I just finished reading Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. I found it about as enjoyable as a series of rabies shots.
There's nothing wrong with University of California at Berkley Linguistics Professor John McWhorter's writing. In fact, his style is surprisingly witty and accessible for an academic. My problem was with the substance of the book's message. Like any sudden wake up call, Losing the Race will come as a shock to many. Quite simply, too many black kids are not making the grade. They tend to be the weakest students on college campuses. That's not only bad news, it's terrifying.
The first and most painful theme of the book is that a lot of black kids are engaged in a kind of self-sabotage. Somehow, it has become fashionable to see academic achievement as a white thing. Black kids aren't applying themselves, and those who do pay the price of social isolation. I can't argue with this - not even half-heartedly. I've seen too many younger cousins and children of friends arrive home in tears or bruised from fighting because they were accused of "acting white" by speaking standard English, reading books and getting good grades.
Young Professor McWhorter notes this is not just an inner city problem, pointing out that some of his worst students came from middle class and even affluent black households. An absolutely disgusting example came home to the folks of Maryland recently in a Washington Times article on the SAT scores of students in Prince George's County. It is home to some of the most well-to-do blacks in America, but the average SAT score for black students was 30 points lower than the average Hispanic kid's score and over 200 points lower than for the average white. That's simply an inexcusable shame.
But the second theme of young Professor McWhorter's book disturbs me. It's painful, however, because it's wrong. He says anti-intellectualism has always been a part of the black community's mindset. This is a huge mistake, and will probably mar the book's credibility. Education was highly prized by our ancestors. The great speaker and abolitionist Frederick Douglass risked both a whipping and his life for learning how to read when he was still a slave. Booker T. Washington walked the hundreds of miles from Roanoke to Hampton to attend what is now Hampton University. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the average Virginian wasn't exactly oozing with love and sympathy towards blacks like Washington - so the trip was not only long and exhausting but potentially dangerous.
If anti-intellectualism was an ingrained part of black culture, Brown v. Board of Education would not have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Little Rock Nine never would have faced down the hatred and anger of thousands of whites when they integrated Little Rock's Central High School. Today, many working class and poor parents somehow manage to scrape together the tuition money so their kids can attend private school. Don't tell me that these folks don't value education!
Anti-intellectualism is not a long-running black mindset. I'm not sure when it took hold, but we certainly can't blame our grandparents and our ancestors for it. They struggled, and some of them died, so that we can enjoy the opportunities we have now. We have no excuses.
The big question posed by Losing the Race is: What do we do now? Some folks have responded with anger. Others will respond with denial. Not surprisingly, the black media has responded mostly with silence. But I hope most readers will respond with action.
The situation described in Losing the Race is distressing, but I believe we can turn it around. As adults, we must step up. We cannot leave our children's futures to chance or charity. It's not enough for you to send your little one to a "good" school. You must get involved in your child's education. Have you been to school and spoken to your child's teacher yet? Have you volunteered for any school activity? Do you know how much homework your child had last night, and if it was completed before you let him or her turn on the TV?
Don't wait until the report cards come out. Demand excellence from your child now and keep your eye on the teacher.
Black people, our kids have a problem. What are we going to
do about it?
(Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of Project 21's National
Advisory Board and a conservative writer living in Virginia.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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