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The End of Racism-Parts I & II

The End of Racism-Parts I & II

Think Tank Transcripts: The End of Racism

ANNOUNCER: íThink Tankí has been made possible by Amgen, a recipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen, bringing better, healthier lives to people worldwide through biotechnology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Randolph Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. As the issue of race becomes ever more prominent in Americaís public dialogue, a controversial new book, íThe End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Societyí promises to ignite a heated argument, very heated.

Joining us to sort through that argument are: in the hot seat, the author of the book, Dinesh DíSouza, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Glenn Loury, a university professor at Boston University and author of íOne by One from the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in Americaí; Christopher Edley, professor of law at Harvard University and former head of President Clintonís task force on affirmative action; and Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The topic before this house: The end of racism, part one. This week on íThink Tank.í

One of our panelists on this program, Glenn Loury, had this to say about Dinesh DíSouzaís book:

íMr. DíSouza is determined to place poor urban blacks outside the orbit of American civilization. Their lives are governed by barbarism. They are the enemy within.í

It is no wonder that Dinesh DíSouzaís book provokes comments like that when you consider the following sentence from page 22 of the book. Quotes:

íVirtually all the contemporary liberal assumptions about the origin of racism, its historical significance, its contemporary effects, and what to do about it are wrong.í

Here are some of the arguments from íThe End of Racismí:

Racism is a historically recent and Western idea; America is not racist, but it used to be; today the biggest problem with the black community isnít white racism, but black culture; racial discrimination can be rational; and the conclusion that Dinesh DíSouza reaches is that in order to set up a truly fair, multiracial society, all race-based government policies must be scrapped, including affirmative action, but private individuals should be free to discriminate.

Dinesh DíSouza, you have to get used to 30-second sound bites. Let us hear the thesis of this book from you first.

MR. DíSOUZA: Its basic argument is that íThe Bell Curveí is wrong to say that black failure in America is the result of genes.

MR. WATTENBERG: Thatís Charles Murrayís best-selling book.

MR. DíSOUZA: Thatís Charles Murrayís book, íThe Bell Curve.í And the liberals are wrong to say that black failure in America can be wholly or even largely today attributed to racial discrimination.

I argue not that we have barbarians in our midst, but I argue we have seen a cultural breakdown in our society, one whose effects are particularly bitterly felt among poor blacks, and that this is the main obstacle to success in America today.

I am a first-generation immigrant, I have benefited from the civil rights movement, and I believe in a multiracial society. We have to have equal rules, fair rules that apply equally to all citizens. Itís that that weíve gotten away from and that we need to pay attention to.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Glenn Loury, I know -- I read a draft of a review of you wrote of Dineshís book, and I could only -- if I had to describe it in one word, I would say angry. Is that about right?

MR. LOURY: Well, sure, the book did make me angry. And one of the reasons it makes me angry is that it is insensitive. Now, thatís a word in bad repute these days because of the political correctness movement, which has made it difficult to talk candidly about issues that we must talk about. Dinesh is talking about something that we must talk about.

But I insist that the way in which he does it -- this is not my only point, but itís an important one -- is not helpful, is certain to provoke, to hurt, to anger, and to preclude the possibility of reasoned discussion.

I see no reason to title a chapter on intelligence differences between blacks and whites, íThe Content of Our Chromosomes,í or to include within it the statement that, íWe can almost hear the roar of the white supremacists,í quote, ííForget about racism and discrimination. These people are naturally stupid,íí close quote.

MR. WATTENBERG: But Glenn --

MR. LOURY: Even words put in the mouth of a hypothetical racist, this is an inflammatory sentence.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, all right, letís hold up for -- go ahead.

MR. LOURY: Well, I only want to add this. I want to say that if Dinesh had argued, as he claimed, that American civilization is in crisis and that we must pay attention to that, a crisis of values, a crisis of culture, I would have been all with him because indeed that is the case. But that is not, in my reading of the book, what he argues.

What he argues is that a certain cast of mind that he calls relativism prevents us from recognizing differences between cultures within America, like between black and white culture, prevents at least certain people from acknowledging the failings of black culture, and as a result, leads to a lack of civilizational capacities among people in the inner city, which he then goes on to characterize, and again, in ways that I think are imprudent, and soon.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let me just ask Chris Edley and Michael Cromartie if you have any brief general comment.

