In Defense of John Derbyshire

Memo to Eric Holder: we’ve found an exception to the nation of cowards!

Does anyone still remember that flap? A couple of years back, our attorney general declared that America won’t have an honest conversation about race because, in essence, we’re completely dishonest with ourselves and won’t speak openly about what we really think:

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we — I believe continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder told Department of Justice employees at an event Wednesday celebrating Black History Month.

He said that Americans are afraid to talk about race, adding that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Conservatives roundly condemned him, but they were wrong to do so. We are indeed a nation of cowards when it comes to race relations, saying one thing to people of our own race, in private — and another in public.

Like taking a drug to escape a problem, multicultural white-guilt can mask this issue only for a time. Eventually, the high wears off and we need more and more of it to get the same effect — until we start using so much of it that it destroys our system.

John Derbyshire has penned a shockingly frank — and deliberately inflammatory — piece about race for Taki’s Mag that deserves close inspection and serious discussion.

It won’t receive it, and he knows that. The problem that most people will have in reading his piece, really, is that Derbyshire is a writer of high wit and iconoclasm, and almost everyone who reads his work is too high from white-guilt to think realistically about what he’s written. Josh Barro, a simpleton who writes for Forbes Magazine, is emblematic of this problem:

Derbyshire also recommends befriending some “intelligent and well-socialized blacks” (IWSBs, for short) so that you can deflect charges of racism by noting that some of your best friends are black. Alas, he adds “the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous.

As Reince Priebus can testify to, we live in a world that is shockingly bad at comprehending analogies. Anyone who can’t see how tongue-in-cheek this remark is — which would include most of the brain-dead media establishment — is either ignorant or stupid (probably both). Derbyshire’s jab here is directed at least as much at white people as it is at black people: he is clearly pointing out how people frequently use intelligent black people as props to cover up feelings of racial guilt. White liberals and conservatives alike avoid the ‘hood, and whether Barack Obama or Thomas Sowell is their IWSB-of-choice, everyone sort of collectively agrees that admiration for an individual black is a cathartic, emotionally-liberating way of avoiding having to think seriously about race relations. What upper-class white person hasn’t spent time making a mental list of the black people he admires, reassuring himself that it absolves him of the responsibility to think seriously about race relations?

Most people who have taken the time to comment on Derbyshire’s piece aren’t even bothering to point out specific grievances. For these people — the ‘respectable,’ intellectually vapid echo chamber — he’s just a punching bag; a way to prove how not-racist they are. See how easy and fun this can be? Everyone can take a turn batting down Derbyshire to win some multicultural white-guilt cred! Rich Lowry, Derbyshire’s boss at the National Review, takes his turn with this brilliant rebuttal, reproduced in full:

Needless to say, no one at National Review shares Derb’s appalling view of what parents supposedly should tell their kids about blacks in this instantly notorious piece here.

What’s so appalling, though? One is reminded of Eminem’s “I’m like a headtrip to listen to/Because I’m only giving you/Things you joke about with your friends inside your living room.” Does any white person actually think that it’s a good idea to casually enter predominantly black neighborhoods? Come on, now. I’ve lived in DC; no one can sell me any bill of goods about this. The rule is — and everyone knows it — to stay out of Northeast DC. It’s the ghetto. Things work differently there. It’s nothing inherent in the skin pigmentation of black people, but the facts are what they are: predominantly black neighborhoods — again, we use the euphemism ‘the ghetto’ — ain’t safe. What city-dweller doesn’t have some kind of horror story? A friend of mine was mugged in a McDonald’s bathroom in Northeast DC by a black man. After having his money stolen at knife-point, he ran out to inform the people in the lobby — all black — what had happened, and he was laughed at. “Kid, this is the f**king ghetto,” they told him. “What did you expect?”

We can pretend that this was just as likely to occur in an all-white neighborhood, or we can be honest with ourselves.

Again, this type of behavior isn’t anything inherent in being black, as Derbyshire notes several times. But plenty of cultures evolve to acquire group traits that don’t have anything inherent about them. Gay men don’t all listen to dance music, but if you go to a gay club, you’re definitely going to hear a lot more dance music than at a regular club. The vast majority of blacks aren’t dangerous people, but black people commit violent crimes far out of proportion to their numbers. Isn’t it better to acknowledge this than to deliberately evade reality? There’s obviously nothing inherent in black skin that causes crime (or anything inherent in homosexuality that causes a love of dance divas). But whatever the “root cause” of this is, the facts are what they are. It serves no one’s interests — certainly not black people’s — to cover up this fact for the sake of mitigating white-guilt.

Maybe some of what Derbyshire wrote was inaccurate, or over the line. Fine. If that’s the case, then surely someone can and will provide a reasoned, intelligent, line-for-line rebuttal of his arguments. But right now, Derbyshire has the intellectual high-ground, for the simple, rudimentary reason that at least he is making some sort of coherent claim, unlike the shallow, transparent non-rebuttals that have flooded the blogosphere over the past day. By default, the guy making an actual argument beats the guy mindlessly flailing about.

Almost everything in Derbyshire’s piece represents exactly what most white people think to themselves, privately. It seems that he is discovering the harsh truth that Eric Holder described: “Certain subjects are off-limits and… to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.” Fire up the lynch mob!

-Alex Knepper