Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America by John McWhorter, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

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by John McWhorter

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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5.16(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.76(d)

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...

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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Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
random_skeptic More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
kabussey More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.