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John McWhorter
John McWhorter, photo by Robin Holland
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February 27, 2009

The new Attorney General Eric Holder made headlines when he stated that even as the nation celebrates electing its first African-American president, "we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards" when frankly dealing with race.

In THE NEW REPUBLIC John McWhorter responded to Holder's contention that America avoids discussing race:

A Martian observer — or a modern Tocqueville — would readily see that America was rather obsessed with race. Certainly we are an America ardently "conversing" about it year-round. What Holder wants is not a conversation but a conversion.
Instead, McWhorter contends, they way we as a nation talk about race keeps us from dealing with chronic national problems.

John McWhorter is by vocation a linguist — and knows the power of words. Some of McWhorter's own words have made him a widely read, and controversial commentator on American politics and culture. In August 2008, THE SUNDAY TIMES of London profiled Professor McWhorter under the headline: "John McWhorter: The Most Unpopular Black Man In America?" A notion which has accompanied McWhorter's career from his early writings on a "cult of victimology" in LOSING THE RACE: SELF-SABOTAGE IN BLACK AMERICA to the recent ALL ABOUT THE BEAT: WHY HIPHOP CAN'T SAVE BLACK AMERICA.

As the TIMES notes, John McWhorter's views don't fall easily into conventional categories of conservative or liberal: read more below.

Biography
John McWhorter, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and weekly columnist for THE NEW REPUBLIC, earned his PhD in linguistics from Stanford University in 1993 and became Associate Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley after teaching at Cornell University. He is currently teaching in the Core Curriculum program at Columbia University. His academic specialty is language change and language contact.

McWhorter is the author of THE POWER OF BABEL: A NATURAL HISTORY OF LANGUAGE, on how the world's languages arise, change, and mix, and DOING OUR OWN THING: THE DEGRADATION OF LANGUAGE AND MUSIC IN AMERICA AND WHY WE SHOULD, LIKE, CARE. He has also written a book on dialects and Black English, THE WORD ON THE STREET, and three books on creole languages. His academic linguistics book LANGUAGE INTERRUPTED: SIGNS OF NON-NATIVE ACQUISITION IN STANDARD LANGUAGE GRAMMARS, appeared in 2007, as did, in 2008, OUR MAGNIFICENT BASTARD TONGUE: UNTOLD STORIES IN THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH and ALL ABOUT THE BEAT: WHY HIP HOP CAN'T SAVE BLACK AMERICA.

Beyond his work in linguistics, he is the author of LOSING THE RACE, an anthology of race writings, AUTHENTICALLY BLACK, and WINNING THE RACE: BEYOND THE CRISIS IN BLACK AMERICA. McWhorter has written on race and cultural issues for numerous publications and was a weekly columnist for the NEW YORK SUN from 2006 to 2008. He does commentaries for All Things Considered, has appeared weekly on NPR's News and Notes, and appears regularly on Bloggingheads.TV.

> More on McWhorter's work on the American language

Published February 27, 2009.

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References and Reading:
John McWhorter's biography at the Manhattan Institute.
Includes links to further articles and interviews.

"Defining 'Nation of Cowards' Down"
by John McWhorter, THE NEW REPUBLIC, February 19, 2009

"How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back"
by John McWhorter, THE CITY JOURNAL, Summer 2003.

"Ready for Obama ..."
by John McWhorter, THE NEW YORK SUN, March 19, 2008.

"A dangerous detour"
by John McWhorter, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, April 10th 2007.

"John McWhorter Links Low Achievement to Black Culture"
by Michael A. Fletcher, reprinted from the WASHINGTON POST.

"'All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America' by John McWhorter"
By Adam Mansbach, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, June 19, 2008.

"John McWhorter: the most unpopular black man in America?"
THE SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON, July 13, 2008.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and John McWhorter on Bloggingheads.tv
Writer and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses ALL ABOUT THE BEAT with John McWhorter.

Attorney General Eric Holder's Speech
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program

"Defining 'Nation of Cowards' Down,"
THE NEW REPUBLIC, John McWhorter, February 19, 2009.

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Guest photos by Robin Holland

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JOHN MCWHORTER
Scholar John McWhorter weighs in on whether the U.S. is "a nation of cowards," as Attorney General Eric Holder suggests, on racial issues.

> LANGUAGE LESSONS
Discover John McWhorter's work on the poetry and politics of American English.

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