If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view.
John McWhorter, The New Republic | August 10, 2010 | 12:00 am
Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century (Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society), By Amy L. Wax [*Amazon*]
Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century, by Amy Wax
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 190 pp., $36.75
This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation—that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.
Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience—and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, “That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.”
Excerpts of Amy Wax's statements in discussion with Adam Serwer (see article below):
What blacks are doing -- the choices they are making educationally, criminally, etc -- is radically dysfunctional, and it requires them to confront that reality; and they are only hurting themselves to continue believing and acting in these ways. And even if some of them have such a realization, they are not translating it into action as a group.
Take the choice to get married. We have data that shows that even when you control for income, job and education; where you have 3 men: 1 white, 1 asian, 1 black. They have the same job, same income, same education. The black man is about half as likely to get married, and is many more times likely to have a child out of wedlock and to have multiple children with multiple women out of wedlock. So poverty is not dictating their behaviour. Their culture, their habits, their upbringing, their attitudes, their values are dictating their behaviour.
The decision to have a baby out of wedlock may be rational individually for a black woman, but for the group it is a disaster.
If people are going to make decisions that are good for them, but complain that the group is lagging behind, they must take a look at themselves, cause they are doing it to themselves.
So blacks are surrounded by different norms, they can’t get themselves out of it. It requires a conversion experience. It requires the black community to say to themselves that what we are doing is not working, the way they are living is not working. Groups and cultures succeed by building human capital, and blacks are not doing a good job of building the human capital of the next generation. Their is wholesale abandonment of the next generation. To change this reality of choices favouring criminality and under-achievement, they have to change decision-making in a radical way.
White people make better decisions because our culture is superior. Because someone is born into a superior culture, such a person generally makes better decisions. People came from poverty as immigrants, and they leap frog above blacks who have been in America for centuries. The notion to blame everything on poverty is just bunkum. Poverty is not the problem, it is not the determinative factor, because people overcome it everyday.
Superiority of white cultural norms makes the difference. Blacks rates of crime are higher, their marriage rates are lower, so its not money, it’s a set of habits, outlook, cultural norms that just keep perpetuating themselves. In part affluence comes out of these superior cultural norms.
Wax is well aware that past discrimination created black-white disparities in education, wealth, and employment. Still, she argues that discrimination today is no longer the “brick wall” obstacle it once was, and that the main problems for poor and working-class blacks today are cultural ones that they alone can fix. Not that they alone should fix—Wax is making no moral argument—but that they alone can fix.
A typical take on race has no room for stories such as this one. In 1987, a rich philanthropist in Philadelphia “adopted” 112 inner-city sixth-graders, most of them from broken homes. He guaranteed them a fully-funded education through college if the kids would refrain from drugs, unwed parenthood, and crime. He even provided tutors, workshops, after-school programs, summer programs, and counselors when trouble arose. Forty-five of the kids never made it through high school. Thirteen years later, of the sixty-seven boys, nineteen were felons; the forty-five girls had sixty-three total children, and more than half had their babies before the age of eighteen. Crucially, this was not surprising: The reason was culture. These children had been nurtured in communities with different norms than those that reign in Scarsdale.
What this means, Wax points out, is that scrupulous recountings of the historical reasons for black problems are of no significant use in finding solutions. She notes:The black family was far more stable 50 years ago, when conditions for blacks were far worse than they are today. Black out-of-wedlock births started to climb and marriage rates to fall around 1960, long after slavery was abolished and just as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Perhaps a more nuanced explanation for the recent deterioration is that the legacy of slavery made the black family more vulnerable to the cultural subversions of the 1960s. But what does this tell us that is useful today? The answer is: nothing.
One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.
There are those who would beg to differ, but Wax is especially good at showing the flaws in their arguments. The Implicit Association Test (which tests split-second mental associations) does show that people subtly associate black people with negative adjectives—but also that people with those biases do not necessarily act on them and sometimes even favor blacks in their actions. Moreover, a study by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas showed that poor women (many of them black) decided not to marry their children’s fathers not because the men didn’t have jobs, but because of their undependable behavior.
The weakness—and sadness—of this fine book is that it has no prescription. Wax makes a series of arguments—stop focusing on the past, think about culture rather than structure, criticize failure and emulate success—but she does not tell us how to accomplish these goals. The task is certainly huge. The focus on culture that Wax champions would be one in which a black family would be deeply ashamed of the man with two “baby mamas” who works only “odd jobs” and largely gets by selling drugs. But the implacable present-day fact is that in his actually existing community today that man is considered less than ideal but still quite normal. He is loved and accepted, not least as a consequence of the latent meme that only so much can be expected of black people because of the oppressiveness of The System. Hence as Wax notes, Tavis Smiley could produce a whole volume called The Covenant With Black America, urging blacks to “hold leaders to account” and include a mere two lines about out-of-wedlock child-rearing. The black radical is considered, even if “a little crazy,” as “having something to say.” Many black church audiences are now eager to get an earful of Jeremiah Wright.
Wax stipulates that the government should do all that it can to ensure equal opportunity, which includes providing decent education and enforcing civil rights laws. I would say that there is somewhat more that the government can do, given the historical circumstances. Programs to ease ex-cons back into society could do infinitely more for black inner-cities than suing car companies over small differences in loan deals. Those who think that Obama has no “black agenda” are unaware of how many black people attend the community colleges to which he has given extra (if insufficient) funding.
Still, at the end of day, as Wax puts it:The government cannot make people watch less television, talk to their children, or read more books. It cannot ordain domestic order, harmony, tranquility, stability, or other conditions conducive to academic success and the development of sound character. Nor can it determine how families structure their interactions and routines or how family resources—including time and money—are expended. Large-scale programs are especially ineffective in changing attitudes and values toward learning, work, and marriage.
