How Losing the Race
Changed My Life
by Darryn "Dutch" Martin
A New Visions Commentary
paper published August 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
As one of her six children, the greatest
gift I received from my dear, now-departed mother was an appreciation
of the value of an education. This appreciation helped me rise
from our poor surroundings in inner city Cleveland to become
the successful black professional that I am today.
Heeding this lesson, however, was also
the genesis of years of verbal abuse, ostracism and criticism
I was forced to endure from other black people - from elementary
school through graduate school. During these years, I was accused
by my black brethren of "acting white" for using correct
English, for making good grades and for having a sincere love
of learning for learning's sake.
I could not understand why this happened
until I read John McWhorter's 2000 book Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage
in Black America. As the Bible tells us in John 9:25, "Where
once I was blind, now I see."
In Losing the Race, Professor McWhorter
outlines in surgical detail three aspects of modern day black
American cultural mentality, or "cults," that hold
us back as a people. First is the Cult of Victimology. In it,
victimhood is not seen as a problem to be overcome but an identity
to be nurtured. In the Cult of Separatism, the uniqueness of
our history is used as a justification to exempt us from the
rules that govern the rest of American society. Lastly, in the
Cult of Anti-Intellectualism, an affinity toward education is
seen as running counter to an "authentic" black identity.
The anti-intellectualism cult really
hit home with me, and McWhorter's book let me know that I was
not the problem.
All of this reminds me of an experience
from graduate school. While enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University,
I always actively and enthusiastically engaged in my own learning
process: asking questions and engaging professors and other students
on various topics. One of my fellow graduate students, a black
woman from New York City, felt it necessary to talk to me about
I was told of her concern that white
students in our program who hadn't grown up around blacks and
who were not used to being around "intelligent, articulate
black men" like me would be "intimidated." She
felt they might "try to use that against me in the future."
In other words, white students might discriminate against me
because of my love of scholarship! Thus, she advised, I should
basically tone down my intellectual zeal.
I never forgot that conversation. After
reading Losing the Race two years later, I realized that this
woman's "concern" for my well-being was merely her
own anti-intellectual attitude toward me - cloaked à la
"whitey." In other words, this culturally - and thus,
authentically - "down" sister from Brooklyn was dumping
her own academic insecurity on me through the specter of supposedly
socially ignorant white students who would supposedly retaliate
against me for supposedly making them feel mentally inadequate.
How lame is that!
Losing the Race opened my eyes to the
three cancerous aspects of black American cultural groupthink.
It also re-ignited the love of learning that my mother instilled
in me as a child. That love, as well as a faith in God, enabled
this poor boy from Cleveland to become his high school valedictorian,
become his family's first college graduate, earn a master's degree
in public policy and management and ultimately become a U.S.
Foreign Service Officer.
My life has taught me that education
is arguably the most important means to achieving professional
success and economic independence. There is no way I would sacrifice
that just to gain the myopically fleeting acceptance of my "peers."
This is a race that I plan to win.
(Darryn "Dutch" Martin
is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American
leadership network Project 21 and a foreign service officer.
Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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