Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle

Race is one of the several badges of identity that have been recognized by leftists in their generally successful quest to obtain unmerited privileges for the bearers of those badges. Leftists will have no truck with freedom of association, property rights, or actual merit. No, their clientele must be given special dispensations, even if doing so means that others are penalized for the “sin” of not being on the left’s list of preferred identity groups.

This post is about a particular identity group: blacks. Specifically, it is about the specter that haunts every discussion of blacks: racism.

Since I began blogging at Politics & Prosperity in February 2009, I have not written much about the “race issue.” (My post about the Trayvon Martin case was about Obama’s race-baiting, not about race per se.) It is time to end this blog’s avoidance of the race issue, especially in light of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that will be heard later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is not that I expect to influence the outcome of Fisher v. UT. Nor do I expect to influence the views of the smug, self-deluding, racist leftists who dominate UT and the political life of Austin. But as a taxpayer, I am an unwilling supporter of the racist admission policy of the University of Texas. Therefore, I can no longer stifle my disdain for that policy. If nothing else, perhaps fate (and Google) will send an errant leftist in this direction, so that he or she may be offended by what I have to say.

I wrote a lot about the race issue and its evil spawn, affirmative action, at my old blog, which I maintained from 2004 to 2008. I am not sure why I stopped writing about race when I created Politics & Prosperity soon after the inauguration of Barack Obama. Perhaps, subconsciously, I did not want my criticisms of Obama’s leftist predilections and policies to be tainted by the suggestion that I disdain him for his racial identity (which is black, despite his mixed parentage). In fact, Obama’s policies are loathsome on their own merits. The man is nothing more than a tan version of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, LBJ, and FDR — all of whom I disrespect deeply. My loathing for leftists is color-blind.

Anyway, here is Politics & Prosperity‘s initial foray into the issue of race, or — more precisely — racism.

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I do not mean by racism the view that there are races and that they differ by virtue of genetic and cultural heredity. That proposition, despite much evidence in its favor, is widely thought to be a racist one. But it is not.

Racism is undiscriminating distrust, suspicion, scorn, or hatred directed toward a racial group and its members, just because the racial group is identifiably different than the racial group with which the distrustful, suspicious, scornful, or hate-filled person — the racist — identifies. Racism knows no bounds; it is found in blacks, whites, Asians, aboriginals of all kinds, and in sub-groups of each.

Racism is an extreme form of in-group allegiance, that is, identification of oneself with a group because that identification satisfies prudential and/or emotional needs. A desire for mutual defense is a valid prudential need. Who better to turn to for defense against predators than one’s kin, neighbors, community, and network of communities linked by a common heritage? Predators may be found in each of those groups, but such groups (unless controlled by predators) can be counted on to resist predation, both internal and from without. Nor is defense against predators the only prudential need that can be satisfied by in-group allegiance; there is also, for example, mutual aid in times of natural disaster.

In-group allegiance, when rewarded by such benefits as mutual defense and mutual aid, can satisfy an emotional need for belonging, which sometimes manifests itself as patriotism. But patriotism, like racial identity, has negative consequences when it blinds its adherents to the virtues of individuals outside the in-group. The result is self-defeating insularity, which finds expression in policies that are harmful to many members of the in-group (e.g., protectionism, bans on social and economic fraternization with blacks). Racism, in other words, is a virulent kind of in-group allegiance that satisfies an emotional need while causing harm — even to its practitioners. It is akin to (though far more serious than) the kind of hooliganism that results from cultish attachments to sports teams, as in the case of European football.

Thus blinded to the virtues of individuals outside his in-group, a racist condemn all members of a despised out-group. A racist may praise the accomplishments of some members of a despised group (athletes are particular favorites), while attributing those accomplishments to racial traits or otherwise belittling the individuals whose accomplishments are noteworthy. A racist may justify his racism by citing evidence of racial differences (e.g., the lower average intelligence of blacks, compared to whites). But the racism (usually) precedes the evidence, which a racist will cite in support of his racism.

It is not racist to recognize the fact of inter-racial differences, on average, as long as one evaluates and treats individuals as individuals and recognizes that group averages do not obliterate individual differences.

