on January 23, 2006
I have long been an admirer of John McWhorter and his scholarship. My background in rhetoric and his in linguistics makes us fellow travelers of a sort. But my admiration for Professor McWhorter is more a function of his courage, intellectual independence, and his fresh, crisp writing style. Moreover, his positions are always deftly argued and rooted in serious study and reflection. That he has to endure the kind of slanderous ad hominem attacks he sometimes encounters is sad. Yet, ironically enough, these actions only serve to bolster his thesis: bereft of any new ideas, the left must use race as an electoral bludgeon, a mechanism designed to ensure obeisance. And so, his critics' barbs morph into boomerangs; they backfire.
Still, it's regrettable that discourse has devolved and brought us to this point. With Professor McWhorter and scholars like him courageously leading the way, perhaps we may yet still "Win the Race." Let us hope so.
on January 27, 2006
Winning the Race, by John Mcwhorter, is the work of a man who has thought long and hard about race and the condition of African Americans. Mcwhorter's approach to this study is that of an observer who has soaked in his surroundings and then delved painstakingly into the task of investigating why things are the way they are. Has he found the right answers? I won't say that the conclusions in this book are definitive, but they are plausible, and they do make a great deal of sense. Mcwhorter's questions are as follows: how did certain black inner city neighborhoods across the nation become the drug ravaged, urban war zones that they are today? Why are so many black children underperforming academically? And perhaps most importantly, is racism to blame for the fact that blacks trail whites in every economic and educational indicator? Or is the problem a cultural one? The author's answers to these questions are very well thought out. He is aware of opposing arguments on the various issues he has covered and has regurgitated those arguments in the pages of his book so as to debunk them. When academics have blamed the removal of factories, hence jobs, from the inner city as a reason why black unemployment spiraled and working class black neighborhoods deteriorated into cauldrons of dead end poverty, he refutes the notion. If factory relocation were to blame, he asks, why did this terrible social blight affect the black community in Indianapolis, where factory jobs remained accessible to blacks? Mcwhorter analyzes poor blacks' disproportionate dependence on welfare, pointing out how blacks early in the twentieth century were disinclined to accept charity. Mcwhorter brings much history into his argument to compare and contrast the attitudes of African Americans in the past with those of the present. What he has discovered is an alienation, that has gripped a segment of black people, a militant, inward looking rejection of whites and perceived white values. This behavior pattern, or meme, as he calls it grew out of the white leftist counter culture movement of the sixties. It was adopted by blacks opposed to non-violent civil rights methods and became the goundwork upon which was erected the apathy a number of blacks share toward work, academic achievement and family life. He argues that the America of today, with its bountiful opportunities for blacks, is not the America of the past where white racism was overt and brutal. To those blacks who have equated the feather stroke grievance of a racial slight to the systemized hammer blows of racist oppression suffered by blacks at the turn of the century for example, the author takes them to task. He criticizes black leaders for reinforcing this meme of alienation among their followers while taking a lengthy jab at hip hop. He eloquently rips into academics who choose to focus on the negative aspects of black life in America while ignoring, or downplaying the real progress blacks have made in the post civil rights era. Winning the Race is not all about the author going after those whose views he does not agree with. The book has an optimistic tone. It conveys the author's pride in the struggles and achievements of blacks in the past. Mcwhorter is clearly proud of contemporary black progress: burgeoning black affluence combined with black visibility and accomplishment in all sectors of society. His optimism is tempered with frustration, however. But this is the frustration of a man who believes black people possess the potential do more, if and when the meme of alienation is removed. His anaylsis is not written in stone, but it is sound. Again, his conclusions are not definitive; I'm sure that wasn't his intent. His effort to describe the origins of the ills affecting much of Black America while pointing the way to solutions makes for an admirable piece of popular scholarship.
on February 14, 2006
John Hamilton McWhorter, V, is a scholar whose research and insight into black American culture make his contribution to today's race relations debate crucial for three reasons. First, he takes readers on a journey back in time to black life in America before the 1960s. In doing so, he shows that, despite living under brutal and systemic racial oppression, crushing poverty, and not far removed from slavery, hard-scrabble black folks carved out a sustainable existence for themselves by living by a cultural credo where you basically played the hand you were dealt in life as best you could.
Secondly, juxtaposing this earlier slice of black life next to the 1960s - where racism was on the down-slope and the overall economic situation for black Americans was improving - McWhorter demonstrates how embracing the Anti-Establishment Zeitgeist of the sixties all but nullified the cultural credo of that earlier era, thereby rendering blacks - especially the black poor - culturally worse off than previously. Lastly, in Winning the Race as well as in his two previous books (Losing the Race and Authentically Black), McWhorter offers a ray of hope on what can and should be done to make things better.
