by Samuel Hux (July 2016)
The black intellectual at this moment in American cultural history is sitting pretty. He is after all the one the white liberal yields to in matters of race; he gives the marching orders. “The black intellectual” sounds a bit too inclusive because logically it has to include people like Thomas Sowell. But we all know that the designation is really exclusive. Black intellectual clearly means “left-wing black intellectual,” or better yet “left-wing black intellectual who cannot find it among his intentions to condemn a racial fascist like Farrakhan.” Black intellectuals do not think of conservatives like Sowell as one of them. Sowell (his Hoover Institution appointment notwithstanding) is an exile from the academic Eden of the chaps in the Black Studies program at Harvard, and Ivy-traveled Cornel West, and now-Vanderbiltian Houston Baker (whose role in the Duke phony-rape case—the lacrosse team affair of a few years back—doesn’t quite rival Al Sharpton’s in the Tawana Brawley affair), and so on. I am disappointed that the black intellectual shares a worldview with such worthies as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, that he endorses the victimology racket that keeps people like the two worthies in business and exiles a thinker like Shelby Steele for writing so eloquently on the social and individual costs of the conscious cultivation of victim psychology. It is time for the whining to stop.
For the whiners at this point have won, for god’s sake, they have won. I can understand how a black youth who is unemployed and sees no hope of employment could feel that American society has let him down (while he ignores the legions of whites who have finally ceased looking for jobs and are therefore no longer counted statistically among the unemployed). But show me a black intellectual who is not employed. Colleges and universities seek him out as if he were the Grail. Anyone mentally alive has to know (which is not the same thing as has to admit) that the cultural battle is over, even to the point that there has been an over-compensation for past wrongs. No black artist, for instance, of even modest talent, will be denied publication and possibly higher reward; if he or she is a playwright The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory lists a healthy dollop of theatres looking for black dramatists. And sometimes the fortune of being born black will be creatively confused with having talent. All mainstream American cultural institutions now are mad for “diversity,” so long as the word does not signify political diversity.
Consider the facts surrounding the following “poem” as a kind of evocative metaphor.
In Memory of Radio
Who has stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?
(Only Jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me.
The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith,
Or something equally unattractive.)
What can I say?
It is better to have loved and lost
Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?
Am I a sage or something?
Mandrake’s hypnotic gesture of the week?
(Remember, I do not have the healing powers of Oral Roberts. . .
I cannot, like F.J. Sheen, tell you how to get saved & rich!
I cannot even order you to gaschamber satori like Hitler or Goody Knight
& Love is an evil word.
Turn it backwards / see, what I mean?
An evol word. & besides
Who understands it?
I certainly wouldn’t like to go out on that kind of limb.
Saturday mornings we listened to Red Lantern & his undersea folk.
At 11, Let’s Pretend / & we did / & I, the poet, still do, Thank God!
What was it he used to say (after the transformation, when he was safe
& invisible & the unbelievers couldn’t throw stones?) “Heh, heh, heh,
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”
O, yes he does
O, yes he does.
An evil word it is,
Does the reader like it? I hope not, I hope he or she is not that insensitive. Perhaps it is amusing (although it never cracked my smiler)—but as a “poem” it is a lousy piece of work. I think one should resist the temptation to give benefit of doubt and remember instead what it was that as a child one loved about nursery rhymes and simple poems (assuming one did). Only in the last stanza does it even approach poetry: I exclude line 6 which of course is Tennyson, and line 22 which The Shadow knows because he said it. Nonetheless, “In Memory of Radio” is canonized by inclusion in The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Norton has a lot of sins to pay for, it seems to me—including its exclusion of the author of the following poem.
Randall, My Son
Randall, my son, before you came just now
I saw the lean vine fingering at the latch,
And through the rain I heard the poplar bough
Thresh at the blinds it never used to touch,
And I was old and troubled overmuch,
And called in the deep night, but there was none
To comfort me or answer, Randall, my son.
But mount the stair and lay you down till morn.
The bed is made—the lamp is burning low.
Within the changeless room where you were born
I wait the changing day when you must go.
I am unreconciled to what I know,
And I am old with questions never done
That will not let me slumber, Randall, my son.
Randall, my son, I cannot hear the cries
That lure beyond familiar fields, or see
The glitter of the world that draws your eyes.
Cold is the mistress that beckons you from me.
I wish her sleek hunting might never come to be—
For in our woods where deer and fox still run
An old horn blows at daybreak, Randall, my son.
And tell me then, will you some day bequeath
To your own son not born or yet begotten,
The lustre of a sword that sticks in sheath,
A house that crumbles and a fence that’s rotten?
Take, what I leave, your own land unforgotten;
Hear, what I hear, in a far chase new begun
An old horn’s husky music, Randall, my son.
