Saturday, November 7, 2020

Are We Over-Thinking Racism?

A lot of people are obsessed with "white guilt" and "white privilege" - why are these issues so pressing today, in an era where racial minorities have more rights and opportunities than ever before?

A reader writes that she read an article many years ago about how riding a bicycle in traffic must be what it is like to be black in white America - and helped the author understand "white privilege".   The reader went to search for that article and found instead, another article decrying the analogy as yet another example of white privilege.

You really can't win at that game, can you?  If you try to be sympathetic to the BLM movement, as a white person, you are deemed to be condescending or "whitesplaining" or whatever.  And if you don't prostrate yourself enough, well, then you are part of the problem - "silence is violence" or some such nonsense - which is a great way of saying "Agree with what I say, or else!"  Not a great way to get people to join your movement.  But it is right from the GOP playbook - calling supporters "RINOS" unless they fall in line.

The best strategy is to not play the game at all.   You see, no matter how you try to play this game, the other side can just say you either (a) have no right to an opinion, or (b) you are "whitesplaining" again, (d) you haven't sufficiently apologized for being white, or (c) whatever other excuse people use to shout down discussion.

In way, it is almost hilarious how liberal organizations are falling all over themselves to kow-tow to this new norm.  I was at a website of a hippy theater group that is, well, pretty much all-white.  On their website is a multi-page mea culpa, where they apologize for being white and promise to listen to people of color in the future, etc. etc. ad nauseum.   Why not cut to the chase and just kill yourself?  Because anything less than that isn't acceptable to some of these radicals.   Silence is violence, dude!

Is there such a thing as "white privilege"?   How is it that white folks - who make up 72% of the population in America, are over-represented in terms of wealth and under-represented in terms of incarceration?  It this racism, or the long-term effect of "money batons" passed down through the years by racist slave-owners?

Well, the real answer is this: The "white privilege" has more to do with social values and social connections than with money per se.   When you grow up in a prosperous suburb, and your parents have good-paying jobs and you go to a school with good teachers, no graffiti on the wall, and no threats of violence leveled against you on a daily basis, well, yea, you tend to do better in life.

The head of Wells Fargo - the bank everyone loves to hate (for good reason) even more than Bank of America - recently got into hot water by saying there weren't enough minority candidates to fill top positions at the bank.  Trying to fill seats on the board of directors or in the executive suite, with people with the requisite academic credentials and experience is not easy - few blacks go into the finance field, historically.

What he said wasn't untrue, but it was shouted down as "racist" without bothering to analyze why he said it and whether it was true or not.  Truth is truth, and is not "racist" if it is true.  What critics perhaps felt was that his statement was a disparagement of minorities as not being capable of such academic achievement or being qualified for such jobs.   But that wasn't what he said.

The problem isn't demand-side so much as supply-side.  Yes, in the past, it was a demand-side problem, and still is, to some extent, today. 50 years ago, Well Fargo would not have sought out a black candidate for the Board of Directors, CEO, CFO, or COO.   A qualified candidate would have been disqualified because of their race, period, and pretty much back then, that was life in America, and for the most part, it was legal.  We've come a long way in that regard.

Since then, with affirmative action in the 1970's and today, with social pressures to make companies reflect the racial makeup of the country, there is more of demand-side pressure to hire minority candidates.  There are opportunities today that didn't exist even a few years ago.

Problem is, the pipeline for these jobs is decades long.  You don't join the Board of Directors or become an officer of a company right out of college - regardless of your race. It takes years of hard work, and for many minorities in the past, such career paths were cut off, so there is no pipeline of qualified candidates - or at least not enough to fill all the available openings.

Compounding this are social and economic issues.   Most kids from poor households - white, black, or whatever - don't say to their parents, "Gee, I'm thinking of a career in high finance!"  They have no role models for such a career path, and expectations are set low from birth.  This is true in the all-white rural trailer park as it is in the inner-city ghetto.   The problem is, fundamentally, blacks are over-represented in poverty statistics.   But as the legions of illiterate Trump supporters illustrate, whites are catching up!