MR. EDLEY: I think itís tough to come to terms with Dineshís book. For me, I found several things in it, several lines of argument, several observations that resonated quite comfortably. But I found a host of others that did not.

The tone that Glenn is discussing is clearly a problem and will be a difficulty as America tries to absorb the thrust of the arguments. But as to the substance, I think if I were going to say one thing about the book, it would be that there is frequently resort to what strikes me as a straw man kind of an argument, as though, for example, on the issue of cultural relativism, that that is the core of all support for affirmative action and related social measures, when in fact cultural relativism in the extreme form that Dinesh lays out seems to me to be a very -- seems to me a view thatís held by relatively few people who are proponents of affirmative action.

MR. WATTENBERG: Cultural relativism basically being that --

MR. EDLEY: The notion that somehow we are --

MR. WATTENBERG: -- all cultures are equal; thereís no distinction.

MR. EDLEY: Right, and that we are somehow disabled from making judgments about what is good and what is bad, what is beneficial, what is not.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, Michael, brief comment, and then letís--

MR. CROMARTIE: Well, I think itís very important, Ben, that we listen carefully to the way people read the book, especially African-Americans as opposed to other people, the way they read the book.

I read the book to say that there are social pathologies in our culture, and especially in my culture, that are inhibiting black progress. And throughout the book, Dinesh makes the point, unless there is renewal in this community and that moral, cultural arena, then weíre in for big trouble, which we already are in.

A lot of what I saw in Dineshís book, in fact, is reflected in Glennís newest book, íOne by One from the Inside Out,í where Glenn talks about the moral quandary of the black community. I was a little surprised by Glennís critique of the book, but Iím also sensitive to the fact that heís right about some of the chapters, I think, area little bit too provocative.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right. Letís go to this list of ideas that Dinesh puts forward in íThe End of Racism.í The first one is, racism is a historically recent Western idea.

MR. DíSOUZA: I distinguish between racism and what I call ethnocentrism, or tribalism. You find groups fighting with each other all the time from the dawn of human history, but it stretches the definition of racism beyond all comprehension to call the argument between the Hindus and the Muslims or the argument between the Serbs and the Croatians -- these are people, by the way, of the same race-- to call that racist.

So I trace racism as a modern Western ideology that developed to explain a large civilizational gap between the West and other cultures. Racism became a common-sensical view to explain why the West had the cathedral of Chartres and the cathedral of Notre Dame, the telescope and the microscope, had mapped the planets and the globe. Other cultures by comparison appeared to be hopelessly primitive, hopelessly far behind. Racism to Europeans appeared to be a common-sensical way to account for these developments that could not be explained by climate.

MR. WATTENBERG: And itís new.

MR. DíSOUZA: Itís modern.

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean itís modern.

MR. DíSOUZA: It began around the 15th century and reached its heyday around the 19th century.


MR. LOURY: I think thatís a plausible story. Itís not new, of course. I mean other scholars who have investigated these questions have made that point. I just --

MR. EDLEY: What do you make of it?

MR. LOURY: The question is the implication.

MR. EDLEY: Right.

MR. LOURY: And also the following observation, which is that in Dineshís account, and I think plausibly, this idea of racism develops in conjunction with enlightenment. Itís closely linked with the effort of Western man to understand natural phenomena. And given the moral problems with the idea as well as the subsequent discovery of many of the errors of people about these notions, we can see some problematic aspects of the enlightenment itself, as contrasted, for example, with a more religiously grounded ethical sensibility which would incline us to see people of different ethnic origins or racial origins as equals.

MR. WATTENBERG: Is it a recent development or are human beings inherently racist? I think thatís the key point you were trying to --

MR. DíSOUZA: Well, I was saying that if racism has a beginning --

MR. WATTENBERG: It can have an end. MR. DíSOUZA: -- it can have an end. And thatís the reason for exploring the question.


