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Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  435 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Berkeley linguistics professor John McWhorter, born at the dawn of the post-Civil Rights era, spent years trying to make sense of this question. Now he dares to say the unsayable: racism's ugliest legacy is the disease of defeatism that has infected black America. Losing the Race explores the three main components of this cultural virus: the cults of victimology, separatis ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 31st 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published August 1st 2000)
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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  435 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Apr 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People interested in sociological analysis.
Shelves: non-fiction
A black American linguist, a professor at UC Berkeley, examines ways in which African American culture undermines the chances for success of individual blacks, as well as for the race, as a group. Biting criticism, delivered in intensely articulate prose. A favorite of mine.
Oct 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Ouch. This is a pretty critical book of black America, the thesis basically being: now that U.S. society has removed so many barriers to black success, the real institutional racism is self-imposed, including among middle- and upper-class students. I was predisposed to disagree with this argument but as he runs through statistics and anecdotes to support his views, I found it more and more compelling and aligned on my own observations. These include:
* A dominant cultural trait of outwardly sayi
Michael Leak
This book is awful. He's bouncing around using weak examples while saying little to nothing. If we are losing the race its cause of people who think like he does. He's in love with white folks that is why a black conference is not as good and accurate as a "mainstream" conference. He wrote this for the professors at his university to give him praise and doggy treats cause that was a booty-lickin book and John McWhorter is a disgrace to every ground Philaldelphian but I can't blame him cause he w ...more
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone wanting to know how the other half of the black population feels
The writer has his finger on the trigger. If only the rest of us could get behind him and pull it. Writing style is a little stiff at times, but the ideas are still important enough that you push through.
Sep 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit
Really, 4.5*. I was so impressed by the candor and decisiveness that went into McWhorter's arguments. I cannot imagine the backlash he received from affirmative action advocates. The closing section of his book was particularly painful to read, because I whole-heartedly sympathized with his perspective of being cheated out of his real sense of accomplishment due to how his career came about. I absolutely loved this book and feel that its tenets far outreach the topic/s it addresses. I experience ...more
Nguyen Santiago
Taken from a CUNY TV interview with McWhorter about his later book ‘Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America’:

Interviewer: The thesis and the argument make sense, the one thing I was concerned with was the lack of data. Obviously, impressionalistically and intuitively you get the feel, but have there been longitudinal studies or cross-sectional studies, data, looking at the black masses either with survey research or focus groups, that could really document this phenomenon that you’r
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Robyn, Debi
Recommended to Wendy by: self
I found this account fascinating and wish that more Americans, no matter what the shade of their skin, would read it. McWhorter's thoughtfully written and well-researched book about a sometimes non-politically correct subject provides great insight into race relations and human behavior. Since reading this book, I regularly visit McWhorter's web site. I am always interested in what he has to say about progress and regress in race relations and admire his conviction, especially since his opinion, ...more
Sarah Castillo
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Sometimes this book had me gnashing my teeth in rage and at other times it had me nodding thoughtfully. I think that for many people it will be a hard book to take, with it's criticisms for established black activists. Regardless of your viewpoint, I think this book is worth reading with an open mind. McWhorter asks some serious questions here. I don't know if he has the right answers, but they at least make you stop and do some serious thinking about the state of things.
On one hand, this was a riveting and engaging read. Coming from the perspective of a linguist with a background in drama, McWhorter offers a fresh take on African-American underachievement. Interesting tidbits bristled throughout, and his personal narrative is weaved in. Nonetheless, the way he handles the evidence is outrageous.

McWhorter argues that the cultural factors of victimology, separatism, anti-intellectualism, not external racism, are the major impediments to African-American success.
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love John McWhorter's classes and books on language, and came across this book as I was searching for one of those.

I was interested in it partly because he wrote it and partly because I've observed the effects of an abiding sense of victimhood in individuals, and have struggled with the question of how to end that subtle and destructive worldview.

So this book -- purporting to trace and address this phenomena in an entire subculture -- really caught my eye. I found it very insightful. Both fo
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting that this book about victimization got so much media attention, but all in all the ideas are neither novel nor very provocative, comparatively speaking. It's a little naïve to label McWhorter as a "black conservative" for simply disagreeing with the leftist thought-police that fills academia...But he does give ammo to douchebag conservatives who can now say "See, blacks are digging their own social graves! We even have a black person who agrees with us!"

