Still Losing the Race?
When I got my doctorate in linguistics from Stanford University in 1993, the furthest thing imaginable to me was that, ten years later, I would be in the midst of a second career as a pundit on race issues, let alone find myself classed as a black conservative. True, in college and graduate school, I had felt frustrated and dismayed whenever a successful black of my acquaintance would go out of his way to adopt the pose of a victim of American “racism.” But to me this sort of angry display was of merely passing interest. My own life was built around writing academic papers, making the rounds of linguistics conferences, and playing piano and performing on stage as a hobby. In 1995 I took my place as a professor of linguistics at Berkeley with little expectation that life would change much thereafter.
Then came Proposition 209, the 1996 referendum banning racial preferences in the state of California. At an elite school like Berkeley, the immediate effect of this ban was to reduce the number of blacks admitted, thereby sparking a furious reaction and much talk of an ominous drift toward the “resegregation” of American society. It was not as if anybody denied that the typical black applicant to Berkeley suffered from lower grades and test scores than the typical white applicant; but the problem, we were instructed, lay in the grim facts of black disadvantage in America, and to forbid any consideration of those circumstances in admissions procedures amounted to sheer bigotry.
About the Author
John H. McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The Power of Babel, Authentically Black, and, most recently, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care (Gotham). His “Up From Hip-Hop” appeared in the March 2003 COMMENTARY.