I recently finished reading “Woke Racism” by John McWhorter—an engaging, thought-provoking book that I encourage everyone to read. While the book primarily focuses on critiquing today’s “anti-racist” movement, towards the end (Chapter 5: Beyond “Dismantling Structures”: Saving Black America for Real) McWhorter summarizes a three-point plan to address racial inequality in America.
First—and likely most controversially—McWhorter recommends ending the war on drugs. To stifle the dangerous black market for drugs that currently exists, McWhorter suggests that we take steps to legalize (but still regulate) drugs. McWhorter notes that many underserved black men “drift into this black market,” and argues that these men would have legal jobs but for the black market. He further explains:
The war on drugs … is universally agreed not to have worked in any case. Its eclipse would create a black American community in which even men dealt a bad hand would likely work legally, spells in prison would be rare, and thus growing up fatherless would be occasional rather than the norm.
Second, McWhorter recommends that we improve reading instruction by focusing on phonics rather than the “whole word method.” McWhorter, a linguistics professor, explains that phonics instruction is critical for children who don’t come from homes full of books. He adds:
This may seem an inside-baseball issue, but it is essential to getting past race in America. Generations of black kids, disproportionately poor, have been sideswiped by inadequate reading instruction. To find reading a chore puts a block on learning math, or anything else, from the page and is a perfect pathway to finding “the school thing” tiresome and irrelevant. The impact on life trajectory is clear.
Finally, McWhorter recommends that we “revise the notion that attending a four-year college is the mark of being a legitimate American, and return to truly valuing working class jobs.” McWhorter argues that “[a]ttending four years of college is a tough, expensive, and expensive, and even unappealing proposition for many poor people (as well as middle-class and rich ones).” And he explains that:
[P]eople can, with up to two years’ training at a vocational institution, make a solid living as electricians, plumbers, hospital technicians, cable television installers, body shop mechanics, and many other jobs. Across America, we must instill a sense that vocational school—not ‘college’ in the traditional sense—is a valued option for people who want to get byond what they grew up in.
I am struck by the simplicity of McWhorter’s plan. As a pragmatist at heart, I like that it is concrete and practical, and each point seems ripe for bipartisan compromise. Even as to his most-controversial recommendation—ending the war on drugs—the recent success of the First Step Act suggests that some sort of reform in this area is possible.
Policymakers would be wise to pause their shouting matches and take a moment to consider these three steps. And if you’re not already reading McWhorter, you should be.
The views expressed are the author’s and do not represent official positions of IWF.