It would have been rather callous if anyone wrote this a few years past the Great Society heyday, when little could be known as to whether a New New Deal was going to turn black America upside down. But now these truths must be stated.
The typical way of having one’s cake and eating it too here is to say that we need to think about both government help and self-help. But in practice this too often becomes a handy way to focus on the comforts of underdoggism while genuflecting to the obvious but undramatic logic of self-direction. Wax usefully asks: “Is it possible to pursue an arduous program of self-improvement while simultaneously thinking of oneself as a victim of grievous mistreatment and of one’s shortcomings as a product of external forces?” To the extent that our ideology on race is more about studied radicalism than about a healthy brand of what Wax calls an internal locus of control, her book provokes, at least in this reader, a certain hopelessness. If she is right, then the bulk of today’s discussion of black America is performance art. Tragically, and for the most part, she is right.
John McWhorter is the author of Our Magnificant Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English and teaches at Columbia University.
» » » » [The New Republic]
Why the left is finished, in microcosm
Notus Wind, Majority Rights | October 12, 2010 at 04:42 PM
In short, it is no longer even capable of honestly confronting the massive problems that it’s creating nor can it make due on its many promises. It is characterized by cowardice, exhaustion, and fear. The Sword of Damocles is starting to wobble a bit.
But we’re only going to consider this in microcosm right now, which means - yes - another clip from Bloggingheads.tv.
Comes now Mr. Adam Serwer who is a young and up-and-coming lefty that writes for The American Prospect, I believe he is Jewish with a shade of Black blood - a real man for our time. His interlocutor is Mrs. Amy Wax who is here to discuss with Adam her new book, “Race, Wrongs, and Remedies”.
And here is where things get interesting, Mrs. Wax happens to be a liberal who is really concerned about the hopelessly dysfunctional state of the American underclass (both Black and Hispanic), she is worried that their situation is quickly going from bad to worse and that we - the collective liberal elite - have abandoned these people. Of course, she is right; the liberal elite have abandoned these people because they don’t give a damn about them, the colored underclass is just a voting farm and an object to be manipulated for the left’s benefit.
But they are a growing problem, and I think Mrs. Wax senses that we can’t continue to ignore their dysfunctionality forever because, well, eventually we won’t be able to.
Mr. Serwer - the future of the left and a man for our time - is having none of this, with his gaze always shifted to the side he spits out the standard retorts and the mindless babble that passes for conventional thinking. Mrs. Wax won’t have any of it in return, which means an entertaining spectacle for the likes of us is about to take place. Enjoy.
Mr. Serwer is, for me, just another piece of evidence for why the left is finished and exhausted.
» » » » [Majority Rights]
A courageous and important book
By Richard B. Schwartz (Columbia, Missouri USA) | September 4, 2010 | Amazon
Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century (Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society), By Amy L. Wax [*Amazon*]
This is a courageous book. Describing its perspective as `self-help', the author argues that structural, governmental, `external' solutions for inequalities by race have now largely run their course and their returns have diminished significantly. The solutions to inequality now rest with the black community itself. `Hard struggles' remain, but `brick walls' have largely been removed. The principal problems causing the continuing inequalities are behavioral and cultural.
Given the response to arguments along this line from Bill Cosby, Juan Williams, et al., this is not a point of view that is likely to be warmly and enthusiastically embraced. She comes to the argument with a lawyer's perspective, one informed particularly by the laws governing liability and remedies.
Her key insight/example concerns a parable of an injured pedestrian. The pedestrian is hit by a guilty motorist. The motorist is directed to do all in his power to make the injured pedestrian whole. He attempts to do so. However, there are certain things that the injured pedestrian must do for himself. The guilty driver will pay for his medical care, medications and physical therapy, for example, but the injured pedestrian must show up for his appointments, fill and take his prescriptions and perform the exercises required by his physical therapist. In some ways this seems unjust. The motorist was guilty, the pedestrian innocent, but his return to health is dependent on his, not just the motorist's actions.
The author's argument is that this does in fact appear to be unjust, and that we cannot absolve the motorist of guilt. At the same time, the irreducible fact is that in the current (admittedly unfair) circumstance, the pedestrian will not walk again unless and until he takes responsibility for those things which he and only he can do.
The author rehearses some well-known facts: that the black family was stronger prior to the 1960's and that out-of-wedlock births have increased (to the 70% level) at a time when individuals experience less discrimination. She studies test scores and the per-pupil investments in public education (slightly higher now in the largely black community than in the largely white). Her prescriptions are traditional ones: establish stable families, avoid having babies prior to marriage, complete high school and develop characteristics that will help further one's success in school as well as on the job--dependability, tenacity, dedication, and so on.
There are several reasons why the initial reactions to the book have been far less hostile than one might have expected. First, the author is a senior law professor at an ivy league institution. In all that she says she appears to be a serious and fair-minded person who genuinely seeks the end to racial inequalities. The issues at stake are, in many cases, legal ones and she has expertise in this area. Most important, the book is a thoroughgoing, scholarly one. Its relatively brief text is anchored by weighty annotation. Like many social scientists, she feels the need to document nearly every assertion. Of course, in an area as important and controversial as this, one needs to document such assertions. She does so.
This is not to suggest that the book is an unreadable tome. It is not. It is written with lucidity and clarity and it is accessible to any reader interested in the subject. She anticipates the responses of political and community critics and does so generously and politely. She also examines the `deterministic' and reductionist nature of previous arguments based in the social sciences and assesses their usefulness. We have come, she argues, as far as we can with `external' solutions; we now need `internal' ones. This book will now be an important element in any future discussion of race and inequality in America.
» » » » [Amazon]