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Widening the Racial Divide : Glib proposals for ending racism seem more likely to perpetuate it : THE END OF RACISM: Principles for a Multiracial Society, <i> By Dinesh D’Souza (The Free Press: $30; 736 pp.)</i>

<i> Charles Johnson is the author of "Middle Passage," winner of the 1990 National Book Award for fiction</i>

Even before its official publication, Dinesh D’Souza’s “The End of Racism” was destined to become this fall’s lightning rod for controversy. Two black conservatives, Glenn Loury and Robert L. Woodson, terminated their affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, where D’Souza is a fellow, and held a press conference to denounce the book in, as Loury put it, their own “self-defense.” Reporting recently on Loury’s scramble to disassociate himself from a work in which he is favorably quoted, columnist William Raspberry compared “The End of Racism” to last year’s “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. “It strikes me as a book,” says Raspberry, “that only racists could cheer.”

Ultimately, what “The End of Racism” has to say may well turn out to be far less important than who said it and why. Dinesh D’Souza is a 34-year-old “self-described conservative” born in East India. A former domestic policy analyst for the Reagan Administration who came to this country in 1978 and assaulted the political correctness on its college campuses with his contentious 1991 book “Illiberal Education.” With “The End Of Racism,” it seems safe to predict that, if nothing else, he will succeed in widening the circle of liberals who would love to see him tarred and feathered.

Personally, I’m not for riding anyone out of town on a rail. But after reading this book’s 700-plus pages, I felt troubled enough, and gloomy enough, to phone a few close black friends for their reaction to D’Souza’s proposed “principles for a multiracial society.” None disagreed with the author’s sense that “the task ahead is one of rebuilding broken families, developing educational and job skills, fostering black entrepreneurship and curbing the epidemic of violence in the inner cities,” and none argued against D’Souza’s belief that “the primary responsibility for cultural restoration undoubtedly lies with the black community itself.”

What did enrage my friends was the route D’Souza took to reach these conclusions, his smug tone of cultural and intellectual superiority and the glibness of his solutions: e.g., repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and create public policy that is race-neutral. While D’Souza claims to battle against “enemies of equal rights,” he is in fact providing them with ammunition.

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For D’Souza, America is engaged not so much in a culture war as a “civilizational crisis,” a societal breakdown at the center of which is the barbaric behavior of black America. “At every socioeconomic level,” he writes, “blacks are uncompetitive on those measures of achievement that are essential to modern industrial society. Many middle-class African Americans are, by their own account, distorted in their social relations by the consuming passion of black rage. And nothing strengthens racism in this country more than the behavior of the African American underclass, which flagrantly violates and scandalizes basic codes of responsibility, decency and civility.”

Because he sees “black failure” everywhere, and also empirical evidence to support the racial stereotypes of black violence and illegitimacy, D’Souza argues that whites are justified in practicing “rational discrimination” toward blacks. He does not hesitate before citing the controversial 1974 study of slavery, “Time on the Cross,” to suggest that antebellum slavery was generally benign (“The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well”); he is at great pains to prove that blacks also committed the sin of slavery (“In 1830 there were more than 3,500 American black slave owners who collectively owned more than 10,000 slaves”); he does his level best to vindicate the efforts of 18th-Century and 19th-Century scientists who used quantitative methods for the purpose of racial classifications; and he revisits “The Bell Curve” in order to place squarely in the middle of our racial dialogue the oft-stated 15-point IQ differential between blacks and whites on standardized tests.

This dwelling on I.Q. differences leads directly to D’Souza’s most scornful chapter, “Uncle Tom’s Dilemma: Pathologies of Black Culture.” “Black culture,” he says, " . . . has a vicious, self-defeating and repellent underside that is is no longer possible to ignore or euphemize. . . . No good is achieved by dressing these pathologies in sociological cant.” For D’Souza, the most serious of these pathologies are, in order: (1) racial paranoia (“Many blacks seem to live in the haunted house of the past, apparently patrolled by the ghosts of white racism”); (2) middle-class rage (“We have to conclude that we are dealing with cases of people who live in a world of make-believe, in mental prisons of their own construction”); (3) dependence on government; (4) the cult of the “bad nigger” lionized in rap music, and (5) illegitimacy.

Correcting these “pathologies,” D’Souza believes, requires a program of self-help along the lines offered 100 years ago by Booker T. Washington, or by people he identifies today as black, conservative reformers. “What blacks need to do,” lectures D’Souza, “is to ‘act white’ which is to say, abandon idiotic back-to-Africa schemes and embrace mainstream cultural norms, so that they can effectively compete with other groups.”

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“America,” he adds, “will never liberate itself from the shackles of the past until the government gets out of the race business.” He urges black Americans to solve their own problems and then, incredibly, agrees with legal scholar Richard Epstein that “people should be free to hire and fire others for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. . . . It is not unjust for an employer to refuse even the most qualified black because the job is the employer’s to give and the applicant is no worse off.”

No worse off?

D’Souza’s vision of America after “the end of racism” is, one begins to suspect, the pre-New Deal era of the 1920s when segregated blacks minded their own business, were out of sight and out of mind, and the federal government allowed white businessmen to do pretty much whatever they pleased.

There is no question that D’Souza’s subject is of vital importance to our future, and that on a few matters, such as the need for a new American (not just black) “ethic of responsibility,” he is right. He has read an entire library of literature devoted to race.

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But knowing what one has read and knowing America’s racial history are two very different things. That D’Souza still has much to learn about this country explains his bizarre attempt to reintroduce racial stereotyping into our discourse when these are noxious ideas that Americans of goodwill have no choice but to reject, regardless of how pervasive such thinking may be. Furthermore, D’Souza seems oblivious to the countless contributions blacks have made to this republic. He also downplays the systematic disenfranchisement of blacks, who from the end of Reconstruction to the present have exhibited the very entrepreneurial, self-help moral philosophy he is calling for, but saw their property, businesses and loved ones destroyed by envious whites. It is wrong, I am saying, to minimize the triumphs and courage that black Americans have demonstrated in the face of incredible adversity, and just as wrong to blink at the fact that without the presence of black people on this continent for 376 years, American history would be unimaginable.

D’Souza’s naivete and arrogance are revealed most in the statement that concludes his book: “It will be blacks themselves who will finally discredit racism, solve the American dilemma, and become the truest and noblest exemplars of Western civilization.”

D’Souza’s lack of familiarity with his subject prevents him from realizing the obvious, namely that generations of blacks already have proven themselves to be the most thoroughly American of our citizens, as the unprecedented popularity of Colin Powell shows. In “The End of Racism,” readers will find wide-ranging and sometimes useful research, but D’Souza’s frequently biased readings of the one-sided information he has assembled must be vigorously challenged by debate, factual corrections and discourse more civil than the author himself seems capable of delivering.


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