RHETORICAL QUESTIONS YOU MAY REGRET YOU ASKED
John McWhorter in a Washington Post op-ed:
Imagine for a moment that [Senator George] Allen actually knew that a "macaque" is a kind of monkey, or that in French the term is sometimes used as an insult for North Africans (Allen denied having known about either). Who, then, believes that Allen would use the slur against an opposition campaigner aiming a camera straight at him?
Show of hands?
Why, it looks as if everybody has a hand raised. Thank you.
...Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection--and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection....
In high school [in California], Allen's "Hee Haw" persona made him a polarizing figure. "He rode a little red Mustang around with a Confederate flag plate on the front," says Patrick Campbell, an old classmate....
--Ryan Lizza in The New Republic, 5/8/06 issue
Yeah, sounds like a really circumspect guy to me.
(Those who need a refresher course on why Allen would use the word "Macaca" should go here and here.)
By the way, I want to talk about the main thrust of McWhorter's op-ed -- he argues, in all seriousness, that it's unfair to criticize Andrew Young for his recent remarks about Jewish, Arab, and Asian shopkeepers in black neighborhoods because a lot of blacks say the same things:
The mainstream media have ignored (or remain unaware of) an interesting point concerning Young's allegedly racist comments: His views are in fact common coin among inner-city black people -- the very people the hate-speech patrol so ardently hopes to protect.
Yeah? Well, some white Christians don't like Jews. Does that let Mel Gibson off the hook?
It's curious to hear this from McWhorter, a black conservative who's a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where William Kristol and Peggy Noonan sit on the board and funding comes from Scaife and other right-wing foundations (and where Charles Murray worked on his breakthrough book, Losing Ground). It's curious because McWhorter usually has nothing but contempt for the continued invocation of racism by mainstream civil-rights leaders:
The NAACP is stuck in a mind-set that worked 30 years ago but makes little sense today. Mfume and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond boast that the organization is committed to "speaking truth to power," continuing the whistle-blowing tradition that the organization was founded upon in 1909. This was urgent in an America where lynching was commonplace and segregation was legal.
But almost a century later, black America's main problem is neither overt racism nor more subtle "societal" racism. Lifting blacks up is no longer a matter of getting whites off our necks.
And language that's "common coin among inner-city black people" doesn't get McWhorter's imprimatur when that language comes with a beat attached:
NOT long ago, I was having lunch in a KFC in Harlem, sitting near eight African-American boys, aged about 14. They were extremely loud and unruly, tossing food at one another and leaving it on the floor.
What struck me most was how fully the boys' music -- hard-edged rap, preaching bone-deep dislike of authority -- provided them with a continuing soundtrack to their antisocial behavior. So completely was rap ingrained in their consciousness that every so often, one or another of them would break into cocky, expletive-laden rap lyrics, accompanied by the angular, bellicose gestures typical of rap performance. A couple of his buddies would then join him. Rap was a running decoration in their conversation.
... By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered blacks, and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly "authentic" response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards black success.
But the case of Andrew Young is different for McWhorter -- though McWhorter doesn't have the intellectual honesty to say why: Andrew Young was speaking on behalf of Wal-Mart, and McWhorter's employer has as its main mission the uplift of private industry.
McWhorter seems to be making the defense of Young his life's work at the moment: Last Thursday he published a another op-ed on the subject, this one in The New York Sun. In that one, he actually seemed to be suggesting that Young's background gives him a lifetime exemption from any and all criticism, and that those who think Young was being racist have psychological problems:
The insincerity of the "sensitivity" racket is clear in how strained the accusation against Mr.Young is. He marched with Reverend King as the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, represented in Congress a Georgia just steps past Jim Crow, and was ambassador to the United Nations. The man is even an ordained minister. Might we entertain that this is one person who has the racism thing covered?
Anyone who pretends otherwise is driven by inner demons.
I can't even say anything snarky about that. I just find it baffling.
An archive of McWhorter's writings is here. It includes such gems as "Why Blacks Should Give Bush a Chance" and "Calm Down: [William] Bennett's Comments on Abortion Have Been Taken Way Out of Context."