Winning the Race represents John McWhorter's third installment on race and culture in America that will cause readers to look at these crucial issues in fresh new ways.
on March 15, 2006
John McWhorter is neither a conservative nor someone concerned with political correctness. He is attempting to make sense of what he sees, and in doing so, he dares to ask questions about blacks, whites, and race relations. Even more daringly, he attempts to answer some of these questions.
You don't have to agree with him to benefit from reading the book, because he will at least force the intelligent reader to define his own position and muster his evidence. What should be obvious to most thinking people is that there is something amiss in the usual social or political explanations that try to explain the continuing state of disadvantage under which so many blacks labor. The difference is that McWhorter states that blacks must take charge of their own story, and he does so from a very definite stance: he finds that mainstream values such as education, work, and intellectual achievement are worthy goals. His claim is that these values have been deep-sixed by many blacks, in favor especially of a victim mentality and a rejection of the very tools (education and intellectual achievement) that would enable people to participate fully in the nation's life.
In short, his message states that only blacks can take charge of their future, change the tone of the master narrative that defines their lives, and this can be done only if people own their stories--the whole story, not just the part that lies within the responsibility of others.
For those who would like a very opposite viewpoint, also well worth the read, try Robert Jensen's "The Heart of Whiteness".
on January 17, 2006
As an avid reader and blogger, I am impressed with the man
and this book.
I am black, in my twenties and am grateful, that some one could
brave the attacks by the left to write such a book.
Most of the things in his book, are known to many in his feild, but they choose to be quiet for fear of being called racist,
or an uncle tom. They prefer to listen to Cornell West lie to them!
Great job John!
on January 23, 2006
Winning the Race by John McWhorter is an excellent book about the problems faced by black folks in today's America.
Racism is far less a problem now than any other time in American history. This is generally good news. However, black Americans continue to face serious hurdles in their quest for racial equality.
According to John McWhorter, the reason for this is that there is a self-imposed cultural roadblock that has caused blacks, especially black youth, to fail to advance towards educational parity with whites.
McWhorter maintains that rap music is uniquely misogynistic and damaging. He also points out the influence of "victimologists" on black thought. McWhorter also maintains that black students who apply themselves academically are all too often accused of "acting white." He also says that blacks fail to take responsibility for their mistakes and instead use racism as a crutch.
Winning the Race by John McWhorter is an important and engaging read.
on March 29, 2006
For the reasons set forth below, I give this book 5 stars and would recommend to anyone who is interested in bettering the fate of Blacks in America, collectively speaking. However, before I do that, I offer 3 criticisms of the book (though none substantial enough to detract from giving it 5 stars). First, as one reviewer noted, I think that Dr. McWhorter did in fact cover some of the same ground in "Losing the Race". Second, as Booklist noted, I also felt that on occasion, he had a tendency at times to be "long-winded and repetitive". Finally, I was particularly puzzled by the Conclusion of the book which seems to say, in essence: The problem I have described which has been the focus of the entire book--namely therapeutic alienation and its effects--is pretty much going by the boards and the people who espouse it (or live it) these days are dwindling rapidly as compared to the old days (which he loosely defines as before 2000). The book itself (up to the Conclusion) makes it seem as if therapeutic alienation is a kind of pandemic and a nearly intractable one at that. And yet the Conclusion makes it seem that the rest of the book may as well have been describing a historical period which began in, say, 1968 and ended in 2000 or 2001.
Having said all that, I still say it's a 5-star book. I have to admit that, before I read this book, and based on the author's prior works, that I was biased--that is, biased as in predisposed to think it would be very well-written, highly persuasive (like a lawyer's brief in the best sense) and written with a real passion for the subject matter. And I wasn't disappointed at all. The book was every one of those things. Dr. McWhorter's views are somewhat along the lines of Shelby Steele's, whom he has acknowledged as being an inspiration. However Steele's classic book "The Content of Our Character" was written almost 15 years ago, and as Dr. McWhorter points out, racial issues are almost constantly in a state of flux. Thus, it is certainly worthwhile to have his take on the situation, circa 2006.
Another thing I admire about Dr. McWhorter's technique is how he masterfully blends the "macro" analysis (i.e. convincing statistical and empirical analyses) with a "micro" analysis (such as his own anecdotal experiences). An example of the latter is his analysis of his own life as a Black person and how it has borne virtually no resemblance to the supposedly "typical" Black person portrayed in Ellis Cose's "The Rage of the Middle Class."
