June 04, 2003

Notes: Inequality by Race

*Sigh*

In the Affluent Suburbs, an Invisible Race Gap: June 4, 2003 | In the Affluent Suburbs, an Invisible Race Gap By MICHAEL WINERIP

MAPLEWOOD, N.J.

ACROSS America, there may be two or three dozen suburban school districts similar to this one, towns like Evanston, Ill.; Shaker Heights, Ohio; Arlington, Va.; White Plains. They are heavily upper middle class, are racially mixed and feature high quality public schools.

The high school here, Columbia High, is 51 percent black and sends 77 percent of its seniors to four-year colleges.

Five percent are accepted to the Ivy League. A lot of black Columbia High graduates go on to big things. Rhena Jasey went to Harvard, Colin Brown to Princeton, Carla Peterman won a Rhodes, Lauryn Hill won five Grammys.

From afar, these racially mixed suburbs appear to be the fulfillment of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling a half century ago. Green and tree-lined, they look like the quintessential level playing field. They seem to make the need for affirmative action passe.

But they are not what they appear to be, as Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard professor, knows from surveying 34,000 seventh to eleventh graders in 15 of these racially mixed suburbs across the nation.

Everywhere, he finds the achievement gap, with whites averaging B+ and blacks C+. Professor Ferguson calculates about half the Gap can be explained by economic differences.

When the wealth of the 15 towns is dissected into four socioeconomic classes, 79 percent of blacks are in the bottom 50 percent; 73 percent of whites are in the top 50 percent. Fifty-three percent of these suburban black children live with one or neither parent, compared with 15 percent of whites.

Twenty-two percent of the blacks have no computer at home compared with 3 percent of whites. Forty percent of blacks own 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites.

All this spills into these schools. "Teachers see black kids not doing as well academically, getting more incompletes on their homework," Professor Ferguson said. "They interpret that to mean black kids don't care, don't work as hard."

Yet whites and blacks taking similar level courses report that they spend the same time on homework. It is just that the results are different: 38 percent of whites who spend two hours on homework nightly get all their work done; only 20 percent of blacks spending two hours finish their homework ? the Gap.

It would be politically convenient for Professor Ferguson, a black man raising his two children plus a nephew in a Boston suburb, if the Gap could be explained away by economics.

It cannot. When he controls for income, half the Gap persists. Among the richest families, blacks average B+, whites A-. How to explain it?

On a political level, he believes the human damage from two centuries of slavery plus legalized segregation that persisted until the mid-1960's will simply not be undone in a generation, not even in suburbia.

On a personal level, he has looked hard at the data for ways to narrow the Gap.

While 31 percent of whites say that a teacher's encouragement motivates them to work hard, 47 percent of blacks cite teacher encouragement as crucial. Professor Ferguson believes this may reflect the black children's insecurity.

"Even in our own towns, we may feel like outsiders," he says. And so, Professor Ferguson runs seminars for teachers that emphasize the importance of encouraging these children to excel.

If whites and blacks spend the same time on homework, and the black child is not getting as much done, says Professor Ferguson, "that's a skills gap." He works with schools to focus on the points in the curriculum where children fall behind, and to develop smarter ways to teach those lessons.

His research shows that in the years before school, white parents spend more time reading to their children, while blacks devote more to song and play ? the start of the Gap. Professor Ferguson writes, "As a black parent, I acknowledge there might be differences in what we do with our preschool children that would put them on a more equal footing with whites on the first day of kindergarten."

While he practices that at home, quizzing his 3-year-old with math problems, he is hesitant to speak too much publicly about advising black parents.

"If it shows up in The New York Times, it's like, wait a minute, here's another guy saying to black parents, `It's your fault.' This needs to be done within the community."

In this community, Robert Marchman, 45, a lawyer with the New York Stock Exchange, has taken on the Gap. He is chairman of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, which has been sponsoring discussions on the Gap and helped bring Professor Ferguson here.

Mr. Marchman is one of a dozen black dads who run a mentoring program for 30 black eighth graders. "We talk about stuff you hear, like, `being smart is acting white,' " Mr. Marchman said. "I'll say to them, `So what does being black mean? To be an idiot?' "

Mr. Marchman himself has bridged the Gap. He grew up in a Brooklyn housing project and when he was a senior, took the SAT, without any preparation. In the high school guidance office, he picked a college by starting with the letter "A" which landed him at Alleghany College.

By law school ? at the University of Pennsylvania ? he was no longer making educational decisions based on alphabetical order.

Last summer, before his older son, David, entered 10th grade, Mr. Marchman bought the boy his first SAT study guide.

While Mr. Marchman played basketball ("that's all there was"), he encouraged David to switch from football to lacrosse, because it is a niche sport that might help get him into a top college.

Though Mr. Marchman has made it to the far side of the Gap, he keeps his guard up. At the start of each school year, he makes appointments to see the teachers of his sons, David and Travis. "I put on a business suit," he says. "I want to set the tone with the teachers. I want them to know we have high expectations." His are black children to be encouraged, he wants the teachers to know.

