From the Weather Underground to the White House
Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn
Race Course: Against White Supremacy
New York: Random House, 2009
Is a revolutionary’s work ever done? Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn can rest easy: theirs is.
The aspiring black politician they hosted at their Hyde Park home, Barack Obama, is now the president of the United States. The anti-white invective that animated their terrorist acts in the 1960s is now the stuff of staid school board pronouncements, ad campaigns of Fortune 500 companies, and the musings of a Republican candidate for president. Their locked-in-the-tissues conviction that the very existence of white people is the primary explanation for human suffering is widely accepted.
Today, the wily Ayers and his wife sit pretty atop American society: he, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose traveling lectures find him hailed in the press as an “anti-war activist” rather than a terrorist, and who enjoys the fawning attention of the New York Times Magazine’s Deborah Solomon; she, an adjunct professor at Northwestern, one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation, and a former employee of white-shoe law firm Sidley Austin — despite apparently having never been admitted to the bar. (A hiring partner was friends with Bill Ayers’ father, Thomas Ayers, once a CEO of Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. Sidley Austin also employed Michelle Obama as an associate and Barack Obama as a summer associate.)
Bill Ayers, in fact, has been lavished with praise by none other than the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a 1998 edition of its magazine, Teaching Tolerance, he is described as a “civil rights organizer, radical anti-Vietnam War activist, teacher and author.” Ayers, the SPLC tells us, “has developed a rich vision of teaching that interweaves passion, responsibility and self-reflection.”
Talk about white privilege. Ayers and Dohrn — themselves white — committed a slew of criminal acts on the way to persuading most of America that whites are something worse than the devil, but escaped unharmed. Only the occasional pesky journalist from Fox News bothers them now, with Ayers responding by threatening to call the police (apparently the racist pigs are sometimes useful).
In their co-written memoir-cum-screed, Race Course: Against White Supremacy, they take a deep bow for their accomplishments, and lay out for all to see just how shallow a revolution can be.
Publisher “Haki R. Madhubuti” of the Third World Press (born Don Lee) tells readers in an introductory note that the book’s release was delayed until after the presidential election for strategic reasons. Would it have mattered? Obama fielded a question or two about Ayers, but as VDare.com’s Steve Sailer observes, the press astoundingly never bothered to read Obama’s own autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. There’s no reason to think the publication of this book would have invited much scrutiny from a press corps determined to see him elected.
In any event, the book reveals nothing scandalous by today’s standards. It’s peppered with aggressive quotes from Malcolm X (“. . . the white man. He’s an enemy to all of us. I know some of you think that some of them aren’t enemies. Time will tell.”) but describes the bombings of the Weather Underground as more of creative writing exercise for gifted suburban students than violent terrorism (“We fought back, we dreamed out loud.”) Should we laugh or cry?
Anyone hoping for some juicy details about a young Bill Ayers sweating out a bus ride through Chicago with a bomb under his jacket will be disappointed (Ayers wrote a previous book called Fugitive Days about his time on the run from the law, which was described by Slate writer Timothy Noah as “self-indulgent and morally clueless . . . Ayers periodically expresses mild regret for his crimes, in tones reminiscent of a middle-aged insurance executive who wishes he hadn’t gotten drunk quite so often at his college fraternity.”)
Ayers and Dohrn announce in the introduction to Race Course that their project is part memoir, part defense of their actions, and partly “to inflame the debate about white power and privilege . . . and to participate in a flash course about some of the ways in which every one of our current crises feeds on and intersects with racism.”
On this last front, they do not perform particularly well. They never go beyond the standard approach of declaring “white racism” responsible for America’s, and the world’s, ills, coupled with the usual statistics. One of the advantages of being the victor in a culture war is that you need not debate too vigorously. They’re compelled at one point to include a denial of race as biological reality: “The ‘science of race’ is by now a thoroughly discredited myth,” they say, and quote one Robert Pollack (described as a dissenting colleague of the “racist” James Watson) as saying that “the genes that regulate the amount of melanin beneath the skin are simply not expressed in the brain. . . . The social responses to race are real, race is not. . . . Race is a choice.” (Should someone have told Frank Ricci?)
