The Corner

U. Penn Panel Report

Readers want a report on my Monday appearance before the Black Law Students Association at U. Penn.

It wasn’t actually very exciting. The main point of the thing was indeed to chew over Amy Wax’s new book. The argument of the book, very briefly, is that what can be done in law, politics, and social engineering to make amends for slavery and Jim Crow has been done, and the rest is up to African Americans themselves.

The main entertainment at the event was provided by the moderator, who plainly had no conception of what the word “moderator” means. She opened with a long harangue against Amy’s book, and further interposed her own views, at great gassy length, during the rest of the proceedings. She was also highly selective — towards her own point of view, I mean — in presenting audience questions. It was one of those events where an usher cruises round among the audience taking questions written on slips of paper and handing them up to the moderator. Amy and I had planted a couple of shills in the audience (look, it never hurts), who assured us afterwards they had submitted several questions: none was presented.

Amy, a brilliant and witty lady who is also what I think the French call une femme formidable, defended her book very vigorously. Prof. Higginbotham offered a string of anecdotes to prove that racial discrimination is still going strong in the U.S.A. Prof. Darity argued we should solve the education gap by something called “de-tracking,” which seems to mean putting under-performing kids in AP classes where, their self-esteem boosted just by being in the class, they will stop under-performing. To close the employment gap he demanded “a federally guaranteed job for everyone.” I have not made that up.

My ten-minute address consisted of (a) five minutes of unfiltered race realism, right between the eyes, followed by (b) a plea to turn to good old American individualism and stop obsessing about group outcomes. This was followed by a sort of stunned silence, into which Madame Moderator interjected the remark that “Mr. Derbyshire is here as a private guest of Prof. Wax, not at the invitation of the BLSA.” This was not true. BLSA invited me, and I have the email trail to prove it. To his credit, David Williams, the BLSA officer who’d invited me, came up afterwards and apologized for the immoderate demeanor of our “moderator.”

Audience questions were, as I said, carefully selected by Madame Moderator to put Amy on the spot — a thing none of them succeeded in doing, as the lady is very well able to take care of herself.

Mingling for refreshments afterwards, I found the BLSA students a friendly bunch. The only rancor was from some older guy, either a mature student or an academic, who said that my ideas were “old” and my remarks “hurtful.” Apparently he thought that one or other, or both, of these observations invalidated the truth content of what I had said. Everyone else was either pleasant, or just ignored me.

As I said, not really very exciting. It would have been a total snoozer but for the antics of the moderator. How do you get to be a professor at a high-ranking university without understanding the function of a moderator?


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