I guess to reach a mainstream
Zalee Harris
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In 283 pages, this author slaps Blacks that live in America in the face with a dose of reality that must be taken with a shot of Heaven Help Us!Take one look in the mirror - if you count more than one thing that is not naturally yours you might want to start over. Listen to yourself when you talk to people of other races - if you put down your own people, you might want to check yourself. When You see someone that is less fortunate than you, if you spew hate in your mind - You are guilty. The 10 ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
I found this book very thought-provoking; a NOLA evacuee who stayed with me for several weeks read it at the same time as me, and we were able to have some really lively conversations about the ideas put forth. Worth reading, certainly, though dry and repetitive at times (though the latter is insignificant compared to the value of the content).
Mar 19, 2008 rated it did not like it
McWhorter wrote up his own personal thoughts and experiences without giving any thought to how someone else's upbringing or individual experiences may have impacted their current status or condition. This linguist needs to focus on his area of expertise and leave this subject matter to sociologists.
Izaiah Dawkins
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The bold new voice for black intellectuals.He was completely able to tap into the secret bitterness of the black community ,his insights are insane,but his knowledge is totally comprehensible.I love this book, it impacts the black flaw in its thinking and goes as far as to call into question the law system. The biggest question he answered for me : is being black in this society worth it?
R.K. Byers
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I did not get the Ebonics argument AT ALL, I attribute a lot of that stuff to regional dialects, but otherwise, this book was WAAAY better than I anticipated and McWhorter came across as someone I'd like if I met him.
John-paul Pagano
Sep 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-american
McWhorter's prose can be canned and repetitive, but he's an engaging writer and his thesis here is both plausible and a welcome antidote to racist explanations of the achievement gap between African and Hispanic-Americans and their peers.
Sep 03, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't agree with everything in McWhorter's indictment, but he is a thoughtful person and a cogent writer. Definitely worth the read.
Kris Newman
Mar 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am digging this book. This guy is fantastic! Anyone else read him?

I didn't quite finish it thoroughly, but enjoyed his style of writing, his premise and his views. Excellent book!
Joe Donohue
Very painful reading. It documents how black Americans sabotage themselves.
Mr. Monahan
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it
John McWhorter has beef. He argues that deindustrialization, housing, and racism are all overemphasized in the process of explaining the emergence of a ‘black underclass’ or ‘urban crisis.’ Instead McWhorter bluntly and forwardly bifurcates into a choice between two pathologies. On one hand, there is the ‘conventional wisdom’ (Wilson, et. al.) which strips blacks of their locus of control and blames an amalgam of white racism, deindustrialization, and inadequate housing for the decay of urban li ...more
I had read “Word on the Street” and “The Power of Babel” by McWhorter and had been fascinated by his clear prose. Therefore, I was naturally tempted to read his thoughts on the race issue. While the style that I came to associate with him is certainly identifiable in this book, it is sometimes obscured by what is clearly a very personal subject for him. This emotional component sometimes interferes with the lines of argument that he is trying to make by making him appear callous towards the life ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
When I read the first 15 pages, I quickly thought how did I pick up this book?! This guy definitely has opposite politics from me.

But after continuing on and finishing the book I can honestly say the thesis was compelling. As a young millennial in college, I don't know if all aspects are still relevant today but I realized I was nodding my head several times throughout the book.

So in that regard I'm thankful for not giving up on this book as soon as I realized we had different politics.
Charlise Randall
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
While I disagreed with many of his points, I did find this book quite thought provoking at the very least. There will always be the question of individual agency regarding the condition of the black community today, and while I personally believe it plays less of a role than this author suggests, I do believe it is worth examination and discussion as we look for ways forward.
Jesse Rine
Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very good book with a different viewpoint that doesn't get much of a hearing nowadays. The author relies quite a bit on anecdotal evidence (which is often the kind of evidence one hears on the other side of the issue as well, honestly). I would have appreciated a more data-driven narrative, but a personal point of view from inside the culture is nevertheless a valuable addition to the debate. His personal story of affirmative action and its positive and negative effects is particularly strikin ...more
Oct 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
John McWhorter's books on language ("Language Interrupted", etc...) were recommended to me by someone who saw me engrossed in Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct"; and this was the only McWhorter book waiting to-be-read on my bookshelf. So far it's a devastating indictment of the widespread adoption of the Cult of Victimology by the black community in America, and the way victimology holds blacks back from achieving their full potential; even more than the remnants of latent (or blatent) raci ...more
May 11, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: academic
I had to read this book for African-American History with Professor Holloway (great class, btw), and while he makes some points, his general scholarship is very shoddy. It's an easy read, and if you are interested in hearing what black conservatives are saying, you should read this, even though it's not a very impressive piece academically.
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Written by a linguist, therefore a little hard to read, but I think everyone should read this. No matter what race you are, you will learn something, if not a lot, about Black/Brown American culture.

If you're White and ever wondered "what the deal was" "why so angry", etc, this book may shed some light for you.
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: racism
This is a great book and needs to be in the discussion of race in our country. It takes courage to go against the flow and this author does this.

If you want a different view than the mainstream race relation folks like Jesse Jackson read it.
Brian Talbot
Sep 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A really interesting take on the struggles of the African-American community to pull parts of it out of the cycle of poverty and crime.
Probably just as overly one-sided as those he calls part of the problem, but we'll written and researched.
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“A person you excuse from any genuine challenge is a person you do not truly respect.” 18 likes
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