly believe that if the message in the book is to be accepted and understood, there will be a brighter future in which black America can win the race.