First Amendment

John McWhorter: America Has Never Been Less Racist

Columbia linguist John McWhorter on the Jussie Smollett hoax, Donald Trump, and "antiracism" as a new secular religion.

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When actor Jussie Smollet lied about being attacked by racist, MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporters, Columbia University linguist John McWhorter actually interpreted it as a sign that "we have come further on race than we are often comfortable admitting."

"Only in an America in which matters of race are not as utterly irredeemable as we are often told," he wrote in The Atlantic, would someone "pretend to be tortured in this way…[because] playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys."

The unwillingness of both blacks and whites to acknowledge progress on racial equality is a long-running theme for McWhorter, who in 2000 published Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, which argued that "in most cases, [racism] is not an obstacle to people being the best that they can be."

In an influential 2015 essay, McWhorter argued that "Antiracism" had become a new secular religion in America, complete with "clergy, creed, and also even a conception of Original Sin."

"One is born marked by original sin," he wrote. "To be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege." Black people, he continued, "will express their grievances and whites will agree" that they are racist. On the right, McWhorter observed, there is a growing sense of hostility on racial issues and, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who agree that black-white relations are good is at a 20-year low. And for the first time since the pollster has asked the question, a majority of blacks rate race relations as bad.

I sat down with the 53-year-old McWhorter—the author or editor of 20 books—to talk about his upbringing in a mixed-race part of Philadelphia, his academic focus on Creole language, and the unmistakable signs of racial progress that an increasing number of Americans seem unwilling to acknowledge.

Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander.

Photos by Jim Epstein.

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  1. I could have sworn there were comments to this article?

    1. This is the video. You want the podcast

  2. And it’s never been more fascist or speech more censored.

    Are you happier?

  3. The political right in America remains pickled in racism. Racism is not all that the right is about, but racism is the right’s principal means to access power.

    If some magic button could be pushed to deprive the Republican Party of its racist southern strategy, that party would immediately lose reliable electoral votes in at least Georgia and Texas, and cease altogether to contend for Florida and North Carolina. It would disappear as a factor in presidential politics, and not regain power until it had remade itself in a far more egalitarian model.

    It is unsurprising that someone who narrows the measure of public life to speculations about individual potential would misjudge racism. Racism is bigotry systematized, which for McWhorter apparently creates a classic forest for the trees perceptual problem. How can bark beetles imperil a forest, when it can be shown that some trees will escape?

    An analyst who studies systematic results—Coates would be an obvious choice—would embarrass McWhorter in a public debate about racism. McWhorter could point to Coates’s own success, as an example to prove racial amelioration. Coates could ask McWhorter, why do you exclude the experience of black people generally?

    1. You have just divided everyone into two groups, demonizing one, “the right” as you call them.

      That demonstrates bigotry.

    2. LOL

      So much dumb.

      The reality is that anybody can do anything they want in the USA. The problems one sees in some groups, at this point, are self created. I went to school when I was young in a minority majority town. A certain black friend of mine was smart, worked hard, and generally a good person. Another was a shit head who was into acting tough. A couple years ago I looked up the one who was a friend on Facebook… He is a US Air Force officer, a captain IIRC. A good, respectable career. And I’m sure he’ll do great things if he ever leaves.

      Didn’t look up the other guy, but I’d be willing to be he’s in prison.

      2 black kids, both from poor families, went to the same school, same teachers… One of them is doing well, the other is probably fucked. Where in that equation does racism come into play?

      I don’t deny there are statistical differences in intergenerational wealth and all that jazz… It’s true. But the black community has no excuses for not getting their shit together. Hispanic Americans have generally been in the US less time, started out poorer and less educated, often illegal… And have higher incomes and net worths than blacks. And we’re supposedly racist against them too… So what’s the excuse?

      It’s dysfunction, and it ain’t white peoples fault.

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