And though Mr. Marchman no longer needs affirmative action, he supports it, for even in this suburban place, he can see more clearly than most all those children still finding their way across the Gap.

Posted by DeLong at June 4, 2003 04:09 PM | TrackBack

Comments

" And though Mr. Marchman no longer needs affirmative action, he supports it, for even in this suburban place, he can see more clearly than most all those children still finding their way across the Gap."

Putting aside that blacks were making progress economically LONG BEFORE we had Affirmative Action, is it really this guy's position that upper middle class blacks should get preferences over, say, middle to lower class Irish, Vietnamese, Chinese kids?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 4, 2003 04:52 PM

>...38 percent of whites who spend two hours on homework nightly get all their work done; only 20 percent of blacks spending two hours finish their homework...

>And though Mr. Marchman no longer needs affirmative action, he supports it...

...and then he will wonder why so many people will assume blacks reach their station in life by means other than merit.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 4, 2003 05:39 PM

"
he encouraged David to switch from football to lacrosse, because it is a niche sport that might help get him into a top college.
"

Practice lacrosse to help you get into a good college? American education truly is demented.
Where I come from, we have the naive idea that you get into a good college by studying hard and doing better in the exams than the other kids.
Or, to put it differently, if you can't get into the college on raw academic grounds, chances are surely high that you will struggle with the classes and that you'd have been better off going to a less demanding college that matched your academic abilities. But, silly me, I view college as a place where you go to learn.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on June 4, 2003 05:53 PM

Where I come from, we have the naive idea that you get into a good college by studying hard and doing better in the exams than the other kids.

And how do you propose we differentiate between the equally academic prepared?

Posted by: AccidentalAdmin on June 4, 2003 06:11 PM

American education may well be demented, but not recognizing the value of niche skills in gaining admission to a competitive school is willful blindness, as is (in my opinion) the notion that higher "education" is anything other than a credentialling process for a large portion of the students who undertake it. The notion that this would only benefit students who are otherwise unqualified is dubious.

Here's a quote from an admissions officer:

Often, though, there's an abundance of students with attention-grabbing attributes, forcing us to choose among thousands of compelling candidates. We ultimately arrive at conclusions that may be seen as capricious.

The officer then goes on to mention the desirability of tuba and trombone players if the school's orchestra has a brass shortage.

http://magazines.ivillage.com/townandcountry/guides/college/articles/0,,329824_366725,00.html

Posted by: matt wilbert on June 4, 2003 06:21 PM

(Berkeley had 36,000 Freshmen applicants this year, 18,000 of which had a 4.0. They extended offers to 9,000 of them...)

The thrust of the article wasn't about affirmative action, rather that there is still a racial gap even within similar demographics. The beauty of the article is that it doesn't pit racial groups against eachother, only compares them and discusses possible reasons for the discrepancy.

I disagree with the idea of 'racial competition,' which is what these discussions tend to break down into. This country (US) will become increasingly multiethnic throughout my lifetime and understanding causes of and finding solutions to racial inequity will dramatically improve this country's long-term prospects.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on June 4, 2003 07:29 PM

"Where I come from, we have the naive idea that you get into a good college by studying hard and doing better in the exams than the other kids."


Explain, then, the college career of GWB?

What this person is doing is making his son look as "white" as possible as far as college entrance is concerned. The sad thing is that this still matters.
-steve

Posted by: steve on June 4, 2003 07:58 PM

"It would be politically convenient for Professor Ferguson, a black man raising his two children plus a nephew in a Boston suburb, if the Gap could be explained away by economics. It cannot. When he controls for income, half the Gap persists....

"Fifty-three percent of these suburban black children live with one or neither parent, compared with 15 percent of whites."

Ninety percent of students at Ivy League universities come from intact families where they lived until going off to college with their two biological parents -- an interesting statistic.

Studies show that parental break-up by itself reduces the chance of children attending a selective college by 50% -- after adjusting for economic status, parental education, and everything else. E.g.:
http://www.news.cornell.edu/science/May96/kids.divorce.ssl.html

" ... whites and blacks taking similar level courses report that they spend the same time on homework. It is just that the results are different: 38 percent of whites who spend two hours on homework nightly get all their work done; only 20 percent of blacks spending two hours finish their homework...

"Teachers see black kids not doing as well academically, getting more incompletes on their homework," Professor Ferguson said. "They interpret that to mean black kids don't care, don't work as hard...."

I can attest from hard-earned first-hand experience (as both student and parent -- but much harder earned as a parent) that it takes two alert and concerned parents just to see that the homework is usually done. How a single parent could do it I don't know.

Posted by: Jim Glass on June 4, 2003 08:01 PM

I am tired of the anti-affirmative-action crowd's mantra that, if you take away affirmative action, you have progress based on merit (see first three posts above).

