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Widening the Racial Divide : Glib proposals for ending racism seem more likely to perpetuate it : THE END OF RACISM: Principles for a Multiracial Society, By Dinesh D'Souza (The Free Press: $30; 736 pp.)

November 26, 1995|Charles Johnson | Charles Johnson is the author of "Middle Passage," winner of the 1990 National Book Award for fiction

Even before its official publication, Dinesh D'Souza's "The End of Racism" was destined to become this fall's lightning rod for controversy. Two black conservatives, Glenn Loury and Robert L. Woodson, terminated their affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, where D'Souza is a fellow, and held a press conference to denounce the book in, as Loury put it, their own "self-defense." Reporting recently on Loury's scramble to disassociate himself from a work in which he is favorably quoted, columnist William Raspberry compared "The End of Racism" to last year's "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. "It strikes me as a book," says Raspberry, "that only racists could cheer."

Ultimately, what "The End of Racism" has to say may well turn out to be far less important than who said it and why. Dinesh D'Souza is a 34-year-old "self-described conservative" born in East India. A former domestic policy analyst for the Reagan Administration who came to this country in 1978 and assaulted the political correctness on its college campuses with his contentious 1991 book "Illiberal Education." With "The End Of Racism," it seems safe to predict that, if nothing else, he will succeed in widening the circle of liberals who would love to see him tarred and feathered.

Personally, I'm not for riding anyone out of town on a rail. But after reading this book's 700-plus pages, I felt troubled enough, and gloomy enough, to phone a few close black friends for their reaction to D'Souza's proposed "principles for a multiracial society." None disagreed with the author's sense that "the task ahead is one of rebuilding broken families, developing educational and job skills, fostering black entrepreneurship and curbing the epidemic of violence in the inner cities," and none argued against D'Souza's belief that "the primary responsibility for cultural restoration undoubtedly lies with the black community itself."

What did enrage my friends was the route D'Souza took to reach these conclusions, his smug tone of cultural and intellectual superiority and the glibness of his solutions: e.g., repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and create public policy that is race-neutral. While D'Souza claims to battle against "enemies of equal rights," he is in fact providing them with ammunition.

For D'Souza, America is engaged not so much in a culture war as a "civilizational crisis," a societal breakdown at the center of which is the barbaric behavior of black America. "At every socioeconomic level," he writes, "blacks are uncompetitive on those measures of achievement that are essential to modern industrial society. Many middle-class African Americans are, by their own account, distorted in their social relations by the consuming passion of black rage. And nothing strengthens racism in this country more than the behavior of the African American underclass, which flagrantly violates and scandalizes basic codes of responsibility, decency and civility."

Because he sees "black failure" everywhere, and also empirical evidence to support the racial stereotypes of black violence and illegitimacy, D'Souza argues that whites are justified in practicing "rational discrimination" toward blacks. He does not hesitate before citing the controversial 1974 study of slavery, "Time on the Cross," to suggest that antebellum slavery was generally benign ("The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well"); he is at great pains to prove that blacks also committed the sin of slavery ("In 1830 there were more than 3,500 American black slave owners who collectively owned more than 10,000 slaves"); he does his level best to vindicate the efforts of 18th-Century and 19th-Century scientists who used quantitative methods for the purpose of racial classifications; and he revisits "The Bell Curve" in order to place squarely in the middle of our racial dialogue the oft-stated 15-point IQ differential between blacks and whites on standardized tests.

This dwelling on I.Q. differences leads directly to D'Souza's most scornful chapter, "Uncle Tom's Dilemma: Pathologies of Black Culture." "Black culture," he says, " . . . has a vicious, self-defeating and repellent underside that is is no longer possible to ignore or euphemize. . . . No good is achieved by dressing these pathologies in sociological cant." For D'Souza, the most serious of these pathologies are, in order: (1) racial paranoia ("Many blacks seem to live in the haunted house of the past, apparently patrolled by the ghosts of white racism"); (2) middle-class rage ("We have to conclude that we are dealing with cases of people who live in a world of make-believe, in mental prisons of their own construction"); (3) dependence on government; (4) the cult of the "bad nigger" lionized in rap music, and (5) illegitimacy.

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