This is not to say that Blacks are to blame for their own predicament - far from it.  White stereotyping of Black culture is a big part of the problem.  On the television and in the movies, black people are portrayed as somewhat dangerous and violent, prone to drug use, and criminality.  It isn't black folks who are propagating these myths, but usually white people.  Young white kids listen to rap and hip-hop music - and indeed are the largest audience of such genres - because they want to mimic the "gansta" lifestyle, and imagine themselves as "playas" pimping 'hos and selling drugs and whatnot.  For them, it is all a game, just play-acting.  They go home at the end of the night and the next day, fill out their application for an ivy-league school.

These stereotypes are harmful.  It has been noted in the past that many young white kids would drive to black neighborhoods to buy drugs, approaching any young black man on the street, just assuming they sold drugs.  As one young black youth put it, he finally broke down and started selling them - why not, if the demand was that great?  Again, as whites are 72% of the population, they represent the greatest market for drugs - but are rarely caught or prosecuted for simple possession.  Blacks, on the other hand, often forced into selling drugs due to economic necessity or social pressure, end up in jail.

It gets worse - the drug thing.   Wealthy white people in Los Angeles go to parties and snort cocaine and have a good time.  Meanwhile, thirty people are decapitated in a drug war in Mexico, as gangs fight over the right to smuggle drugs to America to feed the insatiable habits of wealthy, white Americans.

Yea, the drug thing has been a neat way of keeping minorities down for a long time.   Remember the opium wars in China?  It worked then, it works today.

But all that being said, perhaps we are over-thinking this.  One of the apparent positions that some folks are taking (and oddly enough, white folks) is that the only reason white people have succeeded in life is because they live off the fruits of minority labor. This may come as a surprise to a lot of white people who have struggled hard for decades to succeed, putting money aside, investing, and then reaping the rewards of that labor.

Working my way through college - all 14 years of it - did not involve my exploitation of Blacks, Hispanics, or anyone else.  I did not "displace" any qualified minority candidate in being admitted to school, or in getting a job.  In the latter, often I was the only applicant for the position.

Similarly, my 30 years in the Patent field did not involve my exploitation of any minorities.  I wrote Patent Applications and got paid for it.  I did not get preferential treatment for being white or anything. Patent Attorneys were in short supply then - and now - and qualified people have no trouble finding a job in that field regardless of their skin color. Sadly, there are few minorities who have degrees in Engineering and Law to be qualified for that job.   A few - some of whom I knew and worked with and worked for - but not many.

And therein lies the problem - not "white privilege" but a lack of candidates to fill these sort of jobs that pay well or control the levers of our society.  And this is not a problem than can be fixed overnight, nor should it be fixed by elevating people to jobs if they don't have the necessary qualifications.

This means that simple, pat answers like "defund the Police" or "white privilege" or "slave reparations" are not going to change much, if anything.  In fact, they may set us back by decades, by dividing people even more.   What we need is a new generation of black youth who want to take these jobs, who are also given the educational opportunities, in both primary and secondary education, to qualify for them.

What I expect we will find is that, like with other cultural minorities, where advancement and education are not valued, the success rate will be low.   It is just as hard to get the redneck child from the trailer park to go to college and succeed, as it is to get the youth from the inner-city ghetto to succeed. No one seems to feel too sorry for the redneck trailer park boy, even though his sort outnumbers the disadvantaged black youth by at least 2:1.

Yes, racism plays a part - but every year, a smaller and smaller part.  Other factors which are harder to identify and damn-near-impossible to eradicate, account for most of the problem.  And sadly, many of the folks on the left not only don't want to address these sticky problems, they ascribe them as desirable cultural values that should not only be tolerated, but enshrined.  For example, the whole "Ebonics" thing a few years back - arguing that ghetto slang should not only be tolerated but elevated and taught in school as a language course.  No one makes similar noises about how to speak redneck.  Accents and slang are one thing that keep poor people - of all races - down.  Talk stupid, act stupid, live stupid. Race has less to do with it than you think.

