White-Washing Black Failure
A Major Study Punches a Huge Hole in the Myth of White Racism Keeping Blacks Down
by Alexander Zubatov
*Note: this is a slightly modified version of an article that originally appeared in Republic Standard on March 23, 2018.
Even when the facts and findings point in the exact opposite direction, The New York Times seems hell-bent on insisting that insidious anti-black racism is plunging blacks back into the cycle of poverty again and again. Most recently, in one of its many articles trampling the boundary between news and opinion, the Times has reported on a large study that, it claims, proves that even black males born into upper-class families are the victims of white racism that eviscerates their seeming advantages and drags them back down to the socioeconomic bottom. The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, used American income and demographic data to compare the incomes of families in which children grew up to the incomes of those same children now that they are adults in their late 30s. The Times’ big headline conclusion is that while those who grow up rich tend to stay rich, black men — but not black women — constitute a glaring exception: while 63% of rich white boys grew up to be rich or at least upper-middle-class adults, only 36% of black boys achieved that distinction. Controlling for family structure, education level, accumulated wealth and geographic region does not put a dent in this outcome. The disparity, The New York Times claims, “explodes” “one of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas … that the fundamental problem is class and not race.” Moreover, anyone of a mind to offer up innate differences in cognitive ability as the culprit faces an obvious obstacle: they have got “to explain … why these putative differences aren’t handicapping [black] women.” And so, argues The New York Times, we’ve got the usual suspect dead to rights: white racism must be to blame.
So eager are the paper of record’s race-obsessed self-flagellators to signal their virtue and blame whitey that they have somehow lost sight of the incredibly inconvenient fact that the same issue they have correctly identified as an impediment to the I.Q. argument is a death knell to their own racial account of the matter: if white racism is afoot, why are black women entirely immune to its ill effects, so much so that they are even slightly outperforming white women, even though, as the article contends, black women “face both sexism and racism”? Why, moreover, are Asians, according to the study, doing even better than whites in accumulating income across their lives? Why are Hispanics gradually closing the income gap with whites? Why are black boys growing up in regions of the country, such as the Pacific West or Northeast, where overt white racism might be less prevalent, not doing any better than their peers in our more traditionally racist redoubts?
None of the four author-propagandists listed in the article’s byline appears to have pondered these questions. The closest they come to acknowledging the problem is a weak suggestion that black men may experience racism differently than black women:
Other studies show that boys, across races, are more sensitive than girls to disadvantages like growing up in poverty or facing discrimination. While black women also face negative effects of racism, black men often experience racial discrimination differently. As early as preschool, they are more likely to be disciplined in school. They are pulled over or detained and searched by police officers more often.
“It’s not just being black but being male that has been hyper-stereotyped in this negative way, in which we’ve made black men scary, intimidating, with a propensity toward violence,” said Noelle Hurd, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
The new data shows that 21 percent of black men raised at the very bottom were incarcerated, according to a snapshot of a single day during the 2010 census. Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.
None of this, of course, comes close to explaining how even though white racism could be so devastating to black men that it is supposed to account for a whopping gap of 27% percentage points in their ability to maintain income status, such racism leaves black women wholly untouched as far as their incomes are concerned (or, for that matter, how such alleged white racism fails to stymie the progress of Asians and Hispanics).
