Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001 / 13 Teves, 5761

John Leo

John Leo
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The black dissent

Conservative voices speak out against victimology -- BLACK CONSERVATIVES have paid a heavy price for holding views that run counter to the line set by the civil rights establishment.

For more than 30 years, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, both economists and JWR columnists, have faced hostile crowds, hate mail, and death threats. Most of this comes from opposing affirmative action and arguing that racism cannot be blamed for crime, poverty, illegitimacy, and poor school performance.

Since disagreement means ostracism, conservative black intellectuals can expect to be shunned as heretics and Uncle Toms and to have their books ignored or dismissed much of the time. Advancement in the academic world is unlikely, since the campus culture tolerates little dissent from the conventional views of the old civil rights leadership. "There is an awful lot of conservative sentiment in black America, but at the moment the party line is ruthlessly enforced," said Shelby Steele, author of The Content of Our Character and a fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Still there are always some who resist the enforcement efforts. Current examples are new books by linguistics professor John McWhorter ( Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America) and Los Angeles talk-show host and columnist Larry Elder (The Ten Things You Can't Say in America).

McWhorter compares affirmative action to chemotherapy–he says it was necessary in the 1960s, but now the toxic effects outweigh the advantages, depriving blacks of the certainty that their advancement has been justly earned. Among black Americans he sees a "cult of victimology" that "treats victimhood not as a problem to be solved but as an identity to be nurtured."

He think victimology is "felt like religion," affecting blacks in all walks of life. Once victimhood is tied up with black identity, he believes, racial progress is always dismissed as minor; the remnant of historic racism is viewed as an "eternal pathology" that blacks cannot escape. A current example of what McWhorter means is the Rev. Jesse Jackson's repeated claim that the Florida voting was another Selma, another Birmingham for blacks, i.e., no progress has been made, the old hatreds are just as virulent as ever.

Set apart. Separatism flows logically from victimology, according to McWhorter: The belief that whites will never let blacks in leads to the sense of black America as forever set apart, "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." He thinks this rejection of the social norms of mainstream America helps explain why blacks have more trouble getting hired and promoted in the corporate world than whites do.

McWhorter's book got mixed reviews. Elder's more provocative book got almost no reviews (he says he has noticed two), but The Ten Things You Can't Say in America climbed the best-seller list anyway. The first of the Ten Things is a shocker: "Blacks are more racist than whites." The next two are almost as strong: "White condescension is as bad as black racism," and "the media bias–it's real, it's widespread, it's destructive." To Elder, the "so-called black leadership" is dreary, pessimistic, and fixated on racism, which he believes is real but fading fast and no longer a serious obstacle to black progress. Instead of focusing on counterproductive behavior, Elder says, it keeps busy pushing hate-crime laws, opposing welfare reform and school vouchers, and worrying about symbolic matters, such as how many black faces are seen on each TV show. He thinks these out-of-touch leaders are like World War II Japanese soldiers fighting on in Burma long after the surrender, unaware that the war was over.

Elder coined the word "victicrat" to describe people who live by a theology of victimization. He thinks the media work overtime to encourage victicrats: "The more shrill the 'white racism' stories, the better. They're burning black churches! The CIA puts drugs in the black community! Doctors practice racism! Banks redline! NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN practice broadcast racism! What do these stories have in common? They are all mostly untrue [expressions of] a widespread whites-are-out-to-get-blacks media bias."

Give McWhorter and Elder full credit for courage and candor. They write what they have to say without defensiveness or any implication that they are pleading for understanding. Both have had the usual death threats, and a group of blacks tried, with some degree of success, to drive advertisers away from Elder's talk show. "Why is it that we can't have a civilized discussion in the black community?" Elder asks, noting that President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill could do political battle, then share stories and jokes afterward.

McWhorter and Elder may be viewed as heretics and defectors by the academic and media establishments, but their views seem close to those of many black Americans. Despite what the writers see as the spread of victimology, polls consistently show that blacks as a group have strongly conservative views. The two authors may speak for more people than they know.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


01/03/01: The year's best quips on life, politics – and golf
12/19/00: Supreme confusion
12/11/00: Racial rhetoric conveniently ignores election facts
12/05/00: Savage fantasy
11/27/00: Victims of the year get the recognition they deserve
11/20/00: It's a chad, chad, chad, chad world
11/13/00: The election rhetoric is running much too high
11/07/00: How yesterday's hero becomes tomorrow's heel
10/30/00: Would Bush's Supreme Court picks make a difference?
10/24/00: Yankees, go home!
10/17/00: Un-American activity?
10/10/00: A tempest in an ink pot
10/03/00: The Al Gore quiz
09/26/00: The sleeper effect
09/19/00: Baby-saving made easy
09/12/00: Line between reporting and editorializing continues to blur
09/05/00: In the key of F
08/29/00: Hollywood connection
08/22/00: Some friendly advice to the GOP
08/15/00: You can't make this up
08/08/00: The niceness strategy
08/01/00: When rules don't count
07/25/00: Anti-male bias increasingly pervades our culture
07/18/00: Banned in Boston
07/12/00: What Jacoby had to deal with!
07/11/00: Will boys be boys?
07/05/00: Partial-sense decision
06/27/00: Attitude toward death penalty gets in the way of facts
06/20/00: Double troubles
06/13/00: Fools paradise
06/06/00: Accidental conspirator
05/30/00: Faking the hate
05/23/00: Was it law or poetry?
05/16/00: Here, there and everywhere, people have gone bonkers
05/09/00: Tufts evangelicals are punished for acting on their beliefs
05/02/00: Elian's opera isn't over until nearly everyone sings
04/25/00: All the news that fits: The media serve up many stories from a standard script
04/19/00: Those darned readers: The gap between reporters and the general public is huge
04/05/00: Census sense and nonsense
03/29/00: Hollywood message films leave no room for other views
03/22/00: The Vatican confesses, but is it enough?
03/14/00: Watch what you say: The left can no longer be counted on to defend free speech
03/07/00: McCain's malleable messages
03/01/00: Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way
02/23/00: 'Multi-millionaire' show is new evidence we're insane

Copyright ©2001 Universal Press Syndicate  Click here for more John Leo