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Does Race Matter - Recent Developments
By Louis Andrews
In general, the world is a rational place in which winners on the whole deserve to win and losers deserve to lose. It is only for the exception, the lives that are strikingly unfair, that we maintain the mediating devices of social welfare.
William A. Henry III
Once upon a time it was expected that changes in laws would bring about
racial equality. What is one to think when, despite these laws, racial
differences in achievement have changed little in the last twenty-five years?
An Associated Press bulletin from October 30th, 1997 is entitled "D.C.
students post disappointing scores." Recent reports indicate that a black male
in Washington, D.C. has about an 85% expectation of being arrested at least
once in his life. Despite over thirty years of legislation and affirmative
action, the situation has in many ways worsened. What are we missing?
Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma was published by the Carnegie Foundation fifty-three years ago and is considered the most important book published on race relations in America. In fact, one could argue that it is the single most important study of American society published in the 20th Century. Myrdal was from Sweden, a mono-racial country where black-white relations were never a problem. Essentially, Myrdal argued that the problem with American black culture was pathological. The cause of this condition was simple: discrimination. Blacks were disadvantaged because whites would not allow blacks to participate fully in American life. Since the cause was simple the solution was equally simple: end discrimination. The origins and logic of the mores of the existing society were unimportant; it is not just (said the world-renowned egalitarian socialist) therefore it must be changed.
Some strongly disagreed with Myrdal's diagnosis of pathology, including influential blacks in favour of change; but their criticisms went unheeded. For example, the black intellectual, Ralph Ellison, wrote a solicited review of An American Dilemma for The Antioch Review, but they refused to publish it because of its antagonistic approach. Ellison thought it absurd that anyone would believe that his black culture was created by discrimination. He wrote:
Can a people live and develop for over 300 years simply by reacting? Are American Negroes simply the creation of white man, or have they at least helped to create themselves out of what they found around them? Men have made a way of life in caves and upon cliffs, why cannot Negroes have made a life upon the horns of the white man's dilemma?
He argued that Myrdal's view robbed blacks of dignity. Indeed many other
ethnic groups in the United States had suffered discrimination, including the
Chinese, the Irish and the Jews and yet neither Myrdal nor others were calling
their cultures pathological.
The pathological argument is still very much alive and played an influential role in Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism. As we shall see, one of the newest books, America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, continues in the tradition - although with a quite different tone.
The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, only ten years after An American Dilemma, was strongly influenced by Myrdal's book. Then came the civil rights revolution, which lasted over a decade. This was followed a few years later by affirmative action, ostensibly to bring America's black population into the mainstream. However, something stopped the train. Over 25 years later (1992), Andrew Hacker, in his bestseller, Two Nations, Separate and Unequal, could still argue that white racism is all pervasive and thus - back to Myrdal - contemporary black failure is caused by white discrimination.
Two recent books have been compared favorably to An American Dilemma. The new volume by Abigail and Steven Thernstrom, America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, and Why Race Matters by Michael Levin.
The Thernstrom study has been widely reviewed and even the rather left-wing New York Times Book Review treated it with some respect. This hefty tome reviews the history of race (black/white) relations in America, particularly since 1865. It addresses the important issues of poverty and crime, the effects of forced integration, employment, education, and the existing differences in test scores and apparent skills between the populations.
One can presume that the title of the Thernstroms' book is a pointed response to Andrew Hacker's 1992 classic Two Nations: Separate and Unequal. While Hacker's valuable study is pessimistic, the Thernstrom book is optimistic but no less valuable. The books are alike in that they both consider inherent race differences non-existent, or irrelevant to the problem of race relations. One could say that Hacker considers white racism the real "problem." The Thernstroms, on the other hand, argue that while white racism was the primary problem for many years it is no longer much of a problem. To them the real issues seem to be the unwillingness of many blacks to adopt white American ideals and habits. If only blacks would "act like whites" then they would be like whites, and the whole issue of race in contemporary America will become relatively unimportant. Nevertheless both Hacker and the Thernstroms are environmentalist egalitarians. One excoriates whites for black failure, the other blames blacks for their own failure.
America in Black and White offers a massive amount of data on numerous aspects of America's racial dilemma, from poverty, crime, and politics to education. The authors acknowledge that the current gap in cognitive skills "must be closed if the black middle class is to continue to expand." They also note that "if the African-American crime rate suddenly dropped to the current level of the white crime rate, we would eliminate a major force that is driving blacks and whites apart and is destroying the fabric of black urban life." While they present dramatic data on race differences in SAT scores (for "scores of 750 and up, the white to black ratio was 212 to 1.") they state, "we do not find IQ...a useful concept."
Nevertheless, the Thernstroms provide ample data to destroy many left-wing beliefs. Speaking of the urban riots of the 1960's they note that these "racial disorders were most likely to occur when the condition of life for blacks was least oppressive, according to objective measures, not most oppressive." One valuable aspect of the book is its clarification that most gains by blacks in education and economics occurred prior to the civil rights revolution, not after it. Thus this massive change in the structure of society has had much less impact on the well-being of the individual black person than is generally recognized. Nonetheless, this change has had significant impact elsewhere. A 1993 victim survey of crimes reported that of 1.7 million interracial crimes, 89% involved white victims and black perpetrators. This would have been unheard of in earlier years. After adjusting for population size, "Blacks were 50 times more likely to commit violent crimes against whites than whites against blacks."
