I’m right in the middle of reading John McWhorter’s Losing the Race. I stopped because it brought a lot of unpleasant memories to the fore, the type that, likely, any black person who’s “different" has.
Pretty much anyone who likes math, likes foreign languages, likes computers, likes Star Trek, likes Tolkien, etc., is going to be considered geeky, at best. But for a black person, such preferences will bring the gravest of charges from one’s fellow blacks: “wanting to be white," thinking that you’re better than others, being a "sell-out." (Let’s not even talk about being a Republican. Yet.) It seems that being black and being smart is a betrayal to “blackness." I have long wondered how that came to be.
Dr. McWhorter has pretty much articulated this reality and done me one better by tracing it to its origin. He weaves the facts of American slave trade into a causal narrative: the variety of tribes that were brought to the American shores, the suppression of the various cultures and languages and the prohibition of slave literacy. Whatever learning traditions that the many African tribes might have brought with them to America were stamped out, unlike such traditions among other cultures. This makes sense.
So, if, in a culture, the vast majority is illiterate or undereducated, and there is a bar to gaining literacy or there is an educational “glass-ceiling," as there was in the US for black people up until about 45 years ago, then no stigma will be attached to such deficiencies. To go further, anyone who, by some means manages to rise above such obstacles, whether by luck, kindness, or pure genius, is looked upon with suspicion, at best, and viewed as a “sell-out," at worst.
If all of the above is true, then it basically comes down to this: black Americans who view an intelligent black person with suspicion are perpetuating slave and Jim Crow culture. Somehow, I doubt that a hue and cry will be raised.
Dr. McWhorter really laid himself on the line by telling this unpleasant truth. As it usually is with most unpleasant truth-tellers, he’s catching hell for either allegedly lying or airing black people’s dirty laundry.
I, however, am in his debt. Thank you, sir.