MR. EDLEY: I think that I prefer to hope that it can have an end, but I think itís important less to debate the historical origins and which particular century was the dawn of this human tragedy than to understand what are its contemporary manifestations and effects and how do we get out of it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Dinesh says America is not racist, but it used to be -- or Dinesh, again, give us a short paragraph on that, and then, Chris, maybe you can --

MR. DíSOUZA: Well, racism is a doctrine of biological inferior ityusually accompanied by the practice of systematized discrimination. And it is true that the vast majority of Americans believed in black inferiority and supported a set of social policies.

MR. WATTENBERG: Believed in the past.

MR. DíSOUZA: Believed in the past. Today there is very strong evidence, not just from opinion surveys, because people can lie, but even looking at discrimination, which was the norm in America not very long ago, there has been a revolution not only in attitudes, but in practice. And young people today are born after the civil rights movement, they take the idea of equality, they canít imagine putting someone in the back of the bus. What concerns me is that these young people are being corrupted into thinking of themselves in racial terms, so the possibilities of the future are being diminished.

MR. WATTENBERG: Chris Edley.

MR. EDLEY: The problem with the argument is that it fails to come to grips with a huge gulf in social perception between Ė certainly between blacks and whites and perhaps between whites and other disadvantaged minorities more generally. I mean, whether one looks at the O.J. Simpson trial or whether one looks at a variety of phenomena that Dinesh lumped under the category of statistical discrimination, the social experience that many African-Americans feel is one of otherness with a bite, not simply otherness in the sense that Episcopalians are different from Methodists, but others with a bite that has lasting and important social economic consequences.

So itís difficult for me to see how we get to the bottom of this issue. Dinesh will say the problems are far more muted than they have been in the past. I would certainly concede that America is better now as a result of civil rights progress over the last couple of decades. The question is, how serious are the lingering effects and what set of subtle attitudes and habits of thought, habits of institutional behavior continue to stall progress?

MR. WATTENBERG: Michael, are we still racist in America?

MR. CROMARTIE: Well, there are certainly still racists in American society and lots of them. But I wanted to follow up on what Chris was saying. I see Dinesh saying that racism still exists in this book. What I donít -- what I do hear him saying is that, however, it can no longer be an excuse in the African-American community and that we have to get over this idea that black people are putty in the hands of white people and cannot make their own decisions and cannot have their own lives.

A lot of the problems that Dinesh described in this book do not have political and legal solutions. They are really moral, cultural problems that cannot be addressed by legislation. And I think thatís going to create a lot of frustration for people because theyíll want a political solution to a problem thatís really moral and cultural.

MR. LOURY: Let me just observe here, if I may, that I agree with Dinesh on this point very strongly and have myself been arguing for many years with respect to what should blacks do about our problems just this point: Discrimination, racism, civil rights activity, petitioning to whites, change the government policy will not solve the problems, wonít make the crime rate go down, wonít make the out-of-wedlock birth rate go down, wonít make the failure to understand what the possibilities are implicit in contemporary America go away. Those are problems that have to be confronted directly by blacks.

I think heís right about that. I do think, however, though, that racism is a historical and cultural phenomenon in American society which, because itís not being manifest at a given point in time by a set of people, does not mean that it wonít come back, canít creep in, canít influence the way in which we relate to each other.

As we get more openly candid with each other, the risk is that we may provoke a re-ignition of a set of historic problems in American society.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are you saying Dineshís book could play a role in re-igniting that?

MR. LOURY: I would not accuse Dinesh or his publishers of, you know, bringing down racial comity in America. That would be an extreme thing. But I think there is a problem. I think, you know, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in íThe Bell Curve,í they go out so far. Dinesh goes out a little bit further in some of his inflammatory rhetoric. The issue here is a flaunting of convention. Itís a kind of the credibility comes from the bravery to say what others will not have said before. Iím defined to making a contribution purely by virtue of not attending to the sensibilities of others. I think thatís a pernicious development.

MR. WATTENBERG: But the way you first phrased it is something that is honored in the intellectual community in theory, which is to have the guts to say something that people know is so but donít want to say.

MR. LOURY: Let me give you --

MR. EDLEY: No --


MR. EDLEY: Whatís honored in the media is controversy and iconoclasm. Whatís honored in academia is creativity. And -- if I can go back to another point. I think that there is a flaw in much of this discussion. I think we put too much weight on the word racist, what is racist, what is not racist, what is the definition of racism. Thatís the wrong debate.

