Uncle Dinesh's Cabin

Dinesh D'Souza, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

In its Hopwood v. University of Texas School of Law decision in March 1996, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively ended affirmative action in college admissions in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In light of that blow to racial justice, Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education and The End of Racism instructively exemplify how one man's fashionable critique of affirmative action has evolved into a wholesale apologia for racism.

D'Souza organizes the chapters of Illiberal Education around highly-publicized events at UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford, Howard, The University of Michigan, Duke, and Harvard. Each "case study" functions as an anecdotal and sensationalized argument against multicultural curriculum, racial "separatism" in campus housing and student organizations, and affirmative action in college admissions and hiring practices. D'Souza claims simply to be "a reasonable person" who "in good conscience" seeks "a middle ground" in the midst of "ideologicalä polarization." He purports, in fact, to demonstrate that racism is inherent in affirmative action "quotas;" high-achieving Asian-American and white students have wrongly been denied admission to elite universities, he claims, while African Americans, Latina/os, and Native Americans have suffered from the trauma of competing with better-qualified peers. Rather than race, D'Souza argues, SAT-based "merit" should determine which students are admitted into universities. The only exceptions to "merit" should be made in the form of a class-based affirmative action program designed for disadvantaged students with academic potential. "Since minorities are disproportionately represented among the disadvantaged," D'Souza argues, "there is little question that they would benefit disproportionately from such a program."

He does not explain, however, how a class-based program would take cultural difference into account or prevent racist interpretations of admissions applications. While class is certainly a significant factor to take into consideration, he fails to explain how such a program could be implemented. Affirmative action in admissions, as Michael Olivas has pointed out in The Chronicle of Higher Education, insures that mediocre white students are not given preference over high-achieving minority students due solely to ethnocentric standardized tests. Citing with disdain Ronald Takaki's (a theorist of race and ethnicity) positive reference to multicultural pedagogy as "intellectual affirmative action," D'Souza argues that making the university curriculum less Eurocentric is a futile attempt to accommodate under-qualified minority students. "I do believe in affirmative action," D'Souza quotes classics professor Anthony Raubitschek as saying, "but I do not think it should be applied to books and educational programs." D'Souza's rhetorical labelling of multiculturalism as affirmative action falsely implies that non-Western writings on course syllabi ride piggyback on Western texts with truer and more universal themes. With the exception of a few ancient Indian, Chinese, and Arabic texts, D'Souza dismisses all "non-Western" cultural production; never, however, does he define what he means by "Western" and "non-Western." In effect, D'Souza associates the term "Western" with the writings of white people.

While D'Souza's curt smugness with his opponents is often attributed to superior intellect, he frequently demonstrates a profound lack of cultural literacy. Thus, he refers redundantly to "homosexuals and lesbians," changes Cesar Chavez's name to Caesar Chavez, and capitalizes the name of bell hooks, the renowned scholar in African-American and women's studies. Unfortunately, D'Souza is as ignorant of complex moral and social issues as he is of important names and dates. D'Souza defends, for example, the "three-fifths clause" of the U.S. Constitution that counted each African-American as three-fifths of a person; this cowardly compromise, D'Souza argues, was "about political representation, not the intrinsic worth of blacks." Only with a text thus littered with such glaringly inaccurate and ahistorical interpretations can he claim, as he does, that Illiberal Education is an attempt to move the debate away from narrow racial politics. Unlike Illiberal Education, which primarily addresses current controversies at U.S. universities and has been accordingly critiqued for its reliance upon newspaper stories and casually conducted interviews, The End of Racism attempts to be a scholarly tour-de-force by examining the entire history of the slave trade, segregation, scientific conceptions of race, racial discrimination, and modern affirmative action debates.

