A Reviewers Notebook: The Other Side of Racism
OCTOBER 01, 1981 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
first knew Anne Wortham as the King Features Syndicate librarian. She was competent and hard-working at her job, but occasionally she would take a minute to talk about our mutual concern for Leonard Read’s freedom philosophy. She is a black, but race, as such, seemed to be the least of her preoccupations. She was confident in her own abilities, and certain that she was going to make it in the graduate school world which she proposed to enter.
Now, several years after her return to the academic scene, she has come forward with a book, The Other Side of Racism: A Philosophical Study of Black Race Consciousness (Ohio State University Press, 353 pp., $12.50) that has important libertarian implications. She approaches her study by asking herself certain basic questions such as “Am I free of government coercion?” and “Am I free of interference from my neighbor?” But most importantly she wants to be free of “irrational ideas and unjust actions” against her own human nature.
The result of her questioning will please such blacks as Thomas Sow-ell and Walter Williams, who are among the best of our free market—and free society—economists. But she will hardly find favor with those blacks who are willing to substitute group-esteem for self-esteem in their quest to make waves in a numerically white society.
It is not that Anne Wortham doesn’t accept the anti-segregation aim of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a positive good. The right of a black to demand equality of service from State and municipally owned schools, conveyances and tax-sup-ported public facilities seems to her to be incontestable. But, like Senator Barry Goldwater, she boggles at the idea that government should force private merchants to open their premises to any and all comers. The natural right of an individual to dispose of his property as he sees fit must, she insists, be protected even if it involves letting morally delinquent characters behave irrationally in their dealings with their fellow men.
As a libertarian Anne Wortham finds herself in the uncomfortable position of defending Lester Maddox, the owner of the Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, who armed himself with a pistol and pick handle and ordered blacks to get off his property. She dislikes Maddox, but, as she puts it, “a businessman who cannot serve whom he pleases is not a businessman but a slave.” Her preferred way of dealing with the Maddoxes in our society would be to persuade people to boycott private discriminators and to set up businesses to compete with them.
A Wrong Turn
The freedom movement in Anne Wortham’s opinion took a wrong turn when it deserted the individual to focus on the demand for special treatment for ethnic groups. People who feel compelled to merge their identities in collectivities can never in her estimation achieve self-es teem. Martin Luther King did not go wrong in asking people to love one another, but it is in the nature of love that it cannot be imposed at group behest. The post-King history of the freedom movement has been filled in all too many instances with attempts to correct the wrongs of racism with still more racism. “Affirmative action,” which leads to quotas, is simply discrimination in reverse. Preferential hiring is still preferential hiring when it is based on color instead of on one’s kinship to the boss or on one’s age category, sex or religious affiliation.
In her analysis of the post-King movement Anne Wortham identities five different types who have led blacks away from the idea of achieving a self-esteem that is “beyond racism.” There is the conventional integrationist who simply wants to conform. There is the power-seeking nationalist who believes in a group-imposed separatism. There is the spiritual separatist with the “black is beautiful” mentality that denies the possibility that whites will ever understand true spiritual superiority. There is the independent militant who says “if you can’t lick them, destroy their world.” And there is the ambivalent appeaser who says to himself, “if you can’t join either group, don’t let them know it.”
In describing her five types Anne Wortham cuts loose with some beautifully direct writing that lifts her book and propels the whole argument forward. Sociological lingo is forgotten. We see clearly the wrongs that are being done in the name of Affirmative Action. Anne Wortham quotes an illustration offered by Thomas Sowell of a young black woman with an IQ of 142 and grades to match who was told that she would have been eligible for financial aid in law school if only her test scores had been lower.
The record of Affirmative Action has been horrible. Thousands of black students who score in the top half of standard tests are condemned to attend the lowest level of southern Negro colleges where other blacks without academic qualifications make the top-level universities and are maneuvered through at a terrific cost to educational integrity.
The Wortham Declaration of Independence
In her own “statement of challenge” Anne Wortham objects to all “Negro and white egalitarians who would enslave us with ethnic mysticism and welfare statism.” She does not want the result of any black action to be “equal” to everyone else’s. She does not want private doors opened for her by the force of government intervention. She does not want a guaranteed livelihood paid for by the expropriated resources of others. She is against “assistance” given as blackmail paid to silence a militant’s gun to prevent a looter’s rampage. She has no desire to at tend a university she is not qualified to enter, nor does she want “preferential treatment” in order to be spared the risks of competition. All she wants is to be free.
The Wortham Declaration of Independence will provoke many an argument. Anne Wortham is quite aware of the power of “anticoncepts” such as “black mind,” “blackness,” “black awareness,” “black pride” and “black identity.” They have become part of the conventional language, and are kept alive by politicians. But “anticoncepts” that rise from the “philosophical swamp of subjectivism” have no real validity. Anne Wortham asks some simple questions, such as: “What should determine pride in a person—any person—his biocultural ancestry or his achievements? What should determine his identity—his genetic endowment or the character and personality he creates?” Questions of this type answer themselves.
Quoting Brewton Berry, Anne Wortham says “we do not ‘solve’ race problems—we move in directions.” Her book makes its own magnificent move—and in transcending “race” it strikes a real blow for individual human freedom.