So why is it, one might ask, that racial hate crimes are generally considered to be white-on-black crimes, while the huge preponderance of interracial crime is black-on-white? The answer is: politics. One position serves egalitarian political goals, the other does not. How else can one explain such anomalies as the inclusion of "Hispanic" in the category of victim, but not in the category of perpetrator? FBI crime statistics consider Hispanic perpetrators of crime to be white; but when these same whites become victimized by a crime they suddenly become Hispanics, not whites. Dice are seldom loaded for no good reason.
The Thernstroms discuss Kenneth Clark and his research on the harmful effects of segregation - used in testimony in the Brown decision. However, they fail to note that a number of white and black scholars have discovered that Clark's studies, if anything, showed that integration, not segregation, had a more harmful effect on the self esteem of young blacks. (This point was addressed by the black legal theorist Roy Brooks and discussed in the review of his book, Separation or Integration: A Strategy for Racial Equality, in pinc Vol. 1 No. 2.)
The Thernstroms do an excellent job describing the disruption caused by busing and enforced school integration. For example, in Boston, the average minority child went to a school 24% white in 1973. In 1974 Judge Garity handed down his now famous busing decision. By 1993, after huge social and financial cost to the Boston community, "the average black child attended a Boston Public schools that was only 17% white..." White enrollment in Boston's public school dropped from 62,000 in 1970 to 11,000 in 1994. Interestingly, in 1994 the cost of busing in Boston was still about 30 million dollars per year in order to avoid the segregation "problem" that busing had created.
They also briefly discuss the Kansas City debacle, where Judge Clark's order has resulted in 1.3 billion dollars extra expenditure by the school board as of 1995. This is over $36,000 for each of the system's students. Despite the new world-class schools and other amenities, white enrollment fell further and African-American students failed to improve their academic performance. White/black test scores remained as far apart as they had ever been.
The issue of black teacher competency is raised in some detail by the Thernstroms. This has long been a hot potato. In the original 1966 Coleman Report (On Equality of Educational Opportunity) the data on black teachers was dropped entirely from the published report because they were so devastatingly bad, particularly for male teachers. Suppression of the data continued until the early 1990s, shortly before the death of Prof. Coleman. In California only 35% of African-Americans have been passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test and as a result they filed "the largest employment discrimination suit ever filed in federal court." This suit involved over 50,000 minority plaintiffs. The State of California ruling in 1966 noted that "School teachers who use improper grammar or spelling, or who make mistakes in simple calculations, modeled that behavior for their students -- much to the detriment of their education."
The Thernstroms also address the issue raised most eloquently by Jonathan Kozol, in his classic best-seller Savage Inequalities, of the difference in per-pupil expenditures between black and white school children. They note that the evidence from the National Center for Educational Statistics for the 1989-1990 school year found that
the higher the percentage of minority students in a school district, the higher the level of spending, even after differences in cost of living and other variables were held constant. Districts with a 'minority/majority' were not 'starved' compared to overwhelmingly white districts; they actually spent 15% more, on the average, than districts in which minority enrollment was less than 5%.
In addition, black inner city schools typically spent far more than
primarily white suburban schools per student. For example, both Hartford,
Conn's. and Washington DC's schools spend substantially more per pupil that
their suburban surroundings. Kozol was wrong. Predominantly black school
districts are generally well funded in comparison to white districts.
Concerning the value of the desegregation efforts of the 70's and 80's, the Thernstroms write, "It is plausible to think that they helped significantly, but recent analysis suggests not. Those black students who have remained in predominantly African-American Schools have improved their scores as much or more than those attending integrated schools." This fact has been noted earlier by the sociological researcher David Armor, who has studied desegregation efforts extensively in communities around the United States since the mid 1960s. As a desegregation supporter, he has nevertheless remarked that, based on the evidence, improved school performance is the last reason for one to favor desegregation.
In terms of the controversy that surrounds the policy of tracking in school, which generally results in the segregation of the tracks in integrated schools, the Thernstroms quote Thurgood Marshall, who argued in 1955, "[t]hey give tests to grade children...put the dumb colored kids in with the dumb white children, and put the smart colored children with the smart white children - that is no problem." Unfortunately, his wisdom has now been turned on its head since the higher level track is always predominantly white (and/or Asian) and the lower level track predominantly black; that is seen as prima facie evidence of discrimination instead of merely of a sorting by ability. Disparate impact does indeed have a stranglehold on reasonable solutions: since race differences are denied, discrimination becomes the only logical cause.
