Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

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Berkeley linguistics professor John McWhorter, born at the dawn of the post-Civil Rights era, spent years trying to make sense of this question. Now he dares to say the unsayable: racism's ugliest legacy is the disease of defeatism that has infected black America. Losing the Race explores the three main components of this cultural virus: the cults of victimology, separatism, and antiintellectualism that are making blacks their own worst enemies in the struggle for success.

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Berkeley linguistics professor John McWhorter, born at the dawn of the post-Civil Rights era, spent years trying to make sense of this question. Now he dares to say the unsayable: racism's ugliest legacy is the disease of defeatism that has infected black America. Losing the Race explores the three main components of this cultural virus: the cults of victimology, separatism, and antiintellectualism that are making blacks their own worst enemies in the struggle for success.

More angry than Stephen Carter, more pragmatic and compassionate than Shelby Steele, more forward-looking than Stanley Crouch, McWhorter represents an original and provocative point of view. With Losing the Race, a bold new voice rises among black intellectuals.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Berkeley linguistic professor John H. McWhorter believes that African Americans are damaging themselves when they embrace images of victimhood. In this vigorously argued book, he asserts that black separatism and anti-intellectualism robs African Americans of their ability to succeed in our multiracial society. Losing the Race has won plaudits from conservatives and some of McWhorter's fellow African-American scholars.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Are African-Americans using past racial injustices as an excuse for not working to take advantage of contemporary opportunities? McWhorter, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he has the answers to this question and others--and he points the finger directly at the black community. Starting with the premise that white racism is no longer the threat it once was, McWhorter singles out "the cult of victimology" and the glorification of white racism as a major cause for several social crises afflicting African-Americans. Offering little that has not been said previously by conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Shelby Steele, McWhorter uses a cookie-cutter approach to explain away recent race pressure points such as the arson directed against black churches, the high proportion of black inmates in America's prisons, the practice of racial profiling and police brutality. In each case, he finds fault with the African-American community's interpretation of these situations, accusing African-Americans of hypersensitivity to racial bias and a reluctance to relinquish the past. Victimology, as well as separatism, in his words, "gives failure, lack of effort and criminality a tacit stamp of approval." Most disturbing, his suggestion that a cultural trait drives the low scholastic performance of black youth borders on the views of those who consider heredity the cause of blacks' poor performance on standardized tests. Like many of the new black conservatives, McWhorter spends much time going after liberal columnists and social critics, attacking both their intent and message. Even his closing segment--"How Can We Save the African-American Race?"--sounds more like a well-worn campaign speech than a call to initiate a dialogue on race in the African-American community and the nation. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
McWhorter (linguistics, Berkeley; The Word on the Street, LJ 9/15/98) argues forcefully that African Americans have mired themselves in self-defeating thinking, speaking, and acting. They have adopted an orthodoxy that casts them as victims of a vastly exaggerated racism and that calls for them to follow ruinously what he describes as the self-indulgent cults of Separatism and Anti-intellectualism. Instead, the author suggests, blacks should achieve true equality through the old work ethic and open, individual competition. Affirmative action, he says, was a necessary emergency measure whose time has passed. Preaching self-reliance, he seeks a candid, fresh discourse in which African Americans confront reality and recognize obstacles to progress that they themselves have created. Contrarian, provocative, and worth a serious read, this stands in a long line of books decrying the state of blacks and of race relations, including Stephen L. Carter's Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby (LJ 9/15/91), Cornel West's Race Matters (LJ 3/15/93), Tom Wicker's Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America (LJ 5/1/96), and Earl Ofari Hutchinson's The Assassination of the Black Male Image (LJ 10/1/96). For African American, race relations, or contemporary U.S social science collections.--Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060935931
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: 1ST PERENN
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 400,217
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Word on the Street. He lives in Oakland, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Cult Of Victimology

The fact of slavery refuses to fade, along with the deeply embedded personal attitudes and public policy assumptions that supported it for so long. Indeed, the racism that made slavery feasible is far from dead in the last decade of twentieth-century America; and the civil rights gains, so hard won, are being steadily eroded.

— Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, 1992

Tyson is in the pen now. Strange fruit hanging from a different tree. Yet the strangest of all walk among us — as long as they're free, white, male, and twenty-one. The greatest of these qualities is the freedom. I wonder how it feels? I am trapped and can only say "Nooo" and hope my scream is loud enough to discourage the monsters and keep them back until I am strong enough, powerful enough to fight my way free. Powerful enough to slip the noose from my neck and put out the fire on my flesh.

— Ralph Wiley, What Black People Should Do Now, 1993

What more do they want? Why in God's name won't they accept me as a full human being? Why am I pigeonholed in a black job? Why am I constantly treated as if I were a drug addict, a thief, or a thug? Why am I still not allowed to aspire to the same things every white person in America takes as a birthright? Why, when I most want to be seen, am I suddenly rendered invisible?

— Ellis Cose, The Rage of a Privileged Class, 1993

These quotes are from books written in the 1990s by successful black men. The conception of blackAmerican life they represent is considered accurate, or at least a respectable point of view, by a great many people black and white of all levels of class, education, and income, one indication of which is that all three books were published by major mainstream houses, all were soon released in paperback, and none was even the author's first book.

Yet most of us would be hard pressed to match these portraits with the lives of most of the black people we know. Are we really afraid that, as "civil rights gains, so hard won, are steadily eroded," Macy's is on the verge of refusing black patronage? Do all the black people we see at the movies, on planes, copping sports trophies, graduating from college, and eating in restaurants appear, even metaphorically, to have fire on their skin? Do we ruefully consider a home, a car, or a college degree — "things every white person in America takes as a birthright" — all but out of reach for the middle-class black people we know, who are the subject of Cose's book? How "invisible" is an author who manages to have books of his opinions regularly published by top presses? How many of us can truly agree with these authors that the Civil Rights revolution has had no notable effect upon black Americans' lives?

Without falling for the line that racism is completely dead, we can admit that these quotes reveal a certain cognitive dissonance with reality. Yet they are anything but rare, and are one of myriad demonstrations that there is, lying at the heart of modern black American thought, a transformation of victimhood from a problem to be solved into an identity in itself. Because black Americans have obviously made so very much progress since the Civil Rights Act, to adopt victimhood as an identity, a black person, unlike, for example, a Hutu refugee in Central Africa, MUSE exaggerate the extent of his victimhood. The result is a Cult of Victimology, under which remnants of discrimination hold an obsessive, indignant fascination that allows only passing acknowledgment of any signs of progress.

What Is Victimology?

The charge that blacks engage in "peddling victimhood" is not new, but many might wonder how one could possibly criticize a group for calling attention to its victimhood. In this light, we must make a careful distinction. Approaching victimhood constructively will naturally include calling attention to it, and is healthy. However, much more often in modern black American life, victimhood is simply called attention to where it barely exists if at all. Most importantly, all too often this is done not with a view toward forging solutions, but to foster and nurture an unfocused brand of resentment and sense of alienation from the mainstream. This is Victimology.

Two contrasting examples will demonstrate. Marva Collins saw that inner city black students in Chicago were posting the worst grades in the city year after year. She founded a school combining high standards with rich feedback, celebration of progress, and a focus on self-esteem and upward mobility. Its successful techniques have been adopted by schools elsewhere in the nation. This is addressing victimhood as a problem.

On the other hand, Susan Ferecchio, a reporter for the Washington Times, visited the Afrocentric Marcus Garvey School to report on its progress in 1996. Asked to show her notes before she left, she refused according to journalistic protocol. For this, the principal Mary Anigbo told her to "get your white ass out of this school" and led a group of students in taking her notebook and then pushing, smacking, and kicking her from the premises. Anigbo first accused Ferecchio of pulling a knife on a student, then denied the episode ever happened, and then claimed that Ferecchio had deserved it. This was Victimology. What Anigbo did was meant not to allay victimhood but simply to express unfocused hostility: The physical violence Anigbo incited will do nothing to enhance the upward mobility of her students.

