Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cultivating Grievances

Be it known: James Taranto has issued a diktat on racism; the matter is now settled, and any future complaints about this ineluctable fact of American life will invite his displeasure:

It's hard to make people feel guilty when they personally have done nothing wrong. It's hard to argue that racial disparities are the product of extant racism when there is no direct evidence that such racism is anything but extremely rare, and when public policy actually favors blacks over whites.
If it were truly difficult to make people feel guilty when they'd done nothing wrong, the Republican Party would've withered on the vine decades ago, to say nothing of organized religion.

Walter Benjamin once remarked that "only ignorant idealism can believe that sensual desire, of whatever sort, could designate the theological concept of sin." Needless to say, this country has plenty of ignorant idealists, and plenty of vicious cynics who'll exploit them for personal and political gain.

But never mind about that. It takes appallingly literal sangfroid to claim - not just in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but as an implicitly considered response to it - that "public policy favors blacks over whites." I often hear about how idyllic things are for blacks in this country, what with that red carpet that's rolled out for them wherever they go. But how many of the "oppressed" white people who echo Taranto's claims would trade places with black Americans, in order to get on this fast track to Easy Street? Not many, I imagine. (No doubt they enjoy the unique challenges that come with being white; bravely facing down these hardships makes success all the sweeter.)

Taranto claims that racism is "extremely rare." That hasn't been my experience, as I'll explain if you'll bear with me for a moment.

In the mid-seventies, when I was about eleven years old, I happened to spend a few days in a suburb near Norfolk, Virginia. It was a hot weekend, and I was invited to go swimming at a local pool.

The pool was huge, and looked fairly new. It was surrounded by a hurricane fence that, while probably not as imposing as it seems in my memory, was certainly more than six feet tall. I hadn't been splashing around for very long when I noticed that roughly a dozen black children of my own age were hanging onto the fence, staring grimly at us through the holes.

I asked one of the kids I'd come with why these children weren't allowed in. He told me that the pool was exclusively for members. "Are there any black members?" I asked.

"No."

"Why not?"

"They've got their own pools they can go to."

I let this non sequitur stand in place of an explanation, but the conversation disturbed me. Was it really possible that in 1970s Virginia, de facto segregation still existed? Was I dreaming? Hadn't everyone seen Roots?

As I found out soon enough, things weren't really any better where I lived. At the public high school I attended, the racism was literally out of control. There were incidents involving Ku Klux Klan costumes, racial epithets were spraypainted across lockers, and interracial fistfights were common. Even among people I considered friends there was frequent, casual talk about "niggers." It shocked me at first, but I adjusted, somewhat. My friends were quick to point out that they didn't hate black people...they just didn't like "niggers." Being confused, and sheltered, and as cowardly as only teenaged white boys can be, I let that explanation stand, too.

Fortunately, I soon transferred to a small urban school whose students came from all over the world. Interracial friendships and dating were common, and racial violence was unheard of, on campus at least. It all seemed very utopian, initially.

But it wasn't, really. Certain cliques were actively racist, and spoke of blacks as a form of urban vermin, like rats or cockroaches; there were "hilarious" discussions about the feasibility of "nigger traps," baited with malt liquor and sneakers. I gravitated towards the punk scene, and found that the desire to cast off convention led some people to make reactionary racialist pronouncements. Later, a few of these kids even got involved with white supremacist groups. But it was more common for them simply to profess weariness with liberal orthodoxy and its various hypocrisies, and to play around with forbidden words and concepts.

I understood this stance, and even agreed with it to some extent. There's a difference, though, between having contempt for hypocritical pieties and shrugging off or excusing racism, and I'm afraid that many people - including myself - didn't always observe that difference. In any event, that subculture - and similar ones - have always involved an anti-egalitarian temptation, and for far too many people racialist notions were a logical extension of underground elitism.

The years went on, and I found that if you got enough alcohol into certain "respectable" people, they'd confide that they had some...you know...problems with Jews or blacks (homosexuals, of course, were fair game in all seasons). I attended business dinners with wealthy white men who were more than willing to make racial slurs after a few rounds of martinis. This, I'm certain, was not merely an expression of animus - though it was surely that - but a way of assuring one another of their bona fides. In some horrible way, it was a demonstration of "good business sense," much like attacking unions or universal heathcare.

Anyway, what I learned from all this was the not very startling fact that white racism exists in every class and subculture. Without making any real effort, I found it among the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the educated and the uneducated, the bourgeoisie and the bohemians. I don't subscribe to the notion that every white person is inevitably and inherently racist - though I don't think it's an outrageous claim, by any means - but I do believe that every black person in this country experiences the effects of racism, and is accordingly entitled to the deepest possible feelings of suspicion, resentment, despair, and rage.

