Friday, April 6, 2012

Why John Derbyshire hated New Orleans

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2012 at 4:50 PM

When the National Review's John Derbyshire came to New Orleans in 2007 and wrote about the experience, I defended the city but didn't come down too hard on Derbyshire — one, because not everyone has to like the same things, and two, because the flat affect of his prose made me wonder whether he fell on the high-functioning side of the autism spectrum.

The following passage, for instance, came close to the top of the travelogue and seemed to go a long way toward explaining why he felt so uncomfortable in New Orleans:

From the tourist’s-eye view, New Orleans is a black city. The servicepeople at the airport, the hotel, concessions, stores, museums, and fast-food outlets are uniformly black. Most of the people you pass on the street, outside the tourist precincts, are black. I think this is the blackest American city I have been in.

It's true: New Orleans is a largely black city, and yet most visitors, regardless of skin color, seem to have a fine time here. Derbyshire did not, but perhaps he just doesn't travel well (he was unable to find a bookstore in the French Quarter, spent most of his time perusing Jax Brewery, and only had a good time at a dinner where "anecdotes about famous mathematicians were of course bandied about").

And perhaps Derbyshire didn't agree with his faithful reader in a later column, a reader who suggested "Basically, the only people who love New Orleans are hipster doofuses who spend their time in the French Quarter never bothering to look at what is just across Rampart Street. ... Basically, Katrina should be viewed as a Godsend. An excuse to save the few historic and charming places in the city and bulldoze the rest."

But any lingering thought that John Derbyshire was just unfamiliar with, as opposed to opposed to, black people was erased today with this humdinger of a little essay he wrote for Taki's Magazine, in which he dispenses advice to his teenage children on how to deal with black people (should they encounter them). In part:

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

This isn't cherry-picking a clueless quote; I could very well have cited "The default principle in everyday personal encounters is, that as a fellow citizen, with the same rights and obligations as yourself, any individual black is entitled to the same courtesies you would extend to a nonblack citizen" or half a dozen other passages. And — hold the P.C. accusations, please — I'm not saying Derbyshire can't, or even shouldn't, say these things; I just want the equal right to call him an asshole for doing so.

By now, it's obvious we enjoyed having him here as much as he enjoyed being here. With that in mind, I thought I'd adapt his list, ceteris paribus (as Derbyshire would say), for New Orleanians, should John Derbyshire ever climb on the wrong plane and find himself on a French Quarter corner, twisting his hanky and submissively urinating whenever he catches the eye of a "strange black" in the street:

• Do not attend events likely to draw John Derbyshire of the National Review.

• If you are at some public event at which John Derbyshire of the National Review suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

• Do not settle in a district or municipality run by John Derbyshire of the National Review.

• Do not act the Good Samaritan to John Derbyshire of the National Review in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

• If accosted by John Derbyshire of the National Review in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

And for those unfamiliar with the man (lucky duckies!), A Field Guide for Recognizing John Derbyshire in His Natural Habitat, as seen on the website of the National Review:

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  • NATIONAL REVIEW

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