In leading black American thought today, Victimology, adopting victimhood as an identity and necessarily exaggerating it, dominates treating victimhood as a problem to be solved. Most black public statements are filtered through it, almost all race-related policy is founded upon it, almost all evaluations by blacks of one another are...
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Table of Contents

Preface vii
1 The Cult of Victimology 1
2 The Cult of Separatism 50
3 The Cult of Anti-intellectualism 82
4 The Roots of the Cult of Anti-intellectualism 137
5 African-American Self-Sabotage in Action: The Affirmative-Action Debate 164
6 African-American Self-Sabotage in Action: The Ebonics Controversy 184
7 How Can We Save the African-American Race? 212
Notes 263
Acknowledgments 271
Index 273
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First Chapter

Preface In January 1999, David Howard, the white ombudsman to the newly elected mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams, casually said in a budget meeting with two coworkers "I will have to be niggardly with this fund because it's not going to be a lot of money."

Niggardly is a rather esoteric word meaning "stingy." Its resemblance to the racial slur nigger is accidental. It has been used in English since the Middle Ages, when black people of any kind were unknown in England, and had been imported to the country by Scandinavian Viking invaders in the 800s, in whose tongue nig meant "miser."

Howard's coworkers were a white person and a black person. The black coworker immediately stormed out of the room and would not listen to Howard's attempt to explain. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Williams curtly accepted Howard's resignation, his official position being that in a predominantly black city with a history of racial tension, Howard's choice of words was grounds for dismissal, akin to being "caught smoking in a refinery that resulted in an explosion." Black talk radio was abuzz with indignation, almost unanimously in support of Williams's decision. A former president of the National Bar Association, a mostly black group, was uncompelled by the fact that the word is not a racial slur, fuming, "Do we really know where the Norwegians got the word?" Meanwhile, David Howard was contrite, considering his dismissal deserved. "You have to be able to see things from the other person's shoes," he explained, "and I did not do that."

Niggardly is, to be sure, an awkward little word. Its chance resemblance to nigger issuch that many of us might quite justifiably choose to avoid it in favor of stingy, parsimonious, or penurious. There are words like that -- the original meaning of horny was "rough or calloused," and one formerly had this word at one's disposal in describing, among other things, voice quality. In the twentieth century the word happens to have acquired the slang meaning of "sexually aroused," though, and as such it is now gracious to avoid using it in its original meaning.

Yet it was difficult not to ask whether a man deserved to be cast into unemployment because of this innocent and passing faux pas, especially a man who had dedicated his career to a troubled, predominantly black administration, and who had never shown any sign of racist bias. For many black observers, however, this was beside the point. "How would another ethnic group react if you came close to the line with a phrase inappropriate to that group?" asked the former National Bar Association president.

That rhetorical question cut through the whole issue in its way, because in fact, there is no other ethnic group in the United States today whose sensibilities would lead to someone's summary dismissal for a mere unintended allusion to a racial epithet applying to them. If Howard had made the equivalent slip-up in a Jewish, Asian, Latino, or even gay association, he would have been dutifully taken aside and informed that such a word was not the most felicitous choice and that he would be best advised not to use it in the future. He would then have been allowed to continue in his efforts to do good work.

Whatever our opinions on what happened to David Howard, only in an African-American context is the image of a man cleaning out his desk for such an evanescent little flub even processible. In other words, the firing of David Howard was "a black thing."

Like Howard's gaffe, the niggardly episode in itself was a minor flap, which will surely be all but forgotten by the time this book is in your hands. Yet it was symbolic of larger things, whose significance comes through in a thought exercise.

In the 1970s, an anecdote used to circulate in which a man is killed in a car accident but his son lives and is taken to a hospital where the surgeon says, "I can't operate on him -- he's my son." Most people were more likely to puzzle over how the boy's father could be both the doctor and dead than to even consider that the surgeon was in fact the boy's mother, and thus a woman.

Now, keeping that in mind, imagine if a Martian came to our planet and asked to interview a representative member of several leading nations, and the representative of the United States was chosen by lottery, and that the person who came up was an African American.