How the anti-white left juxtaposes “race does not exist” with a belief that “racism” is the central explanation for human suffering has always puzzled me, though obviously, anti-whitism at its core isn’t conflicted on this point at all: there’s clearly a bad race, whites, and they must be eliminated. But presented with the exhilarating prospect of a burning a city to the ground, bombing the Pentagon or clandestine meetings with the Black Panthers, most would-be radical whites of the 1960s probably didn’t bother thinking that one all the way through. They just knew mommy and daddy would sure be shocked.
It’s interesting to consider where Ayers and Dohrn fall on this spectrum of awareness and sincerity (Dohrn, apparently, has a Jewish father and white gentile mother, and her birth name was “Ohrnstein.”) Ayers, meanwhile, tells readers that early on, as a “community organizer” in Cleveland, “whites didn’t feel in any way like ‘my own people.’” But not too interesting. Ayers and Dohrn basically come off as pot-addled airheads, leaning heavily on abstract cries of “freedom” and “liberation” and “justice” without much compelling narrative about life experiences that transformed their thinking or why they connived violence.
Ayers writes that after a short stint in jail for disrupting the draft board in Ann Arbor, he went to work for a school that “stood against racism and segregation, authoritarianism and cynicism, violence and war, irrelevance and fatalism and violence.” No word on whether any of the school’s children knew what “fatalism” was, or whether any of its graduates have managed to stamp out “irrelevance.”
Ayers and Dohrn are world-class name-droppers, sounding at times as if they’re trying to get the heads of a black congregation bobbing in approval of their radical white selves. But we never hear of their own interactions with these figures. As a memoir, they offer us only newsreel-style descriptions of Jesse Jackson speeches, riots, the Attica prison violence, and long lists of organization names like “The People’s Center for Renewal” or “Resistance in Action.” The scenes pass by, but Ayers and Dohrn aren’t in them. In a chapter titled “Born Into War,” for instance, they tell us that “We were both born into war, launched into life under the leaden shadow of Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, Dresden, Stalingrad, the Blitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Really? More than anyone else who happened to be living on the planet at the time?
Ayers celebrates himself throughout the book, but rarely details concrete accomplishments that would have advanced a left-wing agenda. What might be his manipulation skills in person come through in his writing: he sidesteps where he was likely influential (the violence) and centers himself when he was likely a mere an observer (dissolving white resistance). In the grand scheme of white dispossession, Ayers and Dohrn might well be near-irrelevant little brats who amused themselves with explosives while more serious anti-white figures did the actual heavy lifting. Those memoirs, if ever written honestly, might be more helpful to us.
Ayers alternates chapters (with near-parody titles like “Freedom Now!,” “Awake!,” and, no joke, “Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery”) with wife Dohrn, which in turn alternate with unsigned chapters where the voice is apparently a “we.” The result is disjointed and confusing. Given the bland tone of the book overall, though, it probably doesn’t make much difference whether it’s Ayers, Dohrn, or a mystical brain-meld of the two talking. At times, Ayers and Dohrn are simply too absurd to read without laughing out loud – how they decided to name their children, for instance.
But there are flashes of sincerity. The chapter on John Brown, the violent abolitionist, stood out as one in which Ayers and Dohrn come closest to justifying violence in the name of a cause. “We were fixed by John Browns’ revolutionary blood feud with slavery,” they write. “Self-defense was one thing, but carrying the war to the oppressor and those who sided with them (pro-slavers are fair game) seemed both unthinkable and inevitable. Brown refused to permit the physical risks of resistance, the suffering and dying, to rest solely on the Black community. We aspired to be like him.”
In a famous letter to the New York Times, coincidentally run on September 11, 2001, Ayers wrote “I don’t regret setting bombs. . . . I feel we didn’t do enough. . .” What else did he hope to accomplish? FBI informant Larry Grathwohl described Ayers and Dohrn as the true decision-makers of the Weather Underground. In a 1982 documentary titled No Place to Hide, he described one conversation in which Ayers contemplated the killing of 25 million “diehard capitalists” in a Communist takeover of the United States.
This, apparently, is how the adjective “unrepentant” came to be attached to Ayers’ name. I suppose any radical can appreciate the willingness to actually do physical acts to further a cause (if not the acts or the cause themselves), so Ayers and Dohrn deserve some credit for steering hard away from apologies.
But what comes around goes around, as they say. Perhaps without realizing it, Ayers and Dohrn played a part in creating an American society where whites are coming to feel equal and opposite revolutionary longings.
TOQ Online, August 1, 2009
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