The Main Problem with the Infamous Derbyshire Post

John Derbyshire got himself fired from National Review with a post giving the "non-black" version of "the talk." A lot of things have been written about it, but I haven't seen someone really nail where Derbyshire goes wrong. (Someone may have: I have not read every commentary!) So let me say what I think is seriously wrong with what "Derb" wrote.

His basic point is that white (or Asian, or...) parents have a responsibility to try to keep their kids safe, just as black parents do when they advise their children on how to avoid being viewed as a criminal by the police. The chief problem with what he wrote, as I see it, is that, by focusing on race, he fails badly at that task.

Consider some of his bits of advice, such as:

"Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally."

"Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods."

"Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks."

"If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible."

Now think about how stupid this will make his children act if they follow his advice:

Should they be at the beach, and a busload of Jehovah's witnesses shows up, they will flee. But really, other than being proselytized beyond endurance, could their possibly be a less threatening group of people to encounter?

If there is a convention of sociologists interested in urban issues that invites them to speak, they will decline: too many blacks!

Black middle-class neighborhoods will be off limits to them.

Concerts by Baptist gospel choirs are verboten as well.

If they are excellent sprinters in track, they will not be able to attend the US Olympic training camp for their event.

Suddenly finding themselves in the midst of a group of British soccer hooligans, or Columbian drug gang members, or IRA terrorists, they will feel safe, since "Dad just told us to watch out for groups of blacks."

The point is this: I want my kids to be able to spot and avoid dangerous situations. But the skin color of those around you is not a very accurate gauge of the danger of a situation! What I want my kids to take note of is not skin color, but the demeanor, the attitude, the sense of threat, from the people around them. Certainly, a group of black, inner-city, teenage males, all dressed in gangster clothing and acting rowdy should inspire some caution. But so should a bunch of white kids from my Brooklyn neighborhood, dressed and acting the same way.

It ain't the race, it's the attitudes and the actions!

Well, the poor man has cancer, and is probably feeling a bit ornery. But he really is too smart for what he wrote.


  1. In some communities, it might make statistical sense to consider a stranger's race when deciding whether to avoid him. (It certainly makes sense to consider the person's sex and age!) But Derbyshire took a grain of truth and placed it under a microscope. Suddenly the whole world was all about race, and the result was a grossly one-sided piece.

  2. Some people have commented that Derbyshire's discussions of IQ in that article contradict his lack of basic intelligence in not saying things that allow oneself to keep one's job.

    You say that he is too smart for what he wrote. But is he smart?

    Lots of people would hold un-PC opinions. But they keep these opinions to themselves. They are rational enough to know the risk to their livelihoods from saying un-PC things (even though what is un-PC is not necessarily what is untrue).

  3. I was surprised that straw broke the camel's back at NR. I can't recall any specific pieces, but I'd bet he's written much worse for Taki.

    Tangentially related, you ever read Jon Haidt? Steve Sailer posted a quote from him recently: "The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance."

    He probably considers this an indictment of racial grievance mongers and poverty pimps, but I wonder if he's ever asked himself what he holds sacred (what he wants to be true)? When I read that quote, it reminded me of something I've long considered Sailer to be an excellent illustration of: when you take a dubious assumption about the world and treat it as an axiom, eventually it will become a filter for your entire worldview. Your pet axiom starts to pop up everywhere. Your worldview is completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't accept your axiom, but to you they just look stupid.

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  5. Putting aside your discussion of why this universal stance makes little sense statistically- the bit of the piece where he advises against helping a black stranger in need was really disgusting whatever way you try to cut it.


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