The fact is that for most of us, this would require the same polite adjustment needed to spontaneously imagine a female surgeon. We know that, theoretically, black Americans are "Americans." However, it's a rather intellectual point for both blacks and whites. When writers like Shelby Steele and Stanley Crouch wax eloquent about black people being Americans and perhaps even the most American of Americans, they are pushing the envelope, stretching the boundaries, attempting a transformation of thought, not simply stating a truism. The reasons such statements are more transformative than observational is because in all of our hearts, black Americans are perceived as a "case apart" in a way that almost no other native-born ethnic group in the United States is today.

Our archetypal sense of the representative "American" would be a WASP male, for example. However, a female WASP would be perceived as no less "American," nor would a white Catholic male or female. Except for an increasingly small fringe of fixated anti-Semites, no one would perceive Jewishness as refracting the American essence to any substantial degree. Although the Irish would have strained most Americans' sense of "American" a hundred years ago, today, even Irishness worn on the sleeve would arouse no comment, nor would being Italian, a Pole in Cleveland, an isolated rancher from Wyoming, or even a poor Appalachian. Whatever their individual heritages, all such people are processed as being a fundamental "part of the fabric."

The native-born people who strain our sense of who representative Americans are include Latinos, who often speak Spanish natively and have strong ties to other countries; Asians, for whom the same factors apply; and American Indians, who also often speak another language natively, are descended from indigenes torn from this land, and are now often relegated to the margins of society, and as such often have only a hesitant sense of being "American."

In this light, it is significant that black Americans are as difficult to process as representative "Americans" as many Latinos, Asians, and Indians. This is perhaps unremarkable in the case of inner-city youth. Crucially, however, our sense of dissonance would persist even if the black American chosen was an upper-middle-class corporate manager living in a manicured suburb. Somehow, all of us, black and white, can imagine this person representing the American soul as a whole only after an awkward little pause. And yet, unlike many Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, this person speaks nothing but English natively, as have all of his ancestors and relatives alive while he was. He has no ties to another country: His distant ancestors came from not one but a number of distinct African nations, and which nations these were is probably lost to history; meanwhile, he is unlikely to have even traveled to Africa. This man is an American: there is certainly nothing else that he could logically be. And yet to all of us, what this man is first and foremost, regardless of his tailored suit, Volvo, and walk-in closets, is "black." Certainly this is how most whites see him -- but crucially, this is also how most blacks see him. As the niggardly episode demonstrated, almost forty years after the Civil Rights Act, "black" is profoundly and incontrovertibly "different," drowning out all considerations of class, income, or accomplishment.

When someone asks "Why does everything always have to be about race?" the usual subtext is that whites keep this torch burning while black Americans are increasingly frustrated in their attempts to be accepted simply as "people." But this book is written in the belief that the idea that white racism is the main obstacle to black success and achievement is now all but obsolete. Today, ironic accidents of history have created a situation in which black Americans themselves are forced into the dominant role in making it so that most of us have to think twice to remember that even a black corporate lawyer living in the suburbs is an "American."

This is due neither to opportunism nor deliberate obstinance, despite frequent claims to the contrary. It is instead an externally imposed cultural disorder that has taken on a life of its own. As such, it no more justifies an indictment of the black community than a flu epidemic would justify censuring the administration of a city. However, we can only eradicate an epidemic and heal a community by identifying it -- trace it, face it, and erase it, as one hears in twelve-step programs. Along those lines, I will show that black America is currently caught in certain ideological holding patterns that are today much, much more serious barriers to black well-being than is white racism, and constitute nothing less than a continuous, self-sustaining act of self-sabotage.

Importantly, my conception of black American well-being incorporates anything any black American might subsume under that heading. For some, the main index of black American well-being would be integration. In that light, I believe that the black community today is the main obstacle to achieving the full integration our Civil Rights leaders sought.

Yet I am aware that integration is now a tired, distant, and fraught notion for many if not most African Americans. This is encapsulated as I write in a sitcom called The Hughleys, in which a black man moves his family to the suburbs and finds himself uneasy at the prospect that they will lose their cultural blackness in the course of daily contact with whites. Whatever the wisdom or folly of this anti-integrationist trend, for such people, black well-being would be less a matter of integration than basics like financial success and psychological well-being. Crucially, however, the main thing today keeping even these goals elusive for so many black Americans is the very mindset with which history has burdened the black community.