In practice, though, their own emotions are the last thing American blacks are entitled to; whites decide which of their emotions are valid, and which aren't. Black anger and desperation are "senseless," we're told, driven by irrational urges that increase in luridness with the white observer's own level of hostility and fear. Soon enough, failure to use deadly force against black "looters" is occasion for complaint among our nation's really serious people. "Look what animals those people are! And after all we've done for them!"

Did you know that there are neo-confederates who actually whine about the word "indivisible" in the Pledge of Allegiance? It diminishes them, you see. It dishonors their ancestors by implying that the Confederate cause was meaningless (just imagine the scalding tears of self-pity welling up in their little pig eyes at that thought). There's no question of "getting over" a slight against one's long-dead ancestors; the eternal verities of Blood and Soil can only be belittled or denied at the expense of one's soul.

Unless you're black, in which case you need to grow up and quit whining, already. As Taranto says:
Black leaders would be well advised to spend less energy cultivating grievances and more cultivating an understanding of their fellow Americans. That is the path to integration.
Indeed. Pull your filthy guts off my knife, lazybones, and get busy cleaning up that puddle of blood.

"Understanding"? A persistent and justifiable distrust of white claims, white intentions, and white institutions - passed from generation to generation, and reconfirmed as valid in each by ongoing experiences of racial bias - is the best result one could expect from the mental and physical violence inflicted on minorities in this country. Though I'm no mind reader, I suspect that blacks understand "their fellow Americans" all too well.

To talk about the "interests" of whites sounds daft to most people; suggest, critically, that such interests do exist, and are pursued avidly, and you're a race-baiting zealot. Speak approvingly of them, and you're a racist of the worst sort (i.e., an indiscreet one). But act on them without thinking, as casually as you breathe God's good air, and you may rejoice in your perfect normality. The pursuit of white interests is, to most white people, as invisible as the nitrogen cycle, an essential natural process with which racism's subtle advocates are eager to conflate it. There are no white interests; there is no white agenda. There are simply a number of objective "civilized" values that comprise a standard against which various moral claims can be weighed, and they just happen to confirm what everyone who matters already knew.

Thus, which feelings about racism are permissible - and which reactions to oppression are "normal" - is for white folks to decide; expressing grievances has been ruled unacceptable by the very people to whom the grievances are addressed. Blacks will have a legitimate gripe only when Taranto - or some equally well qualified arbiter of racial injustice - says they do. What noble impartiality! What admirable objectivity!

Grief, of course, isn't suitable for discussion. Grief has its own pathology, but to dwell on it would be too uncomfortable and too humanizing. Instead, blacks are said to be "cultivating grievances" (presumably in some form of hothouse, since our honest American soil would never allow such unnatural weeds to thrive).

One of the worst of all injustices is the attempt to convince people - through the abuse of whatever power one happens to have - that what they see and feel and know is mere delusion. I imagine that it would be easier, in some ways, to live under a system of formal apartheid than to be subject to virulent racism while being told that it's all in one's head...or worse, that it's simply a manipulative, made-up excuse for one's own laziness or ineptitude.

Having ascertained that white racism exists primarily in the minds of shiftless blacks, Taranto's free to concentrate on the far more serious pathology of "white guilt." Here, at least, he sees hope for the future. In two generations, Taranto claims, no whites will have personal memories of segregation; white guilt will then die out naturally. At this point, presumably, there'll be no more humoring blacks about the existence of racism; denying them jobs, loans, and education will be nothing more than a logical response to their history of failure. It's a bit like the old water test for witches, except here, the guilty are those who drown when their heads are held under water.

14 comments:

Eli said...

Well. That certainly gave me the heebie-jeebies - I think I may need a shower.

This is the Republican blind spot - they look at the policies that are in place to protect minorities and the poor, and "special privileges" are *all* they see, like with the wingnut (whose name escapes me) who referred to those so poor they didn't have to pay taxes as "lucky duckies".

Yes, it *is* true that there are some ways in which a pinky is on the scale in favor of minorities, but it's only there in a half-assed attempt to counterbalance the meaty fist that's pressing down on the other side. Black disadvantages, institutional and otherwise, far outweigh any preferential treatment they receive, like those sweet digs in the Astrodome, for example.

Anonymous said...

finally...somebody just said it.

monkeygrinder said...

Eli -- I understand the point you are making, but this isn't just about the republicans.

Most white people in America (I am intentionally making a blanket statement here) are at minimum passively racist.

At the same time, most white people, (when not drunk etc.) will, in any public forum, carefully state that that they are not racist, and point out that they never see racism, gosh darn it.

Of course, racism in America never affects white culture, so it is very natural for most white people to not have a gut sense for it.

When a white family moves into a neighborhood, property values don't go down. Yay -- racism is dead!

