Lessons from John Derbyshire

This weekend, the political internet exploded over an article by John Derbyshire in an online zine about “the talk” non-black parents have with their children.  His article came in response to many black commentators acknowledging that they gave their children “the talk” about how, as blacks, they would have to be conscious about how others saw their skin color.  This itself was in response to the recent Trayvon Martin shooting and its racial undertones.  Derbyshire said that he had given his children a similar talk, which can more or less be summed up as, black people are dangerous and best to be avoided.  After the firestorm, Derbyshire was fired from his position at the conservative magazine National Review.

There’s a couple things to be said here, first, I am one non-black American that never received this talk or any aspect of it, I guess it’s just been luck I’ve survived so far.  Second, the outrage over the article is notsomuch about the acutal contents of it but rather the fact that it exposes a fairly common racial attitude in America.  Many of the comments on social news sites reporting the story show that there are many others who share Derbyshire’s attitude.  Both conservatives and liberals liked to pretend that people still didn’t think this way and this exposure provides an uncomfortable reminder that it’s very much still present.

Perhaps most important though, is what Derbyshire says at the end of his list.

“13. In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.”

Derbyshire’s earlier warnings of blacks used statistics to show that blacks are more dangerous and in doing so he was indirectly saying that blacks caused more crime or that there is disproportionate education because they are black.  Then at the end of the article he basically says that blacks are bad except when they’re not, noting the “IWSB” as he says.  So in what is perhaps his most racist advice, is also his most telling.  Why are blacks on average poorer, less educated, and more prone to crime than non-black?  Derbyshire implies that it’s because they’re black.

But by defining the IWSB he unknowingly notes the real culprit, poverty.  You can take almost all of his article, replace the word blacks with the poor and get better statistical results.  For instance, a higher percentage of the prison population is poor than it is black, and poor people have lower IQ’s on average than rich people.  Also, if you are black you’re also much more likely to be poor, not because you’re black, but because of history, 400 years of enslavement, and another 100 of feudalism.  500 years of history of creating an underclass in America and less than 50 trying to repair it.  Derbyshire’s suggestion: make the underclass permanent.


2 thoughts on “Lessons from John Derbyshire

  1. ‘ 500 years of history of creating an underclass in America and less than 50 trying to repair it. ‘

    I apologise for my short and inarticulate comment, I’ve been up for a few days and am a bit addled at the moment.

    Your post is well written, a great observation on the usual bias of the priviledged in any society, really. The one thing that I take issue with is that there is any real attempt to repair the damage caused by systemic practises. The priviledged in America are still Caucasian males, the tokens in office prove this over and over with few women, minorities, lgbt, [insert oppressed (don’t you dare mention Mormons and insult anybody’s intelligence) group here] in any real positions of power.

    There is no attempt to repair, there is only an attempt at the appearance of repair with tokens as evidenced by the last election with obvious racism, the incredible remarks made about rape, the attacks on women’s sexuality, and a whole list of other things. I’m surprised there isn’t a return to stringing up witches considering the fantastic behaviour that was only a few short decades ago simmering below the surface of an insincere propriety.

    I certainly don’t straw man when I point out there are enough studies to show that there is an intent to oppress anybody of African descent in America, just look at the amazing efforts put on to keep them from voting in the last election. A woman who grew up in the Jim Crow era indicated she didn’t have the hurdles to vote that she did in the last election.

    There is no effort at repair of damage caused by institutionalised, systemic racism in America. The opposite has been shown to be true and the efforts to continue to strengthen priviledged status of the few, from not taxing the rich to saving the banks who ripped off the populace, are more than enough proofs that nothing actually changed except for the removal the segregation signs and telling people to sit on the back of the bus. You don’t need those signs to tell ‘The others’ what to do when you can keep them separate through poverty, lack of education, and culturally decimated.

    1. That’s a fair point, although I’d counter by saying that efforts and conscious awareness have been better in the past 50 years than in any other time in history. Systemic racism can only go away through gradual cultural change and it seems we’re still moving in the right direction (at least I hope).

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