The ideological sea of troubles plaguing black America and keeping black Americans eternally America's case apart regardless of class expresses itself in three manifestations.

The first is the Cult of Victimology, under which it has become a keystone of cultural blackness to treat victimhood not as a problem to be solved but as an identity to be nurtured. Only naiveté could lead anyone to suppose that racism does not still exist, or that there are not still problems to be solved. However, the grip of the Cult of Victimology encourages the black American from birth to fixate upon remnants of racism and resolutely downplay all signs of its demise. Black Americans too often teach one another to conceive of racism not as a scourge on the wane but as an eternal pathology changing only in form and visibility, and always on the verge of getting not better but worse. Victimology determined the niggardly episode: The basic sentiment that racism still lurks in every corner led naturally to a sense that the use of a word that even sounds like nigger was a grievous insult, in alluding to a raw, relentless oppression and persecution still beleaguering the black community from all sides. The black coworker's bolting from the room deaf to appeal illustrated this, with the implication that the mere utterance of a particular sequence of sounds was an injury beyond all possible discussion, regardless of its actual meaning. More than a few black Washingtonians even surmised that Howard was using the word as a way of slipping the epithet in the back door, under the impression that racism this naked is still typical of most whites in private. Only in a community concerned less with solving victimhood than nurturing it would a mayor compare Howard's harmless little blooper to "being caught smoking in a refinery" and deny a man his job, instead of informing him of his mistake and allowing him to move on with the business of running the city.

The second manifestation is Separatism, a natural outgrowth of Victimology, which encourages black Americans to conceive of black people as 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. Because of this, the sad thing was that Anthony Williams was in a sense engaging in the business of "running the city" in accepting Howard's resignation. At the outset of his administration when the niggardly episode happened, the low-key, Ivy League-educated Williams was widely suspected of being "not black enough" in comparison to former mayor Marion Barry. He had first been chief financial officer on the control board that had taken over the city from Barry by order of Congress. He had gone on to be elected by whites and successful blacks, and had then brought a great many whites onto his staff. As such, Williams felt compelled to let Howard go in order to show his allegiance to the predominantly black constituency he had come to serve. Importantly, showing that allegiance meant firing a man for an innocent mistake. This irony was due to the fact that the Cult of Victimology has a stranglehold upon most of the black Washington community, and conditions various local rules considered appropriate for blacks in the name of victimhood, i.e., a Separatist conception of morality. One manifestation of this sovereign morality had reelected Marion Barry after he had run the city into the ground despite billions of dollars in Federal aid and been sent to prison for drug use. The idea that a white official uttering a word that sounds like nigger must be fired regardless of his intent w as simply one more manifestation. In other words, for Williams, part of running Washington, D.C., was showing that he was rooted in Separatism.

Separatism spawns the third manifestation, a strong tendency toward Anti-intellectualism at all levels of the black community. Founded in the roots of the culture in poverty and disenfranchisement, this tendency has now become a culture-internal infection nurtured by a distrust of the former oppressor. As I will demonstrate in this book, it is this, and not unequal distribution of educational resources, that is the root cause of the notorious lag in black students' grades and test scores regardless of class or income level, and this thought pattern, like Victimology and Separatism, rears its head in every race-related issue in the United States. "Do we really know where the Norwegians got the word?" I recall the former president of the National Bar Association asking in reference to niggardly. Yet the Scandinavians are not exactly well known for their role in the slave trade -- the Danes and the Swedes tried their hand briefly but never made much of a mark. This man might object that racism spreads nevertheless, but even here, a question arises: Blacks have been unjustly stereotyped as being many things, but "stingy" is not one of them. As such, how likely is it that niggardly would ever have referred to black people? How plausible is it that people picked up the slur nigger in a region where few people had ever even seen a black person until a few decades ago? Even if we somehow allow this, why exactly would they then proceed to apply the word to people who are tight with their cash? ("Come on, Sven, don't be such a nigger -- buy me a beer.") But this past president of the National Bar Association obviously did not pause to even briefly consider any of this, even before making statements to the press. A minor thing in itself, to be sure, but symptomatic of a general sense in much of the black community that to dwell upon such things as the origins of arcane words and, by extension, books, is "of another world," specifically the white one.

