HXA member John McWhorter published a thought provoking (and provocative) piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It is behind a paywall, but we wanted to convey some of the key ideas to our audience. The article posits that the ongoing call for a conversation about race is more about the need for conversion of thought, rather than a true exchange of ideas.

The current mantra, McWhorter explains, is that “until we have that conversation, tragic disparities in income, education, employment, and health care will persist between blacks and other Americans.” He continues by pointing out that there is an idea in this country “that on race there is always a shoe that hasn’t dropped, that a certain vaguely articulated Great Day has yet to come in which whites realize their culpability [in the aforementioned disparities] and in some way act upon it…”

McWhorter contextualizes his argument by examining, and critiquing, Daniel Q. Gillion’s Governing With Words, which maintains that an ongoing dialogue by politicians about race and racism better prepares people for legislation or other meaningful efforts.

Yet, as McWhorter argues, the end result of this conversation (of which there is no end in sight) will be one that fails to deliver beneficial advancement- mainly due to the divisive effects of the conversation itself. “Nothing requires teaching white people that everything that ails black America is because of racism you can’t quite feel, taste or see but is always nevertheless there,” he says.

There will be no mass awakening (which refers to the use of “woke” as positive slang among Black Lives Matter members) no moment when America will reflect and say “this is when it all began to change.” McWhorter argues that no conversation “can fix the past, eradicate all racist sentiment, or create a populace refulgently enlightened about Black America’s story. That’s a dream it’s time to let go of.”

More important than words are actions: “Black America needs policy, not psychological revolution.” McWhorter points especially to improvements in the criminal justice and education systems. Those policy changes can happen without a national conversation, and a national conversation may hinder, rather than help, to bring about policy changes.