Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
                                       AP US History 2007

Adrian Phan

Author's Bio

John Hamilton McWhorter was born in 1965, in Philadelphia. He is the son of a professor of social work and a university administrator. Currently, he is an associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley and lives in Oakland, California. Including Losing the Race, McWhorter has written many books dealing with the need for contemporary African Americans to look beyond their history of slavery and segregation and propel themselves into the new century with a sense of freedom.

     John McWhorter's Losing the Race provides a legitimate response to the current downtrodden status of black Americans. Since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, black rights have been pushed forth year after year but blacks still have not realized their full potential as equal members of society. According to McWhorter, blacks are their "own worst enemies in the struggle for success" because of what blacks have imposed upon themselves--the "cult of victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism."1 In the context of these three matters, McWhorter explains the causes and effects of what the black race has imposed upon itself as opposed to the false theory that whites are the ones cracking the whip. McWhorter examines the roots of such impediments and offers his solution to the way in which blacks live their lives today.
     In the first (and most important) part of the novel, McWhorter describes the cult of victimology as a "certain cognitive dissonance with reality."2 In other words, he points out that the modern black American constantly struggles, viewing harmless acts against himself as powerful demonstrations of racism and hate. Blacks over-exaggerate remnants of discrimination by holding an obsessive barrier in front of white society. They simply attract "attention to where it barely exists if at all" by viewing themselves as victims of society.3 Blacks are caught up in gaining the sympathy of the public by making themselves seem worse off than they actually are. In doing so, McWhorter explains, African Americans transform victimology from a problem to be solved into an identity in itself. Black Americans are the causes of their own downfall as a suffering race. Because they inefficiently solve their problems, they delay the end result of social equality. Although their conditions have improved since the Civil Rights Act, blacks deny such improvements. In the minds of blacks, the white race still places a burden upon the black race. But, according to statistics and research, poverty in the black population has decreased from 55 percent in 1960 to less than 25 percent in 1990. This is enough to claim that the position of blacks is heading in the right direction, but there is still much to be done before any great time of bliss and freedom. One critical requirement, McWhorter claims, is to destroy the defeatist attitude that exists in the minds of young black Americans--the attitude that exists in the form of the "articles of faith" as coined by McWhorter.4 These articles of faith include the false myths that circulate among the people: "most black people are poor", "black people get paid less than whites for the same job", "the number of black men in prison is due to a racist justice system", "the police stop-and-frisk more black people than whites because of racism", and "police brutality against black people reveals the eternity of racism".5 With each of these articles, the black population shows that it still resists positive transition. African Americans fortify pessimism in the face of a social revolution and thus, dwell on fixing the past while the future lies in their hands. Victimhood has become the common mode of thought in black America, plaguing the general mindset. The roots of this plague can be attributed to the centuries and strife experienced by the black community. The grandchildren of slaves constitute today's black community. Probably raised insecurely, with a strong antipathy towards the past, African Americans now "internalize the way they were perceived by the larger society, resulting in a postcolonial inferiority complex."6 Simply put, being black is considered a stain left by past humiliation. If a black person does not express this pain in society, the black community will see him or her as stuck-up, snobbish, and too good for black people. Thus, in a way, cultural blackness forces blacks to furiously separate themselves from the rest of society. But unfortunately, blacks have no clue of the cancer they lie susceptible to. In McWhorter's words, "Victimology is not all conscious" because it "leaves its prey unable to even conceive of ways of looking at race issues outside of the Victimologist box."7 This train of thought is then also passed subconsciously onto future generations. All of this amounts to the truth. First of all, "victimology condones weakness and failure" by hindering black leaders from lending significant and creative energy to breaking cultural patterns.8 Also, "victimology hampers performance" from the outset by directing the individuals towards obstacles instead of goals.9 Lastly, "victimology keeps racism alive" because the insecurity of the black population has led them to grow angry at every threat posed by the white population, even if truly harmless. In this sense, whites grow annoyed at the exaggeration of racism and become impatient as their efforts to help are put down by shouts of racism.10