One of the most important things about these three currents is that whites in America do nothing less than encourage them. This is partly, as Shelby Steele argues, out of a sense of moral obligation that leads most whites to condone Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism as "understandable" responses to the horrors of the past. More than a few whites have come to see the condescension inherent in this, but only the occasional few dare express their opinion openly or at any length, since such an act is as likely to attract excoriation from other whites as from blacks. Whites also unwittingly encourage all of these currents via well-intentioned social policies like open-ended welfare and permanent affirmative action, which are intended to help blacks overcome, but in practice only roil the waters under all three currents. Whites are now implicated in nurturing black self-sabotage not because of racist malevolence, but because of the same historical accidents that have encouraged blacks to embrace these thought patterns. Yet the fact remains that interracial relations in America have congealed into a coded kind of dance that unwittingly encourages black people to preserve and reinforce their status as "other," and a pitiable, weak, and unintelligent "other" at that. This, too, was evident in the niggardly episode, in which David Howard actually accepted the condemnation rained upon him by most of black Washington. Howard thought that he deserved to be fired for innocently uttering a word that even sounded like nigger, even though what he was doing while uttering it was helping to improve the lives of the city's citizens.

One misconception about these three currents is that they are merely fringe phenomena, minor overswings of the pendulum that need not concern us in the long run. However, adherents of Victimology are in no sense limited to the likes of melodramatically opportunist politicians such as Al Sharpton, academic identity politics mavens such as Derrick Bell and Lani Guinier, or sensationalist cultural demagogues such as June Jordan. On the contrary, Victimology has become, less fervently but with profound influence nevertheless, part of the very essence of modern black identity. It now permeates the consciousness of a great many black Americans in all walks of life, most of whom in a recent poll were under the impression that three out of four black Americans lived in ghettoes, as opposed to the actual figure, which is one in five. Similarly, the furious and militant separatism of people like former Nation of Islam official Khalid Muhummad is but the tip of an iceberg. The general sense that the black person operates according to different rules was eloquently demonstrated, for example, by the muted concern with the open sexism of the Million Man March -- what group in America could any of us even begin to imagine convening an all-male march in 1995 other than African Americans? The Anti-intellectual current is often thought to be primarily an inner-city problem typical of underclass youth alienated from poor schools, but is in fact a tremendous impediment to black culture as a whole, as shown by the little-noted fact that even middle-class black students tend to make substandard grades even in well-funded suburban schools where teachers are making herculean, culturally sensitive efforts to reach them. In short, these three currents are neither only inner-city ills, mere cynical ploys by politicians, nor just smug fantasy churned out from the ivory tower by the brie-and-Zinfandel set. They are so endemic to black culture as a whole that they are no longer even perceived as points of view, but rather as simple logic incarnate. In other words, these defeatist thought patterns have become part of the bedrock of black identity.

The most serious misconception about these three currents, however, is that there is nothing wrong with them, and even that they are an evolutionary advance that other identity groups would benefit from adopting. On the contrary, these three currents hold black Americans back from the true freedom that so many consider whites to be denying them. Victimology is seductive because there is an ironic and addictive contentment in underdoggism. However, it also inherently gives failure, lack of effort, and even criminality a tacit stamp of approval. In addition, because focusing on the negative debases the performance of any human being, focusing on remaining aspects of victimhood rather than the rich opportunities before us is a ball and chain restraining any effort to move ahead. Separatism promises the balm of a sense of roots, and offers an escape from the vicissitudes of making our way into realms so recently closed to us. But the wary social remove that Separatism encourages blacks to maintain from whites regardless of actual experience is a much more powerful factor than white racism in making blacks less likely to be hired, or especially, promoted. Black Anti-intellectualism can often seem like a jolly and even healthy alternative to sterile nerdishness, but it is also, as I have noted, the main reason blacks underperform in school. On a broader level, a race permanently wary of close reasoning and learning for learning's sake is one not only spiritually impoverished, but permanently prevented from forging the best techniques for working toward a better future.