Until there is some acceptance that merit is far from the only factor determining success in the "merit based" world they go on about, the argument over affirmative action is really not worth having. What world are they living in? Give me a break.

Posted by: Tom Slee on June 4, 2003 09:57 PM

>Explain, then, the college career of GWB?

Or Al Gore.

>...success in the "merit based" world ...

Not all professions are purely "merit based".

Politics, some sales jobs, semi-closed industries such as Hollywood and unionized monopolies stand out as ones where connections are critical.

But medicine, law, investing, and hundreds of other occupations ARE merit based. As is simple entrepreneurship.

While it would be false to say our society is entirely merit-based, it is similarly false to deny that it is substantially merit-based.

To pick an example with which I am familiar, dark skinned Indian immigrants have become a fixture in highly competitive Wall Street slots. Every one I am familiar with earned his or her spot purely by dint of hard work, having overcome language and cultural hurdles.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 5, 2003 03:59 AM

Many people do not understand that a large social multiplier profoundly affects our education system. Because our society is still socially structured around race, blacks are commonly excluded from the social circles that develop intellectual talents where the academic multiplier is the strongest. For all the progress that has been made in terms of the law, the majority of Americans still would not consider marrying a person of another race (however convolutted the definition of race). As long as the dating/marriage prejudice still exists there will be a “gap” in achievement.

Does anyone ever ask why blacks are so successful at basketball compared to whites? The answer lies in the social multiplier for basketball skills that exists in the urban areas of the US. Because of white flight, most whites have little interaction with that social multiplier, and are situated to learn the necessary skills that are being developed among the best youth basketball players.

Jim Glass complains about the oversight necessary to insure that homework is done. If his child was in a social group that valued academic excellence, then the parental requirement for oversight would be less necessary. The social multiplier is self-reinforcing, especially in a K-12 education system that imposes social conformity. Still overlooked is that children of divorced parents are often excluded from the circles of status/influence of children from two parent families. Children of divorced parents have fewer resources available to them and are less able to afford to attend elite universities. The same exclusions to social circles exist for blacks and the barriers to be crossed are higher.

Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 06:32 AM

>Because our society is still socially structured around race, blacks are commonly excluded from the social circles that develop intellectual talents where the academic multiplier is the strongest.

The tremendous success of Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrants and their offspring -- who also tend not to marry outside their "race", calls this race-based analysis into doubt.


Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 5, 2003 06:59 AM

Brad DeLong writes, *Sigh.*

Brad, Brad, Brad, Brad, Brad! ;-)

I first came to your website because of your analysis of world GDP for the last million years. (Interesting!) I'd think that someone who does such research would have a better (more balanced) long-term view of the world.

Consider the difference between "races" (an increasingly ill-defined term) as a marathon race. This article about which you are sighing is a snapshot taken at milepost 16 (the marathon is 24-25 miles). Blacks are, ON AVERAGE, 1 mile behind whites at milepost 16 (and even at milepost 16, some blacks are ahead of most whites).

But if you'd simply looked at a photograph at milepost 12, you'd see that blacks were, on average, 5 miles behind whites at that point!

If you happen to be in Durham, NC sometime in future, let me take you to a Durham Bulls game. Just look at the crowd: Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos. It's amazing. And at any crowded game, I can virtually guarantee you'll see a few inter-racial couples.

Even within our lifetimes (more towards the beginning of them) such sights would have been almost unimaginable.

Then, look at the outfield fence, and see the numbers that have been retired. There is only one: Joe Morgan, who played with the Durham Bulls in the 1960s. (Really classy guy...I saw the number retirement ceremony.) Only 60 years ago, Joe Morgan wouldn't have even been *allowed* in the (White) Major Leagues.

Or, if you came in the winter, we could go do a local high school (C.E. Jordan High) basketball game, where the difference between 40 or 60 years ago would be even more pronounced. I don't know the details, but my guess is that Jordan High is about 60% White, 25% Black, and 15% Asian or Latino. And I know even less about this, but my guess is that at least 5-10% of the dating that goes on is interracial.

This is the South! A place where, 40 years ago, a Black sitting at a lunch counter was a front-page event.

Heck, even in the decade I've been here, the change has been noticeable. The Swim and Tennis Club where I used to be a member used to be virtually all white. (Which was interesting, because the neighborhood was probably 10% black.)

Now, just eyeballing, I'd say at least 10% of the Swim and Tennis Club memberhip is black. (And the neighborhood is probably 20% black. Fair number of people from Asia, too.)

Don't look at snapshots. Look at the whole movie. If you do, you'll be amazed not at the LACK of progress, but at the rapidly increasing pace of progress.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 5, 2003 09:53 AM

MB: Excellent post.

Now, do you honestly think statistically adept academics are unaware of the phenomena you describe? Not likely.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 5, 2003 10:33 AM

Bucky- you wrote, "The tremendous success of Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrants and their offspring -- who also tend not to marry outside their "race", calls this race-based analysis into doubt."