In addressing the differences between predominantly black and predominantly white public schools, the Thernstroms hit on an important issue - discipline differences. They mention Emily Sachar, (pg. 379) who took a job teaching 8th grade mathematics in a predominantly black school in Brooklyn. "Many kids, she discovered, had never been taught how to sit still, how to control what they said, how to behave. Her students call her 'cuntface,' told her to 'fuck off,' spat in her face, played radios during class, and threw chairs at one another." It is hard to imagine that learning can go on in such a place. Nevertheless, it makes no sense to blame whites (as Hacker does) for the breakdown in school discipline unless one is prepared to say that a majority white (or non-black) student body is a prerequisite for reasonable discipline.
One interesting feature of the Thernstroms' book is that they write approvingly about polls that seem to show that most people think that blacks and whites are equal in intelligence and that blacks and whites are about equally as likely to commit violent crimes. They see this as an indication that white racism is on the decline. However, if blacks and whites do differ in intelligence as groups (as the evidence indicates) and if black and white crime levels are substantially different (as they are) and polls indicate people believe differently; is that a sign of a reduction in racism or is it a sign of a lack of knowledge or reasoning ability among the population polled? Or is it perhaps just a fear of being labeled racist? I am not convinced that people's actions (such as flight to better school districts and refusal to go in the inner city areas after dark) agree with their answers on these polls.
Michael Levin, in Why Race Matters; Race Differences and What They Mean covers a lot of the same ground in terms of crime, poverty, test scores and other differences between blacks and whites in the United States. In fact, in several cases one wonders whether the Thernstroms had perhaps seen his manuscript in circulation. However, Levin differs greatly from the Thernstroms in that he readily accepts race differences in IQ, motivation, and behavior. In fact, a substantial portion of the book is devoted to an explanation of the evolutionary origins of such race differences.
Levin is a tenured professor of Philosophy at CUNY and the author of Metaphysics and the Mind-Body Problem and Freedom and Feminism, in addition to numerous essays and articles in both popular and scholastic publications. The latter book received a number of laudatory reviews from a variety of publications including the Wall Street Journal. I suspect that the Wall Street Journal, like many others, will pass on this one. Some coals are just too hot to touch. Levin is perhaps best known as the professor who successfully sued his institution when they attempted to change his classroom assignments and otherwise pressure him because of the student furor created by some rather mild comments about race differences that he wrote for an obscure Australian journal.
Levin took a sabbatical to write the initial draft of Why Race Matters in 1992 and began looking for a publisher shortly thereafter. It was rejected over the years by many publishers. In the meantime, other books which have dealt with the race issue, such as Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve, and J. Philippe Rushton's Race, Evolution, and Behavior took their heat, and went on to popular paperback editions with Afterword updates, while Levin's book languished in his computer files. Eventually an academic publisher, Praeger, picked it up for its Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence series (edited by the educator and author, Seymour Itzkoff). The first small printing (June 1997) was quickly sold out and the second is now available. Reviews in several professional journals are forthcoming although the popular intellectual press has thus far ignored the book.
Part of the difficulty in finding a major publisher lay in the book's philosophical nature and its totally relentless assault on conventional racial wisdom. What is the ordinary book editor to think when confronted with sections entitled "Race differences in personal goodness", "Intensity of preference for other race victims" and "Race differences in free will" ?
An important facet of Levin's theories is that race differences have no moral significance in themselves, but are merely facts of nature.
Inspiring this theory is commitment to naturalism, the position that human values can be explained solely in term of preferences, reinforcements and selection for preferences and reinforcements without the assumption that anything in the universe is actually good or right. (The possibility of a value-free social science is one corollary of naturalism.)
Moral approval is merely a categorical reinforcement tendency by which a
group makes clear the rules it wants it members to follow. To clarify further,
a moral issue such as honesty benefits the individual and others to the extent
that all are honest. In contrast, "the desire to get everyone to jog and
reinforce jogging would be less a moral conviction than an obsession." Jogging
only benefits the jogger, honesty benefits the other members of society
besides just the person being honest. As one might expect, developing a
naturalistic view of morality also involves other issues. For instance,
morality might differ in different societies because of evolutionary
differences in development. This does not mean that one society is necessarily
better than the other, only that one is more beneficial in a given environment
where it developed than the other might be.
The world seems to be divided into two groups in terms of acceptance of innate racial differences in physical and intellectual qualities: First, those who insist that we are all basically identical and race is an arbitrary and unnecessary concept. Second, those who think we may or actually do differ physically and intellectually as groups. They in turn can be broken down into two additional groups. The first, the overwhelming majority I would say, believes that while racial groups may differ intellectually and physically in the mean level of their characteristics, this information is meaningless in terms of social or political implications - in other words an attitude of, "so what?" That phrase, not coincidentally, is the title of Levin's first chapter - which
seeks to answer the 'so what?' question. It argues that race differences, far from being neutral, undermine almost everything that has been said about race for the past 60 years, and the many policies based on this conventional wisdom. Much is now known about racial variation, but it remains to put this knowledge in a broad philosophical perspective. That is what I have attempted to do.
