Derbyshire Again

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 7 2012 8:50 AM

Derbyshire Again

There's been some tsuris about my Friday post on John Derbyshire's Taki magazine essay "The Talk: Nonblack version." It was written in a pretty dry way, so I never ended up saying the obvious: People, the essay was disgusting. Rich Lowry, who edits Derbyshire at NR, has condemned it. Elspeth Reeve neatly knocks down the underpinning of the whole piece.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

To present himself as a cool social scientist, every single bullet point contains a link to some sort of source based in facts. The one about not going to a theme park where there's a ton of black people is a New York Times story from 1987. The implication is that Derbyshire was close by when a shooting occurred... This is how he's able to give the most dated racial stereotypes the veneer of respectability.

It's not the only problem with Derbyshire's recommendations for scaring "nonblacks" about black people, but it's the killer. "A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites." Really? Five percent? It's a little pat, and it's a mistake that Derbyshire  usually avoids.

Typically, when Derbyshire writes about race, he has a too-hot-for-teacher academic paper to share with readers. "Every time one of these results escapes from Academia into the awareness of the general public," he wrote in 2001, "it is greeted with shrieks of horror and obloquy by the leftist establishment (remember The Bell Curve?) and the researchers who uncovered it are tarred, feathered, and run out of the public square with cries of 'racist!' ringing in their ears." He delights in the secret knowledge of "human biodiversity," and it's only secret because the protecters of political correctness shout and hector and defame anyone who talks about it.

It looks like a hell of a gig. Liberals love science, right? Right? Well, how come they reject any science that doesn't present all humans as potential taxpayers of Lake Woebegon? (One zinger that that some Derb-alikes use: Liberals think that biology has NOTHING TO DO with ANYTHING about what humans can become. Oh, except for the gene that makes gay people gay. They believe in that. [I didn't say it was a good zinger.])

But the new Taki essay doesn't have any new science or research in it. It's an argument to warn nonblacks that black people are threatening. How much to fret about this? Well, the publication matters here. Derbyshire published in Taki magazine, which is the latest iteration of a rich man's controversialist web site. He's not talking this up on a cable news network. He doesn't have the cover of Time magazine. This isn't like the (successful) campaign to boot Pat Buchanan from MSNBC. It's a public shaming of a stupid article on a fringe site. And if you're going to have anti-black sentiment, would you rather have it dumb and exposed or would you rather have it subtle? The authors of stories about how Trayvon Martin looked really scary in his fake grill and tweets don't add oh, and this is because black youths are scary. Even if they're unarmed. Derbyshire came out and did it.

He might have done permanent damage to the whole "human biodiversity" project. It usually thrives on criticism. Those "shrieks of horror" are the whimpers of people who hate science and ignore reality. Not this time. The alleged value of Derbyshire-style analysis of race is that it's honest about human differences. You're explaining the thin-slice bias of the basketball coach who'd rather put a tall black kid on his team than a shorter white kid, something like that. But in this essay, Derbyshire tried to validate the fear of the nonblack person who -- oh, totally random example -- might decide that a tall black kid in a hoodie is a threat to his gated community. It's useful to have that out in the open.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


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