The Most Offensive Thing About John Derbyshire's 'Talk' Article

In a way that privileged whites will never be able to truly understand or appreciate, blacks who live in high-crime areas also must be wary of other blacks.

By + More

I really didn't want to add to the obloquy that's been directed lately at John Derbyshire, the former National Review contributor whose antiblack ravings sparked several days' worth of cyber-outrage. What more is there to say?

But maybe there's room for a bit more. Here goes.

First let me own up to the reasons for my hesitation. My initial reaction, after briefly scanning the offending Taki's Magazine piece, was that Derbyshire was being pilloried for expressing aloud an unspoken suspicion of black strangers in unfamiliar surroundings that is commonplace among many, many nonprejudiced whites.

[Vote: Has Martin Luther King's Dream Been Realized?]

I grew up in a small New Jersey town that borders both Atlantic City and another small bayside town, Pleasantville. A plurality of Atlantic City's population is black and a majority of Pleasantville is black. Atlantic City's crime problem is well-known. And for a city of just 20,000, Pleasantville has an astoundingly high rate of violent crime.

This was reality; you could rue it, but never ignore it. Especially after my friends and I began driving, and could wander freely along our stretch of seaboard, our parents all gave us advice not unlike Derbyshire's: Urban neighborhoods with high concentrations of blacks were not safe and were generally to be avoided. Such advice was not necessarily given so starkly, but it was understood. Derb's "Talk" goes much further than that. As I understand him, he's saying I shouldn't have merely avoided certain neighborhoods; he's saying that I should have avoided groups of black people anywhere I found them—on the beach, at the mall, or in the boardwalk amusement park. To be frank, that's no longer "commonsense"; that's prejudice. 

The Derb Talk is bad enough for what it says. Even worse, it seems to me, is what it doesn't say. As I got older, I began to realize that it was a luxury to be able to avoid bad neighborhoods. I began thinking, What if I had to live in them? Recall this famous admission by the Rev. Jesse Jackson:

There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.... After all we have been through. Just to think we can't walk down our own streets, how humiliating.

With this mind, it occurs to me that black parents don't just have to inform their teenage sons how they're perceived by police (it was this "Talk" that Derbyshire was reacting to); in a way that white people will never be able to truly understand or appreciate, blacks who live in high-crime areas also must be wary of other blacks.

[Read: Recession Hurt Hispanics, Blacks More Than Whites]

It's this utter lack of imaginative sympathy that I found most offensive in Derbyshire's race-realist salvo. If I were black and had read it, I would have spluttered something along the lines of, You tell your children to conveniently avoid us—you have no idea what it's like to deal with this stuff every day of your life!

Black Americans, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens, don't need to be told they're not living in Disney World. And doing so isn't an example of brave realism. It's just rudeness.

  • See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.