Great post, Phila. Your eloquence is unsurpassed.

Engineer-Poet said...

The flip side of this is that some people claim racism whenever someone of the wrong skin tone (i.e. not Bill Cosby) talks about:

- A culture which devalues education.
- People who think nothing of having children without making a family structure to raise them.
- The general devaluation of majority culture as "the other" and throwing out its virtues as well as its vices (baby with bathwater).

Now, it's entirely legit to take someone to task for their personal failings or defective world view.  The problem is that some people take a whole bunch of dysfunctional stuff and want it granted immunity as part of "black culture" which is somehow genetically ingrained in everyone of African descent (a very racist notion)... and the consequence is that everyone else has to wonder if any particular AA has subscribed to any of those excuses for bad behavior.

The problem is that we aren't allowed to talk about the behavior without being branded racists by the Politically Correct; the consequence is that the idea of racism as a personal fault is being discredited, and real racism grows in the shadows.

Sunlight is needed as disinfectant on BOTH sides, no matter how little the people in power want light to shine on things.

albion said...

Damn - and I mean damn - fine post.

monkeygrinder said...

E-P:

It is fair -- and true to say -- that white people are scared to discuss black issues, for fear of being called a racist.

All of your examples of a healthy culture are probably things that the black middle class shares with you, generally speaking, music videos notwithstanding.

Now, if you say "(don't be) a culture which devalues education." to a poor black family, realize that in judging them, you are ignoring some typically white, middle class priviledges:

black children from a poor environment

- don't have adequate nutrition to focus in school.

- access to health care depends on the American State they live in.

- access to good schools depends on the neighborhood they live in. In America, this is the tax base, and it reflects on the quality of the education.

Class issues like these enforce racism in America. It is not enough to speak truth unto power.

That is another reason why white people may not like to talk about race -- the idea that there are structural class differences in America flies in the face of the so-called class-less American dream.

And I haven't even discussed overt racism, which Phila covered in his post.

Phila said...

E-P,

Briefly...

A culture which devalues education.

Existing within a culture that devalues the education of that culture (cf. Jensen on Head Start, 1969), as well as education in general. There's something of a chicken-and-egg question here. Beyond that, you have the ability to see education as an abstract ideal that's more or less context-independent. Black families don't necessarily have that luxury.

People who think nothing of having children without making a family structure to raise them.

In the first place, there are plenty of white people having kids without a "family structure" to raise them; it's an issue of class as much as race. In the second place, there's more to raising healthy kids than the mere presence of two adults. I'd argue that white people in this country are doing a miserable job of raising and educating their children, and that the resulting pathology is at least as pernicious as anything that's happening on the black side of the equation.

The general devaluation of majority culture as "the other" and throwing out its virtues as well as its vices (baby with bathwater).

I agree...you shouldn't throw virtues out with vices. But again, it's a chicken-and-egg debate. Who's really the "other" here, ultimately? The reason racial oppression is destructive - or one of the reasons - is because it causes serious functional and adaptive problems for the people subjected to it...that's simply a fact. To whine about the completely predictable persistence of those problems is, again, to decide for oneself the timetable and means by which people should "get over" injustice. This is a trifle imperious, in my view, especially given that the injustice is ongoing.

The problem is that we aren't allowed to talk about the behavior without being branded racists by the Politically Correct

I've been hearing this line of talk for decades, and it doesn't impress me much. It's quite true that "political correctness" can be silly, hypocritical, and even oppressive; I said as much in my post.

But that doesn't mean that every faux-objective, blinkered dissection of "black pathology" is entitled to a respectful hearing. There's a tendency - particularly on the libertarian side of the debate - to blame "political correctness" for the rejection of arguments that are, in reality, based on shoddy reasoning, received wisdom, dubious statistics, wishful thinking, and willful ignorance.

I'll be addressing issues having to do with effort optimism soon enough, so I'll break this off for now.

Anonymous said...

MG & Phila -- thank you. As a white male, it is very unusual to find this level of quality debate about racism in America. It is a great service to my own sense of reality to find it happening so thoroughly and thoughtfully, here. I can only hope to find a way to speak so candidly myself.

Kate said...

E-P, it is racist to make the blanket statement that black culture 'devalues education,' and it's dishonest. Considering that overall Americans score in the lower 10th percentile in math and science worldwide (while thinking they are in the top 10th) shows that our entire larger culture (of which every black person is a part of, just like you) devalues education to a certain extent. Many black people value education, even when their communities do not value their education and offer them only sub-par segregated schools (as was the case in New Orleans -- I taught at the community college and the public university there up until last December, and frankly I'd never seen such segregation and racism in action as in that city's education system and I'm from Chicago).