A significant portion of the book is devoted to affirmative action issues that Levin sees as compensatory in nature and at the basis of most white guilt and black blame in contemporary America. Certainly race differences in this regard is not a "clean" topic and most "nice" people would just avoid it and hope it will go away. Fortunately, Professor Levin - being a philosopher - doesn't see his role as being "nice," but as finding truth.
The topic of racial variation is admittedly disturbing, and in an ideal world might be passed over in silence, but accusations against whites have made such discretion impossible. The right of the accused to present his case includes the right to raise issues that distress his accuser. A plaintiff demanding damages for a broken leg cannot ask at the same time that his leg not be talked about, nor take offense when the defendant presents evidence that the injury was congenital. By claiming harm he opens the question of why his leg is game. Claiming racial harm has opened the topic of race differences.
He goes on to say, "[t]he basic argument for studying race differences is
that racial outcomes are currently viewed through a lens of guilt and it is
important to know whether this lens is distorting." The non-student of race or
racial differences in America will be shocked and awed by the number of
important issues on which race has a significant bearing.
An example is homelessness. The typical homeless person nationwide is usually male, either of low IQ or mentally ill; often both - and either a drug addict or alcoholic. Another factor seldom mentioned is that this male is usually black. As Levin notes,
[w]hite incompetents are commonly cared for, directly or indirectly, by their families, whereas illegitimate urban blacks usually have no families. The 20 year old male unwilling or unable to sell his labor cannot be helped by an unmarried, unemployed 35-year-old mother with other children and possibly grandchildren. He comes to live in public areas surviving by begging and scavenging.
Levin goes on to blame this on the nature of black peer-bonding and a mismatch between black abilities and self-sufficiency in an urban environment. He has a strong opinion about the complicity of whites in the recent breakdown in contemporary standards, moral social and other.
Finally, although this would be difficult to document, whites appear increasingly averse to norms intended to apply to society as a whole, or just to themselves, lest they be 'racist' by implication....Now I suspect a major contributor of this sea change has been fear of offending blacks whose behavior often violates white…norms.
Levin deals with issues as basic as the existence of race itself,
stereotypes, differences in intelligence, criticisms of IQ, Gould's
"reification", temperament and motivation, differences in MMPI results,
self-esteem issues, genes, gene environment correlation, environmentalism,
heritability, race differences in time preference (concern for the future),
and psychological race differences. If that weren't enough, he also discusses
the history and uses of adoption studies, Head Start, malnutrition, athletic
ability, race differences in Africans vs. African-Americans, the Flynn Effect,
other minorities, biological determinism, reductionism, and racism.
Levin argues that because of their differing evolutionary development, blacks and whites differ in their concern for the future among other things. In Africa, where the weather was generally benign there was no need to develop a concern for the future, as there was in Europe and Asia with there harsh winters. This affected the development of moral attitudes toward reciprocity and cooperation. Where the future is of less concern there is a greater disregard of cooperation and reciprocity. Emphasis on the present and emphasis on the future are both rational given different evolutionary environments. The problems develop when the differing groups are exposed to each other and each expects the same automatic response from members of the other group that they get from members of their own group. As a result moral signals can become scrambled. Levin writes,
I conjecture that given levels of anger signal a less serious injury among blacks than whites, and that a positive feedback between black expressions of anger and white efforts to assuage it explains some otherwise puzzling aspects of race relations. White guilt and black intransigence may in part be effects of white misinterpretation of black reactivity and an overall mismatch between black emotional cues and white responses…Not having evolved to interpret black displays, whites tend to interpret black anger, including anger directed at them, as indicating the more serious injury such anger would signal from whites. As guilt and solicitude are evolved white responses to perceived injury, whites tend to blame themselves for black rage and seek to ameliorate it.
Such differences must be accepted since they can't be changed, just as when
evaluation of level of hostility in photographs of faces, women tend to see
higher degrees than men.
Levin believes that the primary value of Western (or Caucasoid as he calls it) Civilization is the golden rule. Levin calls an individual Kantian (after Kant) "to the extent that he conforms himself to the golden rule."
Since the Kantian like everyone else wants to be able to rely on promises, he is trustworthy. The similarity between ideal Kantians and the ideal boy scout is not coincidental, since the boy scout code encapsulates Caucasoid morality.
In one of the most controversial areas of the book he argues that "the higher the mean IQ of a group, consequently, the more Kantian its morality is likely to be." Levin further argues that the difference between black and white male scores on the MMPI indicate that "Black males are likely to be further from the typical Caucasoid female's ideals of 'a good person' than ... a typical Caucasoid male." Levin's conclusion is bound to incite anger.
Since Kantianism is a principal Caucasoid measure of personal worth, it follows that, by ordinary Caucasoid standards, the average white is a better person than the average black. Assuming that the composite trait of Kantianism distributes roughly normally in both populations, a greater proportion of black than white behavior also falls below the ordinary threshold of decency, and of tolerability.
These statements sound monstrous, but they follow from data difficult to gainsay. Since intelligence correlates modestly but significantly with moral maturity and altruism, the race difference in intelligence by itself suggests a race difference in moral reasoning.