     As AIDS constantly spawns new strains of itself, victimology too births new viruses. Separatism is a direct product of victimology. The "sense that whites are an eternally hostile presence" has forced blacks to think of themselves as a "sovereign entity."11 Because of their perceived victimhood, the "mindset of this sovereign world is refracted through the prism of victimology, conditioning a restriction of cultural taste, a narrowing of intellectual inquiry, and most importantly, studied dilution of moral judgment."12 Since blacks create a separate group in society and refuse to integrate, they prevent themselves from being the best that they can be. In essence, separatism keeps the black people in the ghetto--a place where little can be accomplished. McWhorter explains that the cult of separatism is manifested primarily in three ways. Firstly, blacks resort to separatism as a result of the mainstream media governing all aspects of social life. They grow tired of hearing the voice of white people alone. Thus, they create their own world separate from the white man, closing themselves off from foreign relations. A black man of this sense will deem anything white as bad; blacks are to only associate themselves with other blacks is this mindset. This prevents the black population from enriching itself with other cultures. Secondly, McWhorter shows that separatism has a "tendency to be allowed to trump truth in cases that require choosing between [whim and logic]."13 A considerable amount of black academic work rejects logical argument and factual evidence in favor of fulfilling a legacy for black past and present. This does not stem from intellectual curiosity but from raising group self-esteem. To black intellects, there is still a necessity to include in their works a citation of the separate sovereign entity that they had grown up in. In these writings, whims outweigh logic. Lastly, the evolution of separatism can be attributed to "popular entertainment, whose 'academic' discussion in African-American settings regularly centers upon a self-generating, circular indignation over the television and film industry supposedly refusing to portray black people as anything but Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks."14 But unfortunately, there is nothing Hollywood can possibly do to satisfy the blacks by telling it like it is. If Hollywood portrays a black man in the slums or ghetto, the black audience will perceive this as an attack on the general status of blacks; in the same context, if Hollywood portrays a black man in a high-ranking status, the black audience will consider it mocking the fundamental blacks. In any case, Hollywood does not intend to discriminate, but blacks, as a result of the victimology mindset, trick themselves into believing the worst-case scenario. In essence, separatism juxtaposes the separatist world against the mainstream one, teaching "generations of blacks to settle for less."15 Separatism makes black men less than human beings. It enforces the mindset that blacks are already in a torturous position and that the media kicks blacks while they are still on the ground. African Americans feel that they have been living their whole lives at an unfair disadvantage and pity themselves. But, in doing so, they reinforce the many stereotypes--that blacks are dumb, that blacks are incapable, that blacks are inferior.
     The cult of anti-intellectualism, as opposed to the general assumption that black students do poorly in school decade after decade because of racism, funding, social class, parental education, etc., is the true source of strain. This Anti-intellectual strain is "inherited from whites having denied education to blacks for centuries."16 Indeed, an inner-cultural dichotomy exists in the black community's views of education. Believing themselves to be inferior, blacks already display their lack of concern towards a formal education. Those that aspire to become great intellectuals are thwarted by the position that the society and community has placed upon them. Black children who show an affinity for school are "tease[d]" for trying to be white.17 Black parents, who expect less of their children, are unsupportive in that they do not push their children to reach their potential. In sum, "victimology makes mediocre scholarly achievement seem inevitable" and "separatism, casting scholarly achievement as 'what white people do,' sanctions mediocre scholarly achievement."18
     In the last part of the novel, McWhorter suggests a solution to improve the degrading black mentality. He synthesizes the presence of victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism in respect to the affirmative-action debate. After thorough research, McWhorter has concluded that "victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism" have permitted blacks to be "comfortable with minority students being the weakest performers on America's university campuses."19 Thus, affirmative-action only reinforces the mindset of blacks--they are mentally handicapped and need aid in order to compete with other races. McWhorter denounces the evils of what affirmative-action advocates and praises the benefits of eliminating affirmative-action in context of victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism.
     John McWhorter wrote this novel wishing to impart serious knowledge upon the audience; blacks are the own cause of their demise because they accept the norms of society. They allow themselves to view their situation as inherent and permanent. They give themselves into the hands of the white man. This trait of the black population has evolved into a self-defense mechanism, undermining the potential of black intellect. African Americans complain of their situation, yet do nothing about it. Although he knew that there would be reviews of both extremes--some people would cherish the solution towards racial integration while some would define McWhorter as "taking the line of the other side" with whites--, he felt it was the right time to present the black world with a solution.20
