Elizabeth Wright Dies

Elizabeth Wright, the editor of Issues and Views, [Archive link]has died. The Booker T. Washington Society posted a brief notice of her death, but I know of no other mention, in paper or on the Internet, of the passing of this remarkable woman.

On June 20, she had posted an ominous notice on her blog, in which she wrote that “If all goes according to plan, I shall be entering a hospice for cancer care.” I wrote to her usual e-mail address, asking for more details about her health, but got no reply. It pained me that her final blog notice was titled, “To All Those Friends I Never Met.” I was one of those friends she never met.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have been fascinated by Elizabeth Wright ever since I became aware of her many years ago, when Issues and Views was still a paper publication. I discovered that Elizabeth had a piercingly clear understanding of race, and wrote in an uncompromising style. We corresponded, and AR posted several of her essays—and yet I never really knew her. Elizabeth wanted it that way.

We spoke on the phone only a few times, and she spoke as she wrote—clearly and vigorously. And yet she kept me at a distance. The last time we spoke I was in New York City, where she lived, and I practically begged her to let me meet her. She declined. She wasn’t keen on meeting people, she said.

There was a great deal I wanted to know about Elizabeth Wright. How did a black woman arrive at a view of race so similar to my own? There is usually a story about how whites become dissenters. There must be a whole book about her. And who were her friends? What did her family think of her views? Whenever I asked in passing about her personal life in our e-mail correspondence, she politely deflected my questions.

I therefore know almost nothing about this remarkable and very private woman. I don’t know how old she was, whether she was married or had children, what kind of education she had, or what her interests were aside from smashing taboos. And I know nothing of the price she paid—it must have been very high—for her uncompromising defense of what she held to be true.

Anyone who could write and think as Elizabeth did could have achieved prominence, but that would have required her to bow to convention. Instead, she did that old-fashioned thing now so rare it comes almost as a shock; she put principle first.

Perhaps if I had tried harder, Elizabeth would have let me into her life. But perhaps not. I knocked, but she kept the door closed.

Therefore, much as I admire Elizabeth Wright, I know her only through her writing, and in tribute to her I can offer readers nothing more than a selection from some of her columns. I think that is what she would have wanted.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth. Your friends you never met—and I am sure I am one of a great many—will be poorer without you.

On April 4, 2007, radio host Don Imus referred to the largely black Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” Mr. Imus even abased himself to Al Sharpton, but lost his job anyway. Elizabeth Wright wrote this:

“So, after all this cringing and groveling, what was accomplished? Nothing more than could have been, if Imus had initially said, “Take this job and stuff it!” And how many more white men will feel compelled to prostrate themselves at the feet of blacks? While he was down there, it’s surprising that Imus failed to wash Sharpton’s feet—a practice that actually was performed on the feet of black men by the contrite white members of the “Christian” organization Promise Keepers. What a wonderful set of role models they make.

One of the most unfortunate consequences of this episode is the fact that yet another white man has helped to restore credibility and social power to those two cynical buffoons, Jackson and Sharpton. Just when it looked like their stars were waning, along comes the groveling Imus, to remind us blacks of just who our “leaders” are.”[On Imus - Last thoughts from a long-time listener,April 17, 2007]

In the same essay, she touched on Trent Lott, who also did the white man’s crawl for having said “insensitive” things about race:

Although other whites had disgraced themselves in their various apology stances, Lott set a precedent for white cringing and submission over the race issue. In addition, he sent strong messages, not only to white children, who learned how best to behave when confronted by howling blacks and their confederates, but also to black children, who learned what simple steps are required to bring about the subjection of The Man.

This is from a review of a book by a black woman who railed against “white privilege” and all its evils. Elizabeth was skeptical:

“Her depictions of the unyielding, recalcitrant white, who struts around like a know-it-all, egotistical peacock, had me wondering if she is paying attention to what’s really happening in this society, or if her antenna is picking up signals from a distant era. Where are these preening whites, “insulated by privilege” from the problems of blacks, who “simply choose not to know”? Is there really anywhere in this society where one can escape the relentless retelling of the story of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, and segregated water fountains? Set upon with the type of charges made by people like Dickerson, and eager to comply with the rules of the race game, most whites strive to keep their heads below the radar, so as not to be slammed with the ruinous accusation of “racist.”

She had this to say after hearing former New York City mayor Ed Koch moaning about racism:

“Similarly, Ed Koch had claimed that in this terrible society of America, “all blacks” face racism “every day.” According to Koch, from the minute a black leaves his home in the morning to go to work, he encounters ugly, persistent racism, which goes on throughout the day. My ears perked up, because I wanted to know in just which city or state or region were blacks being tormented openly and on a daily basis. Mind you, he was talking about the year 2008. Of course, he, like the young man in the Bodeker film, did not offer any examples of this horrendous treatment.

My instinct was to get in touch with Koch and challenge him to pick any black man, and go off to work with him, spending the entire day on his job, as well as remaining with him in the evening. I would have liked for Koch to come back on radio and report on the terrible, racist encounters suffered that day by that black man.

Of course, we know that no such encounters are occurring on a daily basis… .

However, there are clever blacks who insist on invoking the spirit of that earlier scenario and hyping the “pain of racism,” a disposition that a great many whites eagerly buy into. The goal of such blacks is to keep whites preoccupied forever with the Black Cause, while expanding the scope of just what constitutes “racism.” That scope, of course, must encompass the very thoughts in the heads of others.”

But of all Elizabeth wrote, this powerful passage is perhaps my favorite.

“When the white population falls below the 50% mark, the days of whites running interference for blacks will be over. And so will those special laws biased towards safeguarding perquisites for the “Disadvantaged,” which can be mighty expensive to enforce.

Again, what are the odds that those 18th century injunctions devised by those funny little men in britches and waistcoats will prevail, once the polyglot new Americans from Asia and Central and South America begin to flex their political muscle?

So many blacks and their white liberal gurus failed to appreciate those Anglo-originated laws based on “self-evident truths” and the consent of the governed, which were flexible enough to take under their protection the nation’s former slaves. Who will there be to ensure that jobs and scholarships and government contracts, and the surfeit of other entitlements, will be available for a people who have grown used to looking to others for slices from the economic pie, instead of baking their own share of it?

Once what’s left of constitutional law is gone, partly out of neglect, because the story of the Constitution and its creators will no longer be taught in the various Chinese-Indian-Latino-Arab colored school systems, a new corner will be turned. If blacks think they’ve been mistreated at the hands of whites, just wait until the affirmative action, set aside party is over—when there is no one to insist that they get undeserved perks, or have a “right” to intrude themselves into places where they are not wanted.

The new dominant ethnics come to this land with their own sob stories of oppression. Unlike whites, they are hardly likely to fall over one another to apologize for past wrongs. Nor are they likely to spend their time in Congress concocting new laws designed to discriminate against their own sons and daughters in favor of blacks.

Reparations,” did you say? Just wait until the first move is made to un-name and re-name some of those Martin Luther King, Jr. boulevards.”