The anguish of Robert L. Woodson and Glenn Loury is almost palpable. These black conservatives are outraged over a book by a sometime colleague -- even while agreeing with much that is in the book.
The book is Dinesh D'Souza's "The End of Racism," to be published this fall. And because the author wrote it as a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Loury and Woodson will announce at a Tuesday news conference that they are ending their own (unpaid) association with AEI.
And just what is it D'Souza has done? He has written (though he would deny it most vehemently) what amounts to a defense of racism. Slavery wasn't all that bad a deal for black folk, and besides, there was nothing racial about it. Segregation was created by the southern ruling class "to protect blacks." Only "an infinitesimal fraction of the black population" was lynched. And as for the lower status of blacks in the American society and elsewhere, he suggests that "a natural hierarchy of racial abilities would predict and fully account for such" a phenomenon.
Why should any of this make such a special problem for Woodson and Loury that they feel compelled to step forward in denunciation? Because D'Souza uses these notions to support his opposition to affirmative action programs, his belief that racism is greatly exaggerated as the explanation of the black plight and his contention that blacks must learn to look inward for the solution to the worst of their problems -- all views that Woodson and Loury have been urging for years.
"Some of us for a decade or more have been trying to get a reasoned discussion in our own community concerning the dysfunctional behavior -- the fratricide -- that is threatening to destroy us," Woodson said in a joint interview with Loury. "We've been making a case that continuing to look to external solutions to internal problems prevents us from addressing what Glenn has called the enemy within.' These are delicate arguments to make, given the racial hostility still within our society. For D'Souza to take these same points and turn them into an anti-black pejorative threatens to make us look like racial hustlers who don't want to see change."
Loury agrees. "I don't disagree with everything D'Souza has to say," he points out, "but the intemperate, irreverent, insulting way in which his book is written so offends me. . . . And Bob is right. There's no need for us to have a press conference on this man's book except as self-defense. We have stuck our necks out saying what we believe it is important for black people to hear, and we have paid a price. We've been called Uncle Toms,' which we are not. But to be silent in the face of this book, written by a conservative colleague, would make us Uncle Toms."
It's hard, in a few quotes, to convey the flavor of this iconoclastic work that Woodson finds so "derogatory" and "dismissive." Like the Murray/Herrnstein "Bell Curve," it ventures across lines previously respected by respectable scholars in the interest of civility and mutual respect. Like Murray and Herrnstein, D'Souza takes an obvious delight in challenging the taboos. And like theirs, his book makes a much-needed conversation about race infinitely more difficult.
"Look," says Loury, "a guy can write a book about the Israel Lobby and be critical; he can talk about certain Jews being self-serving or close-minded or whatever, and that's considered within the limits of acceptable free speech. But he won't write about personality types developed in the Russian shtetl and how these types manifest themselves in Wall Street or some such. There are limits to what constitutes civil discourse." Yet here is D'Souza:
"Slaves developed widely different personalities on the plantation: the playful Sambo, the sullen field nigger,' the dependable Mammy, the sly and inscrutable trickster. Some of these personality types are still recognizable."
"There's something cartoon-like and commercially opportunistic and inauthentic about his approach," says Loury, "and to what end?"
To what end indeed. That was the great unanswered question with the Murray book, and it is the question that screams for an answer from D'Souza. Surely he does not believe that this book will lead black people to turn self-critical and introspective or prompt blacks and whites to serious discussion of America's racial conundrum. It strikes me as a book only racists could cheer.
Except, as D'Souza strives mightily to convince us, there aren't any.