April 28, 2008

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was out and about this weekend and dropped a few more bombshells. It was a dream come true for the official conservative media, and they didn’t miss a chance to pile on, do a little more shilling for McCain, and express their outrage.

What I found most interesting was that all the conservatives were jockeying to see who could be the most politically correct of them all. The Weekly Standard, NRO, HotAir have all focused on the same portion of the text and all rehearsed the same meme: Wright is saying the same racist things as did that evil Charles Murray in his evil book The Bell Curve

The statements in question are as follows: 

“€œAfricans have a different meter and Africans have a different tonality. European music is diatonic, seven tones. Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. That’s Italian. Europe. In west Africa and south Africa, it is not diatonic, seven tones, it is pentatonic with five tones. Wintley [Phipps] points out that if you want to know black music, just look at the black keys on the piano. Do, re, fa, so, la. Just those five tunes. Those are the only five notes you’ll hear and somebody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”€

“€œEuropean and European-American children have a left-brained cognitive object-oriented learning style and the entire educational learning system in the United States of America.”€

All this seems pretty harmless. The “€œleft-brain, right-brain”€ thing is total bunk, but who really cares if Wright perpetuates cocktail party neuroscience? His point about syncopated rhythm is true, and I now wish I”€™d taken a few of those Ethnomusicology courses on offer at UVA so I could comment about the “€œAfrican”€ pentatonic scale. But it all sounds entirely plausible.

Wright is talking about the self-evident fact that African drumming sounds a little bit different than The Marriage of Figaro, and that there are probably deep cultural, and perhaps even genetic, reasons for this. Is there any normal person (i.e. a non-Beltway journalist) for whom such a statement is controversial? 

Victor David Hanson went into hysterics over the “€œThe Scary Legacy of the 2008 Democratic Primary,”€ claiming that Wright’s statements have unleashed the beast of racism in our country. VDH was appalled”€”appalled!“€”that Wright thinks that Africans are more “€œcreative, musical, and spontaneous”€ than whites and that he dared to opine that white men can”€™t rap too good. Au contraire asserts Hanson, Homer was white, and that man was the P Diddy of the Iron Age!

I never knew that Europeans”€™ achievements in lyric poetry were ever in doubt (uh, Shakespeare?). This aside, what Wright was basically saying was that many people of African descent create musical arts that are markedly different than that of Europeans. Pretty basic stuff.

I remember being a freshman in college and attending an orientation party in the cafeteria. A rap group was performing, and at the end of the set, the lead asked for “a witness from the congregation”€: a bunch of white students immediately volunteered, all of whom (I”€™d guess) grew up rapping along to Dr. Dré in the “€˜burbs. Invariably they all sucked. It was the billionth piece of evidence that white men can”€™t rap! Is this controversial? It seems perfectly sensible that talent for rapping”€”spontaneous rhyming to back-beat rhythm”€”is not equally distributed. I also noticed some, ahem, patterns among running backs chosen in this weekend’s NFL draft.

The 300-pound Gorilla in the room is of course variation in IQ, and this is why when Wright raised the issue of cultural-ethnic differences, everyone started talking about a “€œreverse Bell Curve.”€

I agree that IQ does not give a full picture of a person: perhaps Beethoven, Coltrane, and I have about the same IQ, but this says nothing about the fact that first two wrote music of genius and that I cranked out a few forgettable fugal ditties in Music Theory 302. Having a liberal arts background, how genes might affect intelligence is fairly mysterious to me; however, I still find the dismissal of The Bell Curve simply because its conclusions are a bit “€œscarry”€ (read: easily dismissible for political gain) to represent the height of intellectual cowardliness.     

Besides, in his most recent writings, Murray has worked to greatly complicate his earlier theories about racial difference:

“€œHomo sapiens actually fall into many more interesting groups than the bulky ones known as “€˜races.”€™ As new findings appear almost weekly, it seems increasingly likely that we are just at the beginning of a process that will identify all sorts of genetic differences among groups, whether the groups being compared are Nigerian blacks and Kenyan blacks, lawyers and engineers, or Episcopalians and Baptists. At the moment, the differences that are obviously genetic involve diseases (Ashkenazi Jews and Tay-Sachs disease, black Africans and sickle-cell anemia, Swedes and hemochromatosis). As time goes on, we may yet come to understand better why, say, Italians are more vivacious than Scots.”€

This passage was published in the organ of white supremacisism known as Commentary magazine. 

But for mainstream conservative, why ask difficult, complicated questions when you can simply thump one’s chest for being really, really PC? Why admit that Wright might have a few interesting things to say when one can simply bash, bash, bash away for John McCain?

The NRO crew seems to have many uses for Charles Murray: a few weeks ago, they allowed him on “€œThe Corner”€ as the one person who actually liked Obama’s speech on race“€”they then used him as a punching bag. Now they bring him back, for the same purpose. 


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