I wanted to make sure everyone saw, what I take to be, Andrew's final thoughts. I'm very appreciative. We are not in complete accord, but I can't really demand that of anyone. My sense of Andrew, on a topic like this, is not one of bigotry, so much as a deep-seated annoyance with a kind of identity politics which took root on certain campuses, and certain institutions in the 90s.
I missed virtually all of that. I was at Howard where, as you can imagine, the tenor of the conversation was very different. Moreover, the issues weren't the same. Affirmative Action, for instance, was an abstraction to me in the 90s. It's true that I am black, but I had never been an "only." I had never been part of any diversification effort. I didn't really know white people.
So when the various identity wars would erupt -- Affirmative Action, blacks vs. Jews etc., The Bell Curve -- of course I had opinions but they didn't have practical, direct implications for me. This is a horrible thing to say, but I didn't know any Jews. As I said, I barely knew any white people. I did know folks who were angry about The Bell Curve. But I didn't know anyone who took it seriously.
Where I am from, people deeply believe that John Coltrane expressed intelligence every time he blessed the mic. To be reductive, they saw his playing as pattern recognition, an expressive act of analogizing; algebra proofs performed. Perhaps that's wrong. I really have no idea. I'm not up on neurology. The point I am making is that this debate has never much felt like it was really about the world I lived in. That world was much more internal. It had it's own problems to work out, beyond the theorizing of the broader white world. That's the perspective I write from, and I try to give some taste of that here on this blog.
I feel that being from that world is a kind of privilege which many of the black people who I've met since college have never enjoyed. For them the questions raised in The Bell Curve ring back to their childhood. I get called an Affirmative Action pick from time to time, but it just doesn't cut the same. My mother had me writing essays when I was six. This is just a continuation. Had I come up in another world, as another black person, I don't think I'd want to touch any of this with a ten-foot pole.
At any rate, as I said, I'm appreciative of Andrew's last note. Going into this debate, there's always going to be some degree of hurt for me. Black privilege isn't immunity. And Andrew's note probably isn't totally what a lot of us would like to hear. We also obviously still disagree. But I'll take it. In this world of debate, so many people follow the "Never apologize, never retreat, never revisit" line, that I'm just happy he's thinking about it.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power