John Derbyshire’s “The Talk”: Business as usual

Although I’m just as upset as many others about John Derbyshire’s recently published column, “The Talk: Nonblack Version” in the relatively unheard of Taki’s Magazine, I’m a little surprised that everyone is so, well…surprised. 

A little background: Derbyshire has spent a great deal of time writing for National Review and National Review Online, conservative publications that have time and time again lambasted multiculturalism and (separately) published pieces filled with subtle racism.

That’s the important word there: subtle. It would seem that in the conservative world, racism is tolerated as long as it is disguised with pseudoscientific language or very broad statements.

Derbyshire has long had controversial — one might argue perplexing — views on a number of issues. Back in November of 2011, he wrote a piece questioning whether or not things like sexual harassment or racial discrimination actually existed. To his mind, the answer to those questions was a resounding no.

For even more proof on Derbyshire’s rather sketchy history when it comes to race relations, we turn to his own personal website, where he proudly displays a photo of himself giving a lecture at the 2009 meeting of the H.L. Mencken Club. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted the group’s inclusion and encouragement of several prominent racists in its ranks.

So what took this column over the top? He didn’t coat his racism: it was blatant and of an evangelical sort, encouraging further racism by others.

But what does Derbyshire’s column say about race relations in the USA today? At a recent student discussion led by the Black Student Union at Pitzer, one student questioned if our society was becoming more racist. Instead, I would argue that with the rise of new media almost anyone can publish their views. While America as a whole is becoming more accepting and tolerant, those with discriminatory opinions also have a taller pulpit than ever.

This article was a long-time coming for John Derbyshire: Business as usual. He was finally able to find a publisher that would allow such views to be published for the masses. National Review took a good first step of firing him from the writing staff, especially when compared to some right-wing bloggers actually protecting his indefensible views. Nevertheless, there are many more writers to fill his shoes out there.

Let this incident serve as a reminder to us all that hateful views exist, and with the internet and new media, are more visible than ever. If we fight speech with speech, perhaps reason can win out in the free market of ideas.


For a fantastic satire of the offending piece and by far the most fitting response I’ve seen thus far, check out Max Fisher’s piece in The Atlantic. Also, John Derbyshire’s personal website is an interesting way to get into his head. I recommend the photo albums.


About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 04/09/2012, in Commentary, General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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