It also struck me how shocking so much of the book seems in this day and age. People with views like Ellis Cose's, Spike Lee's and many others (i.e. racism exists all day, all night, against all classes, overt and covert, malevolently, innocently, etc. etc.) seem to be a dime a dozen. To me, one piece of evidence of the prevalence of that mindset is how is a white person utters the "N" word (even when used in a critical context such as the U. Va. incident), you can be sure that that person will either be fired on the spot, or, at a minimum, there will be hell to pay. In any event, having read many books on race relations, it is quite rare to hear a Black person come right out and say "in public" to his fellow Blacks, in 2006, that they are overstating the effects of racism and detracting
from their lives because of it. There is no way on earth that this book could ever, EVER have been written by a white person. I am reminded of a phrase that I once heard in connection with a book by a Jewish man who was somewhat critical of the way in which Jewish "exploit" the Holocaust--he said that they are "intent on maintaining permanent possession of the Olympic gold medal in the sport of victimization". That phrase came to mind when reading this book as well. In any event if you want to read a contrarian viewpoint (contrarian to the common diatribes one continues to hear about the causes of minority ills in this country, then definitely read this book. Dr. Whorter's passion and persuasiveness shine through on every page.
on January 9, 2007
I saw John McWhorter on a PBS news show and was taken back by the way he explained the issues of Black Culture based on his book and that prompted me to buy the book. I think it helped that the host of the show (who is white) seemed befuddled by John's explanation of the impact of Black Culture. I would have responded the same ways as a white person who has had minimal exposure to Black Culture. White folks do not always get straight talk about the Black community and because of that can not understand the root causes of problems faced by Black folks in today's society. Seems that Black Leaders are always trying to find blame for Black Folks problems based on racism and changes in the economy, etc. That approach seems to cause more problems then it fixes and will never allow real integration of the minds and hearts.
The book goes into great detail about Black culture but one thing I liked was John's honesty and sincerity that made me feel like John was talking to me to explain the real issues that affect Black folks in today's society. I read both of John's books, "Losing the Race" and "Winning the Race" and I felt like John was really trying to cut away the BS and show why there are problems in the Black community and they have nothing to with racism or the big bad white man wanting to keep the Black person down. Using facts like the percentage of Blacks in prison compared with the Black population or that how Blacks endured prior to 60s and migrated to the north but could not go 5-10 miles out side Indianapolis were the factories moved from the inner city. Many of the issues that John points out I always felt were the case but never heard anyone openly bring them to light. I really could understand John's explanation on how the open ended Welfare that started in the 60s caused the Black community to decline in many areas. I saw the same thing growing up around Cortland, NY (30 miles south of Syracuse). These were white people but they had many of the same issues that welfare caused Black folks and I wanted no part of it. My Mother was working to bring up three children making under $2.00 an hour around 1970 with a 150.00 per month for all three children. She never thought of using welfare as way to get out of having to work all day and take care of her kids at night. She was able to buy us a new home and move use to a good neighborhood. My Mother's motivation and dedication has always inspired me to work hard and try and do the right things in life. On the other hand I had a father who basically abandoned us, and if it was not for the US Air Force forcing him to send child support we would have received very little from him. By the way, my Mother grew up poor on a farm and her father did the minimal to help the family stay a float but some how she never let that stop her from doing the right thing.
I used my experiences to relate to what John was explaining in the book and it all made really good sense. I think we all have negative forces pulling on us and a person has to work really hard regardless of their race to rise above these forces and do the right thing to put them in position to have a good life. John makes many good points that many Black folks are underachievers because of cultural influences (peer pressure) and I felt the same issues when I found myself hanging around the wrong people who only wanted to party and have a good time at the expense of their friends. I had to leave those people behind if I was to accomplish anything positive in my life. It was not easy for me to break away from the party/drug culture I lived around. Based on John's book I felt that for a Black youngster to be successful they need to break away and make the decision to leave the grips of a negative culture to go out into the world to be successful. To be their own man or women, but how can they when they relied so much on that culture as their identity.
The key for me was going into the Air Force and taking advantage of the educational programs and continuing in the Air Force Reserves. It all helped bring myself above what an average person was thought to be able to achieve in Cortland, NY. I had many Black friends in the Air Force that had the same opportunities to gain the same advantages the military had to offer and many took advantages of those opportunities. Just like me, many Black folks who entered into the Air Force just needed to get away from the negative influences that existed at home and find out what they could accomplish.