By such Caucasian standards of morality, the average Chinese or Japanese would also be a better person than the average white, since they score higher on intelligence tests. While Levin only addresses this briefly, it seems a reasonable corollary. On a somewhat softer note:
By definition, morality is the domain of universal rules. Groups have different moralities when they universalize different rules; different interest in rules per se is not a difference in morality, but a difference in concern with morality itself. Blacks may therefore be said to be on average less interested than whites in morality - not more immoral but more amoral. Blacks, like whites, have values, preferences revealed in behavior, but preference for conformity to the golden rule is not as strong an impulse for blacks as for whites. This does not make either whites or blacks better in the absolute sense.
Here Levin argues that since the existing race differences in achievement
and attainment are a result of genetic factors, not white misdeeds, "this
difference is not an injury, hence not an injury for which whites are to
blame, hence not a condition whites are obliged to remedy." Contrary to
Herrnstein and Murray, Levin argues strongly that genetic race differences are
not a politically neutral issue, but of the utmost importance. Here he draws
on Nozick's differentiation of forward-looking vs. backward-looking moral
viewpoints. Recall the "broken leg" argument earlier. Since Levin's
backward-looking view accepts that causation is genetic, the issues of harm,
responsibility, rectification, and, one might add, white guilt, are all
rejected. As a result, the reasons for affirmative action, which are always
compensatory in nature, fall apart. Simple justice demands an end to it.
Levin would eliminate all anti-discrimination legislation. Given the high level of black crime, he would allow screening procedures in order to reduce it. As he notes, this would reduce crime against blacks as well as crimes against whites.
He differentiates between negative and positive racial discrimination. Positive discrimination is the attempt to harm due to race. Negative discrimination is the "race-based refusal to bestow benefits." He argues that negative discrimination is consistent with the golden rule. Levin develops an interesting argument that the opposition to negative discrimination has a lot to do with one's view of race differences.
But another reason this distinction is ill grasped where race is concerned may be the failure of blacks to produce on their own the sorts of goods common in white society. This inability of blacks to acquire Caucasoid goods without Caucasoid cooperation makes white refusal to deal with blacks appear to be a barrier - and a barrier is indeed harmful…But refusal to offset an inability is not a barrier…Africans centuries ago unaware of Europe were not harmed by the sheer existence of unavailable European goods. Nor would Africans have been harmed had they known about and wanted to trade for those goods, but were unable to inform Europe of their desire. It also follows…that Africans would not have been harmed had the Europeans who refused to deal lived on the same continent, or shared the same territory, as do blacks and whites in the United States. The proximity of someone with goods you do not have may sharpen your desire for them, but his refusal to slake your desire does not make you worse off.
Levin notes that much of the so-called malaise of contemporary America had developed since the Civil Rights Movement started. Regarding welfare he has some interesting comments for a libertarian. He says that welfare is too new for us to know its long term effects, but that such a safety net does appear at least feasible for whites.
The case appears otherwise for blacks, who are more inclined than whites to regard public assistance as a legitimate means of support…One implication is that welfare would be unstable in an all-black population, and another may be that welfare for blacks, at 12% of the population, will eventually bankrupt an otherwise prosperous white society. It thus may be imprudent to offer blacks the same safety net that whites make available to each other.
In terms of the public school system he has a similar comment.
The "failure" of public schools - falling test scores, illiterate graduates, attacks on teachers, chaotic classrooms, physical decline - has only become a matter of great concern since the start of integration…As noted above, welfare became problematic only after becoming widely available to blacks. Perhaps certain institutions, like public education, are viable in a white population, but not in a black or mixed one, and conservatives have mistaken the unworkability of these institutions in mixed-race populations for inherent flaws.
In an afterword, Levin imagines a talk to the nation by the President of the United States, on solutions to its race relation problems, based on the ideas presented in the book. Here the President ends affirmative action and offers three plans for the future: minimizing race differences, laissez-faire, and controlling the negative aspects of race differences. The first, having been tried and failed, is rejected. Various methods of controlling the problems of black crime and unemployment are presented. Cooperation and support from the black community (especially black churches) is encouraged. Finally he suggests that a laissez-faire approach might be the most productive when linked with "realistic race blindness." Disparate impact is normal and to be expected, while racial classifications should be avoided.
Many religious persons are disturbed by Darwinism, but few people oppose open discussion of evolution. Loss of cherished illusions and abandonment of dreams is often the price of wisdom. The impossibility of our hopes is seen first as a crisis, then a chronic problem, then, finally, accepted as part of the human condition. So it will be with race.