Need the reader extend benefit of doubt here? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Is it a great poem? Probably not—but no doubt it is a poem, not only because of the careful form but because it reminds us of deep familiar truths as it both questions and celebrates them, and because it is evident that the poet respects the art he practices and its traditions, whether the reader recalls the border ballad “Lord Randal”—a very distant relation—or not. Or applying the same test: does this or does this not remind one of the music that hooked one as a youth on poetry in the first place (assuming one was hooked).
“In Memory of Radio” was written by Leroi Jones before he became Amiri Baraka. Never much of a poet, the kind who thinks that writing poetry is pouring out your mouth whatever pops into your mind, Jones-Baraka is what Al Sharpton would have been had he tried the poet’s trade instead of the reverend-hustler’s. He is also an anti-Semite who asserted in a “poem” that the Jews of course knew about 9/11 beforehand. None of this seems to have affected his position in literary history.
“Randall, My Son” is by Donald Davidson, southern Agrarian, one of the “Fugitive” poets of Nashville, where he taught at Vanderbilt. But he was also a segregationist, long after the other Agrarians had either shut up about racial matters or converted; indeed, he was an unabashed white supremacist without apology up until his death in 1968, a prominent member of the White Citizens Councils of the ’60s. Once considered the equal of other Fugitives such as John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren, his stock has fallen precipitously; indeed, he seems no longer to be a citizen of literary history—and I don’t think for a moment the banishment is for aesthetic reasons! He deserves Norton canonization just as much as Jones-Baraka does not. After all, there is something that might be called the “Wagner Principle,” which would go something like this: Work of aesthetic excellence such as Richard Wagner’s music must ultimately outweigh the musician’s idiocies, such as Wagner’s anti-Semitism, and not to recognize his artistic genius because of his characterological failures is verboten.
In short, it would never occur, now, to anyone possessing “correct” opinions that Jones-Baraka’s mental vileness should be held against him, except modestly as a kind of unpleasant-crankiness-but-who-are-we-to-say?—but not to the point of a career- or reputation-altering demotion—for after all (the following we may recognize but do not actually announce) the whiners have won a double standard.
For the longest time in American history racism and race-obsession were kept alive by white people. That is no longer the case. When even the South is no longer a white-supremacist bastion it is pointless to intone “We are, after all, a racist society.” Race-obsession and racism are now kept alive primarily by black people. No, of course not by all black people, but by the black intellectuals and the Sharptons. And the obsession is kept robust by my place of employment, I am sorry to say, the university (encouraged by governmental public policy). Why, for instance, should my college, like most I suppose, bend itself out of shape trying to get more black kids into the hard sciences? Would it go into conniptions over how many white kids are majoring in whichever or whatnot? This is one more instance of liberalism’s inability to differentiate between social justice and social engineering and its assumption that the latter is the former. Those who want to go into the sciences will go—unless, that is, the very conniptionistic efforts to get them there signal to them that the sciences are too demanding for the likes of them.
And why do I need to know the relative IQs of racial and ethnic groups? Oh of course social scientists are curious, but why should public agencies act upon the findings of the professionally curious? As in the despicable practice of race-norming, for instance. So Jews, say, score on average higher than African Americans on intelligence tests. So what? How is that useful information for a teacher to have? Am I going to race-norm the black students up and/or the Jewish students down? I’m going to do neither. I am going to consider the individual alone and solely.
Besides, the official publication of relative IQ findings invites mendacity, in a sense creates a culture of mendacity, and that cannot be good for a society. If one ethnic or racial group collectively scores lower than another, it cannot be that at this point in history the first is quite simply not up to the intelligence level of the second; it must be that the second is culturally advantaged, the first culturally at a disadvantage, that the tests and the testers are biased, and besides with social conditions as they are . . . and so on. . . . You know the drill. And here I am being mendacious myself, avoiding the well-guessed fact that the “second” is African American. But if Jews as a group score higher than blacks, they also score higher than me—or rather, higher than my native group. But with that knowledge in hand I am not going to search around hysterically for exculpatory cultural explanations. The knowledge does not make me feel dumber than a particular Jew that I know I am smarter than. Knowledge of relative IQ findings is only awkward and pointless since it tells one nothing about the individual. Oh, I suppose someone could be stupid enough to decide that given the findings the brilliant linguist John McWhorter cannot be as smart as yesteryear’s boxer Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom was.
I would be delighted were it governmental practice from local to federal to make no statistical recognition of racial identification. If the obsession will not die easily, at least do nothing to keep it breathing. Laissez faire. None of this means I long for a society where no one knows what he is and where he came from: a homogenized mass. Let me make that very clear. And, a caveat: let no one think that what follows is a brief for multi-culturalism. That misnamed phenomenon, meant to sound oh so open-armed and inclusionary, is radically exclusionary instead, the privileging of practically any ethno-cultural identity so long as it’s not the
“Western” one that includes me . . . and my Jewish better half.