Scholarly, however, is perhaps too respectable a term for the superficial historical overview D'Souza provides of such figures as Christopher Columbus. Racism, D'Souza argues, never was the bugbear many people thought it was. While producing unfortunate consequences, racism originated as Europeans' fair-minded effort to understand non-Westerners' lack of "civilizational skills." Due in part to their humanistic objectivity, he says, white people now have developed less hurtful ways to explain others' inferiority; indeed, the concept of race has no place in modern public discourse. To the contrary, D'Souza happily contemplates U.S. residents blending into a tastefully mild "cafe au lait" color that defies classification. Perhaps because many African-Americans have resisted this "cafe au lait" aesthetics of the skin, D'Souza implies that race is still a relevant political and scientific concept in regard to this one population. (He insists that studies showing African-American children's preference for white dolls should not be shocking "given the well-documented pancultural preferences for the color white over black.")

Even Peter Brimelow's (of the right-wing National Review) attitude towards his fellow conservative is patronizing: he critiques the notion that "A couple of generations of intermarriage" will make racial conflict in the U.S. "go away." Nonetheless, Brimelow astutely realizes that "despite its subtitle, The End of Racism is not about multiracialism but biracialism: specifically, the relationship of blacks to whites." Ostensibly a critique of affirmative action, multiculturalism, and affirmative action, The End of Racism is in fact an extended attack upon African-Americans and all aspects of African-American culture. D'Souza's thesis is that affirmative action is doomed to failure not only due to white resentment but also due to "black cultural defects." He goes on to list the "dysfunctional" aspects of African-American culture: "racial paranoia-a reflexive tendency to blame racism for every failure," "rage that threatens to erupt in an orgy of destruction or self-destruction," "a heavy dependence on government," "repudiation of standard English and academic achievement," "violence," and the "bastardization of black America." Because African-Americans as a group share these "deficiencies," D'Souza claims, "rational discrimination" in the areas of housing, crime control, banking, and education may be understandable, profitable, and perhaps pragmatically necessary. Do not insurance companies rationally discriminate against teenage boys, D'Souza asks? Thus, "rational discrimination" (or "predictive evaluation") replaces the outmoded and unfairly maligned concept of racism. "A bigot is simply a sociologist without credentials," he explains.

Gradually, D'Souza's argument shifts from the idea that the "civilizational crisis" among African-Americans has been caused by culture to the idea that African-Americans may very well be genetically inferior. While he finally purports to "reject the fatalism of genetic theories of IQ differences," D'Souza's disclaimer is not very convincing. He does, after all, rebuke the moderation of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, authors of The Bell Curve, who insist they have demonstrated racial variations in intelligence. These men have not, he says, taken their findings to a logical conclusion. "It is not clear that they have confronted the implications of their views. If IQ differences between racial groups are inherited and are substantial, then it is impossible to close the Pandora's Box and we have to ask the alarming questions: was the Southern racist position basically correct, and are some forms of segregation and discrimination justified?" Thus, Dinesh D'Souza's arguments against twentieth-century cultural relativism have led him into sympathy with the "rational discrimination" of Southern segregationists.

For D'Souza, Herrnstein and Murray's pseudo-scientific studies of IQ measurements are convenient proof that affirmative action is destructive. While it is true that only "5 percent of university faculty" and "3 percent of physicians" are African Americans, he explains, IQ scores suggest that "less than 1 percent of African Americans (compared with around 20 percent of whites) qualify for success in these fields." In a truly "meritocratic society," he complains, "we should expect to find whites occupying most high-paying and relatively prestigious jobs and blacks concentrated in low-paying and less cognitively demanding jobs such as truck driver, meat-cutter, and mail carrier." Because he appears frequently on television, Dinesh D'Souza's name and face are perhaps more widely recognized than are his two books. Young, fashionably dressed, media-savvy, and brown, D'Souza has several rhetorical advantages as a right-wing public intellectual when compared to such graying, or deceased, white colleagues as Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, and William Bennett.