It is not racist to recognize the risks of venturing into the “territory” of a racial group other than one’s own. But that recognition is racist if it is not matched by equal caution about venturing into the “territory” of certain sub-cultures of one’s own racial group. Specifically, a middle-class white person foolishly ventures into an area known as a redoubt for black gangbangers. But the same middle-class white wears racial blinders if he insouciantly ventures into Deliverance country.

Having said all of that, I admit the difficulty of telling racism apart from realism.

An excellent case in point is John Derbyshire‘s column of April 5, “The Talk: Nonblack Version,” which appeared in Taki’s Magazine. Derbyshire, for the sins of realism and candor, was immediately fired from his long-standing gig as a columnist for National Review, a creature of William F. Buckley Jr. which proclaims itself “America’s most widely read and influential magazine and website for Republican/conservative news, commentary and opinion.” Derbyshire’s offense, according to Rich Lowry, editor of NR, was to

lurch[] from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published ["The Talk: Nonblack Version"], but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.

(Three days after firing Derbyshire, NR fired another columnist, Robert Weissberg, for participating “in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism.” I may address that case in a future post.)

Was Derbyshire’s piece “nasty and indefensible,” or simply too realistic for NR, which — as a conservative outlet — is always a prime candidate for the “racist” label that leftists like to stick on their opponents. (I often, and quite properly, refer to leftists as racists because they condescend to blacks and pursue policies that favor blacks simply for being black.)

Here are excerpts of Derbyshire’s article:

There is much talk about “the talk.”

“Sean O’Reilly was 16 when his mother gave him the talk that most black parents give their teenage sons,” Denisa R. Superville of the Hackensack (NJ) Record tells us. Meanwhile, down in Atlanta: “Her sons were 12 and 8 when Marlyn Tillman realized it was time for her to have the talk,” Gracie Bonds Staples writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Leonard Greene talks about the talk in the New York Post. Someone bylined as KJ Dell’Antonia talks about the talk in The New York Times. Darryl Owens talks about the talk in the Orlando Sentinel.

Yes, talk about the talk is all over.

There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

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(1) Among your fellow citizens are forty million who identify as black, and whom I shall refer to as black….

(2) American blacks are descended from West African populations, with some white and aboriginal-American admixture….

(3) Your own ancestry is mixed north-European and northeast-Asian, but blacks will take you to be white.

(4) The default principle in everyday personal encounters is, that as a fellow citizen, with the same rights and obligations as yourself, any individual black is entitled to the same courtesies you would extend to a nonblack citizen….

(5) As with any population of such a size, there is great variation among blacks in every human trait (except, obviously, the trait of identifying oneself as black)….

(6) As you go through life, however, you will experience an ever larger number of encounters with black Americans. Assuming your encounters are random—for example, not restricted only to black convicted murderers or to black investment bankers—the Law of Large Numbers will inevitably kick in. You will observe that the means—the averages—of many traits are very different for black and white Americans, as has been confirmed by methodical inquiries in the human sciences.

(7) Of most importance to your personal safety are the very different means for antisocial behavior, which you will see reflected in, for instance, school disciplinary measures, political corruption, and criminal convictions.

(8) These differences are magnified by the hostility many blacks feel toward whites. Thus, while black-on-black behavior is more antisocial in the average than is white-on-white behavior, average black-on-white behavior is a degree more antisocial yet.

(9) A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us. A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event….

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites….

(12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play, you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

(13) In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks [ISWBs]…. You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.

(14) Be aware, however, that there is an issue of supply and demand here….

(15) Unfortunately the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous. To be an IWSB in present-day US society is a height of felicity rarely before attained by any group of human beings in history. Try to curb your envy: it will be taken as prejudice (see paragraph 13).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

You don’t have to follow my version of the talk point for point; but if you are white or Asian and have kids, you owe it to them to give them some version of the talk. It will save them a lot of time and trouble spent figuring things out for themselves. It may save their lives.