Race-obsession is not racial pride. If one is proud of what one is one does not have be so touchy and defensive near the point of paranoia. “What do you mean by that? How dare you call me niggardly!” I know people who think the aide in D.C. was justly punished for using that word back in 1999, because after all it is only natural that a black person hearing the word would think it was the N-word. (That this is tantamount to impugning blacks as ignorant of diction seems not to have occurred to these people.) This is like advising someone not to use the expression “juiced up” in front of Jews. If one is proud of what one is one simply enjoys it. Private enjoyment of one’s roots is not inconsistent with being a part of a larger multi-ethnic entity. That is, private enjoyment is absolutely unrelated to the multi-cultural ideology, which is the insistence that Americans not be a people.
In his City of God (Book 19) Augustine rejects Scipio’s definition of a people (in Cicero’s On the Republic), “a multitude ‘united in association by a common sense of right and a community of interest,’” in favor of his own definition: “A people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by common agreement on the objects of their love.” This is a much less demanding definition since it imposes no agreement on the right (religious orthodoxy, moral codes, etc.); all that’s required is agreement on the objects of our love, on what we hold dear. All? Americans once were a people by that definition: we held dear our images of the Founding, the Declaration, the Constitution, the idea of “one nation under God,” and all that Lincoln meant by “the mystic chords of memory,” to propose a very short list. But I am not sure we are a people now. Or slightly less pessimistically, I am certain we cannot remain a people if the multi-culturalists have their way.
I am indebted to Gertrude Himmelfarb (The Moral Imagination) for reminding me of John Stuart Mill’s essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge—along with the companion essay on Jeremy Bentham the best of Mill, I think, bar not On Liberty—in which Mill ponders the “essential condition(s) of stability in political society,” among which is “something which is settled, something permanent, and not to be called into question; something which, by general agreement, has a right to be where it is, and to be secure against disturbance, whatever else may change . . . some fixed point, something which men [agree] in holding sacred”; which whether a loose matter of religion or persons or laws “was in the common estimation placed beyond discussion.” Such stability, argues Mill, is more likely when there “is a strong and active principle of cohesion” which need not mean “nationality, in the vulgar sense of the term” (race, ethnicity), but means “a principle of sympathy, not of hostility, of union, not of separation,” and which requires and insures “that one part of the community do not consider themselves as foreigners with regard to another part; that they set a value on their connexion; feel that they are one people, that their lot is cast together, that evil to any of their fellow-countrymen is evil to themselves; and do not desire selfishly to free themselves from their share of any common inconvenience by severing the connexion.” This is a view potentially dead at the hands of the multi-culturalists.
“America’s British Culture,” as Russell Kirk’s book title has it: precisely what the multi-culturalists hate, what they would “liberate” immigrants and minorities from. The desire for acculturation in the past is now considered a kind of imposed interior imperialism, the way to desiccation and deracination. This is of course a lie. Tell it to mayner besser halb—of whom I once wrote (with some minor editing) thus: I know a woman of Russian- and Polish-Jewish background, bred in the States, first generation. It seems to me significant that she’s very beautiful with something sensuous and fragile about her. A poet tried to suggest it by “the frail asymmetry of her face.” She is a poet herself and very classically learned. She understands German, speaks Spanish, is fluent in French and Yiddish. Her grace, her aesthetic apprehension, were nourished in a Brooklyn neighborhood where the clothing was homemade, the food kosher, the language polyglot. She is liquid in her movements, has impeccable manners, is quick to anger, but graceful even then. She is attentive, she listens, people warm to her; but she can be chillingly haughty when offended, with a style to freeze the heart and make the most mannered Brahmin feel a parvenu. I suppose one could say from this distance (exaggerating and thus misleading) that she’s been marvelously assimilated; but there one would miss the point. She strikes one as thoroughly Jewish, Eastern European; Europeans, on the other hand, inevitably assume she’s French. Nonetheless she has easy and relaxed possession of, as she contributes to, America’s “British Culture.” The multi-culturalists are just too bloody simple-minded. People from all over happily adjusted to America’s British culture even while cherishing who they were and where they came from. And still do. A bit of shorthand:
