Why Firing John Derbyshire Serves Racism

If you’re a frequent traveler in the blogosphere, you’ve probably read about the National Review’s canning of John Derbyshire, a frequent opinion writer in that conservative rag. The firing was over an article describing the racist advice he gives his white children.

I won’t get into all the gory details as you can see Derbyshire’s rant for yourself, but the low-lights include warnings against going into Black neighborhoods, and claiming that the mean (as in medium) intelligence of Black people is much lower than for whites.

This one time I will go against my own advice and say it is good anti-racist practice to be self-righteous and call him an a**hole for that b.s.

The National Review went one better and canned him. Editor Rich Lowry released a statement that described Derbyshire as “a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer” before distancing the National Review from this so-called “deeply literate, funny” man’s racist ranting.

So, the a**hole had his say and the publication fired him. Should be good and done, right?

Well, no, because the National Review firing Derbyshire for overt racism casts light on one of the big challenges confounding racial justice advocates. That is the strategy of reducing racism to individual racist prejudice in order to make efforts to promote much more potent and damaging institutional racism appear like something other than racism.

Here’s the breakdown. The National Review was founded in 1955 as the main communications organ of the New Right. It was intended to marginalize the old, isolationist right and make way for a new, more effective conservatism – you know, the kind that has taken hold of our Congress right now?

They started out being pretty upfront in their racism, with founder William F. Buckley, Jr., basically coming out in 1957 and saying that even in places where Black people out-numbered white people, white supremacy should trump democracy because the more “advanced” race needs to be in charge.

The Review was also a mouth piece for Barry Goldwater whose presidential campaign became the template for the racist Southern Strategy to rebuild the GOP by rolling back civil rights. In the name of this strategy, the New Right eventually moved away, at least publicly, from overt racism, with the National Review in the lead.

But by the ’70s, they were attacking Affirmative Action with a two-fer strategy of using coded racism (like referring to Affirmative Action as “reverse discrimination,” and suggesting that its beneficiaries were less qualified than whites) to appeal to white resentment, while also fronting a love-sees-no-color politic that made those defending Affirmative Action look like anti-white racists supporting pro-people of color racial preference programs.

When a publication like National Review, one of the architects of this New Right Wing strategy, fires a racist writer for over-sharing, they’re just playing us. They claim outrage at the words, while promoting the sentiment behind them through the public policies they support. Public policies like William Buckley, Jr. was talking about in ’57 when arguing against voting rights for Black people.  Only now, they don’t come out and say they are keeping people of color in their place. They claim they are trying to prevent voter fraud by requiring photo I.D.

Avatar photo

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.