Gaffes on the Campaign Trail08-11-2019
By Roger Berkowitz
Joe Biden made news with another racial gaffe when he said “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” John McWhorter argues that these gaffes, while problematic, are also indicative of a paradoxical tension around black achievement.
John McWhorter will be speaking at the Arendt Center’s Annual Conference, “Racism and Antisemitism” on Oct. 11-12.
On race and socioeconomics, the enlightened American these days is asked to wangle a peculiar sort of equipoise. For example, we are never to discount the black community’s achievement by “racializing” poverty. We are revolted when President Donald Trump implies that struggling black communities are uniquely degraded, almost perverted landscapes. These days, the concept of underclass is perhaps more race-neutral than ever before, in view of countless mostly white areas ravaged by deindustrialization and the opioid epidemic.
But then we are also to maintain a sense of black Americans as a singularly burdened people, suffering from a persistent wage gap with whites, overrepresented in low-quality schools, and mired in a web of circumstances founded in and ever propelled by a deathless kind of white supremacy. No one denies that other groups suffer as well, such as Latinos and Native Americans. However, the tacit idea is that black Americans are a special case, caught “between hell and high water” by Hurricane Katrina, to use the deft title of Michael Eric Dyson’s book; ever the “faces at the bottom of the well,” to quote Derrick Bell; and owed reparations for the slavery and legal segregation their ancestors endured.