Challenging Work Raises Tough Questions on Race


By Dinesh D'Souza

The Free Press

(Simon & Schuster)

724 pp., $30

THE contention of African-American scholar Cornel West that "race matters" seems never more true than today. In recent weeks, Americans have seen:

*The verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, which has exposed a deep divide between whites and blacks.

*Hundreds of thousands of black men marching on Washington Oct. 16, a Million Man March aimed at "atonement" and taking responsibility for their actions.

*A report from The Sentencing Project showing that 1 out of 3 black men in their 20s is in jail or elsewhere in the judicial system, a 25 percent increase since 1990.

A controversial new book is sending another lightning bolt into this highly charged atmosphere. The author, Dinesh D'Souza, is a young political conservative, a native of India who became a US citizen in 1991. His previous book, "Illiberal Education," skewered political correctness on college campuses.

Now he turns his skills as a polemicist on society in general and its struggle with racism. A pessimist might worry that D'Souza's book, full of observations that could hardly be called politically correct, will only aggravate racial tensions. It is troubling to think how it may only reinforce the prejudices of some.

The book, "The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society," hardly could stand alone as a balanced assessment of racism in America today. But now that it is in the public arena, one can only hope it will serve a useful purpose by provoking thought and stimulate those who disagree with its premises and conclusions to clarify their thinking and search more deeply and urgently for answers.

Just what are D'Souza's shocking ideas? Though he doesn't completely deny the existence of racism in 1995, he downplays its importance. "Racism is hardly the most serious problem facing African-Americans in the United States today. Their main challenge is a civilizational breakdown..." he writes. Black Americans suffer from a cultural collapsee that has led to crime and poverty, he says. It must be addressed in order for them to make progress. He challenges blacks to accept their American-ness and scale back their search for ethnic identity. "There is no self-esteem to be found in Africa or even in dubious ideologies of blackness," he says.

His chief call is for a "color blind" society (goodbye affirmative action), to which end he would even repeal landmark civil rights legislation. "What we need is a long-term strategy that holds the government to a rigorous standard of race neutrality, while allowing private actors to be free to discriminate as they wish," he says. "Am I calling for a repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Actually, yes."

D'Souza leaves no hot buttons of racial politics unpushed, including the uncomfortable issue of race, genetics, and IQ. While he ultimately rejects the theory of racially based differences in IQ, he can't help noting that Asians as a group outperform both whites and blacks on intelligence tests.

(A warning must be voiced about his passage on the depravity of some black rap-music lyrics. The cited examples make their case. But readers are likely to find them obscene and offensive.)

All this may be beyond the pale for some readers, as too reactionary to even consider. But D'Souza has done an immense amount of homework, and his reasonable tone signals dispassion and cool logic, not wild-eyed fanaticism.

Nevertheless, what may linger in the minds of readers is whether he has really "walked a mile in the shoes" of black Americans enough to gain more than just an intellectual grasp of his subject.

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