Why John Derbyshire Hasn't Been Fired (Yet)

National Review columnist John Derbyshire doesn't write the most racist stuff on the Internet -- not even close! But Derbyshire does effectively demonstrate, year after year, exactly how racist you can be and still get published by people who consider themselves intellectuals. 

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National Review columnist John Derbyshire doesn't write the most racist stuff on the Internet -- not even close! But Derbyshire does effectively demonstrate, year after year, exactly how racist you can be and still get published by people who consider themselves intellectuals. Derbyshire has shocked the internet -- even the conservative internet -- with an essay for Taki's Magazine about how he had a talk with his children warning them about the danger of running into black people in public places and the necessity of befriending the few nice ones out there for the public relations benefits. Gawker's Maureen O'Connor asks, "How can John Derbyshire even have a career?" The reason is because John Derbyshire is very valuable.

[Update: On Saturday evening, National Review editor Rich Lowry announced that the publication was severing its relationship with Derbyshire. "His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer," he writes.  "Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation. It’s a free country, and Derb can write whatever he wants, wherever he wants. Just not in the pages of NR or NRO, or as someone associated with NR any longer."]

Or at least up to now he has been. On Friday, fellow National Review contributor Josh Barro, writing for Forbes, is shocked that Derbyshire hasn't been fired yet. In the last hour or so, more of his National Review colleagues have been criticizing the piece. Responding to The Atlantic's Matt O'Brien's question on Twitter, "Does @NRO want to be associated with someone who publishes racist trash like this?" senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru responded, "I know I don't." And Jonah Goldberg, the editor of National Review Online, tweeted, "For the record, I find my colleague John Derbyshire's piece fundamentally indefensible and offensive. I wish he hadn't written it."

But that has not been the case with Derbyshire's body of work up to now. And we have a theory why: The truth about intellectual magazines is that not all of their readers are as enlightened and forward-thinking and clear-eyed as the people who produce them imagine themselves to be. So the trick to pull off is how to give what those less enlightened readers want -- and thereby secure their money either through subscriptions or contributions -- while still maintaining an air of respectability. Think of how your PBS station always trots out the stars-of-the-1970s concerts and River Dance whenever pledge drive comes around. That's where Derbyshire comes in.

You're probably familiar with the phrase, "No offense, but…" which always precedes something offensive wrapped in an "I'm just telling it like it is" attitude. In certain parts of the country, there's a similar use of the phrase, "I'm not racist, but…" which always signifies that the speaker is about to say something racist. Derbyshire's specialty is the fancy-pants version of "I'm not racist, but…" In his latest essay, "The Talk: Nonblack Version," Derbyshire lists several key "fact"s that he thinks his kid should know. Among them:

(9) A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us. A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event. They will do this out of racial solidarity, the natural willingness of most human beings to be led, and a vague feeling that whites have it coming.

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

To present himself as a cool social scientist, every single bullet point contains a link to some sort of source based in facts. The one about not going to a theme park where there's a ton of black people is a New York Times story from 1987. The implication is that Derbyshire was close by when a shooting occurred. (Obviously he was not actually injured, or we'd never hear the end of it.) This is how he's able to give the most dated racial stereotypes the veneer of respectability.
Derbyshire doesn't do the really obvious racist stuff -- the stuff that goes up at FreeRepublic.com, for example -- like post photos Obama in stereotypical tribal garb with a bone through his nose. Instead, he talks about how his East African parentage means he might be suspect to some black voters, who are more likely to be of West African heritage. From June 19, 2008:

Obama’s East African origins don’t help. Most black Americans take their African descent from West Africa. The distribution of physical types in East Africa is considerably different... There is of course a lot of overlap, but enough difference in physical types to give Obama a tinge of strangeness. The minds of many nonblack voters — and perhaps some black ones, too — will contain, at some level well below the surface, a thought like: He’s a black guy, but is he one of OUR black guys?

Derbyshire doesn't say that black people, especially women, are pathetically stupid people doomed to live on the dole (For a good example of that, check out the 1941 Looney Tunes cartoon Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs.) Instead, he says that the black women who work at the DMV are mean and stupid because they're genetically destined to be so. From his recent essay:

The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low... There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high... “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

Derbyshire does not call Obama a hustler who has hoodwinked gullible whites. Instead, when he implies Obama is a product of Affirmative Action, he presents it as a sendup of uppity liberals consumed by white guilt. On Obama's background, November 5, 2008:

He was a red-diaper baby, offspring of a love-the-world, hate-America sixties gal and an African socialist in the Mugabe mould, raised by leftish grandparents addled with “Uncle Tim” racial guilt, and mentored by a hard-Left labor radical.

On how far you can go if you're black and smart, from this week's essay:

Unfortunately the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous. To be an IWSB in present-day US society is a height of felicity rarely before attained by any group of human beings in history.

"Height of felicity" links to Obama's page at WhiteHouse.gov, naturally. On how white folks' silly political correctness means you can't study racial theory anymore, from  May 24, 2004:

Whole areas of academic inquiry are now out of bounds in America, for fear of what they might uncover about human nature. The human sciences are nowadays radioactive, like history or philosophy in a Communist country. Entire disciplines have ceased to exist. Physical anthropology, for example: An informative and interesting book like Carleton Coon's Races of Man could not be published nowadays. The topic is too "dangerous" and "insensitive." Safer to go into a solid, non-controversial field: Women's Studies, perhaps, or Queer Legal Theory.

And on how some easily-influenced whites will vote for a black president because the movies have conditioned them to want one. From June 19, 2008:

Working in combination with other factors that I’ll get to, Obama’s négritude will help him with a lot of politically vague types who are neither black nor distinctively liberal, but who have been oriented the Obama way by decades of watching Numinous Negro types saving the world, or defying it with a supernatural level of dignity and gravitas, in the movies and on TV: characters played by Will SmithCuba Gooding, Jr.Michael Clarke DuncanDenzel Washington, and of course the numinousest of them all, Morgan Freeman. There is probably now an entire demographic cohort of young Americans whose mental image of God is Morgan Freeman.

But most important, Derbyshire lends credibility to the sense of white grievance -- that white people are the real victims of racism. He doesn't use the language Ron Paul did in his racist old newsletters, which painted a vivid picture of packs of black thugs marauding cities and infecting white women with HIV for the sheer fun of it. That was specifically to appeal to rednecks. Derbyshire is classier than that. On how we're really paying slavery reparations already -- with welfare, on August 11, 2011:

Following the black riots of the 1960s, non-blacks have seen these concessions as an implicit contract or treaty—as non-black America saying to black America: “We’ll give you this stuff if you promise not to break our windows.”

Or from this week's essay:

These differences are magnified by the hostility many blacks feel toward whites. Thus, while black-on-black behavior is more antisocial in the average than is white-on-white behavior, average black-on-white behavior is a degree more antisocial yet.

Race-baiting is getting harder and harder to do while holding onto your job. So, who knows, maybe this will be the piece that finally costs Derbyshire his. If it is, he will no doubt be surprised after such a long career of writing outrageously racist things. He's served, for all the aspiring race-baiters out there, as the model for how it's done.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.