John McWhorter

Rapper’s Delight
May 13, 2011

Watching Republicans clutching their pearls to see the rapper Common invited to the White House on a poetry night Wednesday has revealed a party whose stars are grievously out of touch with the culture they hope to lead, as well as to culture in general, apparently. It is understandable that some would imagine if the Obamas convene a poetry night, the invitees would be the likes of Billy Collins or Elizabeth Alexander, who read a poem at the President’s inauguration.

Color Blind
April 22, 2011

“I favor integration for integration’s sake,” Bob Herbert wrote in one of his last columns for The New York Times, on what we supposedly need to make poor black students learn more in school.

Moving While Black
April 01, 2011

Black people have been moving. South, that is, according to a recent and widely read piece in the Times—more, according to the latest census data, than since 1910. And from this article and the census, what we see is that black people first of all are able to move: They have the means to, and if they choose to live among whites, they are encountering ever less opposition to doing so. Moreover, it would appear that typically the black people moving are content with their decision.

Swearing In
March 23, 2011

It’s time to talk about swearing. As The New York Times recently noted, for the first time, three of the top-ten pop music hits incorporated the word “fuck” prominently in their choruses, including Cee-Lo Green’s gleeful “Fuck You,” which has been cleaned up for radio as “Forget You.” The Times treated this event as a cause for mild concern: Swearing has become more common—Melissa Leo even swore at the Oscars!—and what’s more, the phenomenon is now running the risk of devaluing swear words. Yet this phenomenon is as predictable as it is harmless.

Frances Fox Piven, Jim Sleeper, and Me
January 25, 2011

A point of order. I have written, often, that Columbia social work professors Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward (who were married) wreaked havoc on poor black communities in the sixties by openly calling on poor blacks to seek welfare payments rather than work. The story is simple and sad. Early last year I told it thusly in these pages, and see no reason not to simply present exactly what I wrote then. To wit, Piven and Cloward hoped that this would bankrupt the government and force a complete overhaul of our distribution of income.

Nice Speech, But We Won't Be Coming Together
January 13, 2011

The President’s speech last night was beautiful but ultimately, a magnificent punt. It was brave for Obama to crisply dismiss the idea that partisan rhetoric is what drove Jared Loughner to kill, given how much currency that idea now has among the bien-pensant kinds of people who elected him.

What If Barbara Jordan Had Said 'Don't Retreat, Reload'?
January 10, 2011

Does anybody truly believe, even in the wake of something as hideous as what happened in Tucson last weekend, that we can do something as quixotic and indefinable as policing incendiary language on the web? I get it if calling for this is about politics. But is anybody really thinking that this debate is about something real? The object of discussion is real enough: the coarser brand of language we hear along the lines of Ms. Palin’s “Don’t retreat, reload” line, which is a symptom of a larger ill, the escalation of political polarization.

Getting Darnell Off the Corners: Why America Should Ride the Anti-Drug-War Wave
December 31, 2010

It’s one thing that the United States will soon be taking orders from China (or already is). But what about when we’re becoming less forward-thinking than England? That’s the only possible reading of the fact that there, the former top drug official Bob Ainsworth has addressed the House of Commons and argued for the legalization of all drugs. Not just pot—all of them.

Getting Darnell Off the Corners: An America On the Rise Will Ride the Anti-Drug-War Wave
December 31, 2010

It’s one thing that the United States will soon be taking orders from China (or already is). But what about when we’re becoming less forward-thinking than England? That’s the only possible reading of the fact that there, the former top drug official Bob Ainsworth has addressed the House of Commons and argued for the legalization of all drugs. Not just pot – all of them.

Which Languages Should Liberal Arts Be About in 2010?
December 13, 2010

We are to bemoan that universities across the country are eliminating or scaling back their foreign language departments. Or, what seems to arouse critics most is the disappearance of French, German, and Italian departments—what with Goethe, Balzac and Dante being pillars of a liberal arts education and so on. Yet, former French major and great fan of foreign language learning as I am, I’m not feeling as bad about this new trend as I am supposed to. I have as deep-seated a sense as anyone that an educated person is supposed to be able to at least fake a conversation in French.

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