     Published in 2000, historiography plays a role in the novel. With the recent influx of black intellectuals storming colleges, government, and the media, McWhorter felt it was necessary to speak out against to the "growing race-wide sentiment", and encourage a new view of black society.21 In response to the gradual inclusion of blacks in the media and other areas of life, McWhorter had to be sure that blacks were taking the right step towards social equality instead of resisting change. Also, another factor that might have affected McWhorter was Apartheid. He most likely did not wish for the American social system to eventually subjugate blacks to the extent of that in South Africa. McWhorter's harshness towards the black community can be attributed to his socially prestigious position. As an associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, McWhorter never felt true inferiority to the white man and received a formal education. He was raised away from ghettos.
     Jim Sleeper of Washington Monthly believes that "McWhorter's volume very engagingly reworks and expands what we have been missing, and since he's addressing young blacks as well as whites, he opens windows some of us may have left closed."22 In essence, Sleeper's critique on Losing the Race deals with type of criticism that McWhorter has been forced to deal with. Because of his book, McWhorter is sometimes misnamed a racial conservative. On the contrary, McWhorter is a liberal advocate for racial change. Although some may see him as hampering the movement towards equality, he actually is pushing forth a new wave of thought that will pave the way for a new order. Walter Williams of George Mason University agrees that it is "self-sabotage" and not racial discrimination that hurts the black community. 23 According to his personal observations, blacks put themselves down academically and strive for less than the typical whites or Asians. In my opinion, this book is intellectually stimulating. McWhorter presents a completely new approach. Now, I truly understand the black community's self-sabotage in America. I never knew that the black community was so close to, yet so far from reaching the mountaintop of social equilibrium with all the other races.
     Racially, the period from 1970 to 2000 focused primarily on the effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Such a vast change in black society became the core upon which blacks rooted themselves. According to McWhorter, blacks have "reached this state of affairs as an unintended result of the Civil Rights Act, which gave a demoralized group the keys to success by fiat rather than through the slow and agonizing avenue of working within the society, gradually eroding stereotypes and social barriers as Jews and the Irish did."24 This marked a change in the black conception of its own situation as opposed to previously held ideas. Now that blacks are given the rights to completely govern their own lives, rather than integrating into white society, they chose to create an entity of their own. Because of this, blacks limit themselves to greater levels of mediocrity and blame their downtrodden position on the hands of the white community.
     McWhorter remarks that indeed, blacks are making their move towards social integration, as shown by the increasing number of prominent blacks in society and the decreasing number of blacks in ghettos and poverty. But, as McWhorter claims, black society is taking the "detour" in reaching its goal.25 As opposed to the view that racism is the cause for the position of blacks, it actually is not. Black society has done this to itself. Before, the violence exerted from whites upon blacks was concrete; blacks had reason to shun the whip. Now, the violence is mental; it is a subconscious thought that plagues black minds, unleashed by the plagued McWhorter successfully takes the logical approach to solving the difficult problem of black America. His highly persuasive book brings into account the "myths" that have been surrounding blacks.26 He proves them all wrong; blacks are not incapable of change; blacks are not inferior; blacks are not faced with the extreme racism they claim. It is all a facade to disguise the true problem. Blacks build walls in order to protect themselves when truly, nobody is attacking. By observing the intricacies of black behavior in society, McWhorter has synthesized a new view of black behavior explaining the "self-sabotage" black Americans have been suffering over, for the past 30 years.27


1. McWhorter, John. Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. New York: The Free Press, 2000, back cover. 2. McWhorter, John 2 3. McWhorter, John 2 4. McWhorter, John 9 5. McWhorter, John 9-21 6. McWhorter, John 27 7. McWhorter, John 33 8. McWhorter, John 39 9. McWhorter, John 43 10. McWhorter, John 45 11. McWhorter, John 50 12. McWhorter, John 51 13. McWhorter, John 54 14. McWhorter, John 60 15. McWhorter, John 76 16. McWhorter, John 83 17. McWhorter, John 127 18. McWhorter, John 163 19. McWhorter, John 183 20. McWhorter, John 259 21. McWhorter, John 262 22. Sleeper, Jim. "LOSING THE RACE: Self-Sabotage in Black America. - Review - book review". Washington Monthly. Dec 2000. FindArticles.com. 03 Jun. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_12_32/ai_68148596 23. Williams, Walter. "Black culture must confront its anti-intellectualism". Human Events Publishing. Nov 24 2000 FindArticles.com. 03 Jun. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3827/is_200011/ai_n8926597 24. McWhorter, John 260 25. McWhorter, John 35 26. McWhorter, John 101 27. McWhorter, John front cover

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