Yes, it is also about class. It happens to be, though, that in New Orleans and most other urban centers the class divisions are also racial divisions. Which one came first? It's not too easy to figure out that one, given that it's been less than fifty years since the voting rights and civil rights acts were passed.

I won't even address the idea that black people have it better than white people in our country. I just can't believe there are thinking people who are so divorced from reality.

It is flatly foolish to think that there are no remnants of our nation's horrific racist past today. It wasn't that long ago that white Louisianans picnicked beneath the hanging corpses of lynched black men, or white Mississippians harrassed and sometimes murdered civil rights workers, black and white, who thought black people were equal to white people. This heritage is alive and well today and it affects both the white and black communities (and our shared community, the dominant one you seem to think black people are separate from).

To say that the compounded disaster in New Orleans had nothing to do with race is naive. Every aspect of it had to do with race, from the evacuation plans that were for people with resources while 40% of the city lived below the poverty level (and 70% of the city's residents were black), to the sorry, pathetic response of our federal government. Some commentators have argued that it can't be about race because Mayor Ray Nagin is black, giving no thought at all to the fact that New Orleans has a long history of white and creole rule, the "talented tenth" of the African-American community most recently in charge. There are skin tone racisms too, brought down from the days of blood quantums and mulatto differentiations. This is no better expressed than in the casta paintings of Mexico, direct expressions of the racial delineations that came from the slave trade as it made its way from West Africa to the Caribbean to Veracruz to New Orleans.

As for "politically correct," the reality is that it is politically correct today to argue against multi-culturalism, to say that there is "no racism" while simultaneously enacting racist policies. Since the entire government is run by the radical right, there is no way to argue that what was "politically correct" in 1990 is still today. The opposite is true, in fact, which is why nearly everyone with a public voice (and who happen to be white, right?) is denying that race has played a part in the Katrina disaster just as many in the black community are making it clear that they know it has. I always hated that "politically correct" argument because it seemed simplistic and reactionary, but now I find it pathetic and insulting given that we have a bunch of fundamentalists in charge who shroud their classist and racist policies in euphemistic language and blanket denials. Today it is "politically correct" to value corporate interests over human ones, to dismiss those with less than you as meaningless leeches and therefore undeserving of basic human dignity.

Phila, I'm glad you posted this. I think it's important, especially during our time of "creating reality" when so many in our country deny what is right in front of us.

Cervantes said...

Eloquent as usual Mr. Lethes.

One field where we have a ton of data to prove that racial discrimination continues in the U.S. of A. is in health care. The ubiquity of disparities in care has been extensively documented, including the famous Institute of Medicine review ('Unequal Treatment); and the annual reports mandated by Congress from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. For example, African Americans enrolled in an HMO were found to be less likely than white patients to receive appropriate medications. They're all in the same HMO, they have the exact same insurance. The alphafetoprotein (AFP) test is a screening test using maternal blood, usually between 15-17 weeks gestation, to help find babies who suffer from neural tube defects (NTD) or Down Syndrome. Use of this test is an indicator of good prenatal care in the first trimester. Gavin found that of Medicaid recipients in 3 states, pregnant women of color were substantially less like to have received this test than were white, non-Hispanic women. Again, same insurance, same access, different treatment. And please don't try to tell me that African Americans don't want the right medications, or the right prenatal care. Doctors treat them differently -- the best educated, upper class, progressive, enlightened white folks around. They don't think they're racist, they abhor racism, but they don't give the best care to black people.

You could look it up.

Phila said...

Thanks for the excellent comments, everyone!

Especially you, Kate...that was beautifully said. And your discussion of the shift in "political correctness" is very valuable...it's something I'll be thinking about a lot, I have a feeling.

Engineer-Poet said...

Cervantes said:

"The alphafetoprotein (AFP) test is a screening test using maternal blood, usually between 15-17 weeks gestation, to help find babies who suffer from neural tube defects (NTD) or Down Syndrome. Use of this test is an indicator of good prenatal care in the first trimester. Gavin found that of Medicaid recipients in 3 states, pregnant women of color were substantially less like to have received this test than were white, non-Hispanic women. Again, same insurance, same access, different treatment."

Down's syndrome is strongly correlated with maternal age.  Non-hispanic white women tend to have their children older than the others, and so would be at higher risk for a Down's child.  In addition, there is no treatment for NTD's except abortion.  If the mother is not willing to consider abortion, what is the reason for doing an AFP test?

Unless the examples were matched for age and personal preferences, a difference in test rates means that the doctors were doing what was medically appropriate.

monkeygrinder says:

"black children from a poor environment

- don't have adequate nutrition to focus in school.

- access to health care depends on the American State they live in.

- access to good schools depends on the neighborhood they live in. In America, this is the tax base, and it reflects on the quality of the education.
"

You're making racist distinctions.