And if Dineshís straw man is a small slice of public opinion or opinion on the left that wants to paint a broad brush and say that racism exists around every corner, thatís fine. What I am more concerned with is, whether you call it racist or not, the deep and pervasive pattern of, letís call it blind indifference, a malign indifference to the welfare, the aspirations, the problems, the challenges faced by people who are different from you, who live in another community that you feel free to ignore.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, that brings us right to the next point, and I know you want to deal with that. And that point was, as we phrased it in the setup piece, the biggest problem with the black community isnít white racism, but black culture. So why donít you --

MR. DíSOUZA: Even though the problems of American civilization stretch across the national culture, there are some problems that are distinctive to black culture. A good example for this is the extremely high, virtually parasitic reliance of African-Americans on the government.

Now, I point out in the book that there is every historical reason for this. Historically, while many whites have viewed the government as the enemy of rights -- the Bill of Rights says Congress shall not do this, Congress shall not do that -- blacks have found the government to be a helper. The government ended slavery, the federal government ended state segregation, the federal government was the employer of last resort, helped a lot of blacks enter the transmission belt of the middle class.

So Iím not saying that itís peculiar or bizarre that blacks rely on the government. Iím saying today, when the government cannot employ large numbers of people, when public confidence in the government is low, the Korean or the Asian strategy of entrepreneurship, of small business, which is very weak in the black community, we need to stress that.

So a cultural orientation that was functional at one time is dysfunctional today. White racism -- if white racism were to end overnight, this would not improve black test scores, it would not increase black savings rates, black rates of business formation. It would not reduce violence in the inner city. It would not strengthen black families. I think thatís obvious.

MR. EDLEY: It would be a start. It would be a start.

MR. LOURY: Look, of course heís right, of course what heís saying is right. And as I say, people have been saying this for a very longtime.

MR. WATTENBERG: Youíve written much about it.

MR. LOURY: But look, íparasiticí? íParasiticí -- black dependence on government transfers is parasitic? Okay, letís suppose Dinesh doesnít know what he is saying. Letís say he has a tin ear. What about Joe Sixpack, okay, in Idaho, in Arkansas? What does he think about the parasitic, blood-sucking blacks?

The point here is this.

MR. CROMARTIE: Well, Glenn, youíre going a little far here. MR.LOURY: If I may just make the point. Dinesh makes the following argument in his book. He says there were certain personality types under slavery: the Sambo, the dependable mammy, the sullen field hand, the inscrutable trickster. We can still find some of those types today, he says. Some of those types are still to be observed today -- which one, one wants to know?

The comparable sentence about Jews. There were certain personality types to be observed in the Russian shtetl. Okay, you can complete the sentence: we can still find some on Wall Street today. The reason that no one utters that sentence in polite company is because six million people were exterminated by a regime which uttered those sentences for 15 years.

The failure to appreciate the importance of this point that Iím making here is part of what makes Dinesh DíSouzaís book considerably less than what it could be.

Now, let me just make one other point.

MR. EDLEY: Is it racist, Glenn?

MR. LOURY: Well, who cares? I donít -- you know --

MR. WATTENBERG: What was your question? Is the book racist?

MR. EDLEY: Is it racist? Is that insensitivity racist?

MR. LOURY: Heís asking if the book is racist. The book -- I donít want to put a label on it. I want to say exactly what I said. Itís dangerous. Itís dangerous to our republic. Itís dangerous to the organic and constructive dialogue that we must have if weíre going to get beyond this problem.

And I want to just make one other point briefly, and thatís this. American civilization is in trouble. In the 1950s, there were a bunch of people who rebelled against the organization man and conformity and they wrote a bunch of books. In the 1960s, that developed into a counterculture of drugs, free sex, and so forth.

We have a corporate culture that markets destructive rap music, as Bill Bennett is trying to get everybody to know. We have a demand for cocaine in this country thatís through the roof, and I assure you, itís not all being consumed by people in the inner city, et cetera, et cetera.

Weíve got out-of-wedlock birth rates that are going through the roof. This is a problem for American civilization. This is a problem which will only be solved if we reconstruct the way in which we think about America. So the division between black and white and the link of this to black culture is, when spoken from inside the black community, a plausible set of arguments about self-help and reconstruction; when spoken from outside the black community, can become a very destructive set of arguments about divisive things and so on.