I have written this book under the conviction that it doesn't have to be this way, and that more to the point, it absolutely must not. Black America is currently embarked on a tragic detour. Accidents of history have condemned us to miss an unprecedented opportunity to reach Martin Luther King's mountaintop. In the first four chapters of this book, I will discuss the operations of these three currents in modern African-American thought. In the next two chapters I will show how these currents have shaped two race-related issues of wide impact, the affirmative action debate and the controversy over whether or not the in-group speech of black Americans is an African language called "Ebonics," which ought to be used in classrooms as an aid to teaching black children to read. The last chapter will outline suggestions for getting back on the track that our Civil Rights leaders set us upon. Following that track will require some profound adjustments in black identity, which today would feel nothing less than alien to most African Americans under the age of seventy. Nevertheless, these adjustments are not only possible, but most importantly are the only thing that will cut through the circularity and fraudulence infusing so much of interracial relations in America today, and bring African Americans at last to true equality in the only country that will ever be their home.

Copyright © 2000 by John McWhorter

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Enlightening Reading

    Losing the Race, by John McWhorter was a facinating book. It shed light on aspects of African American culture and social interactions that I have not seen discussed in a book before. Though Dr. McWhorter is a linguist, his insights into African American cultural traits and sociology are well founded. The issues he presents in the book are important and merit serious discussion both within the African American community and within American society in general. While, I can't say that I agree 100% with all of his conclusions (the book did a get a bit anectodal at times). I can say that it got me to think and reevaluate my position on particular issues concerning self-defeatism in the African American community. As mentioned previously, his arguments are well founded and his thesis should be thoroughly evaluated without "indignation" or preconcieved notions. This book should be viewed as an addition not an impediment to the lively and necessary debate on social issues in which any healthy democracy engages. One note of caution. Dr. McWhorter's writing style is academic and thoughtful. It should be read carefully-in other words it's not Hannity or Beck. I highly recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2006

    Excellent, Thought Provoking... Brutally Honest

    Mr. McWhorter wrote a book that some Blacks will fail to read and even fewer will fail to admit to, we are getting in our own way. Blacks must take responsibility for their own short comings and stop blaming everyone else. Our so called Black leaders are here basically for 'show and tell' purposes only. And, most blacks blindly follow a political party, that as of late, has done nothing to really assist most Blacks in their day to day plight. In 2006, Blacks have a far simpler and dare I say easier life than those of the 1960s or 1910s. However, the culturally held belief that we are still 'struggling', is a believe that most Blacks still hold near and dear to their hearts. That is even if they live in a gated community, and their children attend private schools. Mr. McWhorter sheds light on the absurdity of this belief system, as well as our desire to separate ourselves from others who do not think or act, or look like us (even within our own community). Self-defeatism is a scourge in the Black community, that I pray will cease to exist in my lifetime.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely Life Changing

    As a black man, reading this book was life changing. McWhorter provided insight from not only a black male perspective, but from an American perspective, a fighter's perspective, and an optimistic perspective. No longer will I allow the stereotypes and shallow expectations of others, not only the majority in this country, consume me or derail me. Kudos to McWhorter for have the wherewithal and motivation to write such a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2003

    An Excellent and Overdue Piece of Scholarship!