Would that we could have a President so wise. But let us now look at four
of the most pressing race problems in the U.S.: poverty, crime, education, and
Since 1970 poverty rates for both blacks and whites have been pretty well stabilized at a fraction of their level in the early 20th century. According to the Thernstroms, affirmative action has made no appreciable difference in closing the black/white poverty gap. However, they argue that the structure of black poverty has changed substantially. In 1995 85% of poor black children lived in fatherless families. In 1959 this was a mere 29%. Today, of black women aged 15-45, a majority have never been married and by 1987 "the birth rate for married black women actually fell below the birth rate for unmarried black women, the first time this has ever happened for any ethnic group. It was not a one-time anomaly; the pattern has continued ever since." One interesting fact uncovered by the Thernstroms is that "the vast majority of the adults who are poor today - and this includes black adults - are people who do not work for a living or only work part time." Of both black and white men (and white women) who were employed full time, less than 3% have incomes below the poverty line in 1995.
While the Thernstroms offer no real solutions for black poverty, they seem to feel largely that it is a result of the social structure that results in a huge number of single-parent families and also the welfare system, which discourages black women from marrying. They argue that "a typical black woman who marries loses benefits that amount to a 'marriage penalty' of almost $1,900.00, almost 9% of her family income, twice the marriage penalty for whites." It seems doubtful though, that this penalty has much direct effect on the marriage rate. One wonders just how much black women of marriageable age are aware of this and would use it as a reason to avoid marriage?
The Thernstroms, like many neo-conservatives, blame the welfare system for much of the black social structure which they believe causes the poverty pathology they discuss. However, they fail to question why whites and blacks seem to respond differently to the same socio-economic policies. Levin addresses that directly:
On the other hand, while conservatives have made a strong case that welfare has accelerated black crime, poverty, and illegitimacy, they ignore the failure of whites to respond as blacks do to welfare incentives available to both races, and explain black failure in the post civil rights era as a legacy of slavery in language borrowed from the Left…The truism that a bad theory beats no theory may explain why the Right's account of race relations is seldom taken seriously.
What if contemporary urban black family structure is normal for the
evolutionary background of blacks, not pathological? Anthropologist Patricia
Draper has shown that contemporary urban black family structure is in many
ways akin to traditional family structure over much of Southern Africa. Thus
it may be, although few are willing to say it, that if traditional group norms
are not forced on a differing population, is only natural to expect that their
own norms will rise to the surface. It would be true regardless of the races
involved. Of course, if one ignores evolution and biology like the Thernstroms
and Andrew Hacker, than all this seems just foolish nonsense.
While the Thernstroms noted the huge difference in full time employment between white and black males, they offered no reason for this outcome. They note that William Julius Wilson's argument that it is blacks' lack of proximity to jobs that is the problem fails the test because other ethnic groups find jobs under similar constraints. Here Levin provides a possible answer. He argues that due to differences in the evolutionary habitat, Europeans and Asians have evolved longer time horizons. As a result, their level of concern for the future is entirely different than that which is normal for blacks.
The Thernstroms argue that "there is no reason to assume that black criminals are going out of their way to prey on whites in particular. If African-Americans are seven times as likely to commit violent crimes as whites, and there are seven times as many whites as blacks available as victims, one would expect a disproportion of this order of magnitude." Of course this does not address the issue of racial isolation and/or economic incentive. There are not seven times as many whites readily available as victims - they are only available if blacks specifically go into white areas to find their victims. This could be because of a desire to damage whites or merely because the economics makes more sense - whites typically have more resources to steal than blacks do. The Thernstroms address the causes of crime and look at the usual arguments, poverty and swiftness of punishment. They find, as Levin does, that poverty has no real impact on crime and in many cases is inverse to the level of crime. They also find that while a speedy trial may be important, it is important only in a limited number of cases. All in all they find no real causes for the huge amount of black crime, but they paint a horrifying picture of the damage it has done to black communities.
Crime is the urban problem. It is the principal reason that so many people are fleeing from our largest cities. There remain upscale sections in almost every metropolis; apartment dwellers in the Upper East Side of Manhattan generally like where they live, and where they live is relatively safe. But it is literally the case that the revitalization of our central cities awaits a solution to the problem of crime. Urban advocates can demand federal dollars for enterprise zones and other such projects, but until the streets are safe, no store, factory, or theater is likely to flourish.
In looking at the issue of crime, Levin uses somewhat different figures.
Blacks are 12 times as likely to commit robbery and 9 times as likely to have
committed a murder as whites. He goes on to say that "Some criminologists use
the rule of thumb that a black male is 10 times more likely than his white
counterpart to be involved in homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault."
The Thernstroms note that "crime is an individual failing, and the statistical
generalization that blacks are disproportionately both perpetrators and
victims must never obscure the vital fact that most black citizens are
That may be true if one includes females, but in some of our inner cities the sad fact is that the majority of males are not law abiding. Two recent reports have estimated that, in the District of Columbia 85% of black males will be arrested at least once in their lives. Levin argues, regarding interracial crime, that
blacks may be said to prefer white victims more than 2.6 times as intensely as whites prefer black victims. Informative as this ratio is it seriously understates the racial asymmetry because of the absolutely greater crime rates of blacks. Since the average black is more than 2.5 times more likely to victimize a white than the average white is to victimize a black and 10 times more likely to have committed a crime, the average black is about 25 times more likely to have victimized a white than the average white is to have victimized a black.
