The Great White Hope
George W. Bush’s administration may offer African Americans their best hope in 35 years for achieving true equality, writes John H. McWhorter in an essay in the spring edition of City Journal, a national magazine about urban governance and civic life. “Not since the [Lyndon B] Johnson administration has there been a more concrete movement to free African Americans from their status as the country’s problem race,” writes McWhorter, 35, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of California Berkeley.
Black Americans, in refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Bush administration, may be missing “a golden opportunity” on some issues. He writes, “the view from the left on education has proven itself bankrupt in imparting knowledge, curiosity, and critical thinking, ... whatever you call the [Bush] policy, it stands a good chance of ensuring that children, especially disadvantaged minority kids, get the education they need for upward mobility.”
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, leaders associated with championing the black condition, remain skeptical of the new administration, McWhorter notes. Their inability to grasp the promise in Bush’s plan is predictable, he writes. “Since the late 1960s, black America has assumed that individual initiative is largely beside the point until all racism, even in its most subtle forms, has disappeared.”
“Black people who see their mission as making white America feel guilty have a certain theatrical glamour,” he notes. “Let’s go back to what black uplift meant in the days when Adam Clayton Powell rammed desegregation legislation through Congress and spearheaded the War on Poverty as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee; when Thurgood Marshall won the Brown v. Board of Education case,” adding, “There is nothing that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Maxine Waters, or John Conyers, Jr. have accomplished for black Americans that remotely compares.” What remains as the challenge, McWhorter writes, “is to achieve for ourselves, whether [we are] liked or not.”
McWhorter is a contributing editor for the New York City-based City Journal, and author of “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,” published in 2000.
Reprinted from the Chicago Reporter, May 2001.