West Virginian Poverty and African Diversity

Mark Sadd writing an opinion column in the Charleston (WVa) Gazette-Mail opens with this quote from Evelyn Waugh:

“Ah, well,” wrote Evelyn Waugh, “to the journalist every country is rich.” And to the media, one can add, every West Virginian is poor. National and local reporting on West Virginia exudes poverty, as it has since the late 19th century. “Hard-scrabble existence” is a required term of reference….That West Virginians are poor is a truism. Reporting on them makes good copy. There is lots of color in describing privation and indigence, particularly of the hillbilly kind.

But explaining why they are poor is routinely botched. Reporters, taking cues from sheltered academics, accuse the outsiders and exonerate the people themselves who, let’s be real, often are the creators of their own torments or the authors of their own destruction. Yet, portraits in magazines and newspapers remain too simple ones of good versus evil, of the oppressed versus their oppressors. Both casual and experienced observers usually ignore the obvious, or perhaps not so obvious, obstacles to upward mobility in West Virginia: the natives.

The quote is from Scoop, subtitled “A Novel About Journalists”  and occurs on the voyage out of Marseilles to Africa. The French colonial administrator mistakes William Boot for a businessman looking for economic opportunities to be exploited and tells him not to waste his time in Ishmaelia. When he learns that William is working for a newspaper he makes the quoted reply (Penguin, 1983, p. 59).

In a story about African ethnic diversity, USA anti-immigration crusader Steve Sailer, writing in Taki’s Magazine, also opens his article with an extensive quote from Scoop (quoted language in bold type):

Anthropology has always been assumed to have political implications. For example, in Evelyn Waugh’s classic satire on press coverage of the 1930s Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Scoop, the rival Soviet-financed and German-financed Ishmaelite embassies offer competing conceptions of Africans.

The Communist consul espouses an Afrocentric out-of-Africa theory in which blacks are responsible for all of humanity’s accomplishments and thus deserve to take over the Earth.

“As the great negro Karl Marx has so nobly written…” He talked for about twenty minutes. The black-backed, pink-palmed, finlike hands beneath the violet cuffs flapped and slapped. “Who built the Pyramids?” he asked. “Who invented the circulation of the blood?… Africa for the African worker, Europe for the African worker, Asia, Oceania, America, Arctic and Antarctic for the African worker.”

In contrast, at the Fascist embassy:

The door of the suite was opened by a Negro clad in a white silk shirt, buckskin breeches and hunting boots, who clicked his spurs and gave William a Roman salute.

The pseudo-consul offers an in-to-Africa vindication of his supposed ancestors:

“For instance, the Jews of Geneva, subsidized by Russian gold, have spread the story that we are a black race…. As you will see for yourself, we are pure Aryans. In fact we were the first white colonizers of Central Africa. What Stanley and Livingstone did in the last century, our Ishmaelite ancestors did in the stone age. In the course of the years the tropical sun has given to some of us a healthy, in some cases almost a swarthy, tan. But all responsible anthropologists…”

Unlike in the time of Scoop, we are currently experiencing a revolution in our understanding of prehistory due to the sudden explosion in the ability to scan the genomes of ancient skeletons. Can our increasing ability to shed light upon these old disputes about Africans offer some insight into why Americans talk as if 100 percent black were the maximum—and optimum—in diversity?

These  quotes can be found in Scoop (Penguin, 1983, pp. 50-51). In his article, Sailer proceeds to ramble through various developments in the politics of diversity and scientific ethnic studies on the same topic, both old and new, and concludes: “All this mounting evidence implies that African-Americans indeed might be genetically more diverse than their many rivals in the diversity business.” There may be some subtle, ironic anti-immigration message embedded in this conclusion, but I’m afraid I missed it.

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