A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Jeremiah Wright draws on a long line of Afrocentric charlatans.
29 April 2008
The list of Afrocentric educators whom Reverend Jeremiah Wright has invoked in his media escapades since this Sunday is a disturbing reminder that academias follies can enter the public world in harmful ways. Now the pressing question is whether they have entered presidential candidate Barack Obamas worldview as well.
Some in Wrights crew of charlatans have already had their moments in the spotlight; others are less well known. They form part of the tragic academic project of justifying self-defeating underclass behavior as authentically black. That their ideas have ended up in the pulpit of Chicagos Trinity United Church of Christ and in Detroits Cobo Hall, where Wright spoke at the NAACPs Freedom Fund dinner on Sunday, reminds us that bad ideas must be fought at their originsand at every moment thereafter.
At the NAACP meeting, Wright proudly propounded the racist contention that blacks have inherently different learning styles, correctly citing as authority for this view Janice Hale of Wayne State University. Pursuing a Ph.D. by logging long hours in the dusty stacks of a library, Wright announced, is white. Blacks, by contrast, cannot sit still in class or learn from quiet study, and they have difficulty learning from objectsbooks, for examplebut instead learn from subjects, such as rap lyrics on the radio. These differences are neurological, according to Hale and Wright: whites use what Wright referred to as the left-wing, logical, and analytical side of their brains, whereas blacks use their right brain, which is creative and intuitive. When he was of school age in Philadelphia following the Supreme Courts 1954 desegregation decision, Wright said, his white teachers freaked out because the black children did not stay in their place, over there, behind the desk. Instead, the students climbed up all over [the teachers], because they learned from a subject, not an object. How one learns from a teacher as subject by climbing on her, as opposed to learning from her as objectby listening to her wordsis a mystery.
One would hope that Wrights audience was offended by the idea that acting out in class is authentically blackit was impossible to tell what the reaction in the hall was to the assertion. But one thing is clear: embracing the notion that blacks shouldnt be expected to listen attentively to instruction is guaranteed to perpetuate into eternity the huge learning gap between blacks on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other.
Wright also praised the work of Geneva Smitherman of Michigan State University, who has called for the selective incorporation of Ebonics into the curriculum in order to validate the black experience. Wright gave another shout-out to the late Asa Hilliard of Georgia State University, who told us, Wright said, how to fix the schools. Like Hale, Hilliard argued that disrupting the classroom through impulsive interrupting and loud talking is inherently black. His bogus Afrocentrism, propounded in his African-American Baseline Essays, metastasized in educational circles during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hilliard argued that Western civilization was at once stolen from black Africa and crippling to black identity. As the late Arthur M. Schlesinger recounted in his 1991 alarum about multiculturalism, The Disuniting of America, Hilliard urged schools to teach black students that Egypt was a black country; that Africans invented birth control and carbon steel; that they discovered America long before Columbus; that Robert Browning and Ludwig van Beethoven were Afro-European; and that the Atlantic Ocean was originally named the Ethiopian Ocean. (City College of New York laughingstock Leonard Jeffrieshe of the infamous distinction between materialistic, aggressive European ice people and superior African sun peoplecontributed to Hilliards Essays, asserting therein that slavery was undertaken as part of a conspiracy to prevent us from having a unified experience.)
Approving of self-destructive behavior in school is just one part of the vast academic project to justify black underclass dysfunction. The academy has also singled out crime as authentically black, another poisonous idea that Wright appears to have embraced. In his NAACP speech, he mocked the tendency of those of us who never got caught to treat those of us who are incarcerated with disrespect. In other words, we all commit crime, but only some of us get nabbed for it.
This leveling argument recalls the bizarre doctrines of University of Pennsylvania law professor Regina Austin. In a widely reprinted California Law Review article from 1992, Austin asserted that the black community should embrace the criminals in its midst as a form of resistance to white oppression. People of color should view hustling as a good middle ground between straightness and more extreme forms of lawbreaking. Examples of hustling include clerks in stores [who] cut their friends a break on merchandise, and pilfering employees [who] spread their contraband around the neighborhood. It never occurs to Austin that these black thieves may have black employers who suffer the effects of black crimeas do the larger neighborhoods of which they form the essential fabric. Officially incorporating crime into the black identity, as Austin and Wright do, is a pathetic admission of defeat and marginalization.
To understand how such ideas become mainstream, one need only read the front page of todays New York Times. There, television critic Alessandra Stanley thrills to the authentic voice of black America: Wright went deep into contexta rich, stem-winding brew of black history, Scripture, hallelujahs and hermeneutics, Stanley effuses. Mr. Wright, Senator Barack Obamas former pastor, was cocky, defiant, declamatory, inflammatory and mischievous. One might think that Wrights promotion of the idea that black kids cant sit still in class would raise some worries, even in a television critic. Surely Stanley would expect her own children to listen to their teachers. But the white elites desire to avoid charges of racism cancels out all reasonable reactions to dangerous nonsense when such nonsense comes out of black mouths. The coverage of Wrights speeches beyond the Times has been just as silent about their crackpot Afrocentric pedagogy, meekly following the agenda that Wright set by asking instead whether the black church, and not Wright, was under attack.
Wrights speeches have shown how quickly academic insanity becomes incorporated into practice. And now we may be on the verge of seeing such madness spread into the White House. The mainstream media have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into questioning Obamas affiliation with Wright. By now, Wrights 9/11 and AIDS diatribes are well-wornand Obamas repudiation of them a no-brainer. It is imperative that someone at CNN or the New York Times ask Obama whether he, too, believes that the way to fix the schools is through Afrocentric curricula and double standards in student discipline, and whether he, too, believes that blacks only think with the right side of their brains.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.