John McWhorter

June 22, 2012

ONE HAS LATELY heard much of the hashtag. That is, the Twitter symbol #, used to categorize a tweet. Charlie Sheen’s first tweet, for example, was famously: “Winning ..! Choose your Vice... #winning #chooseyourvice.” #Winning has gone on to live in irony across the Twitterverse, in mockery of the eternally less-than-winning Sheen. But even President Obama recently urged students to tweet their senators about raising the interest rates on federally subsidized student loans with the hashtag “#DontDoubleMyRate.” The new thing, however, is using the word “hashtag” in conversation.

Gosh, Golly, Gee
June 08, 2012

“Only connect,” E.M. Forster told us, and poor Mitt Romney just can’t, alienating the left by spelling out that he doesn’t care about the downtrodden and dissing the right by describing himself as “severely conservative.” But Romney’s lack of personal warmth goes further than his remarks—or coiffure, or pet care—and right down to his interjections. It’s the G-words. “This was back, oh gosh, probably in the late ’70s,” he reminisced to a radio host about a steak house.

President Obama’s New Role in the Fight Against Black Homophobia
May 15, 2012

There are many reasons to be glad that President Obama has finally decided to stop dissimulating and openly advocate gay marriage. Not least among them is that he is no longer giving tacit approval to a prejudice in the African-American community that becomes more awkward and regrettable by the year. Homophobia, to be sure, is a sadly universal phenomenon. But it is one with especially deep roots among blacks. Polling numbers bear this out.

Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Native American’ Status and a Bygone Era of Affirmative Action
May 08, 2012

That Elizabeth Warren claimed in the 1990s that she is a Native American is, among other things, a sign that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had a point. When Roberts famously wrote in a 2006 opinion, “It’s a sordid business, this divvying us up by race,” he was castigated by many liberals for not understanding that Race Matters—that race is at the root of considerable societal injustice, and the country must address the issue squarely.

The Case for Televising the Trayvon Martin Trial: America Needs a Re-Do of the O.J. Case
April 17, 2012

Let’s not kid ourselves: If George Zimmerman’s trial is televised, it will become fodder for jokes. “All Trayvon All The Time” will become a mantra, a cue for sophisticated Americans to roll their eyes. We would be made to think that there is something tacky, obsessive, trivializing in broadcasting the judicial fate of the man who thought he was just stopping a “suspicious” black thug and wound up murdering a 17-year-old on the phone with his ladyfriend and carrying a bag of Skittles. The spectacle of the O.J.

The Haunting Ordinariness of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman
April 03, 2012

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.

What a Florida Teenager’s Death Tells Us About Being Black in America
March 20, 2012

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.

End the Drug War, Mr. President
March 10, 2012

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.

Will This Be the First Election Where Class Trumps Race?
February 13, 2012

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.

A Horrible Production of 'Porgy and Bess'
January 28, 2012

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.