MR. DíSOUZA: Well, this is the heart of the issue, in a sense. The heart of the issue is that I suppose I have broken the code, which is that only people like Glenn Loury and Christopher Edley get to talk about this in their living room. I am in a sense viewed as an outsider. Maybe I havenít suffered enough.

I am not criticizing black culture pure and simple. I point out in the book, I cite the urban anthropologist Elijah Anderson, who says, I think vividly and accurately, that there are two cultures in the inner city, what he calls the besieged culture of decency, people who struggle to maintain, keep their families together, keep steady jobs, and what he calls the hegemonic, a dominant culture of incivility, of violence, of sex abuse. And I can use all the euphemisms in the world, but thatís what it is.

Now, the problem is we have to have the courage as a society to say one culture is better than the other, and we need to stand up fort hose civilizational values. Look, I believe the line between civilization and barbarism runs through every human heart. I donít believe it runs through blacks and whites, and I think that we can make a distinction between those civilizational forces in the black community that need to be strengthened.

I say all this, but you donít seem to hear it.

MR. LOURY: I didnít hear the line between civilization and barbarism runs through the human heart --


MR. LOURY: -- not between racists, because itís not in your book.

MR. WATTENBERG: Chris Edley asked -- playing the role of moderator-- asked Glenn Loury whether he thought Dineshís book was racist. Let me ask you, do you think Dineshís book is racist?

MR. EDLEY: I think -- I mean, candidly, I think that I want to resist getting into that argument. I think thatís a different topic. I think what Glenn is --

MR. WATTENBERG: Then why did you ask Loury that?

MR. EDLEY: No, hereís the point. But he -- because hereís thepoint.

MR. CROMARTIE: Thatís a dodge, Chris.

MR. EDLEY: If the issue is what is racism, I think that thatís a diversion. I think the question is, whatís the set of attitudes that are pathological in America? To me, the attitude that is pathological is the one that says Iím not worried about the problem that exists in the underclass because Iíve got mine and to hell with the rest of them as long as they donít become a big drain on my affairs, on my budget, on my community, on my sense of security, on my economic aspirations.

Now, in my view, that pathological, malign indifference to the welfare of others is tinged with the problem of color, with Americaís particular neurosis about color. The fact that they are dark means that white America is even less likely to include them in some sense of community, in some sense of shared aspirations and values.

Now, I view -- in my own lexicon, thatís racism; thatís the problem.

MR. CROMARTIE: Let me just say, Ben, that --


MR. CROMARTIE: -- let me answer your question that Chris didnít answer. Itís not a racist book. Itís a very serious, courageous book in this sense, that it says that if not certain cultures are different, certain behaviors must be condemned among white people and among black people. Certain behavioral patterns in the black community are not going well, and the fact that we have so many children without fathers, so many children who donít even know what a father is, is a crisis of immense proportion, and the violent crime rate is skyrocketing.

I think maybe if Dinesh had emphasized certain behaviors and not just say it was peculiar to the black community, he would have been better off and the language would have been a little more sensitive.

MR. LOURY: Well, of course, he does say that itís not peculiar to the black community.

MR. DíSOUZA: I did say that.

MR. LOURY: Those qualifying sentences are there. But what he does not say is that this is a problem of American civilization running down through the heart of every human being, et cetera, et cetera. And indeed he canít say it because the logic of the book, with its emphasis on cultural disparity -- you know, the bogeyman is the relativist who refuses to acknowledge the cultural disparity which Dinesh has the courage to look straight in the eye -- forces him to make a distinction among Americans, as between the disparate cultures.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. We need to break here. Please join us next week when we will continue the discussion of íThe End of Racism.í Until then, thank you, Dinesh DíSouza, Glenn Loury, Michael Cromartie, and Christopher Edley.

And thank you. Please send your questions and comments to: New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC 20036.

For íThink Tank,í Iím Ben Wattenberg.

ANNOUNCER: This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

íThink Tankí has been made possible by Amgen, a recipient of the presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen, unlocking the secrets of life through cellular and molecular biology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Randolph Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. END

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