In John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, a young black con man traduces his way into a white, rich, liberal family’s midst by posing as the college son of Sidney Poitier who has lost his credit card and wallet. The guilt-ridden rich folk put him up with the predictable results. The family is almost torn apart as the con man brings in a gay lover and robs them blind. The Broadway show was a success, as was the movie, starring Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing as the rich liberal couple, and Will Smith as the con man.
Just about that time, 20-some years ago, I was writing for a New York city weekly, as well as for the London Spectator and the British Sunday Times, the latter requiring close to 2,000 words per week, an unheard of load for someone who was also pursuing a busy social life in the Big Bagel. Four thousand words per week made Taki a very dull boy late at night. So I advertised for a researcher, the first and last time I ever did this, and you’ll soon see why.
No sooner had the ad appeared in the New York Observer, the liberal Bagel weekly to which I contributed a regular column, when a terribly polite voice over the telephone volunteered his services. I invited him to my house for lunch the next day. As it happened, my father-in-law, Prince Schoenburg, was also coming, the prince being straight out of central casting as a white, guilt-ridden liberal in view of the fact his family had once upon a time ruled over the land of Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. To my surprise, the researcher turned out to be a young black male of an incredibly gay posture and manner with half his ear missing, an injury I recognized from my martial-arts background to have been inflicted by violent means.
Oh, I almost forgot, the Guare play and movie were based on a true story, with names having been changed by the playwright to protect the well-meaning fools who had fallen for the con man. Except for that of Sidney Poitier, whose name the trickster had used in real and celluloid life. Once the lunch began I noticed that my prospective researcher drank wine even faster than yours truly, becoming thoroughly sloshed in no time. He also regaled my kind father-in-law with tales about tea plantations in Brazil that his family owned, although he couldn’t place them on the map, so to speak, nor did he seem to be aware that Brazil exports coffee. The prince listened patiently and politely while the con man blabbed on, until finally the latter passed out on a couch next to the dining room.
By this time the penny had dropped, and after letting the con man sleep it off, I ordered him out of the house, telling him I knew who he was and that I was no West Side rich liberal fool. He tried to ring me afterward, but when I threatened him with both violence and the police, he begged off for good. I later read that the poor guy had died of AIDS. His real name escapes me.
When the movie came out, I wrote about my experience with the con man in the New York Observer. The female editor at the time was a ghastly left-winger who had already made my life miserable at Esquire, where I used to be a regular columnist. She didn’t like the story, especially as I emphasized the black con man as opposed to the white liberal prince. She told me to tone it down, and I refused on the grounds that every word I had written was based on fact. The story ran, but not many of the paper’s readers were impressed by it. In their mind, black is good, and white is bad, and facts can go to hell.
Which brings me to the latest brouhaha, the decree of separation of the great John Derbyshire from National Review. All John did was to poke some fun and advise his half-white, half-Asian children to smile and keep on walking when encountering a large group of black people their age looking for trouble. As he wrote himself, the fact that he’s undergoing chemotherapy had nothing to do with it. Nor was it a suicide note. He did not mention that after so many years of special remedial treatment under law, so many blacks remain outside the bounds of middle-class society. He never referred to the fact that even many educated blacks seem increasingly remote, hostile, and at times paranoid. And not once did he ask how blacks could be included in American society if they insist on separating themselves from it. As John Vinson wrote in Chronicles,
When the left labels our honest comments and questions as hate, we might reply that truth-telling is hate to those who hate truth. When they denounce our free speech by calling it hate speech, we might reply that free speech is hate speech to those who hate freedom.
Hear, hear! The trouble is that it was NR, not some lefty rag, that got rid of a wonderful and courageous man, whose loss to NR is our gain, and that makes me very, very happy.