What are you talking about?

The rates of intermarriage among many minorities now rival those of second-generation immigrants whose parents came to America in the decades near the turn of the century. Intermarriage among the descendants of those early immigrants over time all but erased ethnic stereotypes that once defined white Americans. Where white ethnicity was once a salient feature in American life, the 1990 census found that only one in five white couples share the same ethnic heritage. "Nobody talks about balancing a political ticket with an Irish or an Italian anymore," Farley says.

Many of the new immigrants come from countries with mixed-race traditions. Today, almost one-third of U.S.-born Hispanics ages 25 to 34 are married to non-Hispanic whites. In addition, 36 percent of young Asian Pacific American men born in the United States marry white women, and 45 percent of U.S.-born Asian Pacific American women took white husbands. The vast majority of Native Americans also marry whites.

Yet if a picture is beginning to emerge of racial and ethnic melding, one group is noticeably absent: African Americans. Rates of interracial marriage involving blacks, while increasing, remain far lower than those of other racial minorities. Fewer than one in 10 black men and one in 25 black women aged 25 to 34 took white spouses, according to the 1990 census. It was only three decades ago, in 1967, that the Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, wiping those statutes off the books in Virginia and 15 other states. Differences in intermarriage rates between blacks and other minorities illustrate the larger fact that disproportionate numbers of blacks remain outside the American mainstream.


When it comes to housing, blacks are the most segregated of the nation's racial minorities, "by orders of magnitude.” On average, blacks live in neighborhoods that are 60 percent black, while Hispanics and Asian Americans tend to live in far more diverse neighborhoods. Asian or Hispanic middle classes moving into neighborhoods don't cause whites to move out that you see with blacks. Tthe black-white color line is still with us and that the integration of blacks is going to be a different story than the assimilation of Asians and Hispanics." A Washington Post poll found that nearly one in four Americans still found marriages between blacks and whites "unacceptable. Other polls have found people more tolerant of white marriages to Latinos and Asian Americans.


Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 11:05 AM

Look Bucky and Mark, Few would deny that progress has been made since the days that slavery was still legal. Is our progress to date good enought? Are our efforts to educate ALL the children in the US so that they can fullfil their potential good enough? Are you willing to rest on past laurels? What needs to be done to reach the next milepost? These achievements don't just happen in the absence of planning and policy.

What role do social interactions have in education, culture and economic success? I contend that they have a huge influence and that contention is backed by studies of the social multiplier effect. If you think that blacks are fully accepted and integrated into American society then you are either part of the gated community set that does not interact with blacks or you are oblivious to the world around you. Reread the article. What part of it don't you understand?

Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 11:16 AM

bakho - fine fine remarks

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/04/education/04WORC.html

June 4, 2003

Hard Work Opens College Door for Whole Class
By KATIE ZEZIMA - NYTimes

WORCESTER, Mass. — When Damian Ramsey enrolled at the University Park Campus School here six years ago as a seventh grader, he could barely read a fourth-grade textbook or tackle a basic multiplication problem.

Today, Damian, a tall, bespectacled 18-year-old, devours the works of Dickens and Fitzgerald. In the fall, he will attend Brown University.

Damian is one of 31 students who graduated from the University Park Campus School on Sunday. His story is not unlike those of his classmates. They live in Main South, a neighborhood notorious for its high crime rate and low academic standards in this blue-collar city of 173,000. High school graduation was questionable for these students; college did not seem to be an option. But that is where each is heading this fall.

Their school was hatched out of a partnership between Clark University, which was founded here in 1887, and the Worcester public schools. In the 1980's, Clark pledged to help clean up the neighborhood.

In 1995, it invested some of its endowment in a $10 million revitalization effort, and it approached the school system about developing a rigorous neighborhood high school. It offered $390,000 from a federal grant, as well as teachers, tutors, aides and access to classes and facilities at Clark....

Posted by: lise on June 5, 2003 11:55 AM

>The rates of intermarriage among many minorities now rival those of second-generation immigrants...

I fail to see how this alters the core issue of Asian academic excellence relative to other races, and indeed, many whites.

>Differences in intermarriage rates between blacks and other minorities illustrate the larger fact that disproportionate numbers of blacks remain outside the American mainstream.

Is it possible this is by choice?

>blacks are the most segregated of the nation's racial minorities...

Is this true even when adjusted for income/education? I've also seen the WashPost stories on blacks living in black middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, saying they "feel more comfortable" there. I of course acknowledge the flaws in such anecdotes.

As an aside, there are still co-ops here in NYC that don't admit Jews.

>achievements don't just happen in the absence of planning and policy

Commissar! We await your new five year plan! The People will strive to exceed your quotas!

Seriously, public education in the US is by all accounts a disaster, and its failures come despite generations of well-meaning central planning and untold billions of dollars.

Govt schooling is so consistently awful relative to the resources it commands and progress elsewhere in the service economy, that Thomas Sowell likes to ask those who would toss more children and treasure in the public school maw, "How will you know when you're wrong."

