Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority
by John McWhorter
Gotham Books
266 pp.; $ 25

I played the race card for the first time in the sixth grade. I had ditched school for two consecutive weeks, and my parents, who went to work before I left and returned later, wanted to know why. I said that I was tired of getting beat up by black kids. The claim was eminently plausible: the only white boy at the school in the fourth through sixth grades, I did get beat up a lot; and because racial solidarity always trumped friendship, I could never count on the kids I hung around with to help me out. But my claim was false: I stayed home from school because I had concluded, in my own childish way, that the school I went to was a waste of time (and to this day I think that I would have been better off had I dropped out of school at that point and read books on my own at home). But the race card worked. I walked away from the principal's office unscathed.

John McWhorter has seen the race card played many times—and has seen how it often damages those who play it, including his African American students at the University of California at Berkeley, where McWhorter is a professor of linguistics. The author of several books on language, both scholarly and popular, he has also written frequently on racial matters. His book Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in America, published a couple of years ago, generated considerable discussion—and some abusive criticism from the black establishment.

In his new book, Authentically Black, McWhorter reminds us, repeatedly, that racism isn't dead in America. He means white racism, and since whites are people (and thus sinners) too, one supposes that they will never achieve perfection. But McWhorter ...

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