1.  There are more poor whites than poor blacks in the USA, yet you're concentrating on problems of blacks (racial as opposed to socioeconomic distinction).  Why?
1a.    Are poor whites not susceptible, or as susceptible, to these pathologies?
1b.    If not, why not?  Why can't we expect blacks to use the same coping strategies?
1c.    If so, why are you ignoring people just because they're white?

2.  If poor black children don't have adequate nutrition (despite WIC, free lunches, and every other program designed to help) why not?
2a.    Again, is this a problem particular to poor blacks or all the poor?
2b.    If it's particular to blacks, what's the difference?  Are poor black parents making poor choices that the rest of the poor do not?
2c.    If it's not particular to blacks, why are you ignoring people just because they're white?

3.  Health-care institutions don't discriminate by skin color.  They can't.  (Communication with patients may suffer and cause differences in treatment, but I've seen nothing to rule out language/cultural differences as the sole cause of that.)

4.  Schools are what the parents and students make of them.  Money has little to do with quality of schools (if you look at a scatter plot of test scores vs. per-pupil spending you'll find some amazingly poor performance at the high-spending end and a number of high performers at the low-spending end).  There have been a bunch of examples of schools full of children qualified for free lunches (poor) in minority areas where management was able to produce stellar increases in achievement (here's something about Downtown College Prep, and a note about a KIPP school.).  The failure to attempt to reproduce their results nationwide is one of the biggest errors of the education establishment... which appears more concerned with "constructivist" teaching methods and other drivel.  Oh, and it leans strongly to the political left.

The success of some schools in producing high achievement with the (poor, minority) student body they've got shows that money isn't the key factor.  It may not even be a significant factor.  The crucial difference appears to be what the students feel is expected of them and expect of themselves:  the culture of the school.  If they come to school holding conflicting values or absorb them in the school itself, they're unlikely to get anywhere.

I know only too damn well how anti-intellectual general American culture is; I encountered a great deal of it myself, in a high-achieving school mere blocks from one of the top research universities in the nation, in a neighborhood full of professionals and professors.  But it takes something extra to accuse peers who aren't failing of "acting white".  That's racism... by the supposed victims.

That's a cultural value held by too many, and they're going to have to ditch it themselves.  Nobody can do it for them.  And while they're at it, they could adopt some of the values and strategies which will practically eliminate their odds of being poor:

1.  Graduate from high school.  (A GED is not equivalent.)
2.  Get married before having children.
3.  Have no more than two children.
4.  Work full time.

Of these 4 factors, only employment is at all extrinsic.  The black dropout rate, black illegitimacy rate (68.8% in 1999 vs. 26.7% for non-Hispanic whites), birth rate and unemployment rate show how much the culture has to change.  (The same probably needs to happen in some white subcultures as well, but the problem either is not as big or gets a lot less news coverage.)

Nobody can change another person's cultural affiliation.  Feeding the victim mentality with sympathy over self-inflicted wounds sends the message that it's someone else's responsibility to fix things; if this message is internalized, it will defeat efforts to change them.

Phila writes:

"Beyond that, you have the ability to see education as an abstract ideal that's more or less context-independent."

As opposed to seeing education as a way to qualify for jobs that will keep me sheltered, fed and in goodies?  Anybody should be able to see that; if they can't or won't, there isn't much that anyone else can do for them... or should be expected to.

"In the first place, there are plenty of white people having kids without a "family structure" to raise them; it's an issue of class as much as race."

Exactly.  It is an issue of class, specifically culture.  The parents of 73.3% of white children have those values; only the parents of 31.2% of black children do.  Not that 26.7% failures is a good thing; it's still a problem to be addressed.

"The reason racial oppression is destructive - or one of the reasons - is because it causes serious functional and adaptive problems for the people subjected to it...that's simply a fact."

Defending dysfunctional behaviors (one's own or others') as "cultural values" isn't oppression, it's an excuse.  An excuse that has no logical defense, an excuse that we cannot afford, an excuse that ought to be attacked without apology whenever it is put forward.  Especially when some race-baiter attempts to use it as cause for the status quo to continue no matter what else is done.

If there's anything that educational psychology has to teach us, it's that "feel good" programs are destructive.  The only way that people learn anything is by working at it, and the only way that people feel good about themselves is by accomplishing things.

Know the easiest and most immediate thing we could do to help these folks find jobs and start feeling good about themselves?  Deport all the illegal aliens who've been driving down the wages for unskilled labor and cutting the rungs off the bottom of the economic ladder.

"To whine about the completely predictable persistence of those problems is, again, to decide for oneself the timetable and means by which people should "get over" injustice. This is a trifle imperious, in my view, especially given that the injustice is ongoing."

