John McWhorter

Revenge of the Nerds

Calling attention to the fact that black nerds are often teased by black peers for “acting white” elicits predictable reactions, such as claims that the problem doesn’t exist. Two reactions I have encountered, however, have thrown me.The first was some years ago, when I was on a panel with Ronald Ferguson of the Harvard Kennedy School. Ferguson, who is black, argued that black nerds should reassure the teasers that they don’t think they’re better than they are.

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Let's Celebrate

The Bradley Effect. “God damn America!” “Kill him!” “Why can’t he close the deal?” “Isn’t he a Muslim?” The “terrorist fist jab.” The New Yorker cover. Michelle’s chimerical “whitey” speech. After all of the aggrieved musings and smug insistences, the deal is done. And now, let’s celebrate. Don’t talk about how Obama didn’t win by enough points. Okay: There are whites out there who didn’t vote for him because of, or partly because of, his color. We heard all about them in a thousand earnest newspaper and magazine articles all summer and fall. We were told to worry. We did.

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In the increasingly unlikely event that Barack Obama does not become president, Martin Luther King’s dream would reveal itself as tragically unrealized 40 years after his death. Not, however, because whites were standing in that dream’s way, but because of the black people standing alongside them. Yes, black people.

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Speech!

Why political oratory sounds so weird.

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It was almost inevitable that Obama's acceptance speech would be a bit of a letdown. The simple fact is that no one, not even him, could top the magisterial peroration on race that he made in March. Plus some of the novelty has worn off.The speech was hardly a dud. But if the idea was to put the kibosh on the charge that people--or at least a certain crucial subset thererof--don't know "who he is," then the ones who were having a hard time gleaning that are still in the dark. Who, for example, told Obama as well as his wife that it was important to stress that they value "hard work"?

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We reached out to several friends of the magazine to respond to Obama's big speech in Philadelphia today. Here's what John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, had to say. In his speech in Philadelphia this morning, Barack Obama revealed that he is most definitely his own man. Those who have found Obama's statements of dissociation from his pastor Jeremiah Wright's statements a tad studious must now be satisfied. This time, Obama did not rest with incendiary and divisive--words which harbor potential toleration (i.e.

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In the newest issue of the magazine, fourteen eggheads and eminences wrote short essays announcing whom they’d be voting for and why. We’ll be unveiling these responses on The Plank throughout the next two weeks. This is what John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, had to say: Two summers ago, I wrote that the main reason for the excitement over Barack Obama was whites piggybacking on him to prove their non-racist bona fides. I still believe that this was true at the time, when he was a littleknown quantity. However, since then, we've gotten to know him better.

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Two summers ago, I wrote that the main reason for the excitement over Barack Obama was whites piggybacking on him to prove their non-racist bona fides. I still believe that this was true at the time, when he was a littleknown quantity. However, since then, we've gotten to know him better. I like what I have seen, and I would like him to be the next president. Ironically, his color has a lot to do with that decision.It's not the only reason, of course. After eight years of a president disinclined to reflection, we could use one given to weighing all sides of an issue.

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Getting Beyond 9/11?

I know this is the week we are supposed to be thinking about 9/11. I am, and I'll get to it. But as a linguist, I cannot help also mourning that Alex the parrot died last week. He lived at Brandeis University in the lab of psychologist Irene Pepperberg. Many linguists think of language as the result of a genetic mutation unique to humans, but Alex challenged that idea. He knew over a hundred words, and was even given to saying things like "I love you" at the appropriate times!

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The Arrangements

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (Alfred A. Knopf, 672 pp., $26.95) But for the fact that he has written a novel, Stephen L. Carter is not a novelist. He is a professor of law at Yale who made his debut in 1991 with a lively and candid book called Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, a sober exploration of affirmative action and its effect on his life.

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