>If you think that blacks are fully accepted and integrated into American society then you are either part of the gated community set that does not interact with blacks or you are oblivious to the world around you.

The article was crystal clear to me. I'll repeat the segments I lifted that crystallized it: >"...38 percent of whites who spend two hours on homework nightly get all their work done; only 20 percent of blacks spending two hours finish their homework...And though Mr. Marchman no longer needs affirmative action, he supports it..."

Looks like the answer does not lie on bureaucrats' desks, but on homework desks.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 5, 2003 03:33 PM

I agree, a racial divide still exists. Perceptions are substantiated by statistics in education, family, earnings, and crime. Extra resources spent attempting to upgrade black minority progress have been justified by politically motivated bogus "achievement speech" courtesy of education bureaucrats. The true measureable result is grade escallation to lowered standards.

However, progress is being made. It may take centuries rather than decades for complete cultural assimulation. Equal allocation of assets must be offered to all children regardless of race. The disadvantaged should not be awarded a larger, disproportionate share. Contrary to education establishment mantra, more funds for disinterested students are simply a waste. Change focus to scholars, de-emphasize underachievers. Equal opportunity is the watchword.

Posted by: don majors on June 5, 2003 05:07 PM

I agree, a racial divide still exists. Perceptions are substantiated by statistics in education, family, earnings, and crime. Extra resources spent attempting to upgrade black minority progress have been justified by politically motivated bogus "achievement speech" courtesy of education bureaucrats. The true measureable result is grade escallation to lowered standards.

However, progress is being made. It may take centuries rather than decades for complete cultural assimulation. Equal allocation of assets must be offered to all children regardless of race. The disadvantaged should not be awarded a larger, disproportionate share. Contrary to education establishment mantra, more funds for disinterested students are simply a waste. Change focus to scholars, de-emphasize underachievers. Equal opportunity is the watchword.

Posted by: don majors on June 5, 2003 05:07 PM

Don, you wrote, "Equal allocation of assets must be offered to all children regardless of race."

Your statement is a BIG LOSER at the ballot box. Every parent wants if at all possible to give his/her own child a leg up. Wealthy suburbs do this by pumping money into their schools. Urban and rural districts that lack the tax base put far less into their schools. There is a HUGE disparity between suburban schools that may well sink over $10,000 per student into schools compared to poor urban or rural schools that can afford less than $3000 per student. This is true here in Indiana.

As a politician can you tell wealthy school districts they cannot spend that much money on schools? How could you possibly levy enough money to put all the schools on a relatively even basis? It would be political suicide to tell wealthy districts that you are going to take money from them so they spend less and redistribute it to poorer districts. That would create a political firestorm of wealthy individuals of all parties that would raise more than enough cash to wage the mother of all negative TV Ad campaigns. Do you see the problem? Schools for the poorest students are underfunded and there is no political will to change it.

Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 08:10 PM

Bucky, do you understand social multipliers? Do you believe they have any effect? Do you believe that education is entirely up to an individual? Do you believe that there is any social influence on individual performance? Your post suggests you are in a state of denial or that you are an ideologue true believer in the self made man myth.

Public education is neither a disaster nor a failure. This statement is baseless. Then again, maybe your public education failed you as your posting suggests.

Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 08:14 PM

"There is a HUGE disparity between suburban schools that may well sink over $10,000 per student into schools compared to poor urban or rural schools that can afford less than $3000 per student. This is true here in Indiana."

Here in NYC the poor urban school system spends $11,000 per student.

Of course it *is* true that the teachers' union and the other school unions push most of that money to the rich neigborhoods in the city, and away from the poor ones. They insist that their members be able to claim seniority transfers throughout the entire city to the jobs they prefer. Of course, those jobs are in schools in pleasant, rich neigborhoods with good students who are easy to teach. And the transfers are away from unpleasant, poor neighborhoods where the students are a challenge. Even though that leaves beginners and uncertified teachers to teach in those "challenging" neighborhoods. Well, you'd transfer too!

But when you fix the teacher & staff/student ratio at the same level across all schools, and pay senior teachers & staff more than double what beginners are paid, and have such transfers, which is what they do, you then wind up spending double the money per student on schools in the best neighborhoods compared to what's spent in the poorest neighborhoods.

Which is exactly what NYC does, and is also the standard practice in the other major urban unionized school districts across the nation.

Frankly, whenever I hear yet another person complain about how the poor in the cities are shorted by funding formulas that give city school systems less money than the suburbs get, I am always amazed at how I have never yet heard even a single such person complain about how the city school systems *themselves* use funding formulas that short the poor by 50% or more compared to what they give rich neighborhoods.

I mean, shouldn't the cities give the poor a fair shake themselves before complaining about others?

I certainly understand why teachers unions and boards of ed prefer to recommend social promotion and affirmative action to remedy eductional failure in those poor areas, rather than bring up the notion that they themselves might be underfunding the poor for their own convenience.

