John McWhorter

Civil rights movements have often sought out figureheads with unblemished pasts. The Montgomery bus boycott would have started nine months earlier if Claudette Colvin, who refused to yield her seat to a white person, just as Rosa Parks was to do, had not turned out to be pregnant out of wedlock. Forty-two years later, similar sentiments led legal strategists for gay rights to downplay the fact that John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, of the Lawrence v.

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Trayvon Martin was 17, visiting his father in Sanford, Florida. He was also black. George Zimmerman is 28, and had been a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in the area. He called in to the police that Martin was “suspicious,” upon which the police directed him to leave the rest to them. Zimmerman did not, feeling that Martin was “up to no good” or “on drugs or something.” Zimmerman was packing a handgun, and before long, Martin was dead from a gunshot wound in the chest.

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Yes, we know we’re tempting fate. But we figure there’s a 50 percent chance Obama will get reelected, and in any case he needs an agenda to campaign on. So we’ve asked a number of TNR writers to explain what they think Obama should focus on for the next four years if he wins in November. Click here to read the collected contributions. If he were to earn a second term, Barack Obama should at least initiate the process of ending the War on Drugs. One reason is that the War on Drugs has been a massive failure by any serious estimation.

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As stirring as Occupy Wall Street's exhortations about the 99 percent were, it's important to realize that they were the symptom, not the cause, of a wider trend. Inequality, of course, has recently become a much more integral part of the American conversation. But it's more than that: There is now an unprecedentedly widespread understanding of economic class as the primary dividing factor in the nation. Indeed, this year seems to mark a historic tipping point for the United States: the year that our primary concerns about inequality went from being about race to being about class.

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The fashionable take on Diane Paulus’ new production of Porgy and Bess on Broadway is that it is a triumph by Audra McDonald, as Bess, surrounded by an underpowered but respectable production. Unsurprisingly, the Times’ Ben Brantley, with his eternal weakness for grande dames, has led in this vein. Terry Teachout at the Wall Street Journal has been less polite, deeming the thing “emotionally null” and warning that anyone who has seen the piece before will be appalled. Teachout is closer to the mark.

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Every four years, it seems, one of the major issues in the U.S. presidential campaign is how many languages the candidates speak, the implication being: the fewer, the better. This year, we’ve seen Newt Gingrich knock Mitt Romney for speaking French, as well as general mockery of Jon Huntsman for his displays of speaking Mandarin Chinese. In 2004, it was John Kerry who was derided by George W.

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Martin Luther King Day is supposed to get us thinking about how black people have come a long way but still have a long way to go. Okay, but what MLK Day has me as a black person thinking about is Lee Siegel.  Specifically, what’s on my mind is Siegel’s idea, broadcast in the paper of record on Sunday, that Mitt Romney’s appeal is based on his being the “whitest” Presidential candidate in a long time. It’s a hit-generating proposition, to be sure. But it’s also a sign of how very far we've come on race.

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Attorney General Eric Holder is correct to crack down on the Republican operatives in various states around the country working to discourage voter turnout. But it’s a sad kind of correctness. Holder’s intervention will protect black America in the short term, but the philosophy of this intervention will likely work to our detriment in the long term. The problem is the disparate impact doctrine: The federal government ought to be treating interventions based on it like chemotherapy, as a desperate measure for a temporary period.

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When Newt Gingrich proposed that poor children should be put to work—for a “three- or four-hour-a-day job,” he clarified this week—he was rightly accused of threatening national child-labor laws. But he was also displaying a curious lack of familiarity with his own political accomplishments. Gingrich suggests that his proposal is meant to resolve an acute crisis: That kids from the projects don’t see anyone around them working for a living. “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” Gingrich said.

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If Newt Gingrich's career in public service proves anything, it is that he will never be caught saying “Oops.” Gingrich is currently rising to frontrunner status in the Republican presidential primary largely because he's willing to talk about any subject at any time, is ready to do so with some measure of linguistic facility, and has sufficient self-regard to exploit every opportunity to demonstrate his rhetorical command.

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