'I May Give Up Writing and Work as a Butler': Interview with John Derbyshire

After publishing an article advising his children to avoid black people, writer John Derbyshire lost his column at uber-conservative magazine The National Review and weathered a firestorm of outrage this weekend. Nonetheless, after undergoing his regularly scheduled chemotherapy treatment for Chronic Lymphomatic Leukemia this morning, an unperturbed Derbyshire agreed to a Gawker Q&A. His only request: That we publish his answers exactly as he wrote them. We agreed, and have not edited him.

For those speed-reading, I recommend doing a Ctrl+F for "daughter," "black American rap artists," and "Rich Lowry."

How did you find out the National Review was firing you?

I got an email from Rich Lowry Saturday evening. We had exchanged three or four emails on the topic earlier in the day.

And how do you feel about it?

A bit sad. I liked working with NR. ("With," not "for"—I was never a salaried employee, just a freelancer with an "understanding" that they'd use my stuff when suitable. It follows, by the way, that I was not "fired." I don't think you can fire someone who's not an employee.) However, I have some health issues at the moment, next to which everything else seems pretty secondary, so my overall attitude is blithe, with just a dash of sad.

Do you think you're more racist than Rich Lowry, or the other NR writers? I found your honesty in the Taki's Magazine article almost refreshing—these are the same concepts that plenty of NR articles tiptoe around, you just said it outright.

I have no idea. I'm a strong empiricist, from early training. I like data, numbers, facts, science (when there is some organized science, which is not always the case). Any fool can open his mouth and push out a string of words, and every fool does. Give me some facts, some evidence, some credentialed research. On the matter of racism, which I take to mean generalized feelings about different human races, the best quantifier we have to date is the Implicit Association Test. So if Rich and his colleagues publish their IAT tests in full, as I have mine, I'll hazard an answer to your question.

[Ed: After our conversation, I took the same IAT Derbyshire did. It was a nerve-wracking experience, and told me I have "a slight automatic preference for European American compared to African American." John has a "strong automatic preference" for white folk.]

Have you been following the internet outcry about your article?

I can't really say so. I looked at a couple, but they seemed very malicious—willfully distorting what I wrote. A lot of the PC left is just hysterically deranged. Why read stuff by deranged people? I'd rather play FreeCell.

Is racism—yours or other people's—a problem?

Depends what you mean by a problem. The mild and tolerant racism I've owned up to, and which seems (from these Implicit Association studies) to be very common, is not usually a problem in people's personal social lives. It's never been a problem in my life. I've always got on pretty well with persons of all races, excepting those individuals nobody can get along with—we've all met 'em. But then, of course, as an individual, one can "navigate" through life, making choices that avoid difficult quandaries, by just the kinds of strategies outlined in my article.

Those irenic results don't scale up. Entire societies don't have the "navigational" freedom of individuals. The natural preference most people have for some races—usually their own—over others means that multiracial societies are plagued with stresses that you don't see in monoracial societies. The tendency in modern times is to separation. Look at residential and educational patterns in the U.S.A. I discuss these issues at length in my book We Are Doomed.

A friend of mine who is an academic social scientist likes to say that if you want to know what people believe, there are two methods of inquiry: (A) ask them, or (B) observe their behavior. It's a depressing fact about human nature that if you apply both (A) and (B) to a given situation, the answers you get will not necessarily be the same. Whether we are, as our current Attorney General said, a nation of cowards about race, I don't know; but looking at those residential and educational patterns, it's awfully hard to deny that we are a nation of liars.

The big question is whether these problems, as they manifest themselves in the U.S.A., are solvable. Current orthodoxy is that they are, and offers a laundry list of solution methods. Fix the schools! End poverty! Stamp out racism! Affirmative action! Fifty years ago a thoughtful person could sign on to those prescriptions. I know: I was around: I did. Yes (we said) once unjust laws had been struck down, and some social massaging of that sort been done for a few years, the races would merge in happy harmony, and the word "race" and its derivatives would drop out of the language. We all believed that. I believed it.

Plainly this hasn't happened, except of course in the upper classes, which go by their own rules. For a thoughtful person today to believe that these social-engineering nostrums will (for example) bring black crime rates to a level indistinguishable from white crime rates, involves a strenuous act of what Orwell called "doublethink"—massive self-deception. Does anyone, after all those decades, all those trillions of dollars, all those failed social-engineering experiments, does anyone really, honestly still believe in the nostrums? I don't.

My own sense of the thing is that underneath the happy talk, underneath the dogged adherence to failed ideas and dead theories, underneath the shrieking and anathematizing at people like me, there is a deep and cold despair. In our innermost hearts,we don't believe racial harmony can be attained. Hence the trend to separation. We just want to get on with our lives away from each other. Yet for a moralistic, optimistic people like Americans, this despair is unbearable. It's pushed away somewhere we don't have to think about it. When someone forces us to think about it, we react with fury. That little boy in the Andersen story about the Emperor's new clothes? The ending would be more true to life if he had been lynched by a howling mob of outraged citizens.

Have you given your children any of the advise outlined in your "The Talk: The Nonblack Version"? If so, how did they receive it?

They have, as I said in the article, had bits and pieces of it, though never in a formal let's-sit-down-and-have-a-chat [links to video] kind of way. Both took it with some skepticism, even some disgust in my daughter's case. Both have been through the public-school system and taken in a lot of the left-liberal PC indoctrination in which that system is marinated. So I'd have to say they weren't very receptive. Was there ever a time when kids listened to their parent's advice? But at least they've heard it, and know that there's another point of view besides the PC flapdoodle, a point of view held by non-crazy persons. One does one's best.

If you could do it again, would you publish "The Talk: The Nonblack Version"?

I never ponder counterfactuals.

Has your experience living abroad and in a mixed race relationship/family afftected your outlook on race?

I don't think so. As you can see from my IAT results, I bond effortlessly with East Asians & I think always have. I'm more at ease in a room full of Chinese people than I would be in a room full of black American rap artists. And my personal predilections aside, I think the big division in our society is always black-nonblack. The other stuff—Hispanics, Asians—is a bagatelle by comparison. This makes sense paleoanthropologically, too: Homo sap. first left Africa, then differentiated into other races

When were you in "a room full of black American rap artists"?

An elevator, once. National Review shares a building with some rap magazine (or used to—haven't seen them around for a while).

Hey, you're right, Vibe magazine used to be at 215 Lexington. Are there any black American rap artists you like? Personally I always thought NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" had a good outlook on authority. Also pro-gun.

My musical tastes don't venture far from opera.

Now that you won't be working with NR, where do you plan on taking your writing? Will you continue at Taki's Magazine?

Haven't thought much about it. Yes, Takimag is very congenial. I'll probably try to write for other opposition-conservative outlets too, if they want me: VDARE, AltRight, American Renaissance, and so on. I know a lot of the proprietors there. Writing itself is a bit problematic until I've got my rogue lymphocytes back in line, though, so don't be looking for any great outpourings. I may even just give up writing and work as a butler or something. I sometimes feel I've said everything I want to say.