Among my closest friends are the pre-eminent scholar of C.S. Lewis, Anglicanism’s sole twentieth-century light—name of Como; and the author of the best introduction to the mind of the broadest-ranging of twentieth century American philosophers, Richard McKeon, American and Western in the very best sense, one to whom no idea, from Plato to UNESCO, was foreign—name of Ruttenberg. Neither is remotely deracinated. The latter must be one of the few strictly secular academic philosophers regularly to attend synagogue, where he lectures on Maimonides. The former is fiercely Catholic, is a collector of “goombah” jokes, and is an occasional visitor to what he calls the family lake in Italy. Another close friend—a signal figure in this context—did a Master’s thesis on Edmund Spenser, teaches Medieval and Renaissance literature, but is pursuing a doctorate in American Studies. One ambition is to see Wagner from beginning to end with only intermissions. She is Catholic by birth but once considered converting to Judaism, which only partially explains her being haunted by the Holocaust. Once we would have called her a woman of parts. It is not inconsequential that she is a stunning beauty, her face as interesting as her mind; mixed Welsh, Spanish, French, and African, mostly African, she is the best argument for miscegenation I have ever seen. She could “pass,” but adamantly does not wish to. Déracinée could not be more misapplied. Nothing gets her back up more than to be told, as one of the obsessed told her, that she is “not black enough.” This woman of parts insists, “I am a woman of color.” I think it would be a shame, I know it would be a shame, if the largest minority in the U.S., and the oldest “immigrant” group (even if imposed immigration), the group which fought longest and hardest for a place in the people, all the while holding dear “the objects of our love” to an extraordinarily moving degree, were to depart for the multi-cultural temptation. But that is precisely what Jesse Jackson (“Ho, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!”) and the black intellectuals encourage. (I leave Al Sharpton out of that sentence because the term “multi-culturalist” implies a preference for some culture different from the traditional one rebelled against, while I have never noticed that Sharpton had any culture to speak of whatsoever. Should one counter that Reverend Al’s values represent black culture, I would wonder why one wished to insult an entire race.)
That private enjoyment of who one is and where from—it is not inconsistent with what “a people” holds dear. So long, that is, as we forego the temptation to promote the private enjoyment to the status of a public “statement.” Which temptation fewer and fewer people are willing to resist. But not me. I should explain. It is my experience that most people named Hux (or who are casually familiar with the name) assume it to be a short version of Huxford, or Huxley, or Huxtable—or assume the longer names to be expansions of the root. But my father talked about a mysterious “aunt who traced the family tree” (that’s the only “name” I ever had for her) not back to English stock but to the continent. According to this story the name, Huch or Huchs, was Palatinate German. These Pfälzer emigrated to England and Northern Ireland, from whence they sailed to the American colonies as indentured servants. I once told this story to a genealogy buff who had inquired about our common surname, and I never heard from her again. I don’t know if the tale is true or not, although its unlikeliness ironically gives it a certain authority. “Who would make this stuff up?” (Well, possibly my father. Formally uneducated, he had something of a mythopoetic imagination. When I was four or five we vacationed at Nag’s Head on the North Carolina outer-banks; hearing a roar, possibly the sound of waves mingled with wind, possibly thunder, I asked my father what it was. He held me at arm’s length. “Ah,” he said, “that’s the war in Europe.”)
But true or not, it is a part of my private myth . . . which I delight to contemplate. So what’ll I do with it? Delight in it. Only once did I promote it to public statement: I (German, English, and Scots-Irish) and an historian friend (Irish and Flemish) constituted ourselves the only members of the “Germano-Celtic Faculty Caucus.” We Germano-Celts are so little appreciated within the academy! It really is a shame. And when I consider how few (any?) of us there are in professional basketball, I wonder if in compensation there might be a few physicists among us. If there are any Germano-Celtic intellectuals out there I would appreciate a call. There seem to be no worthies that I can think of. This is a difficult life I live. Without more people to join the Caucus, I find my social-intellectual companions confined to people who share my interests in the arts, philosophy, history, baseball; my life never ascends to the level of a Germano-Celtic Pride Day parade.
Are ordinary African Americans multi-culturalists; are they as race-obsessed as the black intellectuals and the Jacksonian and Sharptonian worthies? If my students (the vast majority black) can be considered “ordinary” my guess is no: while aware of “who they are,” there’s a difference between awareness and obsession. My evidence, however, is only anecdotal, although not slap-dash so: I once devised a cleverly disguised “poll” too complicated for quick explication here (cross my heart and swear to God—trust me). I’m sure someone else has his anecdotal evidence contradicting mine. And I confess that the racial animosities engendered during (and by!) the Obama administration give me pause, the pause doubled by the apparent popularity of a racial provocateur like Al Sharpton. But, in answer to my question, whether they are or aren’t, they are ill-served by the unworthy worthies who have usurped the claim of unofficial “leadership” and the black intellectuals claiming in academese to represent black values. This will not be the first time a group of people are poorly and disastrously served by their self-proclaimed political and cultural spokesmen. Of course the claims of the spokesmen are in their own best career interests, as they are the authors of the victimology racket. What else would one expect of a racketeer?
Samuel Hux is Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at York College of the City University of New York. He has published in Dissent, The New Republic, Saturday Review, Moment, Antioch Review, Commonweal, New Oxford Review, Midstream, Commentary, Modern Age, Worldview, The New Criterion and many others.
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