This is a really good book, written by someone with a great deal of insight and experience. I would recommend the book to anyone who has never experienced the Black culture of the last 30 years to help them get a better idea what many Black folks face in today's society and to provide a better understanding of the issues. The book helped see things much differently for Black folks and helped me create more empathy towards their issues in today's society.
on January 14, 2006
When I read Losing the Race, I was blown away by how great the book was. John's thesis in losing the race is that there are 3 things that are holding back Black America from having success in America: 1)anti-intellectualism, 2)separatism, 3)victimology
In Winning the Race, he focuses on why these 3 factors exist, the concept of therapeutic alienation & cultural shifts are the main causes for these 3 factors. People who are liberals/democratic party hacks & leftists will denounce this book as conservative garbage. That is such crap, it is too easy in America to shoot the messenger & vilify that person. McWhorter is not a right wing conservative, he is a moderate who is serious about solving the ills that affect black america. McWhorter did not vote for george w. bush in 2000 or 2004, but he is still a "black conservative, go figure. Moreover, why is being a conservative or a "black conservative" such a bad thing? One can argue that liberals/leftists are the people not serious about solving the issues that face black america. They just want to keep blaming whitey & the republicans for the problems of black america, meanwhile black america foolishly continues to support the democratic party. Back to Winning The Race, the chapters in the book about the impact of the white counterculture, affirmative action, the political impact of hip hop are brilliant. McWhorter's analysis & views are just amazing. For too long in America, the conversation of race has been dominated by white liberals & black democrats. no Americans of any color have benefited from this, there needs to be an open CIVILIZED debate on issues such as affirmative action, race preferences, police relations, education & other issues. Next to Shelby Steele, John McWhorter is the most brilliant writers on race I have ever heard. People like Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Deborah Mathis can write all the books they want & appear on "brother" tavis smiley's PBS show a million times, but these are not serious people whose goal is to get back at whitey than helping black americans who truly need help. I truly understand the distrust/animosity that some blacks have against whites but everyone's cooperation is needed to solve the issues that face black america. I whole heartedly recommend this book as well as the following books: Losing the race and Authentically Black by John Mcwhorter. The Content of our Character & A Dream Deferred by Shelby Steele. Some people will agree with what I have written & some will demonize me, that is fine, but people should read this book & come to their own conclusion.
on July 12, 2016
In my view, this book demonstrates why the group with greater moral authority at this time, is not the blacks who scold America about "institutional racism" , or "white privilege", and who seek to misuse trivial slights as leverage to "prove" some enormous systemic wrong that doesn't exist. Rather, the group with greater moral authority at the present are the whites who are being wrongly accused or maligned, individually or as a group, by the supporters of the Cult of Victimology and the proselytizers for the religion of "Racism is Eeverywhere...even under that mossy rock in the garden" , who often find themselves subject to lectures, harangues, shaming, guilt trips, ...for little more than simply going about and living their lives.
I appreciate McWhorter's book -- I think all the story details help, as they show him to be very reasonable -- he's not denying the existence of racism or injustices. Rather he is pointing to a serious problem with exaggeration. In particular, his pointing to the black community's latching on to the "meme" of "therapeutic alienation" is very useful, as well as common sensical. It's something that many insightful people have understood all along has been happening. It's easy to see that righteous indignation gives people a sense of purpose, a way to project all their own personal issues outward and blame someone else for them, as well as to justify bad behavior, even criminal behavior. All in all this is very convenient -- but ultimately dishonest.
The fact that McWhorter's book would not be one that a white person could write at this time, is part of the reason why white people who are simply out there living their lives, and finding themselve accused of a litany of wrongs as they do so, actually have significant moral authority at the present, if they can rally it, and if they can get out from under the disgusting and intolerant affront that for white people to freely speak their mind is a racist act. Those who tell the truth in a landscape of lies and exaggeration, who refuse to tolerate the dishonest fictions that are being told about racism in the nation...and who in fact are being kept silent and quite often not permitted to speak...those are the ones whose speech is at present most needed.
We have heard from black America about the problems in black America, and issues of race in America. The group we have not heard from are white Americans ....we have not heard white Americans speaking honestly about race. And I don't mean just those cherry picked white Americans who have been deemed suitably indoctrinated by Al Sharpton and the Racism Machine. I mean plain ordinary white Americans who have seen what is going on around them and who have a response to the massive BS, but every time they try to speak someone puts duct tape on their mouth. Off with the duct tape and out with the truth, please.