Various estimates on inter-racial crime are that 80%-90% is black on white.
With their "individual failing" comment, the Thernstroms are clearly arguing that race is irrelevant to crime. Levin addresses that directly. He argues that even if the race and crime are causally independent (a view with which he does not agree),
the assumed causal independence of race and crime still leaves race its predictive value, and it is predictive value that warrants use of trait in screening. Traits are listed in suspect profiles because they carry information; why they carry information is a separate question.
While the Thernstroms address the issue of the causes of black crime, they seem to find few direct causes. Levin, at his most provocative, makes the comment that blacks are about the only group for which causes of crime are offered:
Lynching has had its causes as does everything in nature, yet an FBI investigation of a lynch mob is not called blaming the victim. Why isn't violent dislike of blacks excused, on the grounds of anger caused by black crime? Why isn't attention paid to the root causes of the holocaust? If some criminals are victims of the past why aren't all?
Special pleading about the causes of black crime suggest the belief that its causes partially justify or excuse it. And many people do think something (s) very like this: That, since black crime is the effect of past injustice, either the two wrongs cancel out, or else that past injuries done to blacks have left them unable to refrain from crime.
Levin then goes on to discuss a four basic root-cause hypothesis. He
concludes that "[r]acism, poverty, low self-esteem and the 'circular culture
of violence', offer less plausible explanations of black crime than do
individual crime relevant-traits more prevalent among blacks." Of course the
principal one is IQ. It has long been known that violent criminals tend to
have an IQ about 9-11 points below average. Interestingly enough, the
percentage differences between white and black youths that have appeared in
juvenile courts can almost entirely be explained by IQ differences. He notes
that most black criminals come from an "IQ range 75.7 to 91.1, with a mean of
83.4, and…white criminals from the range 72.5 to 87.7, nearly homologous bands
containing 50% of the black population and 17% of the white." Levin adds "most
of the difference in rates of black and white juvenile crime disappear when IQ
is held constant."
Levin points out that black/white differences on the MMPI scales suggest greater criminal behavioral characteristics among black males and that black males and criminals tend to be more mesomorphic than the general population. Across races, mesomorphs "tend to 'unrestrained, impulsive self gratification' " Levin's final word is that the much higher rate of criminality among blacks than either whites or Asians is probably a result of "lower Kantianism, facilitated by lower intelligence and greater impulsivity themselves probably biological in origin." Finally Levin argues that probably race and crime are causally related. He opines that "mean black levels of intelligence and aggressivity appear to be joint adaptations to an African environment, so, while indications like skin color do not cause the behavior with which they associate, the association is not accidental."
The Thernstroms paint an equally dismal picture of skills, abilities and test results. However, there are still substantial differences in their treatment. They clearly believe that equalization is possible. They argue that "if the bar is raised, children work harder, and hard work is the road to success. It matters much more than any ability." Is this not the old neo-conservative lecture - "just behave like middle class whites and you will do just fine..."?
They address the issue of different learning styles raised by some black sociologists. In other words what is culturally appropriate for blacks may not be what is appropriate for whites. The Thernstroms feel this is nonsense. The latest study by Rowe and Cleveland (Intelligence, Nov.-Dec, 1996) favors their opinion. Blacks and whites seem to learn in the same way despite the objections of some Afro-Centrists.
They also raise another important issue: contrasting peer groups. They note that "Asians had far more close friends who valued academic success highly, while blacks did not. Blacks view doing well in school as 'acting white' and thus betraying one's race." This is certainly reflective of the findings of the Coleman Report in 1966. The nature of one's peer group had much more impact on one's scholastic attainments than any other factor they investigated, including funding, quality of teachers, schools etc. Of course the Coleman Report ignored issues of innate differences such as IQ, as do the Thernstroms. When these are added to the mix, even peer-group influence becomes relatively minor in comparison.
The Thernstroms report that "almost four of ten African-Americans have federal grants to defray college costs, in double the proportion among whites." Nevertheless they offer no real reasons for the huge differences in graduation rates, skills, abilities, and test results between the races. They seem to think that if only we make it tough enough for everybody then somehow blacks and whites will come out pretty well the same.
Levin addresses the issue of education somewhat differently. While mentioning some of the dismal statistics discussed by the Thernstroms, Levin is much more interested in why the vast gulf between white and black performance. He compares education with professional sports. Blacks were generally excluded from professional sports until the 1940's. When the opportunity was provided, black talent in sports allowed them to rise rapidly. Today over 2/3 of the National Football League's players are black. The figure is an even more astounding 90%+ for the National Basketball Association. This is a pretty amazing achievement for a group that is only about 12% of the population, and it may even exceed the comparable success of Jews and Asians in our institutions of higher education. Little money is spent to encourage black participation in these sports, yet blacks dominate them. The opposite is true in education. Here vast sums have been spent with little to show for it.
