The End Of Racism?

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IT’S SAID THAT FLANNERY O’CONNOR WAS THE first graduate of a university writing program to stake a claim to major-writer status. Dinesh D’Souza is a similar figure for the intellectual policy-journalistic training-and-support network that the conservative movement created in the 1970s. He was an enfant terrible at the Dartmouth Review , the earliest of what is now a substantial string of outside-endowed campus conservative magazines; worked in the Reagan White House; and, in 1991, published Illiberal Education , one of the formative attacks on “political correctness” in universities. He is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a lecture-circuit stalwart. There are plenty of conservative intellectuals around, but he’s arguably the only one to have been groomed from birth (well, freshman year in college) and have gone on to write big, ambitious books.

THAT’S WHAT Dinesh D’Souza claims is at hand in his recent book. He bases his conclusion on an audacious interpretation of American history. How valid is it?
 

This career path very much shows in D’Souza’s work. His new book, The End of Racism, published by the Free Press, sets out to be a blend of the kind of serious, wide-ranging inquiry somebody on a permanent fellowship has the luxury to undertake, but then it keeps going to ground as agitprop. D’Souza despises organized liberalism—its pieties, its morally superior tone—and he tends to lay all the world’s evils at its feet. He’s obviously used to dealing with an audience that shares his complete focus on liberals’ misdeeds, to the point that the underlying issue can get obscured. For example, the handful of African-Americans who owned slaves get heavier play (because the liberals don’t want to talk about them!) than the millions of whites who did. Large swatches of the book consist of hauling up the kind of negative information about blacks that liberals don’t like to let see the light of day (Locke believed in black inferiority! Afrocentrists are all wrong!) or saying things in the most provocative, unempathetic way possible because it’s daring (“… black rage is largely a response not to white racism but to black failure”). D’Souza writes as someone who has not spent much time in the company of liberals he respects and sees no need to find common ground with the other side. He has lived his adult life in an intellectual environment that is wonderfully nurturant and also enclosed.

What I tried to do in this interview was to factor out liberalism and get D’Souza to lay out his line of argument about race in America: where his interest began, what his premises are, and what he thinks should happen now. What struck me was the way in which, when challenged on a point, he tended to agree, instantly and amiably, and then return to the more comfortable ground of material from the book. What seems to me to be the main issue concerning the book is this: D’Souza passionately dislikes affirmative action and multiculturalism, but his stated main goal is something loftier: the building of a better country for blacks and for race relations. Has his intense historical reading led him to a genuinely new conception of how to achieve this, or did it merely provide fresh ammunition for the struggle against the hated liberal programs? Read on and decide for yourself.

What was the road that led from the end of Illiberal Education to the beginning of this project?

Well, as I traveled on campuses, talking about Illiberal Education , I found that many people who were sympathetic to my general argument—particularly a lot of black students—said, “You’re basically right, but you don’t know history.” I’m a first-generation immigrant, and I wasn’t here and alive for some of the civil rights movement. So I wanted to do that. The second point is that the public debate about multiculturalism hinges upon a deeper premise: that in some fundamental sense America is a racist society, and, moreover, that in some way the interests of nonwhite immigrants are linked with those of American domestic minorities like blacks and American Indians. So I realized that you can’t talk about multiculturalism without investigating that deeper question. This book was an attempt to do that, to ask the basic question, Is America a racist society, and does America work for those of us who are not members of the white majority?

“SLAVERY IN the United States, like slavery all over the world, began for economic rather than racial reasons.”

Is there anybody in particular who got you going on this? Anyone you spoke to in the aftermath of Illiberal Education ?

No single person. I think my publishers tossed me the idea of doing a piece on America as a multiracial society. But I think they had in mind a book that would be more about immigration.

So you could have written a book that would havesaid, “America works pretty well as a multiracial, multiethnic society.” Instead you ended up focusing on what doesn’t work. Why?