But certainly the champions of the poor should be upset by what's going on here, so why don't they complain? Do they not know, because they haven't bothered to inform themselves? Or do they not care?


Posted by: Jim Glass on June 5, 2003 10:38 PM

I am a mid-50's, white, male. Let's be honest. Being black, Latino, female, and other designations that we could name means that you know intimately discrimination. In my lifetime, I did well. My father was a working class factory worker when he was young and a house painter for much of this life. My mother a housewife. For me the "American dream" worked. I was university educated and rose into high executive positions before resigning from a corrupt corporation and altering my life greatly and happily, though at large personal and professional costs. Nonetheless, while the "system" seemed to work for me, it is brutal for minorities, and not particularly working all that well for most, including executives who face massive, endemic, systemic corruption, favoritism, and brutalizing competition.

Thankfully, due to many fortuitous factors I have come to know a wide variety of people in my life, but what I know best is what it means to be white and male and as an "insider" in this club I know the barriers that are put up to others. Yes, I worked hard, sacrificed, and achieved, but it has become increasingly clear that race, class, gender, and other factors play a profound role in "success" in the U.S.

This deep, often largely unconscious (on the part of white males--the people that hold most of the decision-making power in the U.S) fact has yet to be fully and honestly faced in our country. Until it is "democracy" and fair play will remain distant objectives. Even when we acknowledge the issue, it is an enormous step to truly understand what it means, realize how much it rules our culture, and to reach the point where we have the inner and societal courage to respond to it with anything near the decency and change needed. It hurts, really hurts, when a white person finally begins to see this, and besides hurting, it can create tremendous anxiety, insecurity.

Now, I am talking about the U.S. But, let's face it, given the military and economic power that the U.S. possesses, this leadership question affects the world, not just the interior of the U.S. White men will do a lot to protect their privileged position.

Posted by: Mike on June 6, 2003 07:00 AM

>do you understand social multipliers?

Perfectly. It is also called "the soft racism of low expectations".

The relative performance of parochial-schooled urban blacks, whose education costs about 1/3 that of public schooling, puts this soft racism in perspective.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 6, 2003 07:10 AM

There's a newspaper in NYC that has two openings for a guy just like you, Mike.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 6, 2003 08:41 AM

>"Bucky- you wrote, "The tremendous success of Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrants and their offspring -- who also tend not to marry outside their "race", calls this race-based analysis into doubt."

>What are you talking about?

It's no secret what matters most for children's academic achievement, what with our 150 years of data on it. First and foremost *by far*, more than the quality of schools or anything else, is the attitude of their parents towards education. Not the wealth or income or education of the parents, but the attitude of the parents.

The dramatic recent example of course is the extraordinary academic achievement of the children of Vietnamese boat people -- no modern immigrant group was poorer, had been more victimized, or have been more excluded from mainstream US society than the boat people. But the Houston public schools just had 13 school valedictorian and salutatorian children-of-boat people.

They are not the exception but the norm. Through the history of the New York City public schools the *highest* achievers have always been children of poor immigrants who usually could not speak English and certainly were not assimilated into mainstream society. A hundred years ago the children of Russian and German immigrants had a 50% higher graduation rate than children of native-born Americans, and today the highest achievers in the NYC schools are children of Asians and Caribbean blacks (skin color not being totally determinative of academic achievement).

Parental attitudes, and the culture expressed through them, have huge effects. E.g., at the same time when the children of Russian and German immigrants had a 50% higher graduation rate than children of native born Americans, the children of Irish and Italian immigrants had literally a 0% graduation rate. Even though all four groups were equally poor and ghettoized (though the Irish had the advantage of being able to speak English).

The reason for the huge difference in performance was simple: Culture. Most of the German and Russian immigrants were Jewish and placed very high cultural importance on education -- there actually were riots by Jewish parents because the public schools weren't good enough -- while the Italians and Irish associated schools with oppressive governments in their former homelands and carried that attitude with them here, and so didn't trust the schools. Their attitude was: to hell with education, kid, hit the streets and get a job.

It's the same today. We all know the Asian immigrants' ethic towards family, work and education, and Caribbean blacks fully match it. E.g., in Queens NYC, population 2 million+ and home to immigrants from seemingly everywhere on earth as well as a large native-born white American middle class, the highest average household income belongs to Caribbean blacks and the lowest belongs to native-born African Americans. (Skin color not being totally determinative of economic achievement.) Asians are the second group by income, and the native-born whites are in the middle of the pack.

The reason for this yawning gap between Caribbean blacks and African Americans is that Caribbean blacks have the highest percentage of two-parent families, and of two-working-parent families, of any ethnic group, while African Americans have the lowest. That's a behavioral difference -- culture. So it's not surprising that Caribbean black parents have their children performing equally with the children of Asian immigrants at the highest level in the school system, while the children of African Americans average out at the lowest level.

