In his new book Taboo, does Wilfred Reilly stand up for facts which can’t be spoken, or is he just repeating the same old conservative talking points?
We all know formidable social commentators either side of the political aisle. While I must sadly admit that many such commentators clearly have smarts, knowledge and rhetorical skills that dwarf my own, I generally don’t have a lot of trouble predicting what most of them will say on any given topic; the schemas they operate within are all too apparent. In light of this, I’ve always been more attracted to pundits who are slightly harder to pigeon-hole. Such individuals may be atheists who bemoan atheism (like John Gray) or Christians who dislike creationism (like Kenneth Miller) or conservatives who fight for gay rights (like Andrew Sullivan) or Republicans advocating for vegetarianism (such as Matthew Scully). To acknowledge the inherent curiosity of such thinkers’ stances is not to say one will agree with them on any issue, it’s just refreshing to sense people thinking for themselves.
Which leads us to Wilfred Reilly. Though further right in most his views than myself, I have generally enjoyed his media commentary as it seems to have some of that quality I mention above. Reilly is a cisgender heterosexual guy of mixed heritage, who, like Rachel Dolezal, identifies as black. He is pro-gun, pro-American, pro-capitalism but also anti-alt right, pro-diversity, non-religious and (I suspect) doesn’t think that destroying a fetus in the early stages of its development is tantamount to genocide. He also rejects the view that racial gaps in IQs or SATs are primarily a function of genetics and even describes his teaching post at the historically black Kentucky State University as very pleasant despite his conservative leanings.
For those who insist on a pigeon hole, Reilly might be described sympathetically as ‘heterodox’ or by his critics as ‘Intellectually Dark Web adjacent.’ For those familiar with the full spectrum of African American punditry, he probably -if moving in a rightward direction- comes after economist Glenn Loury but before talk show host Larry Elder, proudly nestled in-between Thomas Sowell’s left and right leg.
His latest book Taboo: 10 Facts (you can’t talk about), brings to the fore ideas briefly touched on his previous book Hate Crime Hoax. Hate Crime Hoax examined a mixture of case studies and hard data to reveal that while hate crime is by all means a problem somewhere in the region of 15 to 40 percent of reported cases turn out to be fabrications. His latest book, Taboo, explores the cultural milieu that has created an environment where hate crime hoaxes are readily peddled – and believed. Taboo serves as running commentary on the exhausting cultural wars that have engulfed American politics and sidelined the class politics of yesteryear.
The book appears to take a cue from John McWhorter’s 2000 best seller Losing the Race. As a prelude to his examination of educational underachievement of black Americans, McWhorter included a section which detailed seven articles of faith in black America. These articles of faith ranged from the view that most blacks are poor, to the view that crack was funneled into the ghetto by the CIA. He claimed such false beliefs served as the foundation of the mindset he described as ‘victimology,’ – a mindset of casting oneself as victim disproportionately to the reality of one’s actual experience. McWhorter also claimed someone infected with victimology adopts victim status not as a problem to be solved but as an identity to be worn.
Reilly’s book adopts a similar approach but replaces false beliefs with true beliefs that if expressed come at a social cost, although very much updated to the concerns of 2020. The ten taboos examined in this book – though paraphrased by me – are as follows:
#1: There is no epidemic of police shootings of innocent black men
#2: Blacks are not at significant risk of interracial crime
#3: Different groups do perform differently across a range of metrics
#4: Performance – not “prejudice” – mostly predicts success
#5: We cannot blame the legacy of racism for current ills in the black community
#6: Black people can be racist
#7 White privilege is a useless concept
#8 Cultural appropriation is horsesh*t
#9 Restricting immigration isn’t racist
The final taboo is a strange inclusion, as it doesn’t seem a taboo:
#10 The alt-right is wrong
While I cannot comment on all of these listed taboos, one of the basic methods employed by Reilly is to simply look at the data, not what is presented to you via mainstream media or your own social media bubble. For instance, when one adjusts for the level of violent crime in a community – which is an obvious predictor of police interactions and thus an obvious predicator of police shootings – then any racial discrepancy in the number of individuals shot by the police melts away. Moving from the police to the public, Reilly asks whether the available data suggest a ‘war on black people’ – are they disproportionately victims of interracial crime? Reilly concludes, no: whites – as one would expect given their larger number and their greater wealth – are more likely to be the victims of interracial crime than blacks.
Interestingly, reading this section an observation came to mind: sure, interracial violence can be used as an indicator of poor race relations, but an increase in interracial crime can also be taken as an indicator of improving race relations. This is because white-on-black crime or vice versa is an obvious biproduct of a more integrated society: the more we live together, work together, love together, the much greater the risk that we will also fight together. As such, it may be argued that a low amount of interracial crime in America is actually symptomatic of Americas failure to integrate different racial communities.
At any rate, for those whose blood boils reading through Reilly’s inventory of taboos then I suspect you need to read the book and engage with the arguments on their own merits. Reilly’s challenge to the social justice consensus is fortunately done in a fun and accessible way. I do feel the book should really be called Taboo: 10 things about race you’re not allowed to say as this is primarily a book about racial taboos. The title gives the impression that other ‘unspeakables’ are tackled in this work, such as perhaps overrepresentation of Muslims in acts of terrorism or that pedophilia could be classed as a sexual preference.
Finally, one area of push-back that Reilly is likely to encounter is that it will be argued his 10 taboo facts are not actually taboos. It will be said, quite fairly, that right-wingers talk about such topics all the time. It will also be said that Reilly himself is saying them and probably stands to make some cash from doing so. However, in his defense, they are certainly taboo things to say on the social justice left – a social justice left whose influence over the mainstream is considerable. However, the main point may be that Reilly describes his 10 taboo beliefs not as beliefs but as ‘facts.’ While some of them seem more like opinions to me, if they are facts, they should be as easily aired on the left as on the right. But as it happens a tremendous amount of social pressure exists to deny these so-called facts – not based on dispassionate examination of data but on grounds that people will be offended. This pressure exerts itself not only in leftist spaces but simply in most polite multiracial circles, particularly, I would add, if you are white. That then is where the ‘taboo,’ that gives this book its title, resides: in that crumpled feeling in your stomach when you want to point something out contrary to a prevailing victim narrative but will be met with righteous indignation and imputation of the most bigoted motives if you so much as dare.