“Today no one would say, ‘rather than being a black middle-manager who once or twice gets pulled over by the cops for no reason and every now and then has detected certain biases, I would rather be a white person who weighs 400 pounds.”
In a far-ranging discussion with Reason’s Nick Gillepsie, self-described liberal Democrat professor John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University, criticized liberals for being unable to acknowledge progress on racial equality and suggested America has never been less racist.
Reason released the sit-down interview last month.
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McWhorter expounded on several race-related topics, including the controversy over alleged hate-crime hoaxer Jussie Smollett and what he has in the past called the secular new religion of “Antiracism.”
Gillespie asked McWhorter about a 2015 essay in which he drew various parallels between religion and progressives’ blind adherence to antiracist ideology. “The Antiracism religion, then, has clergy, creed, and also even a conception of Original Sin. Note the current idea that the enlightened white person is to, I assume regularly (ritually?), ‘acknowledge’ that they possess White Privilege,” he wrote.
McWhorter elaborated on previous comments explaining what the Smollett case, which he has characterized as “victimhood chic,” revealed about America. While acknowledging that racism still exists in America, McWhorter downplayed how much effect it had on the lives of racial minorities.
“So we’re taught to suppose that if certain racist biases exist in the hearts of certain people, then it’s of this portentous import,” he told Gillespie.
“But the thing is people walking down the street and getting beaten up by white racist thugs is, thankfully, something quite rare in America today,” McWhorter said, adding that “it didn’t happen to Jussie Smollett.”
McWhorter dismissed the notion that “residual racist feelings have a significant effect upon the trajectory of black lives,” declaring that “the truth is, we are in a very new era.” However, according to McWhorter, whites and blacks “pretend” that the opposite is true.
Referencing McWhorter’s 2001 remarks in which he claimed that white racism was “no longer the main obstacle” to the flourishing of black people, Gillespie asked, “how do you know that?”
McWhorter responded by citing injustices – in both social and professional realms of society – suffered by generations of black before the 53-year-old professor came of age.
Recognizing that his life was “not completely devoid of racist bias,” McWhorter drew a stark contrast between his experiences and those of his parents’ generation.
He continued to illustrate the purported advancement in racial equality by proposing a thought experiment in which an individual is asked to choose whether they’d rather be a “black person of any class living in any neighborhood” or “a white person who weighs 400 pounds.”
“In 1920, I think almost anybody would choose to be William Howard Taft, even if he hadn’t become president,” McWhorter quipped, referencing the famously rotund 27th president of the United States.
“Today no one would say, ‘rather than being a black middle-manager who once or twice gets pulled over by the cops for no reason and every now and then has detected certain biases, I would rather be a white person who weighs 400 pounds,” he added.
Gillespie pressed McWhorter on his thoughts regarding why Americans are so uncomfortable with conceding the idea that race relations have improved.
“Something happened in this country about five years ago where being on the side of the angels meant that you were supposed to deny facts, that you were supposed to exaggerate, that you were supposed to embrace such as that whites are supposed to be guilty of a privilege that they have upon birth, and the evil of it cannot be expunged,” McWhorter replied. “It all starts sounding like fundamental Christianity.”