(BTW the worst racist diatribes against African Americans that I've ever heard in my life have been spit out by Caribbean blacks who sorely resent being identified with, and do not want their children to be socialized into picking up the habits of, the lower-achieving former. Skin color not being totally determinative of racist attitudes, as "race" is not biological but a social construct.)

"What role do social interactions have in education, culture and economic success? I contend that they have a huge influence..."

Sure they do. As the poor Germans and Russians got richer and melded into larger society NYC's Germantown and Russiantown dissolved away -- and so did the superior academic performance of German and Russian children. It declined to average, while the performance of the Italian and Irish children gradually improved to the average. Now all those folks are just the whites in the middle of the pack in Queens.

We can similarly expect the superior academic and economic performance of the Vietnamese and other Asians, and of Caribbean blacks, to fade too, and that of African Americans to continue improving, due to socialization.

But "socialization" does not work through some magic effect from the touching of elbows -- it results from producing *changes in behavior*. And if we realize that some forms of specific behavior -- such as the formation of stable two-parent families -- have vital practical consequences, we might want to adopt policies that encourage, say, African Americans to move more rapidly toward the mean in this regard, and Caribbean blacks less rapidly. We might even get ambitious and try to move the mean.

Posted by: Jim Glass on June 6, 2003 09:01 AM

bakho:You are correct. Equal allocation of financial assets is politically naive. And, the notion of reduced unit costs is not true for inner city poor schools. It probably applies to rural schools, but not to poor, inner city NY or Cleveland OH schools. They actually spend more/pupil.

Jim Glass writes:"Frankly, whenever I hear yet another person complain about how the poor in the cities are shorted by funding formulas that give city school systems less money than the suburbs get, I am always amazed at how I have never yet heard even a single such person complain about how the city school systems *themselves* use funding formulas that short the poor by 50% or more compared to what they give rich neighborhoods." ... " I certainly understand why teachers unions and boards of ed prefer to recommend social promotion and affirmative action to remedy eductional failure in those poor areas, rather than bring up the notion that they themselves might be underfunding the poor for their own convenience."

I suggest that the measure: spending/pupil, is pointless. Trying to solve the apparent disparity by redefining terms or reformulating financial equations makes no sense. Setting minimum standards for teacher certification, pupil/teacher ratios, and material resources is the answer. In other words we define the standards to have "equal opportunity". The pursuit of total equality is noble but impossible ... i.e. ones birthright as an American rather than a Namibian tips the educational scales in ones favor. Likewise personal social circumstances define individual paths of educational achievement.

Equal opportunity is best achieved by setting proper teacher/pupil/resource standards. Measured results should not be the standard of Equal Opportunity ... by then its too late!

Posted by: Don Majors on June 6, 2003 09:19 AM

bakho:You are correct. Equal allocation of financial assets is politically naive. And, the notion of reduced unit costs is not true for inner city poor schools. It probably applies to rural schools, but not to poor, inner city NY or Cleveland OH schools. They actually spend more/pupil.

Jim Glass writes:"Frankly, whenever I hear yet another person complain about how the poor in the cities are shorted by funding formulas that give city school systems less money than the suburbs get, I am always amazed at how I have never yet heard even a single such person complain about how the city school systems *themselves* use funding formulas that short the poor by 50% or more compared to what they give rich neighborhoods." ... " I certainly understand why teachers unions and boards of ed prefer to recommend social promotion and affirmative action to remedy eductional failure in those poor areas, rather than bring up the notion that they themselves might be underfunding the poor for their own convenience."

I suggest that the measure: spending/pupil, is pointless. Trying to solve the apparent disparity by redefining terms or reformulating financial equations makes no sense. Setting minimum standards for teacher certification, pupil/teacher ratios, and material resources is the answer. In other words we define the standards to have "equal opportunity". The pursuit of total equality is noble but impossible ... i.e. ones birthright as an American rather than a Namibian tips the educational scales in ones favor. Likewise personal social circumstances define individual paths of educational achievement.

Equal opportunity is best achieved by setting proper teacher/pupil/resource standards. Measured results should not be the standard of Equal Opportunity ... by then its too late!

Posted by: Don Majors on June 6, 2003 09:20 AM

>It's no secret what matters most for children's academic achievement, what with our 150 years of data on it. First and foremost *by far*, more than the quality of schools or anything else, is the attitude of their parents towards education. Not the wealth or income or education of the parents, but the attitude of the parents.

That this self-evident truth does not lie at the center of public discourse is depressing.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 6, 2003 09:23 AM

From the previous comments it has been suggested that a "culture of education" and "parental involvement" are key to improving the educational mean of a racial group. How does one purpose this politically? How are the social cultures changed?

Posted by: james on June 6, 2003 12:51 PM

Bucky Dent writes, "It's no secret what matters most for children's academic achievement, what with our 150 years of data on it. First and foremost *by far*, more than the quality of schools or anything else, is the attitude of their parents towards education. Not the wealth or income or education of the parents, but the attitude of the parents. That this self-evident truth does not lie at the center of public discourse is depressing."