Derbyshire’s “talk” (hereafter DT) should be judged on two criteria: appropriateness and accuracy. If it is accurate, it is appropriate. Parents have a duty to educate their children in the facts of life, sexual and otherwise. To neglect that duty is to leave them open to harms that they are better able to avoid with foreknowledge and forewarning. DT (if accurate) can be called inappropriate only by persons who put political correctness above the well-being of children. To take a non-racial example, parents who fail to teach their children of the health risks of male homosexuality, and who condone homosexual experimentation by male adolescents because “there’s nothing wrong with that,” are endangering the lives of those adolescents through their politically correct passivity.

Is DT accurate? Derbyshire assiduously documents almost all of his points, in the links reproduced above and in others that are in elided passages. One weak point is (9), where Derbyshire lapses into generalizations about the percentage of blacks who are openly hostile to whites (about five percent) and the fraction of blacks (about half) who will follow the lead of hostile blacks. But these lapses do not negate the advice that follows. It is incontrovertible that some blacks have and will harm whites, and it is a staple of human nature that the “masses” (of any color) will flee from, ignore, or acquiesce in acts of savagery. (The heroism of some passengers on United 93 is nothing compared with, say, the silent acceptance of the Holocaust by masses of Germans — to offer but one case in point.) But Derbyshire’s guesses about proportions do not vitiate the points that follow: (10a)-(10i).

I find (14) and (15) to be strained, but generally accurate. However, no one is in a position to assert, as Derbyshire does in (15), that

[t]o be an IWSB in present-day US society is a height of felicity rarely before attained by any group of human beings in history.

This is pure hyperbole. Neither Derbyshire nor any other observer is in a position to judge the “felicity” of IWSBs, individually or as a group. (Group felicity is an empty construct, in any case, because one cannot sum individual states of well-being to attain a collective measure of well-being.) The assertion is also condescending, and thus suggestive of a racist attitude toward blacks.

My few objections aside, DT is accurate (on the whole) and therefore appropriate. The powers-that-be at NR are guilty of bowing to the false gods of political correctness.

I do not mean to say that Derbyshire is not a racist. He may well be one. But a racist, like a stopped clock, can sometimes be right about racial issues, just as a poor marksman can sometimes hit a bulls-eye if he expends a lot of ammunition.

This brings me to Derbyshire’s next column at Taki’s Magazine, “Talking Back,” which addresses some of the blogospheric commentary about DT. Near the end of “Talking Back,” Derbyshire offers the following:

Lefty commenters waxed large on my piece as promoting eugenics, arguing for genetic inferiority, and so on.

Now, I do have opinions about eugenics. I support, for example, the eugenic requirements in the marriage laws of my state (see under “Familial Restrictions” here)

Similarly, I have opinions about the notion of genetic success (as I prefer to frame the issue). In the long biological view, the only criterion is survival… [T]he premise of the movie Idiocracy is that coarse, dumb people will inherit the Earth by out-breeding refined, smart people. If that happens (and I wouldn’t be surprised) then from a biological perspective, which is actually my own perspective as a stone-cold empiricist, the coarse, dumb people will have proven “superior” to the refined, smart ones. Personally I prefer the latter type, but Ma Nature doesn’t care what I prefer.

Sure, I have opinions; sure, I’m willing to discuss these topics. There was nothing of them in my piece, though. I just stated facts, based on statistics gathered over decades, by both private and government agencies, accumulated and checked beyond the range of dispute. Those facts might have any of several causes, with corresponding remedies. They might be “cultural”: Perhaps a nationwide ban on rap music and malt liquor might change them. They might be biomedical, fixable by some not-yet-discovered pharmacological wonder we could put in the water supply such as fluoride. They might be manipulated by extraterrestrial powers lurking in the fogs of Jupiter, beaming malign rays at us. I didn’t speculate. I framed no hypotheses. Just the facts….

Were there any reasoned non-hostile critiques I thought were good?

Even there, I only looked at three or four, at the urging of friends. Of those, the best was Noah Millman‘s. It deserves a formal, collegial rebuttal, but I’m so far behind with absolutely everything, I daren’t think about it. I haven’t done my damn TAXES yet. Sorry, Noah. In any case, most of the points I’d make are already there in the comment thread to Noah’s piece.