It's been forty years since the Great Society.  People have been predicting the ways that it would fail almost from its beginning; calling for the end of those things which perpetuate the problem isn't whining, it's a long-overdue dose of sanity.

It would be easier to take accusations of racism seriously (as opposed to despicable attempts to deflect blame away from the accuser's own misdeeds) if it wasn't for hundreds of examples like Ernest Newton.

And Kate says:

"it is racist to make the blanket statement that black culture 'devalues education,' and it's dishonest."

Unlike your straw-man, I did not make a blanket statement (my exact words are here, you might want to re-read them).  There are many confirmed examples of people saying that it is part of "black culture", so the phenomenon certainly exists.  Accusations of racism against people who say that this is part of the problem are also fact.

You just provided another.  You are excusing (indeed, indulging in) the race-baiting behavior, which makes you part of the problem.

What message do you send if you allow people who say that academic achievement is "not black" to go unchallenged?  The statistics show the results.

"Considering that overall Americans score in the lower 10th percentile in math and science worldwide (while thinking they are in the top 10th) shows that our entire larger culture (of which every black person is a part of, just like you) devalues education to a certain extent."

Tell me something I don't know.  The level of ignorance I see (mostly mediated by journalists, but still) has appalled me for at least sixty percent of my life.  Stuff that I knew cold as a teenager is mangled by people who ought to know better... and they not only see nothing wrong, some have the gall to get self-righteous when corrected.

Claiming ignorance (or worse, revisionist nonsense like "afrocentrism", which ranks right up with the distinction between "German science" and "Jewish science" for racist odiousness) as a cultural value is only worse in degree, not in kind.  It all has to be rebutted, because it's going to be a near-impossible stumbling block for anyone who believes it.

"I won't even address the idea that black people have it better than white people in our country."

If you aren't going to address it, WHY DID YOU BRING IT UP?

"It is flatly foolish to think that there are no remnants of our nation's horrific racist past today."

It's flatly foolish to think that there are no remnants of the British Civil War in our nation today.  That doesn't mean that it determines who and what we'll be tomorrow; what we believe and do today will make a difference.  Self-flagellation doesn't improve things, and neither does making excuses for failure.

"To say that the compounded disaster in New Orleans had nothing to do with race is naive."

Who said that?  Oh, right... you did, by allusion.  Why?

"... nearly everyone with a public voice (and who happen to be white, right?) is denying that race has played a part in the Katrina disaster just as many in the black community are making it clear that they know it has."

And of course you just know that I'm one of those racist white public voices, despite my characterization of the policies of the Gretna county sheriffs, FEMA and others toward the refugees in New Orleans as beyond outrageous.  But that was a week and a half ago and any credit I get for that must have expired, eh?

"we have a bunch of fundamentalists in charge who shroud their classist and racist policies in euphemistic language and blanket denials."

And a host of other things which led me to ask if it was time to call the administration's policies treason yet.  (I'm a completely equal-opportunity attacker of erroneous statements and mistaken policies.)  But that was, like, months ago.

"As for "politically correct," the reality is that it is politically correct today to argue against multi-culturalism, to say that there is "no racism" while simultaneously enacting racist policies."

Again you're making the racist equivalence between ancestry and culture.  Cultures are tool-sets for living and adapting.  They evolve over time.  Cultural values which fail to provide people with what they need should be abandoned for ones which do; if an entire culture is deficient or defective, people should leave it behind and adopt one that serves better.  It's been done.

There are black people who believe that acadamic achievement "isn't black", that doing well in school is "acting white", and so forth.  Who does this serve?  (I could list a number of people whose careers depend on it, but they do not appear to be among the victims.)  What purpose is served by letting it go unremarked, the claim unrebutted?

What will improve if we don't talk about it?  Riddle me that.

Whatever they are, failures and refusal to take responsibility are not legitimate grounds for grievance against others.

Phila said...

E-P,

Unfortunately, I suspect no one'll be wandering back this far. But you went to a fair amount of trouble and deserve to be answered, so I'll take a stab at it my own self.

Most of what I have to say is expressed in the next post up, which deals with "caste-like minorities" and the like. I'd suggest that it answers, to some extent, some of your complaints about cultural resistance to "acting white," which is not quite as simple or widespread a phenomenon as you make it sound.

It's late, but I'll try to address a few more points:

Health-care institutions don't discriminate by skin color. They can't.

What's legally allowable and what happens are two different things. There are studies showing a difference in treatment and diagnosis between blacks and whites, which (unfortunately) I don't have at my fingertips. Cervantes, if he happens back this way, may, since public health is his specific field of expertise.

(if you look at a scatter plot of test scores vs. per-pupil spending you'll find some amazingly poor performance at the high-spending end and a number of high performers at the low-spending end).

