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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Sunday, June 30, 2002
2:20 PM

Race Matters... Courtland Milloy reassesses the way he praised Skylar Byrd, a successful young black woman. Milloy:

She was Exhibit A in my case against the "The Bell Curve," the 1994 book that suggested black people were innately inferior to whites.

Skylar Byrd, an 11th-grader at Banneker High School in Washington, had just earned a perfect score on the PSAT verbals, and I wanted to rub that fact into the faces of those who would subscribe to such silly "Bell Curve" notions.

Although well intentioned, I later came to see that by showcasing Byrd's intellect as determined by a test score, I had inadvertently bought into the book's specious claim that "intelligence" could actually be measured, which was the basis for the rest of the book's racist assumptions.

That's really going to mess things up, considering the Supreme Court has just ruled that the mentally retarded cannot be executed.

Milloy's point today is that the Byrd family's strong emphasis on education should get most of the credit for her success (that and her own hard work). He also notes some other features of young Byrd's upbringing:

"My intention was to have a daughter who could compete on the same playing field without people saying that she got special consideration because she was black," said her mother, Rita Byrd, a contracts consultant for IBM. "I don't have a problem with affirmative action, per se. But I just got tired of people sounding so apologetic about why we still needed it. I wanted to make sure Skylar succeeded whether America became a colorblind society or not."...Skylar began her formal education at the Roots Academy in Northwest Washington, a private school that features an Afro-centric approach to learning. To hear her mother tell it, the choice was inspired by a desire for Skylar to have a strong sense of identity and a feeling of belonging.

A lot of junk is taught in some "Afro-centric" schooling, but I don't know anything about that school and evidently it hasn't held Byrd back.

"We were being bombarded with negative images of black people -- on television, in the movies, in newspapers and magazines," Rita Byrd recalled. "During Skylar's formative years, I wanted her in an environment where black children could look at one another and know they were all good people. I never wanted to hear Skylar say, 'I don't want to be black.' " Skylar was 11 years old, her mother recalled, before she realized that the United States was not predominately African American...


"If you look at mainstream culture," Skylar said, "a black person can start to get the idea that being white is the normal state of things, and start to think, subconsciously, 'If I'm not white, I must be abnormal.' I certainly didn't want to harbor such thoughts."

There was a recent exchange at on whether low sales of magazines with black people on the cover proves there is widespread racism. (One letter writer notes that publications fly off the rack when Oprah is on them). My quick take is that there are racist blacks and racist whites. But I also believe that as long as large numbers of black Americans focus on the singular nature of their blackness, that kind of thing will continue. The grand social integration project launched in the 1960's stalled a long time ago, and particularly in liberal and leftist circles multiculturalism is the rage. If you emphasize how different you are--Kwaanza comes to mind--you shouldn't be shocked if others conform to the cultural division you insist exists.

Anyone who wants to revisit The Bell Curve can check out this pro-and-con

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