Indeed, for a man who denounces all forms of identity politics in favor of "color-blindness" and "universality," D'Souza makes reference to his South Asian heritage with puzzling frequency. Mirroring left-wing intellectuals who ground their work historically and culturally as a means of avoiding gross generalizations, D'Souza includes personal narratives in both Illiberal Education and The End of Racism as a means of establishing his authority to speak about issues of race. D'Souza bashfully describes his cultural identity as "inevitably personal." Still, he proceeds to satiate the "tremendous curiosity" the public has about his personal background. Thus, he resembles Richard Rodriguez, who has won fame and fortune by proclaiming his assimilated "Americanness" while continually revealing new details about his "private" Mexican self for voyeuristic Anglo readers. "A native of India who came to the United States in 1978" as "a Rotary exchange student," D'Souza explains, he later studied at Dartmouth and Princeton. For the past several years, he has "researched and studied the revolution of minority victims, spending a great deal of timeä attending classes and interviewing administrators, faculty, and students." (Funding for this extended stay on U.S. campuses comes from the American Enterprise Institute.) D'Souza's privileged background somehow enables him to "feel a special kinship" with "minority students." Oddly, while D'Souza claims that being viewed as having a "Third World perspective" is "problematic," he does "feel especially qualified to address the subject of multiculturalism, because I am a kind of walking embodiment of it." Moreover, he further contradicts himself by later defining multiculturalism sneeringly as "a political movement based on a denial of Western cultural superiority." "America" he says, "can become a multiracial society but not a multicultural society."

Uncloaking D'Souza and other bigots of his ilk may be the best weapon available against current reversals of affirmative action. Given D'Souza's contempt for African-Americans and other disenfranchised peoples, one would expect reviews of both Illiberal Education and The End of Racism to evince outrage. Unfortunately, as was the case with Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve, D'Souza's books have been hailed as revolutionary manifestos that champion free speech and "common sense." Perhaps fearing the "PC" label, even such relatively critical reviewers as Don T. Phan fail to acknowledge the hate-filled content of D'Souza's writing in Illiberal Education in Amerasia Journal, Phan weakly concludes that the six universities labelled as substandard and subversive by D'Souza "are unrepresentative of American higher education in some practices which, if true, are surely reprehensible." Surely D'Souza's vicious brand of racism requires a stronger indictment. Rachel Jennings has a Ph. D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She has taught at the University of Minnesota, and will be teaching in the Spring with the University Extension Service at the University of Texas, a course called Banned Books and Novel Ideas.

Comments

I have lived and worked in the US first as a Trainee in Radiology, and later worked in five States and several hospitals as a Radiologist for fifty years. I have seen occult and open racism in 1964 and in 2012. I come from a family where many of my uncles and my dad and and two aunts were active participant in the freedom struggle. Some of them like my father left the Congress party after 1948 as he watched the painfully acquired freedom being abused by the new ministers and leaders, completely forgetting their promises to the average guys. I listened to D'S in Austin but did not get an opportunity to ask him a question or rebut him of his assertions and proclamations which are tuned to please the conservative crowd. As tougher questions started coming, D'Souza was looking for help, turning his tail in, and the people who paid his fees stopped the session. I have been watching and following the growing number of Uncle toms among the Indian and Philipino immigrants, with great disappoitment. Many of D'Souza's age have forgotten how tough a fight we fought to get freedom. He also forgets the many fights the early arriving Indian like myself, fought and continue to fight in the realms of just immigration and equal treatment of all of us Asians and others. Then there come people like him, Nikki Haley and Jindal, taking advantage of the situation and trying to drop the very ladder they have ascended, sort of joining the other side. Do not these people have a conscience? Do they still claim Indianness and quote from Gandhiji, and our Puraanas? Do they really believe most Americans are treating them equal in any manner, just because they get an occasional spot on Fox News, and college campuses? D'Souza has long forgotten his grand dad's advice. Of course what does an old man know, compared to a Dartmouth graduate.

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