John Derbyshire on the race myth


I am 61 years old. That's old enough to have a clear memory of the Civil Rights movement. To be sure, I watched it from a distance, growing up in England. I followed it with keen interest, though, wishing it well. Racial segregation was an obvious injustice, and we had all heard lurid tales of life in the American South. Like most intelligent teenagers, I was sensitive to injustice, and wanted to see it corrected.

I can tell you a thing that has been considerably forgotten now, flushed away down the memory hole. Here's the thing. At that time, everyone who supported the Civil Rights Movement-everyone, absolutely everyone-assumed that the Movement would, if it succeeded, lead to a more harmonious society, a society in which the races mingled freely as equal citizens, a society in which race mattered to nobody but the manufacturers of cosmetics. They, we, all assumed that if the shackles of legal discrimination were removed, black Americans would swiftly distribute themselves across America's class, income, and status structure in the same proportions as their white fellow-citizens. Why should they not? Human beings form a single biological species. Given a level playing field, any group should perform as well as any other, in any kind of endeavor, shouldn't it?

What a terrible disillusioning there has been! Things did not happen in the least as we expected. True, there has been much improvement. Our nation now has a flourishing black middle class. There is now no obstacle to a capable black American, from any part of the country, rising to any level, in any sphere or profession. The casual mocking and insulting of black Americans by nonblack Americans has been shamed out of our social life.

Yet the numbers did not come out right, not at all. With black people at thirteen percent of our population, we should, if the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement had come true, find that thirteen percent of our engineers and airline pilots, thirteen percent of our storekeepers, contractors, and entrepreneurs, thirteen percent of our prisoners and unwed mothers, are black. This is not, of course, what we find; and the numerical discrepancies are not of the kind called "statistically insignificant." Not at all. Not at all.

Worse yet, and even setting aside issues of class and status, black and nonblack Americans have drifted apart, and in many respects are further from common citizenship now than they were fifty years ago. We do not, for example, watch the same TV programs and movies. The producers of a middle-class domestic comedy movie-one with someone like Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks in it-can leave black people out of the movie altogether if they feel like it, confident in the knowledge that black Americans don't watch that kind of movie anyway. Similarly, sitcoms like Cheers and Friends could field all-white casts with a clear conscience, knowing that the black audience was off somewhere else, watching some different sitcom with an all-black cast.....

Meanwhile, among nonblack Americans, a rigorous and intolerant ideology of "anti-racism" has grown up. The opinions a nonblack American has, or more precisely voices, about race are now a major in-group (I mean, among fellow nonblacks) status marker. Let me just elaborate on that a little. Modern neuroscience perceives the human brain as a modular structure, different modules performing different functions. Since humans are quintessentially social animals, much of the brain is given over to processing social information. A big part of this information concerns in-group status. We need to be constantly evaluating, and re-evaluating, the status of ourselves and others in the various groups we belong to. A mistake in this respect can be fatal-as, for example, in the case of an undersized low-status male foolishly challenging one of the group's alpha males. Evolution has a way of weeding these things out. Some neuroscientists have postulated an entire module of the brain given over to these highly important issues of in-group status evaluation. Among American nonblacks in the present age, being known to have "incorrect" opinions about race results in catastrophic loss of status. ...

So instead of the harmonious race-unconscious society every thoughtful person hoped for fifty years ago, we have this separation, or at least disjunction; and we have this major warping of the nonblack in-group status-evaluation system. (In-group status evaluation among black Americans operates quite differently-another disjunction. Broadly speaking, a black American may express any opinion at all about nonblacks without loss of in-group status.)

We also, of course, have all the hideous, rickety, noisome, rancorous apparatus of Affirmative Action, corporate shakedowns, sensitivity training, Black History Month, "discrimination" lawsuits, "profiling" protests, speech codes, dumbed-down public service exams, and the rest of it. And then there are the atrocious double standards: Karl Rove making a friendly speech at a conference of La Raza ("The Race"), when we all know that Rove would rather be torn to pieces by wild dogs than be seen in company with even a single individual known to promote, on behalf of Rove's race, what the activists of La Raza promote on behalf of theirs. It's not a pretty sight. To those dwindling few of us who can remember the hopes of the Civil Rights Movement, it is a great, a terrible, a bitter and painful disillusioning.