Still more laughably, the quoted passage gestures in the general direction of an explanation for the issue and yet cowers when it comes time to make the point that is there to be made. The data points to an unusually high rate of violence and incarceration, even for black men in the top 1%. More generally, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black males have an over 1 in 4 chance of being in jail at some point in their lives, as compared to 1 in 23 for white males. Black females, on the other hand, have about a 1 in 28 chance of meeting the same fate. The point is this, however: such incarceration does not occur in a vacuum. People are incarcerated for crimes, and black men are overwhelmingly incarcerated for violent and other serious crimes rather than low-level drug possession offenses, as some reality-denying apologists would have us believe. In lieu of reinventing the wheel, I will quote the journalist and criminologist Heather Mac Donald making this point in an article that is worth reading in full for all of those who have been gaslighted by the meme of “mass incarceration”:
It is not marijuana-smoking that lands a skewed number of black men in prison but their elevated rates of violent and property crime. A 2011 study of California and New York arrest data led by Pennsylvania State University criminologist Darrell Steffensmeier found that blacks commit homicide at 11 times the rate of whites and robbery at 12 times the rate of whites. Such disparities are repeated in city-level data. In New York City, blacks commit over 75 percent of all shootings, according to the victims of and witnesses to those shootings, though they are only 23 percent of the city’s population. They commit 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, commit under 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are 34 percent of the city’s population. In the 75 largest county jurisdictions in 2009, blacks were 62 percent of robbery defendants, 61 percent of weapons offenders, 57 percent of murder defendants, and 50 percent of forgery cases, even though nationwide, blacks are 12 percent of the population. They dominated the drug-trafficking cases more than possession cases. Blacks made up 53 percent of all state trafficking defendants in 2009, whites made up 22 percent, and Hispanics 23 percent, whereas in possession prosecutions, blacks were 39 percent of defendants, whites 34 percent, and Hispanics 26 percent.
The “black incarceration rate,” in other words, is no more and no less than an obfuscating euphemism for what used to be called the “black crime rate.” It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that getting involved in the criminal justice system may not help one’s career prospects and financial portfolio.
But the black crime rate is merely the most obvious and tangible tip of a much bigger iceberg that keeps on sinking black boats from generation to generation. Contra The New York Times, that iceberg is not white racism, but rather, what sociologists call black “cool-pose culture.” The fact is that African-American culture at this moment in time — and I am speaking specifically of African-American culture, not the cultures of all dark-skinned people from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere — exhibits numerous non-progressive and self-destructive tendencies that are out of keeping with the goal of social and economic advancement that nearly all Americans of every culture, African-Americans included, share. These tendencies were not endemic to African-American culture in the past, and they need not be part of its future. Indeed, they must not be part of its future if we expect to co-exist peacefully and fruitfully, as I have every confidence that we can.
So what are these tendencies? As described by Thomas Chatterton Williams, the author of Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture (2011), writing in The Washington Post, African-American cool-pose culture is “the inverted-pyramid hierarchy of values stemming from the glorification of lower-class reality in the hip-hop era” and “has quietly taken the place of white racism as the most formidable obstacle to success and equality in the black middle classes.” He continues:
The cultural pressure for a middle-class Chinese American to walk, talk and act like a lower-class thug from Chinatown is nil. The same can be said of Jews, or of any other ethnic group.
But in black America the folly is so commonplace it fails to attract serious attention. Like neurotics obsessed with amputating their own healthy limbs, middle-class blacks concerned with ‘keeping it real’ are engaging in gratuitously self-destructive and violently masochistic behavior.
Expanding elsewhere upon the consequences of this pressure to play the part of the ghetto-bred bad boy, he explains that “[w]ay too often being cool is equivalent to being anti-intellectual, misogynistic, homophobic, hyper-materialistic, and even criminal.”
The Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, writing in The New York Times back in 2006, during an earlier era when a diversity of perspectives on racial issues was still acceptable, identified cool-pose culture as a particular affliction of black men. He relates an anecdote to make his point:
Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college ….
So why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the “cool-pose culture” of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation’s best entertainers were black.
Nor are these voices alone. Stanley Crouch and Bill Cosby (the latter’s ghastly sexual escapades notwithstanding) have been abiding and vocal presences in this particular wilderness, and the linguist John McWhorter has likewise written about many of these matters in Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (2000), where he argues, for instance, that the “black Cult of Anti-intellectualism casts top scholarly achievement as treachery.” (I recommend this excellent article of his, chock-full of relevant data, to anyone interested in these issues, though, for my own part, I think the fact that, according to Nielsen (NLSN), African-Americans engage in the ultimate dumbing-down act by watching 37 percent more TV than the U.S. average and are 75% more likely to be heavy viewers who watch a whopping 917 minutes (more than 15 hours!!) per day on average, is telling, since you can’t really learn very much or work on your socioeconomic advancement if you’re spending every waking moment vegetating in front of your TV screen.) If your culture ridicules academic achievement and promotes anti-intellectualism, how can you possibly hope to compete on equal terms in a labor market in which knowledge is increasingly a sine qua non? As Thomas Chatterton Williams puts the point in his Washington Post piece,
With such pressure to be real, to not “act white,” is it any wonder that the African American high school graduation rate has stagnated at 70 percent for the past three decades?
