Losing the race

Posted: Nov 15, 2000 12:00 AM
Here are just a few of the facts: One study asked middle-class black, white and Asian high school students what was the lowest grade their parents would tolerate their bringing home? Asian students replied A-minus. Blacks said their parents would accept grades lower than both white and Asian students. Nationally, 74 percent of black students fail to graduate five years after entering college. Black students have the lowest grade point averages both entering and leaving college. John H. McWhorter, a linguistics professor at UC-Berkeley, offers an explanation in his new book, "Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America." It's a culture of anti-intellectualism among blacks. That's not a very flattering explanation, but to the extent that it has any truth it demands confrontation. McWhorter argues that black anti-intellectualism is a result of victimology and separatism. Black politicians, civil-rights leaders and white liberals have peddled victimhood to black youngsters, teaching them that racism is pervasive and no amount of individual effort can overcome racist barriers. Peddling victimhood is not new. Booker T. Washington said: "There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs." McWhorter says victimhood leads to separatism and anti-intellectualism follows from separatism out of a sense that educational excellence is a "white" endeavor. Thus, the "black Cult of Anti-intellectualism casts top scholarly achievement as treachery." Black anti-intellectualism is not a poverty phenomenon. It is observed in sons and daughters of middle- and high-income blacks living in well-to-do neighborhoods attending good suburban schools. McWhorter tells of typical experiences with his black Berkeley students: many do not attend classes, don't or poorly perform classroom assignments and fail to show up for examinations. McWhorter is black, and even though he makes a special effort to help black students they don't use his generous office hours. During my 33 years teaching, I've encountered similar experiences. I've aired my criticisms to black students, often getting the response, "Some white students do the same thing." I've typically responded by saying: "A white student goofing off might have a father who's a doctor, lawyer or CEO who can make a phone call to get him a job. Who does your father know?" McWhorter doesn't argue there is no longer any racial discrimination in the United States, but racial discrimination is not the major problem for blacks today. Instead, it's self-sabotage -- and he's right. Let's look at it. A black illegitimacy rate hovering around 70 percent is devastating but it's not caused by whites. Black people have the nation's highest victimization rates for murder, assault, rape and other violent crimes, but it's not whites who are culpable. Black students have the nation's lowest academic achievement. That can't be blamed on racism because academic achievement is the lowest in cities where the mayor, superintendent of schools, and most principals and teachers are black, such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Detroit. Academic achievement is also the lowest where the most money is spent on education. Washington, D.C., ranks second in spending and ranks 49th in achievement. John H. McWhorter's "Losing the Race" draws attention to serious problems that black Americans must confront. I, for one, have confidence that if black youngsters spent as much time and effort studying math and English as some of them spend playing basketball, they'd produce the same excellence in math and English. The fact racism kept blacks out of college and professional basketball and football years ago doesn't stop us from today's domination. And the reason isn't affirmative action, it's excellence.