Since 1972, the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation have spent 2 billion dollars to increase black representation in scientific fields. Blacks are enrolled in medical schools with much lower MCAT than allowed for whites and the overwhelming majority of these blacks receive scholarships. Head Start, despite its ineffectiveness for young blacks, has cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite these programs and many others there has been little change since the 1970's. Levin points out that it is hard to argue that the relative weakness of blacks in education is due to a lack of opportunity. IQ differences seem to account for almost all, if not all, of the differences in education.
Concerning SAT scores, the Thernstroms provide some data from the latest 1995 tests. These, no more than the 1992 data previously offered by Andrew Hacker, provide little to indicate that socio-economic status differences for the races have much to do with SAT scores. The SAT scores of children from highly impoverished white families earning less then $10,000 a year exceed those of children from black families earning over $70,000 a year. Despite this, the Thernstroms still reject the significance of IQ in America's race problem. They note that there is abundant evidence that SAT scores are excellent predictors of college performance for blacks, though there is some difference here from whites. They quote Robert Kiltgard (Choosing Elites), as stating "One might wish that standardized tests underestimated the later performance of blacks…" Nevertheless, he found "at elite institutions 'black students' typically do worse than 'whites with the same test scores, perhaps one to two thirds of the standard deviation worse.' Kiltgard estimates that to make the prediction of black college grades precisely correct it is necessary to subtract 240 points on the combined SAT. Among black and white students with the same high school grades, blacks will perform as well in college as whites with a SAT score that is 240 lower."
The Thernstroms note that there has been little change in the relative wages of black versus white men since the early 1970's. They have lots of interesting data about the effect, or lack of effect, of affirmative action on black employment. However, it is curious that they do not once mention the pioneering work of Linda Gottfredson on black employment.
Levin summarizes Gottfredson's work, originally published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior in 1986 and 1988. Using the US Department of Labor IQ estimates for various job descriptions from meat cutter to physician, Gottfredson demonstrates that blacks are more numerous in higher IQ level positions that their IQ would allow based on population size. Instead of discrimination against blacks in these areas there appears to have been discrimination in favor of blacks. Since the Thernstroms do not consider IQ valuable, they fail to report this dramatic statistic.
Probably the major differences between these two new books can be ascribed to the difference between a universalist-environmentalist-egalitarian outlook and a Darwinian outlook. The first optimistically ignores differences or tries to and assumes that any that may exist will disappear eventually given a little time and tolerance; the second assumes differences and expects these differences to persist. The universalist calls the Darwinian names (racist, biological determinist, etc.) for considering differences, while the Darwinian suggests that optimistic universalism has nothing to offer other than description.
While the Thernstroms blame blacks for black failure, Levin wonders if black failure really is failure, from an evolutionary standpoint. Dinesh D'Souza in The End of Racism argues strongly that the causes of contemporary black failure are largely the result of black pathology. Levin says this may "just be a way of saying that these behaviors are maladaptive in the contemporary American environment." But are they? He goes on to point out that from the Darwinian standpoint a behavior is pathological only if it reduces reproductive success.
In the contemporary United States, black fertility is substantially higher than white fertility. Levin argues
33% of all black children (and their mothers) are now supported almost entirely by the resources of genetically unrelated whites in the form of public assistance, rather than by their biological parents. Black success at inducing whites to divert resources from their own children to the children of unrelated blacks is successful exploitation of the environment rarely matched in nature...at the moment black norms are highly adaptive.
Levin accuses the pathology believers of a patronizing attitude towards black behavior. For example if groups differ, the evolutionary origins of group behavior might differ. The behavior that is disapproved of may well be valuable in the context of that group's social relationships
[T]he male gang appears to be an important element of black society, making aggressive physical display, which helps determine rank in loose male hierarchy, black-pro-social. The same oppositional defiant body language is disruptive in white society in whose crowded cities constant physical challenge is intolerable, and where hierarchical status is determined by more symbolic displays of dominance/aggression.
Theories about race relations in the United States must be measured by
their ability to explain, plausibly, the black enigma: how it is that blacks
came to fail precisely when they ought to have succeeded. Pinning the blame on
white racism, ala Andrew Hacker, is unreasonable and unacceptable, and the
Thernstroms have provided the definitive refutation of this position. But the
Thernstroms' account of black progress stumbles over glaring black failures
that cannot be wished away, especially the continued status of blacks as a
cognitive underclass. The Thernstroms leave these failures wholly unexplained,
apart from a vague sense that something to do with motivation or expectation
is lacking. Levin, however, grasps the nettle with both hands, producing a
full-fledged theory of black underachievement, which, if correct, unravels the
conundrum: America has a racial problem because races are real, races are
different, and race matters.
In his 1994 book, Alien Nation, English émigré Peter Brimelow argues that, for the United States, race is destiny. Maybe Brimelow is right. As one US newspaper editor has remarked - "without race, we wouldn't have much of importance to talk about."
Levin, Michael Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean Praeger, Westport, Connecticut, 1997 415 pages, ISBN: 0-275-95789-6 $65.00 US
Thernstrom, Stephan and Abigail America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, 1997 704 pages, ISBN: 0-684-80933-8 $32.50 US
Hacker, Andrew Two Nations, Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992
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