NYTimes Asks: Is Racism Over? Uhm, no.

The New York Times has a regular “bloggingheads” feature on their website, wherein two people who might otherwise be referred to as “talking heads” are invited to perform a dialogue with each other for the benefit of Times’ readers/viewers through the automagical quality of the web. While I enjoy the multimedia techno-wizadry of it all and applaud the NYTimes for leading the way with this innovative use of technology (with great audio/video quality – how do they do that?!), the substance of these conversations suffers from the same sort of watered down, mainstream analysis that inflects the rest of the NYTimes’ franchise. Further evidence of this anemic analytical framework comes from the two “bloggingheads” featured in today’s installment, John McWhorter (of the Manhattan Institute) and Glenn Loury (of Brown University) which runs about six minutes:

It’s stunning here to listen to McWhorter set the terms of this “debate” as Loury goes along with this “birds of a feather” defense of white racism. The whole discussion here, like McWhorter’s other work, is anemic for its lack of recognition of systemic racial inequality and offensive for the way it serves as an apologia for white racism. Loury should know better, but the NYTimes loves a black conservative, so it’s not surprising really that Loury leans into embrace that limelight.

The central flaw in this dialogue between McWhorter and Loury, which is really more of a monologue by McWhorter, is the slippage in the analysis between race and racism, that McWhorter takes great pains to point out. Kai offers an excellent analysis of how the NYTimes’ frame of “race” rather than “racism” is thoroughly impoversished in this post at Rebelology. Once he makes that distinction, it’s a short analytical hop, skip and a jump to the flawed logic of “symmetry” – if blacks can “flock together” (to use McWhorter’s metaphor) and that’s a positive cultural thing, then why can’t whites “flock together”? The thing is, racism isn’t symmetrical and neither is race. Race and racism are asymmetrical because there’s a power differential wherein whites have more power. The fact that the NYTimes orchestrates this “dialogue” between two black conservatives and frames it with their question “Is Racism Over?” is really more an act of racial ventriloquism than a meaningful dialogue on race, and it completely subverts any critical analysis of racism.


  1. Wes

    Greetings Joe Feagin:

    First, I’d like to say that is one of the best sites on the Internet!

    Second: I don’t know what your stance on Spiritual matters is. But I do know that God loves truth, and He adores those who always seek it and love to tell it.

    Please, don’t ever stop spreading this gospel (truth).

    Thank you.

  2. mordy

    For what it’s worth, Blogginheads.tv is independent from the NY Times. NYT features short excerpts from what are typically some 60 minute detailed discussions between the ‘blogging heads’. I haven’t yet listened to this particular one, but it is very likely that the balance of the dialog will give this topic a far more detailed analysis. Most of them are anything but watered down, as this much longer forum allows for a more careful and probing discussion.

  3. Jessie Author

    hey, Wes ~ thanks for your kind words and for reading here! 🙂

    Mordy ~ you raise an excellent point that the video host (bloggingheads.tv) is separate from the NYTimes. And, so I wonder who sets the terms of the debate and how they decide on the headline, or question posed? Still, I think when you get a chance to listen to the exchange between McWhorter and Loury (even the longer one) there’s a kind of superficiality to their discussion. I mean, I get that they’re trying to do something for a broad audience, but really “birds of a feather” is not much of an analytical framework in my view. And, not surprisingly I suppose, McWhorter is completely unprepared to offer a critique of ‘racism.’ It simply doesn’t exist as far as he’s concerned. I think that’s consistent with the general theme of reportage at the NYTimes, that racism simply doesn’t exist any more. So, in many ways, the title of the piece is a rhetorical question. Again, I’d be fascinated to learn more about the process for how and by whom the terms (and titles) of these debates get set.

  4. Joe

    Yes, and Prof. McWhorter is not even a researcher in the area he is talking about. How does a linguistics researcher get to pontificate on racism issues as though he knows about research in this area? Why doesn’t the Times talk to people like Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, etc, who do research in this area? Because the Times is the mouthpiece for the neo-racist views of the moderate wing of the white elite, that is why they choose from the five percent of black intellectuals and researchers who are conservatives like these two.

  5. Kai

    You beat me to it!!! I was just going to write about this, but you’ve pretty much said all that needs to be said, PLUS, you shouted me out at the same time. Thanks!

    Its so interesting, to hear how hard it is for them to inteligently talk around the elephant in the room. So a white person automatically linking a liberal black person to someone whom they think is on a radical racist fringe (without any proof whatsoever) is not a function of racism?

    Joe, and you are right about that. There are a ton of more qualified black intellectuals for whom race relations or sociology or african american studies is their specialty. There is a reason they are not blogging heads and the times has not featured them.

  6. Jessie Author

    Kai ~ good to see you here. Enjoyed your analysis of the NYTimes, so happy to include the shout out. You and Joe are both right, of course, to note the long list of public intellectuals *not* tapped for any of these blogginghead-discussions. It’s a rather noticeable stacking of the deck in a particular direction, don’t you think?

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