Not only is the book selling by the boatload, but as it is very angry, very left-wing, very topical, and very short, it also seems certain to be ushered into the exclusive club where the real money of publishing is: college and high-school reading syllabi. Between the World and Me stands ready to be a central influence in the way young people are taught to see race in America.
And that is disheartening. Coates’s book is bitter, and it is embittering. It’s angry about things we should be angry about—only the straw man Coates frequently invokes would claim the race problem is solved in America—but it also displays an inchoate generalized contempt for America, especially white America. [The Hard Untruths of Ta-Nehisi Coates: A best-selling polemic riven with hatred thrills the liberal elite by Kyle Smith;Commentary, September 24th, 2015.]
Good stuff. That’s a little later into the piece, though. Smith opens with this:
Suppose you were a white person with a deep-seated dislike for black people, and you were intent on training your son to feel the same way. Suppose that, day after day, week after week, you instructed him to study the details of every instance of black-on-white crime. Say you advised your son to extrapolate from these incidents the notion that black people are generally dangerous, and that your zeal to present him with disturbing anecdotes along these lines never waned.
You would be wrong, in just about every possible way: statistically, sociologically, morally. You would be doing your son a gross and damaging disservice. For yourself you would invite, and earn, broad contempt. If your opinions became publicly known, you might well find yourself unwelcome in polite company and your job at risk. Indeed, the National Review contributor John Derbyshire was fired for expressing such sentiments in a blog post three years ago.
And yet for harboring roughly the same level of suspicion, fear, mistrust, distaste, and unease about whites as Derbyshire does about blacks, the essayist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has found himself crowned America’s leading civic thinker.
Where does one start? At the beginning, I guess.
Suppose you were a white person with a deep-seated dislike for black people…
I am not aware of nursing any such dislike. Can Smith please link us to something I’ve written that expresses such a “deep-seated dislike”?
It is true that I avoid concentrations of blacks. So does wellnigh every other nonblack person, according to the facts on residential and educational segregation. The phrase “revealed preference” comes to mind … as it so often does in these discussions.
… and you were intent on training your son to feel the same way.
Since I have never had the feelings that Smith, on no evidence, ascribes to me, it would have been perverse of me to train my son to have them. I have never been intent on any such thing, and Smith cannot produce evidence to the contrary.
True, I have given my kids sensible warnings about avoiding concentrations of blacks—see above. I have also, however, told them that
The default principle in everyday personal encounters is, that as a fellow citizen, with the same rights and obligations as yourself, any individual black is entitled to the same courtesies you would extend to a nonblack citizen. That is basic good manners and good citizenship. [The Talk: Nonblack Version by John Derbyshire; Taki’s Magazine, April 5th 2012.]
Suppose that, day after day, week after week, you instructed him to study the details of every instance of black-on-white crime.
I have never done that, nor written of doing it. Smith is just making stuff up. Has he considered a career as a fiction writer?
Here is what I actually wrote in that same column:
There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.
If you can read into that Smith’s “day after day, week after week, you instructed him to study…,” your problem with reading comprehension is as severe as his—which is to say, pretty damn severe.
Say you advised your son to extrapolate from these incidents the notion that black people are generally dangerous…
The point of my column was that it is ludicrous for black journalists to write two-hankie pieces about the perils posed to them by evil whites when, on the federal government’s own statistics, blacks are far more dangerous to whites than whites are to blacks.
On homicide, for example, I have posted the following fact from the Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers:
While homicide is a very rare event and we are dealing with tiny probabilities here, any given black was almost fifteen times more likely to have killed a white in 2013 (probability 0.001000 percent) than any given white was to have killed a black (probability 0.000068 percent). [Hatefacts on Black Killing of Whites by John Derbyshire; VDARE.com, June 21st 2015.]
If you knew nothing but media—liberal and Conservatism, Inc.—propaganda, you would suppose that the opposite was the case. Someone needs to present the actual true facts of the matter, and that is what I have tried to do.
… and that your zeal to present him with disturbing anecdotes along these lines never waned.
Goodness, what a lot Kyle Smith knows about me and my domestic arrangements! My zeal!
I hope I need not say that the home life of the Derbyshires bears no relation to Smith’s fevered fantasies.
You would be wrong, in just about every possible way: statistically, sociologically, morally.
I hate to burden Smith with further requests; but could he please direct us to pieces he has written on the race differentials in crime statistics? Something, I mean, that shows how wrong my own work along those lines has been.
You would be doing your son a gross and damaging disservice.
Yes, you would, if you behaved as Kyle Smith imagines my having behaved.
For yourself you would invite, and earn, broad contempt.
Again, if I had done such things, I would indeed have been worthy of contempt. Fortunately Smith has just made them up.
you might well find yourself unwelcome in polite company
Exactly one person, a very occasional and second-hand acquaintance (daughter of a friend), has dropped me as a result of “The Talk.” Otherwise I have suffered no ostracism.
and your job at risk
I have not held a job–in the sense of being an employee—since 1999. For a guy who claims to know the innermost dynamics of my household, Smith is sloppy on his research. My entire employment history is here.
Indeed, the National Review contributor John Derbyshire was fired for expressing such sentiments in a blog post three years ago.
Never having been an employee of National Review, I could not be fired. Does Commentary no longer care about precision of language?
As for Kyle Smith’s main thesis in this opening section that Coates is the black Derbyshire, it is preposterous. I am a far better writer than Coates, with an infinitely wider range.
For example: in thirty years of published writing, a total of several million words, I have, to the best of my recollection, written just one article about being self-consciously white.
No honest person could put the construction on my “Talk” article that Kyle Smith has put on it.
Kyle Smith is not an honest person. He is a liar and a slanderer. Knowing, as he surely does, that all the Great and the Good of our society will take his side, while none of them will take mine, he is also a coward.
Unless he can swear affidavits to the effect that he has never in his adult life practiced any of the commonplace trouble-avoidance strategies I recommended in “The Talk,” he is furthermore a hypocrite.