Letters

Readers respond to an interview with John McWhorter about his new book "Authentically Black" and to a review of Amy Chua's "World On Fire."


Salon Staff
January 17, 2003 1:00AM (UTC)

[Read the review of "World on Fire."]

Amy Chua's thesis in "World On Fire" is ridden with problems. It assumes that only in democracies do governments have to feed mass bigotry and encourage racial and ethnic violence. That would be news to the Jews under the czar, the Turkish Armenians, the Jews in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine, the Chinese in Indonesia during the 196Os, the educated Cambodian victims of Pol Pot, the Kurds of Iraq, and today's Israelis, blamed for all the problems of Arab dictatorships.

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The sad reality is that any form of government can find it beneficial to encourage groups to envy, fear and hate one another. It distracts them from their government's incompetence and corruption. Bigotry is the politics of fools.

We can learn from our own history how to deal with "malfactors of great wealth" and the huge gaps between rich and poor. These countries need journalism brave enough to expose corruption, anti-trust laws to keep the big from crushing the small, and a vigorous and effective education system that is open to all and funded, in part, by progressive taxation.

First and foremost, we need to make life difficult for any politician, democratic or authoritarian, who wants us to blame others for our failures. We need to take responsibility for our lives.

-- Ike Perry

I haven't read Chua's book "World On Fire" but intend to, based on your reviewer's assessment of its contribution to understanding the boilings over the world is experiencing. However, nothing in the review, which at its conclusion touches on the "clash of civilizations" point of view, suggests that professor Chua takes into account the political ramifications of women remaining culturally and socially cut off at the ankles, so to speak, in most (if not all) of those recent global hot-spot areas. That's where the perspective embodied in the "clash of civilizations" truly has meaning. The likelihood that women in those areas will be protected in their basic human rights by whatever notion of democracy-with-markets takes root is nil. She can cast her ballot but cannot go out the door to the polling place to drop it in the box because of family-societal-social restrictions.

-- Linda Russell

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[Read "Another Shade of Black."]

Hansen asked some good questions of this McWhorter guy and his answers were conflicting and evasive. A preponderance of whiteys do not like blacks. Period! There are no blacks in the Republican Congress. There are, with the exception of a very few, no blacks in powerful corporate positions. Almost all blacks live segregated in poor housing. On and on. McWhorter has no understanding of the severity of the plight when he says whites feel the black/white problem as "unimportant." What a dumb word! He must be angling for a job on Fox. They need good men like him for window dressing.

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-- John Anderson

Wow. Thank so much for that interview. I agree with just about everything McWhorter says. The truth is that white people are not holding black people down; right now many blacks are stumbling due to themselves and/or other blacks. Unfortunately, Jesse Jackson, Sharpton and other so-called civil rights activists seem to be stuck in the '60s.

-- L. Rankins

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It seems that the only person who is the victim here is Mr. McWhorter. He talks about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton but what has he ever done to provide jobs, open up corporations and fight against police brutality the way these two men have? His arguments are suspect since he seems to have to resort to putting others down to make his point valid. I feel he legitimizes Jesse's and Al's efforts because as educated as he appears to be, the only time white folks will ever buy his books or give him interviews is when he puts other black folks down. Whites have resigned him to being a spokesperson for "Black Topics." I am sure McWhorter has an opinion on North Korea, abortion, taxes, education and crime. Yet, with his education whites still think that all he is competent to speak on is race and as a true victim McWhorter obliges.

Jesse and Al, in their bid to be president and spokesperson for blacks, seek to open up every avenue. They believe black voices are qualified to speak on every aspect of society. That is why they speak out on issues such as war games in Puerto Rico, fighting among Israel and Palestinians, hostages in the Middle East, union busting, as well as black coaches in the NFL. They fight for affirmative action, not to lower the standard for blacks, but to change the meaning of who is qualified. For years whites like George Bush, who cannot put together a complete sentence without a teleprompter, were allowed into schools and given preferences just for being white. Bush did not even know that there were blacks in Brazil. He also told a group of students, and I paraphrase, "Even C students can be president." The noted conservative Rush Limbaugh, defending Bush's low GPA, said that integrity, character and drive are just as important as grades when measuring how a person will do in life. That sounds like a great pitch for affirmative action. Blacks have been saying that for years.

Yet, somehow when it comes to blacks, integrity, character and drive are dismissed. Mr. McWhorter sounds like someone who has given up on trying to make the world a better place. Black folks did not get to where we are today by waiting on whites to give us anything. Blacks' constant exposure to racism is what keeps us from remaining victims. It's like a rape victim. If she says nothing, her fear not only allows her to be raped again but for the rapist to find another victim. Mr. McWhorter, by allowing the man to call him a nigger, let the racist think it is OK. Maybe that man did not burn a cross in his yard, but maybe he was a teacher who the next day treated a little black child like a nigger. It is time for Mr. McWhorter to speak up and stop being the victim and allowing others to be victimized.

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Finally, to say that acting white in the black community is a new phenomenon is a boldface lie. In the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s there were churches in the black community that would not allow darker blacks to join their congregation. These light-skinned blacks were called uppity negroes trying to pass for white. Different language but the same meaning. Blacks from the South were called "country" by blacks in the North. Racism has caused distrust in the black community for a long time. It has caused some blacks to victimize other blacks. You know what we called them in the '70s. Mr. McWhorter's attempt to distort history to disparage blacks today is typical of a true victim. He wants to fit into mainstream America so badly, he steps on the backs of others.

-- Reuben Eckels


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