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Roundtable
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Race in America

Round Two -- Selected Reader Responses

FROM POST & RIPOSTE

Kevin Bowman (posted 11/14/97):

Both Mr. Edley and Mr. Loury have emphasized the historical nature of the origins of the black underclass. It is readily apparent that there were institutional and systematic barriers to blacks to enter into the American mainstream and to participate in the "American dream." Yet, it is not clear from their discussion whether they believe that the black underclass' plight is a result primarily of continuing vestiges of past institutional discrimination or whether it is a result of more subtle, current forms of institutional or cultural racism.

I find it interesting that neither of these writers directly responded to or refuted D'Souza's claim that the current difficulties with the black underclass are due to their cultural attitudes. It appears that [Edley and Loury] refuse to entertain the notion that any of these problems could come from "within" (that is, within the black community) but rather must come principally from "without" (that is, the racial attitudes of the white majority). In the last paragraph of his response, Mr. Loury seems to suggest that any admission that there may be a part of black culture that contributes to the self-destruction of the black underclass would only allow the white majority to avoid its moral and social responsibility to the black minority.
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And yet we hear stories of young blacks taunted and abused by their peers for their superior academic performance in school. Their crime? Acting "white." In fact, some African-American students ask their teachers to write an "F" on their tests ... in order to avoid their classmates' wrath.

Gangsters and their rapping poets are regularly idolized in music, videos, and film. Are they simply messengers of ghetto life and its violence or are they a cultural virus, destroying the souls of black youth?

It is easy for black intellectuals to parade the sins of the white majority and their forefathers. It is an easy task and one that should not be neglected. Nevertheless, to be intellectually honest, they should also consider critically the state of black culture, and ask: Is it all good?

Mr. D'Souza, Mr. Edley, Mr. Loury, and Mr. Lemann have noteworthy remarks. But I think they need to answer two important questions:

1. What role do non-white and non-black groups play in America's race problem?

2. How can non-white and non-black groups help to solve America's race problem?



M. David Martin (posted 11/14/97):

If we didn't already know what to expect of the forthcoming "dialogue" from the appointees to the White House Initiative on Race, Christopher Edley Jr. gives us a sneak preview.

It is so sad that Edley cannot imagine (or allow for the possibility of) a principled and unselfish objection to policies of racial preferences, and it is unfortunate that he avoids the larger questions by resorting to good old reliable ad hominem. How depressing that in the dreary landscape of his imagination, everyone on the other side of this issue is a white-supremacist hypocrite. Of those who object to race-conscious measures, he asserts: "Though their opposition to these measures is framed as principle, certainly their real goal is to protect the current distribution of privilege and opportunity that has produced white-male elites in virtually every sector."

Certainly! Q.E.D.! 'nuff said! Edley completely sidesteps issues of principle by asserting that the other side doesn't actually have any, that its motives can only be ulterior. He has nothing to offer the conscientious objector but an unfounded, sneering insult.

I can't say I'm surprised -- I have never known any advocate of racial preferences to take honest account of principled objections to these policies, nor have I ever known any such advocate to address the negative consequences of racial-preference policies. I have heard a great many Edley-ish straw-man arguments, unfounded assumptions, stereotyping of "angry white males," reliance on euphemisms, frequent accusations of racism and other name-calling, and a general avoidance of engagement in honest debate.

I was hoping for something better this time, but clearly it will not be forthcoming from Edley and his fellow appointees.



Tom Sweetnam (posted 11/14/97):

How can race issues in America ever be realistically addressed, when there exists at the very core of these issues an element of fear, which far too many escapist social critics either refuse to address, or are prevented from addressing, by academic peer pressure or by governmental and institutionalized gagging? I contend that the #1 issue facing the voluntary integration of blacks at all levels of American society by all races other than blacks, is the overriding fear of becoming a victim of black criminality, or more specifically, of becoming a victim of black violence.



Robert D. Tagorda (posted 11/16/97):

Instead of answering the question "What is America's race problem today?" the panelists illustrate it: They focus too narrowly on black-white relations and fail to consider other races.

In the four opening remarks and the four responses, the panelists mentioned Asians four times, Hispanics twice, Latinos once, multiracial once, and Native Americans not at all. And these references, sadly, served only to bolster arguments about black-white relations.

The panelists must consider all groups to assess thoroughly the problem of race. Indeed, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, to name a few, figure into the affirmative-action debate. Thus the panelists' failure to discuss these groups reveal the inadequacies of their arguments.


Roundtable Overview


Introduction and opening questions by Nicholas Lemann

Round One  -- posted on November 13, 1997

Round Two  -- posted on November 26, 1997
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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