Until black culture as a whole is effectively disentangled from the python-grip of hip-hop, and by extension the street, we are not going to see any real progress.
But these few clear-sighted critics are swimming upstream, and because of how rarely we are exposed to their critiques, many racists attribute some or all of the destructive and self-destructive features of African-American cool-pose culture to inherent qualities of all African-Americans or even of all dark-skinned, i.e., “black,” people, when what they should be doing is blaming the problem on a dysfunctional culture, not on people or their genetic heritage. If instead of jumping, in a knee-jerk manner, all over anyone who dares to say something less than positive about black people, we had in our intellectual arsenal the ability to explain to them patiently that what they are identifying (assuming they are not raving lunatics gesticulating at phantasms) is not a feature of black people, but rather, may be an outgrowth of African-American culture at this point in time, we would undermine their racist tendencies without unproductively labeling them as racists, which only angers and hardens them and de-legitimizes their concerns. The end-result would be better for everyone.
Instead of recognizing this opportunity, too many white people have, mainly out of cowardice, the fear of being unjustly branded racists in our contemporary political climate, stayed silent on the sidelines or else, especially in the case of many younger generations suckled on aggressive anti-racism and eager to be devotees of the African-American cult of cool, have cozied up to and embraced African-American culture. Both cases reflect a failure to understand that what is truly racist is not expecting more, not believing that better is possible. Through their complicity in propagating the notion that African-Americans and their culture simply are and will always be living embodiments of the “cool” poses embodied in ghetto culture and hip-hop culture and the concomitant willingness to craft social policy premised on this demeaning notion, through their belief that we, as a society, must condescend to accept or even celebrate the vulgar poseurs of hip-hop culture rather than rejecting them as a model for African-Americans and for the growing generations of non-African-American youth naturally drawn to the outré self-expression, playground-bully machismo and shallow rebelliousness of such culture, through their refusal to insist on the highest expectations for everyone and their facile, always-at-the-ready gestures in the general direction of racism as a go-to explanation for every social and economic inequity we might find, white Americans have functioned as inadvertent enablers of the very forces that keep African-Americans firmly entrenched at the very bottom of our increasingly polarized socioeconomic pyramid.
If The New York Times wanted to perform a public service rather than working as hard as it can to keep the blinders on, this, this white liberal and white corporate enabling of self-destructive patterns in African-American culture, is the main form of white racism on which its race-baiting writers would do well to focus. As Orlando Patterson explained in his 2006 Times Op-Ed, “The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares [black boys] is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America’s largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie.” Since 2006, America’s and the world’s embrace of the African-American “cool pose” has only gotten more unquestioned and ubiquitous. One need only go to a Chinese, Korean, Indian or former Soviet-bloc restaurant and see a screen projecting a foreign-language American Idol knockoff with kids or 20-somethings imitating the coarse dance moves and thuggish stylings of American hip-hoppers to confirm that this is so. And yet it remains the case that, while whites, Asians and others who try the “cool pose” on also know when to dial it down and take it off, too many African-Americans currently have no other culture to which they can flee, as Prof. Patterson explains:
Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.
For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.
And so, we are faced with a choice: we can keep on talking about racism, or we can start talking about reality. We can bend over backwards to maintain our comforting illusions, or we can begin to listen to what the stats and studies are actually telling us. We can continue leading black boys onto the dead-end path of anger and blame, or we can show them the detour that leads to the high road, away from African-American cool-pose culture and towards a universal culture of success that will leave the income gap, the “racism” meme and even the entire outmoded and regressive paradigm of classifying human beings by race far behind.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, Times Higher Education, The Imaginative Conservative, Chronicles, The Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, Republic Standard, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).
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