James reponds, "How does one purpose this politically? How are the social cultures changed?"

My reponse to these are:

1) James, not everything is achieved "politically." In fact, the attitude that every problem IS solved "politically"...is part of the problem!

2) A huge factor affecting "parental attitude" is whether the parent is a single parent. It's a simple fact that a single parent simply doesn't have the time available that two parents have.

3) I don't think getting more two-parent families can be achieved primarily politically. But I *DO* know how it can NOT be achieved, politically. The way it can NOT be achieved politically, is by disparaging and ridiculing those politicians who state the simple truth that two parent families are generally better able to help their children (in education, and elsewhere) than single parent families.

Dan Quayle (and I'm NOT a fan of his) was almost literally laughed out of Washington, DC for observing this truth. In reality, it was probably one of the more sensible points he ever made.

The late Patrick Moynihan was called a racist (and probably worse) for noting the alarming trend towards fatherless black families, in the 1960s.

Larry Elder and Walter Williams are called...well, the things they are called simply don't belong on a family website, but "Oreo" and "Uncle Tom" some of the least offensive characterizations...for pointing out the problem of fatherless black families.

So any hope of addressing the problem has to include a complete stopping of the pathetic name-calling of people that identify this completely real problem.

4) I don't think the solution is political, but I do think that the Welfare reforms instituted in the 1990s helped, or at least didn't hurt. It's simple economics that, if the cost of for fathers NOT being there for there children is greatly lowered, then we will have MORE of fathers not being there for their children.

5) Again, the problem solution is probably not political, but the increasingly stringent state laws against "deadbeat dads" of the 1990s probably also helped, for the same reason mentioned in #4.

6) Culturally, shows like the Cosby Show almost certainly helped. (I know many people will think that's ridiculous, but I still think it's probably true...and would need to see evidence that it was NOT true, before I'd change my mind.) Conversely, well...gangsta rap music certainly doesn't help the situation. Again, one can pooh-pooh such observations...but I don't think it makes them untrue.

7) It certainly helps if famous black men speak of their PERSONAL belief that their families, and especially children, are important to them. A single public-service commercial of a famous black man (ala Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Ken Griffey Jr., many others) with his young child on his lap, saying, "I think reading to my children is great" probably does the same amount of good as a couple tens of millions of dollars of federal funding.

8) I give ALL my United Way contributions to programs that fight teen pregnancy. I definitely encourage others to consider this, when making your United Way contributions.

9) We should recognize that the problem of both black and white single-parent families appears to be getting slightly better, or at least not getting worse.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 6, 2003 04:10 PM

>shows like the Cosby Show almost certainly helped.

Nichelle Nichols, who played the foxy Uhura in the original Star Trek, said Martin Luther King urged her to stay with the show because her role showed the world a black woman can be technically adept and at ease in a professional, er, universe.

http://www.uhura.com/

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 6, 2003 04:37 PM

Yeah, and *the kiss* (first interracial kiss on TV) was also good:

http://www.swinginchicks.com/nichelle_nichols.htm

I've read that Levar Burton was unhappy with his VISOR in Star Trek TNG:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/st/interviews/burton/page16.shtml

...this thing mentions the pain, but I think I've also read that he didn't like it as an actor. Totally covering the eyes, all the time...makes it a little hard to convey emotion. But his technobabble may have impressed at least some kids:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/st/interviews/burton/page4.shtml

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 6, 2003 05:04 PM

Ah! A fellow Trekie!

Yes.

In thinking about the power of Trek's ability to "normalize" race relations, I realized that since "obviously" Star Fleet was a pure meritocracy, then blacks holding high/demanding positions "proved" their objective worth.

Posted by: Bucky Dent on June 7, 2003 05:41 AM

Mark Bahner and Bucky Dent as trekkies/trekkers? hard to understand, since the human society depicted in ST universe is thoroughly socialist.

Their mindset looks more in accord with the Babylon 5 shadows and their human allies. I have the feeling that Straczynski got the inspiration for the Shadows philosophy from the neo-cons blurbs.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on June 8, 2003 08:43 AM

"Mark Bahner and Bucky Dent as trekkies/trekkers? hard to understand, since the human society depicted in ST universe is thoroughly socialist."

I can't speak to the original, as it's been too long since I've seen episodes. And Deep Space Nine and later incarnations never really interested me.

So about the only version I can speak to is Next Generation, as I see re-runs of that once a week or so.

Next Generation is essentially "post-economics" in its outlook. There is no money...and people do whatever they want.

I think that situation is actually likely to occur (that wealth will be so great, that it's not actually necessary to work, to live). In fact, my guess for when that will occur--it will obviously not occur on one specific day, but over a period of years or decades--is in as little as 70 years (here in the U.S.), or as many as 200 years.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 8, 2003 03:13 PM
Post a comment