True, but this assumes that test scores are a valid measure of a useful education, which is questionable.

I realize that there are high performers at the low end of the pay scale (I'm obliged to, since my wife teaches low-income, developmentally disabled children), but this, to an alarming extent, relies on a "missionary effect," in which personal moral conviction trumps financial rewards. Really gifted teachers shouldn't have to make this trade-off.

But it takes something extra to accuse peers who aren't failing of "acting white". That's racism... by the supposed victims.

It may be, but it's also a predictable outcome of oppression, which has been seen again and again in cultures throughout the world. Again, this is why discrimination is problematic; it evokes self-defeating and dangerous "coping" strategies. Again, see the post above for more details.

And while they're at it, they could adopt some of the values and strategies which will practically eliminate their odds of being poor:

1. Graduate from high school. (A GED is not equivalent.)
2. Get married before having children.
3. Have no more than two children.
4. Work full time.


This is arrant nonsense. I can't begin to tell you how many people I know who've done all of these things, and then some. None of these actions "practically eliminate your odds of being poor"; to say that they do is pure bluster.

You're fairly forthright in your criticisms (which I enjoy, by the way), so I'm going to assume you can take a bit of constructive criticism yourself. Were I to go on your site and make fanciful pronouncements about, say, torque ratios, you'd probably think I was being arrogant and foolish. By the same token, some of the stuff you've said here betrays outright ignorance; other things you've said betray what I consider to be an incomplete grasp of complex questions that are still very much in dispute. I'd like to suggest that you try to develop the same respect for other disciplines that I'm sure you demand for your own.

(The same probably needs to happen in some white subcultures as well, but the problem either is not as big or gets a lot less news coverage.)

A little of both, IMO. I do think it's quite true - as I suggested above - that white pathology tends to be individualized, while black pathology tends to be seen as representative. Given that the costs of white-collar crime, for instance, far outstrip the cost to society of street crime, I'd argue that this is somewhat irrational, and (you guessed it) racist.

As opposed to seeing education as a way to qualify for jobs that will keep me sheltered, fed and in goodies? Anybody should be able to see that; if they can't or won't, there isn't much that anyone else can do for them... or should be expected to.

See my remarks on effort optimism, in the post above. What you've been setting up here is a situation where the putative horrors of "black culture" makes a certain amount of discrimination seem commonsensical; why should an employer hire someone who stands a better than average change of displaying pathological behavior? Obviously, you can have lazy, stupid, and corrupt white employees...but are you likely to draw conclusions about "white culture" from that, and change your hiring policies accordingly? Probably not. The very arguments you've been making here - which have been common as dirt for decades - demonstrate precisely why minority efforts will not necessarily lead to a good outcome. It seems as though you want to insist that blacks are particularly prone to pathological behavior, while acting as though this fairly widespread supposition has no effect on hiring policies and the like. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Defending dysfunctional behaviors (one's own or others') as "cultural values" isn't oppression, it's an excuse.

Huh? We seem to be talking past each other. I'm not defending dysfunction as a cultural value; I'm recognizing dysfunction where it exists, and addressing problems that clearly contribute to it. Personally, I see more far-reaching pathology and destructive behavior in America's boardrooms than in its ghettoes...but perhaps I'm indulging in liberal sophistry.

Especially when some race-baiter attempts to use it as cause for the status quo to continue no matter what else is done.

Again...huh? Outside of racists and a handful of economic theorists, I don't know of anyone who wants the status quo maintained.

If there's anything that educational psychology has to teach us, it's that "feel good" programs are destructive.

No, no, and no. You're a very intelligent person, and you really need to apply more of your intelligence to this debate. Educational psychology is an extremely wide-ranging field that has many things to teach us, along with certain things that are base and worthless, and certain propositions that are currently undecidable. There's no such thing as "feel good" programs; it's a gratuitous, simplistic, pejorative term you invented for the occasion. And there are many "destructive" policies and problems in America today, which tend to work in concert with one another. You're engaging in prejudicial oversimplification here...and if I applied the same approach to, say, nuclear plants (as I've undoubtedly done), I don't think it would impress you at all.

Know the easiest and most immediate thing we could do to help these folks find jobs and start feeling good about themselves? Deport all the illegal aliens who've been driving down the wages for unskilled labor and cutting the rungs off the bottom of the economic ladder.

You're probably right about that. But our economy - and the ideology behind it - depends on driving down wages, and also on disempowering the labor force to the greatest extent possible, which makes illegal workers absolutely ideal. So don't hold your breath.

It's been forty years since the Great Society.

Two generations since legal segregation ended, which means that a man who refused to work alongside blacks at age 20 is now age 58. Duly noted.

calling for the end of those things which perpetuate the problem isn't whining, it's a long-overdue dose of sanity.