    As a young African-American male who was mercilessly ostracized by his Black peers from elementary to graduate school for "actin' white" just because I took education seriously, and whose "Blackness" was almost always questioned because of it, I cannot thank John McWhorter enough for writing this book. For far too long the liberal Black "leadership" among us has been so quick to point the finger at White America for all of its sins against African-Americans, and to blame ALL of our problems on racism and the legacy of slavery, yet refuse to challenge us as Blacks to take a good look at ourselves and acknowledge how - through word and deed - we do ourselves in. "Losing The Race" airs Black America's "dirty laundry" at a time when it NEEDS to be aired. I come across Blacks every day who are more comfortable being perennial "victims," while not applying themselves or taking advantage of the opportunities for educational and professional advancement that our forebears fought and died for during the Civil Rights Movement. I find it interesting that the majority of Blacks who want to slam McWhorter for writing this book have yet to put forth any academically or empirically sound rebuttals to any of the arguments that he makes therein. Basically, they can't, because they know that he is TELLING THE TRUTH! Furthermore, what is even more interesting is that many of these same Black Jesse Jackson/Al Sharptonesque critics tend to be lighter-skinned Blacks who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, felt they had to prove themselves in the eyes of their darker-skinned peers and "BLACKEN UP" idealogically (i.e. the "Blacker Than Thou" contingent). If I (a dark-skinned brother), the youngest of six children born to welfare parents in Cleveland, OH, can graduate high school Valedictorian, become the first college graduate in my family, earn a Master's degree, and go on to become a United States diplomat, then what excuse does a Black middle-class student, born to college-educated and financially comfortable parents, from Shaker Heights High School have for NOT realizing his/her full potential? Read this book and you'll understand why.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2003

    Every black person should read this book

    From the beginning chapter to the end chapter, I was amazed. This book covered a lot of things that I was experiencing and could now put a finger on it. This author held nothing back. He spoke the truth and showed how black america was being expoited by these so called civil rights leaders of today. I especially liked how he exposed the dealings of Mr. Sharpton and how he feeds on black americas naive misconception of the extent of racism. What was really great about this book was that the auther did not show a one sided argument, he showed you both sides of the spectrum. He even gave examples of his own experiences dealing with racism. What I gained from reading this book is that I am not capable of changing other people's perspectives concerning racism and its effects on success, however, I am capable of changing my perspective and level of success. Everyone should read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2002

    A must read for all blacks in America!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I could not put down this book. This is the most honest and accurate piece of work to come from someone within the black community. On numerous occasions while reading this book, I found myself nodding in approval of what was being said. As a recent migrant to this country, I could not understand how I could have achieved the successes I have to date, ahead of those afforded all the rights of citizenship. I have given this book as a gift for any recent occasion celebrated by my friends, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in seeking the reasons behind our underachievement.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2003


    John McWhorter's book is says what all blacks need to hear. His indictment of the victimologist cult is a long awaited breakthrough in the quest for truth. I applaud his initiative and his courage to write such an explosive, contoversial, widely deplored, but necesary book. Acknowledgement and acceptance is the first step towards change.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2002

    GOOD THINGS in HARD to Open Packages

    The writer is obviously well-informed. However he takes the less popular road of taking responsibility for one's self. Therefore a traitor to his race's party line. Soundly reasoned thoughts and insights if you are NOT be predisposed to a point of view. One downside is the writing takes some work to get through. I actually waded through ALL of the techno-babble( e.g. low-birth weight = low parent IQ?!!) of "Bell Curve" and this book is head and shoulders above that book. However, at times the book tends to drag a bit in belaboring a point.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2002

    Interesting perspective

    I read this book a while ago but I have been thinking about its contents for a while. Whether some African-Americans do not wish to learn formal education for whatever reason is perhaps true, but that is probably true for some in all of the races and ethnic groups. Lack of incentive is often to blame maybe. Some may feel that early education just leads to college and many do not wish to attend, but then no one gives the possibilities of trades--one can become a plumber and make innovations in the plumbing industry, etc. Lack of duty to one's community and society as a whole is examined in this book--why would some African-Americans be so much into self- sabotage and be so small minded? There is not much teaching of ethics and duty to the community in the schools. Is there more racism than the author thinks--I kept asking myself this throughout the novel. I thought "yes," there is much underlying racism of many sorts and some of it is more obvious through stereotypes and racial profiling, but that African-Americans do also often sabotage their own efforts, and some become as horrible or worse than those they complain about--the usual with all cultures. The leadership in the African-American community does not seem to be helping the African-American community as much as it should. The author raises many interesting issues.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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