It is going somewhat too far to say that DT recites “just the facts.” But it is heavily fact-based and accurate in its thrust. It is a big improvement on touchy-feely political correctness, which substitutes hopes for facts.

What about Millman’s column, “A Quick Word on the Derb,” at The American Conservative? For one thing, Millman says that Derbyshire’s injunctions (10a)-(10i) are

bad advice. To be a good application of statistical common sense, it’s not enough to know that, for example, crime rates (on average) are higher in majority-black neighborhoods. You’d need to know that the disparity was large enough, and the variance around the average small enough, so that following such a rule would actually be a decent heuristic; not to mention that there were no more finely-grained heuristics available and that the cost of applying such a sweeping heuristic in terms of the loss of experience of life and its manifold pleasures was not prohibitive.

Because here’s the thing. Granting that nobody has an obligation to be politically correct in their behavior, and granting (for the sake of argument) all of Derbyshire’s premises, what he’s still saying is that the risks are so great that it’s better simply to wall oneself off from African-Americans to the greatest degree possible. But he hasn’t actually measured the risks in absolute terms, only in relative terms: would this action reduce risk; if yes, then follow it. I wonder: does he take a similar attitude toward other risks? Toward, to take a few examples, eating raw food, bicycling without a helmet, traveling alone to a foreign country, or writing whatever one wishes for a publication like Taki’s Magazine?…

The “race realists” like to say that they are the ones who are curious about the world, and the “politically correct” types are the ones who prefer to ignore ugly reality. But the advice Derbyshire gives to his children encourages them not to be too curious about the world around them, for fear of getting hurt. And, as a general rule, that’s terrible advice for kids – and not the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life.

Twaddle. Derbyshire’s advice is cautionary — it is of a kind with warning one’s children about the dangers of street-racing and para-sailing. They may do such things anyway, but they may do so after taking duly precautionary measures.

Moreover, Millman’s proffered alternative is fatuous:

To be a good application of statistical common sense, it’s not enough to know that, for example, crime rates (on average) are higher in majority-black neighborhoods. You’d need to know that the disparity was large enough, and the variance around the average small enough, so that following such a rule would actually be a decent heuristic; not to mention that there were no more finely-grained heuristics available and that the cost of applying such a sweeping heuristic in terms of the loss of experience of life and its manifold pleasures was not prohibitive.

And where does one obtain these fine-grained statistics and heuristics? And on short notice? And what is the “loss of experience of life” next to the very real possibility of a dire outcome, including loss of life itself?

Millman goes on:

The “race realists” like to say that they are the ones who are curious about the world, and the “politically correct” types are the ones who prefer to ignore ugly reality. But the advice Derbyshire gives to his children encourages them not to be too curious about the world around them, for fear of getting hurt. And, as a general rule, that’s terrible advice for kids – and not the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life.

I have no idea about “the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life,” nor do I know how Millman knows what that might be. But it is evident that Derbyshire has not been killed by a black thug or black mob. Further, I cannot imagine that Derbyshire’s advice stifles his children’s curiosity, though it may help to channel that curiosity away from situations and events that are best avoided by any sensible person. There is plenty to be curious about in this world; most of it is far more interesting than wandering into strange neighborhoods and mingling in crowds of strangers.


Which brings us to the supposed point of the column. That point, I take it, is to argue that just as African-American parents have to brief their sons on how to keep themselves from ending up like Trayvon Martin, white parents have to brief their sons on how to keep themselves safe from personal violence at the hands of African-Americans. But there’s a profound lack of parallelism between the two conversations. “The Talk” is about how you are perceived by others, and how to comport yourself so as to counteract that perception. Derbyshire’s talk is about how you should perceive others. There’s no analogy. They have nothing to do with each other.

The “talks” have everything to do with each other: They are about how to avoid harm.

In sum, I am unpersuaded by Millman’s commentary. Derbyshire’s children — and other non-black children — should follow Derbyshire’s advice, just as black children should heed “the talk.”

Whether Derbyshire is a racist or a realist matters not. On the whole, he is right.

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I will address affirmative action and other policy fiascoes in future posts.

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