Opinion: Why People Can’t Face the Truth

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John McWhorter, who teaches at Columbia, is one of a handful of blacks who write sensible things about race. He complains that the media bellow whenever police kill a black man but are silent when they kill a white man, and worries that claims of “systemic racism” are leading to a movement to exempt blacks from standards.

But Prof. McWhorter’s Substack review of Charles Murray’s latest book, Facing Reality, is deliberately blind. Its value goes beyond Prof. McWhorter, however, because it’s an explicit statement of the mental prison people on the Left and Right build for themselves — and for the country: “I reject facts I don’t like.”

Prof. McWhorter starts by patting himself on the back for his broadmindedness — “Murray’s work is too carefully reasoned and too deeply founded on scholarly sources to be dismissed as ‘racist’ ” — though he will dismiss it for equally disgraceful reasons.

Prof. McWhorter summarizes the book:

Facing Reality is seriously disturbing. Murray gives a great deal of evidence for two points. One is that black people aren’t, on the average, as intelligent as other people. The other is that black people in America are more violent than others.

Prof. McWhorter accepts that blacks are more violent, but insists it’s because of welfare, drugs, fatherlessness, etc. The part about IQ, though, “is tough reading.” Instead of attacking Dr. Murray’s data — he admits he can’t — he writes:

I suspect, in my gut, that the issue is cultural . . . . Abstract tests are a highly artificial thing . . . . Black American culture may be less consonant with that way of approaching things than white or Asian culture, and . . . could subtly discourage black kids from mastering the knack of jumping through the hoop.

Prof. McWhorter surely knows that white and Asian children do not spend their weekends “mastering the knack” of Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Still, he prefers to think blacks are just as smart, but have a “subtle cultural resistance to demonstrating it.” To his credit, he adds: “I openly admit, though, that this is also the way I hope it is, and that’s not science.” His hopes are no defense against Prof. Murray’s data.

There’s worse: “[I]t’s reasonable to ask of Murray: Why are you airing this information?” This is an odd question from someone who “airs” widely ignored information on crime rates and police killings. The subject of race and IQ just bothers him. I suppose it’s impossible to expect even an associate professor at Columbia to understand that Dr. Murray might just want to correct a widespread error.

Prof. McWhorter cites Dr. Murray’s own reasons for this unfortunate “airing:” “One is that Affirmative Action too often puts semicompetent people in government jobs.” But as Dr. Murray points out, it’s a whole lot more than “government jobs.” For example, white K-12 teachers and nurses have a 15-point IQ advantage over black teachers and nurses, and this is reflected in their performance ratings. Prof. McWhorter wants good schools for blacks. Wouldn’t he want good teachers for them, even if they are white? But he’s not worried by affirmative action: “I have a hard time seeing this [legions of semicompetents] as precisely a national tragedy.” He needs to look a little harder. Obsessions with “diversity” are already corrupting science itself. As one wag put it, in a country turning brown, the national tragedy of incompetence “will come slowly, then suddenly.”

Prof. McWhorter cites Dr. Murray’s other reason to let loose with the facts about race and IQ: “[I]dentity politics — as in racial set-asides and a tacit media conspiracy to keep disproportionate rates of black crime under wraps — is about to create a revolutionarily inclined white identity that will plunge America into a race war.” That’s a very poor summary of Dr. Murray’s argument, which I describe better — and dissect — here. Prof. McWhorter shrugs it off as alarmist.

Finally, here is Prof. McWhorter’s true objection to learning about race and IQ: If the facts are as Dr. Murray says, meritocracy would mean that “we need to accept an America in which black people are rarely encountered in jobs requiring serious smarts.” He adds: “I would have to work very hard to come up with a way of accepting that world.” So there you have it. Prof. McWhorter wants a certain kind of world, and doesn’t care how many facts we have to smother and how many whites and Asians we have to punish for him to get it.

Anyone who thinks for a living — and I imagine that’s what Prof. McWhorter fancies himself — must accept data, no matter how disagreeable, if he can find no fault with them. Anything less is cowardice or bad faith.

Prof. McWhorter’s funk over the data is important because he isn’t just anybody. He’s not completely blinded by the fog that hangs over every American university. He writes about the folly of thinking that it is “racist” to expect blacks to get math answers right. He ridicules the vendetta against Dr. Seuss. He worries about Critical Race Theory and the progressives’ grim “duty of identifying racism wherever they can find it.” He realizes that “woke” mobs are taking over institutions and “the alt-right” isn’t, and that there’s something wrong when people seriously claim that music theory is “white supremacist.”

But Prof. McWhorter has no idea where the madness comes from. He refuses to understand that it comes from denying the very facts he wants Charles Murray to shut up about. What explanation for black failure can there be but “white racism” if we can’t talk about race differences? Prof. McWhorter’s “culture” explanation only pushes the “racism” explanation back a step. How did blacks, stripped by slavery of their original culture, get this miserable “culture”? Obviously, whites gave it to them. That’s why we have to discover and root out imagined “racism” in music theory and in police shootings and in Prof. McWhorter’s favorite Dr. Seuss book. It’s also why Critical Race Theory is indispensable: It is the inherent malevolence of every living white man, boy, and baby that stifles the native genius of the black race. Blacks can reach their potential only when whites learn how awful they are, and dedicate their lives to atonement.

Many people would say of Prof. McWhorter: “Of course he can’t accept the truth. He’s black.” I don’t like that argument. Anyone with imagination can see past the end of his own nose when he looks at the world. I know no race realist who doesn’t accept the data on IQ differences between whites and Asians (though Prof. McWhorter seems to fear only the black/white gap, not the even greater black/Asian gap).

Like it or not, Prof. McWhorter is braver than almost every white academic. He read Facing Reality and didn’t just call it trash. He admitted he can’t disprove the data and that his “hopes” about black IQ “aren’t science.” That is a lot further than most whites would go.

I suspect Prof. McWhorter is mentally hobbled by something more than his race. Our climate of racial-moral zealotry doesn’t just punish people who say the wrong thing; it makes them incapable of even thinking the wrong thing.

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