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John McWhorter interview

Published by marco on

This was a great interview with John McWhorter: ‘The Idea That America Is All About Despising Black People? That’s Fantasy.‘ by Nick Gillespie (Apple Podcasts) He recently wrote a book called Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read several essays of his. In one of his essays, he named “The Elect” as the keepers of a new religion online.

The interview was illuminating, with a lot of it transcribed below. Gillespie is a good interviewer, preferring to get out of the way and let his guests talk. And McWhorter talks a lot—at an incredibly fast clip.

At 3:30, they’re discussing George Carlin’s seven dirty words—shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits—and how they’re actually a bit “archaic” now. They used to be the official seven words that you couldn’t say on television or radio, according to the American FCC. These days, though, “cunt” is probably the only one that remains wholly taboo, in the States at least. In much of the rest of the English-speaking world, it’s become punctuation, like “fuck” has in America.

McWhorter: Have you ever called anybody a cocksucker? I am 55 years old and I don’t think I’ve ever used that word.

Gillespie: Well, you’ve got that to look forward to. That’s what the golden years are for.”

At ~20:00

McWhorter: That word [cunt] is so poisonous that for the audio book of ‘9 nasty words’, I had to adjust a bit. Especially because I’m black, I can say “Nigger” a certain amount, so I figured … there you go. I could not say C-U-N-T over and over again. I thought, ‘if I were a woman listening to a male voice saying that over and over again, it would just be … noxious’ and so I pulled back on it as much as I could.”

At 30:00

“The reason if a person that says something that isn’t sufficiently anti-racist, they have to be chased out of the room or their job, is because it’s about heresy. The idea that we can’t even stand to have Andrew Sullivan in our midst in a Zoom call. […] They thought of him as a heretic […] so you have a clergy, you have writers who are looked to to say things over and over again, many of which are hard to square with reality.

“But, frankly, people like Ta Nehesi Coates and Robin DiAngelo and now Ibram X. Kendi, they are priests of this religion. They don’t think of themselves this way—they’re certainly not saying it—but the way their writings are received is not as informational tracts, but as scriptural counsel. So it’s a rather alarming movement because you can’t reason with people who are working from religion rather than logic.

“And that’s not to say that religion is idiocy in itself, but a part of religion is that you sequester a part of your brain away from logic that goes from A to B to C. You have to suspend your disbelief. And the new wokeness that’s “mean”, “elective” as I’m calling it, is religious in that way and the people in question can’t be reached. And that’s scary, given how much power they’re beginning to amass.”

At 39:00

“The truth is we have to understand that you cannot reason with people like this. And it’s very rare that you teach somebody out of their religion. And this is a religion. And, so, to try to talk these people down, … it doesn’t work. All they know is that you’re a racist and that’s all you’re gonna get. So the idea is not to have a dialogue on these sorts of issues. You just have to shut down. But I think we just have to start telling people like this “no.”

“And the question is not how do you stop them from calling you a racist on social media. You don’t. That’s what they’re going to do. And it’s time to start letting them do it, and going on about our business, and having our fellows and friends around us, and make these people realize that screaming that you’re a racist isn’t going to get them what they want. They’ve learned that that strategy works, and they’re going to continue using it, and they’re not going to consider that it might not be the most humane—or even the most constructive—way of doing things.

“These are human beings and all of us have that element. There’s a Lord of the Flies element in these people—although they would never recognize it in themselves. So we need to start telling them “no.””

At 43:30

“If you took a George Wallace or one of these Dixiecrats from back in the day, and you reanimated them now and had them watch a laptop for a couple of days, drive around…that kind of person would have to pull over and retch on the side of the highway, seeing how deeply black people and blackness have permeated all levels of this society.

Strom Thurmond would be nauseated at the America that we have achieved today. Even since his death, how much blacker the United States has gotten. And that matters. That very much matters. And no-one could possibly deny it. Anybody who says that all of the civil-rights victories were basically negated because of what happened to George Floyd (1) are not thinking about that the same thing happens to white people and we just don’t hear about it and also that the country has come a very long way.

“[…] There are people who are too young to understand what it used to be like—and I wasn’t alive when it was really like what it was like—but, I remember the 80s! I remember how openly racism could be expressed by some people as late as the 80s. I remember not getting jobs openly in the summer because I was black and that was that. And yet, the 80s, compared to the 60s, was like the second reel of the Wizard of Oz. Even then, they’d already made immense progress.

“The way it is now? The “browning” of the culture? The idea that everybody in the country is listening to young black men bragging as their favorite music and loving the music as poetry and loving it the way people used to love Walt Whitman and St. Vincent Millay. […] These are unprecedented things.

“And yet you have a certain kind of person who wants to tell you that nothing significant has changed since 1950 except manners and that what shows that is George Floyd. No. That’s highly childish reasoning. And, unfortunately, the Elect have such beautiful, big words to express these things that it often sounds like they’re saying something more sophisticated than they are.

At 47:30

“The idea that America is all about despising black people and murdering our black bodies? That’s fantasy. That’s something from a comic book. And yet there are a great many brilliant people who are determined to make us think that we’re supposed to base our whole lives on this cartoon vision designed for self-indulgence—for both white and black people—instead of actually creating change on the ground the way that people who made a life like mine possible [did and] do. I think we’re dishonoring our ancestors at this point.