How have conservatives responded to this disillusioning? So far as mainstream conservatives are concerned, I don't think it is unfair to reply: with silence and cowardice.... "Conservative" is a general political designation, of course; but most people who make a point of being known as conservative are in the business of trying to sell ideas to people. They are, or aspire to be, politicians, or commentators, or writers or producers of some kind. These are hard, ill-paid, competitive lines of work, and it is not easy to rise in them. The catastrophic loss of status involved in revealing oneself to have "incorrect" opinions about race is a career-killer in these spheres, and it is not very surprising that mainstream conservatives keep their mouths shut.

The cowardice is a bit harder to excuse. Silence is merely a sin of omission. When a mainstream conservative breaks his silence on race, and opens his mouth, and extrudes words, those words conform in fairly precise particulars to what a Leftist would have said on the same occasion. If, for example, you can persuade a conservative to say anything at all about the extraordinarily high levels of crime among black Americans, he will fall back on standard boilerplate Leftist cant about "root causes" . "oppression" . "discrimination" . "racism" . "poverty" . "legacy of slavery" . "opportunity"., and so on. His conservatism has evaporated before your eyes. He has become a social engineer, a victimologist. On race, all goodthinkful people are liberals.

Perhaps that is not altogether fair. Some borderline-respectable conservatives-I am thinking here of people like Heather Mac Donald and Ward Connerly-have deviated from orthodoxy enough to give us brilliant, critical essays on topics like racial profiling or affirmative action. This is all activity at the fringes, though. No major American conservative politician-most certainly not our current "compassionately conservative" President-would touch Connerly or Mac Donald with a ten-foot pole.

I tag this mealy-mouthed approach to race among conservatives as cowardice because any given conservative could, at any time, just have kept his mouth shut. That conservatives do not always keep their mouths shut on race might just signify a lack of self-control; that, when they do open their mouths, what comes out is Leftist sociobabble, I call cowardice. Conservatives should challenge liberal orthodoxy at every turn, with a prudent respect for what Willam F. Buckley calls "the prevailing structure of taboos." If that prevailing structure dictates silence, then keep silence. Don't feed, don't nourish, liberal orthodoxy. That is cowardice. In a narrow party-political sense, it is treason.

What, actually, is that orthodoxy? What defines the meaning of those words I have been putting in scare quotes-"correct," "anti-racism," and the rest? I think a single dogma encompasses it all. For my purposes here, I shall call it the Dogma of Zero Group Differences, or DZGD.

There are three things to be said about the DZGD.

First, it is empirically false.

Second, it contradicts everything we know about the natural development of populations of living creatures.

Third, it causes discord, disorder, and hatred when let loose in a multiracial society. I would go so far as to say that it is a dangerous, poisonous, and evil doctrine.

Empirically false: The empirical falsehood of the DZGD has been so often demonstrated that only a willful stubbornness, joined with an ingrained terror of being thought insufficiently "anti-racist," could lead anyone to deny the evidence, once it has been fairly presented to him....

Why do I say that the DZGD is a dangerous and evil doctrine? It is false, to be sure; but a false doctrine need not be dangerous. If the generality of Americans came to believe that Jupiter is further away from the Sun than Neptune, they would have come to believe a falsehood; but in all probability, society would go on much as before, and only pedants would feel any distress.

Suppose you are a black American. (You might, of course, actually be a black America-no offense. If you are not, suppose you are.) Looking around, you notice all the familiar statistics of black America: the high rates of incarceration, single parenthood, and other dysfunctions. You also note that black Americans do not do very well in school (statistically speaking), do not have a fair proportion of good jobs, and so on. What is your logical deduction from all this?

If you cleave to the DZGD, as everyone from the President on down insists that you must in order to be accepted into polite society, there is only one possible conclusion you can come to: Some force is keeping black people down. Since, on the DZGD, the statistical profile of your group on all measurable abilities is just like the statistical profile of any other group, there must be some force keeping black people away from society's goods. What other force can that be, but the malice of nonblack people? Oppression! Racism! The DZGD thus generates discord and hatred. It is touted as a sine qua non of the modern civilized outlook. In fact it is a poisonous, anti-social doctrine, as well as a false one.

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