Keepin' it real is real stupid
Juan Williams says enough with the culture of failure that's undermining Black America
MARK STEYN | Sep 28, 2006
Faced with some problem or other, one of Margaret Thatcher's colleagues proposed creating a special cabinet department to deal with it. "Good God, no," said the Prime Minister. "Then we'll never get rid of it."
That's good advice in any situation. Whatever good it might once have done, America's racial-grievance industry is now principally invested in its own indispensability. Lavishly remunerated panjandrums such as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a far greater interest in maintaining racism than any humdrum Ku Klux Klan kleagle, assuming there still are any. One consequence is that so-called black "community leaders" will talk about anything rather than what's really screwing up their "communities." In 2003, congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee was reduced to complaining about the racist nomenclature of hurricanes. If I recall correctly, her argument was that blacks were being discriminated against because hardly any devastatingly destructive meteorological phenomena are given African-American names. Apparently, the black community can't relate to some white-bread wind like hurricane Andrew blowing in and tearing up the joint. Why are there never any hurricane Leroys or Latifahs? It's deeply racist and insulting to imply that only forces of nature with effete WASPy appellations are capable of inflicting billions of dollars of coastal damage. In fairness to black leaders, they did not reprise this line of attack when Katrina swept in a year ago, preferring to argue instead that not merely the name but the very hurricane was racist, deliberately deployed by Karl Rove's offshore Republican wind machine to total only black neighbourhoods.
Yawn. Whatever November's elections bring, there will be no political consequences from Katrina for President Bush, the fondest hopes of Democrats, the U.S. media and virtually every commentator in Canada and Europe notwithstanding. Most Americans looked at what was happening in New Orleans and concluded that it's a great place to enjoy a margarita with a topless transsexual Mardi Gras queen, but you wouldn't want to live there: a deeply dysfunctional city exclusively controlled by Democrats for generations, it's a welfare swamp with a lucrative tourist quarter. More to the point, its citizenry seem reluctant to learn the lessons. Despite the embarrassingly inept performance by Ray Nagin, the city's Mayor Culpa whose Emergency Management Plan consisted of finding the nearest TV camera and pointing fingers at everybody else, his electorate nevertheless returned him to office out of the most feeble racial solidarity. In his book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It, Juan Williams observes that, for the duration of Katrina, Mayor Nagin moved his family to Dallas: aside from his role as public servant, he's a successful black businessman and thus, like most others of his class in New Orleans, could insulate himself from the depredations of the hurricane. "People with cars, credit cards, bank accounts, family," as Williams puts it, had a way out. If you're poor and black in the Big Easy, you'd be better off paying attention to what a man like Ray Nagin does for himself rather than what he promises to do for you.
At the heart of Enough is a sad but unarguable proposition: "We've made it taboo," says the writer Shelby Steele, "to talk about the words 'black' and 'responsibility' in the same breath." Four decades of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society as mediated by the presidents-for-life of the white-guilt shakedown industry have destroyed the black family and mired it in a culture of self-victimization. From the present wreckage, there are two ways to go: the black leadership can pursue the mirage of slavery reparations, which is a kind of über-welfare and would likely prove just as destructive; or blacks can sideline the present "phony leaders," as Williams calls them, and begin the hard work of rebuilding their families and communities.
Juan Williams is a certified liberal, but he's not a certifiable liberal. And so he's looked at the numbers -- 70 per cent of black children are born out of wedlock, a higher proportion of black men are in prison than of any other racial group(two statistics that are not unrelated)-- and concluded that the post-civil rights black leadership and its policies are a total bust. For having the impertinence to wander off the Democrat victim-culture plantation, he's been damned as merely this season's "black conservative"; a black man who's no longer authentically black, in the way that Colin Powell and Condi Rice's success within the Republican party in effect negates their race; or, if you like, the latest "Oreo" -- a black man who's white on the inside, like the famous cookies, which were supposedly hurled at Michael Steele, a black Republican candidate in this year's Senate race in Maryland.
The concept of "authenticity" -- that one's skin colour mandates particular behaviours, such as voting Democrat and supporting "affirmative action" -- is, of course, racist. But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again and again in Williams's book. "The defence of gangster rap, with its pride in guns and murder, was that it was all about 'keepin' it real,' " he writes. "In that stunning perversion of black culture, anyone who spoke against the self-destructive core of gangster rap was put down as acting white."
This is a fascinating theme whose significance extends far beyond music -- or, in this case, "music." We're encouraged these days to disdain ethnic stereotypes -- the Scots are stingy, the Germans humourless, etc. -- but, if one were to ascribe certain characteristics to particular ethnic groups, you'd be hard put to burden African-Americans with as many disabling pathologies as are currently touted under the justification of "keepin' it real." "Violence, murder, and self-hatred were marketed as true blackness -- authentic black identity," says Williams. "Keepin' it real" means the rapper Nelly making a video in which he swipes a credit card through his ho's butt. "Keepin' it real" means men are violent and nihilistic, women are "sluts, bobbing chicken heads, and of course bitches." "Keepin' it real," noted the writer Nick Crowe, equates, in effect, to "disempowerment." Because if being black means being a self-destructive self-gratifying criminal rutting machine, and building a career, settling down, getting a nice house in the suburbs, raising a family is acting white, that would seem to hand whitey an awful lot of advantages.
"Authenticity" is surely a more reductive view of the black experience than your average 19th-century minstrel show would try to pass off. A few years back, arguing for the teaching of "Ebonics" as a distinct language, professor Ron Emmons of Los Angeles City College produced a list of black America's contributions to the English language: hip, cool, gig, jiving around, get high, gimme five, hot, baby, mojo, fine, mess with, thang(as in "doin' my," he helpfully explained), take it easy, slick, rip-off, bad . . . Hmm. Does that list really testify to the vitality of "Black English"? By comparison, India via the Raj gave English(to pluck at random)pajamas, bungalow, jodhpurs, cheroot, cummerbund, veranda, khakis, karma. Despite the best efforts of the late Tupac and the Rodney King rioters to copyright them, even "thug" and "looter" come from the subcontinent. Doesn't that list make "jiving around" and "get high" look a bit weedy?
Williams recalls that in 1956 "a gang of white men dragged the famous black singer Nat 'King' Cole off a stage and beat him because they said he was singing love songs to white women." They weren't wrong about that: my mom loved him. In the early sixties, he called up his record company, whose coffers he had enriched for many years, and hung up in disgust when the receptionist answered: "Capitol Records, home of the Beatles." I think we can guess how Cole would have felt about gangsta rap. Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg. Scott Joplin would have regarded today's "black culture" as an oxymoron. To eliminate a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace from your identity isn't "keepin' it real"; it's keepin' millions of young black men and women unreal in ways the most malevolent bull-necked racist could never have devised.
Correction: Last week I mentioned, hot off the presses, that a deeply wicked man, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, had been captured in Afghanistan. Well, they caught someone, but after they ran the tests they concluded that it wasn't him. He's still out there, alas. But not to worry; his day will come.
To comment, email email@example.com