That might be true, if it were really evident that those policies were solely responsible for perpetuating the problems we're talking about. But as it isn't...

And of course you just know that I'm one of those racist white public voices, despite my characterization of the policies of the Gretna county sheriffs, FEMA and others toward the refugees in New Orleans as beyond outrageous. But that was a week and a half ago and any credit I get for that must have expired, eh?

To be fair, Kate may not have read that comment of yours, so your sarcasm may be misplaced.

But let me make it clear: I don't think you're a racist. But I do think that your "objective" view of these matters is more subjective and irrational than you seem to think.\

There are black people who believe that acadamic achievement "isn't black", that doing well in school is "acting white", and so forth.

Again, I'd suggest first that this attitude is not as widespread as you believe, and second that it can sometimes be reinforced by teachers who attempt to separate higher-achieving black students from their peers, which is problematic. There are studies suggesting as much; again, no time to dig 'em up. The cases cited above'll have to do for now.

What will improve if we don't talk about it? Riddle me that.

If we don't talk about it? We're talking about it now. As a society, we talk about it constantly. "The Bell Curve" alone has resulted in ten solid years of ongoing, heated debate...always with the subtext that people who are "objective" about race are being "repressed" (e.g., by having their logical fallacies and misuse of data pointed out). Talk about the culture of victimhood!

Whatever they are, failures and refusal to take responsibility are not legitimate grounds for grievance against others.

Look, chum...if I grow up ingesting deleterious amounts of lead in a public housing project that no one cares to cite for safety hazards, my "failures" are hardly my fault. If I work hard, and am denied a job because some guy read somewhere that blacks are somehow culturally allergic to hard work and achievement, that's not my fault either. White racism is not the cause of all failures, but neither is black culture. The causes are complex, tangled, and hard to tease apart, and they tend to reinforce each other (as, indeed, do the ideas you're espousing). We can't replace one set of simplistic assumptions with another, and expect solutions. Not all, but too many of your ideas are just the flipside of the crude and simplistic ideas you claim to object to (many of which you've gone out of your way to exaggerate or misrepresent, as I've noted above).

That's what I think, anyway. Lots of room for disagreement on these questions, as usual, and it's unlikely there'll be any agreement.

On the other hand, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say, from an engineering standpoint, about my post on Ray Kurzweil.

Engineer-Poet said...

"this assumes that test scores are a valid measure of a useful education, which is questionable."

Certainly not a complete measure, but are you telling me that someone's performance on the SAT does not convey a great deal of information about their education?

Do you think that someone who scores, say, 560 combined on the math/verbal is ready for anything beyond low-skilled work?

"things you've said betray what I consider to be an incomplete grasp of complex questions that are still very much in dispute."

The claim of complexity is often used as reason to expect nothing to be done until some nebulous problem is ALL solved (and we achieve Utopia).  I don't buy into that.

"why should an employer hire someone who stands a better than average change of displaying pathological behavior?"

Indeed, why?  Which is a good reason to provide data like juvenile-crime records to employers, so entire groups don't get tarred with the reputations of their bad apples.

"Obviously, you can have lazy, stupid, and corrupt white employees...but are you likely to draw conclusions about "white culture" from that, and change your hiring policies accordingly? Probably not."

Employers have already been forbidden to use IQ tests as a means of weeding out stupid applicants.  One of the reasons for the otherwise-meaningless insistence upon college degrees for jobs which do not require them appears to be as a substitute credential; the education establishment does what the employer is not allowed to do.  It costs a great deal of money and time, but that's one of the unintended consequences of anti-discrimination law.

"I see more far-reaching pathology and destructive behavior in America's boardrooms than in its ghettoes...but perhaps I'm indulging in liberal sophistry."

I'm not happy with them either (I'm particularly fond of ripping on ADM, and general corporate governance appears to be a sham), but those aren't the issues you brought up in this post.

"There's no such thing as "feel good" programs; it's a gratuitous, simplistic, pejorative term you invented for the occasion."

Oh, I did, did I?
Joanne Jacobs
Möbius Stripper
Professor Plum, a book in his suggested reading

I'm flattered that you think I invented the term, but as you can see I can claim no credit whatsoever.

"if I grow up ingesting deleterious amounts of lead in a public housing project that no one cares to cite for safety hazards, my "failures" are hardly my fault."

Indeed, but it would still make someone unfit for many jobs.  And it sure as heck wouldn't be racial discrimination!

"it's also a predictable outcome of oppression, which has been seen again and again in cultures throughout the world."

And the left-liberal response appears to be to sit on their hands until the consequences of that very problem have been remedied... how?

It won't go anywhere as long as people accept excuses.  The job is doable; there are existence proofs out there.  Refusing to take action on those factors we can influence is abdication of our moral responsibility.