Of course, if you make this argument, you are accused of being racist - of praising "articulate blacks" as if being articulate was some sort of bad thing - as if saying something intelligent was "acting white" and thus bad.   How are blacks going to succeed if success is seen as only a white cultural value?

Those are hard answers.  Simple answers to complex problems are usually the wrong answers.   You can "defund the police" and decriminalize drugs and let people out of jail, it won't change much in the short run or the long run.  Hand out "slave reparations" and they will be spent in a month and change little.  So long as the inner city ghettos are crime-ridden and controlled by gangs, black youth will have few opportunities to take controls of the levers of our society and become leaders and businessmen and millionaires and billionaires.

The good news is, well, things are slowly changing - which is not fast enough for most folks.   Opportunities for minorities have improved, but until there is a solid black middle class in this country - one who lives in neighborhoods with good schools, where education and advancement is valued - not much will change.  That isn't a popular answer, to be sure.  And no, it isn't "blaming the victim" just stating a truth.

Part of the problem is how we fund schools in this country.  My late sister taught elementary school in a poor part of town.  She recounted how she had to make photocopies of textbooks for the students - with her own money - as there were not enough books to go around.  She had to bring school supplies to class as well, again with her own money.  And many of the students - mostly Hispanic - hadn't had breakfast that day, and were bored and listless in class.

Meanwhile, at the school where her own children went, they had a brand-new football stadium with a jumbotron screen and stadium lighting for night games.  No lack of funding there.   The problem was - and is - that schools are funded by local tax dollars, and the jurisdiction where she taught was a poor one, and thus had little money for the school budget.  The school district where she lived was a wealthier one, and as a result, her children had better educational opportunities.

It was helpful also, for her children, that she had a college education and instilled the value of education into her children - something that she inherited from our parents.  There's your white privilege right there.   This is not to say that kids in wealthier neighborhoods don't often squander this advantage - my own life is an example of this.

Perhaps a better path than "defund the police" would be to "fund the schools" and do so in a manner that is evenhanded across the State and across States. This gets tricky. You see, the parents in the wealthier neighborhoods don't want their tax dollars going to pay for the school in the poor neighborhood.  They don't want their school "defunded" or their tax rates increased.   And even if you could implement such a scheme, there would still be States where dollars spent on education are far less than other States.  Dollars spent per pupil in Arkansas are far less than in New York.  On the other hand, the District of Columbia spends the most per pupil in the country, and yet test scores are some of the lowest.

Yea, that. You see, our school systems are rife with corruption and inefficiency.  I recounted before how a friend of mine worked for an NGO "readers" program for inner-city schools.  She was assigned an assistant, who was the son of the Principal.  It was a "no-show" job, and he got a paycheck and got high all day. Tony Soprano couldn't have set up a better system.  Until schools are reorganized and the teacher's unions neutered, not much will change.  One reason my late Sister's school district was so poorly funded for school supplies, was that teacher salaries sucked up what little oxygen was in the room.

Gee, solving the world's problems gets tricky, doesn't it?  Simple slogans really don't accomplish much.  And even complex schemes will fail because stakeholders won't go along with them.

So does this mean we do nothing?   Well, we can try to make changes, but realize that some sort of compromise has to occur and that nothing is perfect.  Burning down your neighborhood isn't solving the problem, nor is calling looting "reparations".

On an individual level, you can move to a better neighborhood.  In the movie, Slums of Beverly Hills, the screenwriter (on whose life the film was based) recounts how in her childhood, her ne'er-do-well Father always rented cheap apartments (often not even paying rent!) in the fringes of the 90210 zip code.  He did this solely so his children would attend the prestigious Beverly Hills High School.   He was willing to sacrifice and live in a dump, so his kids could have a better life.  Others make different choices - living large in a cheap neighborhood, but living with a higher crime rate, poorer schools, and poorer social values.

I recounted before how a friend of mine from South Philly left her neighborhood and joined the Navy.  I met her when she was working on a Law Masters degree - paid for by the JAG corps she was working for.  Another friend, from a trailer park in West-by-God Virginia, left home and went to design school and became a fabulous interior designer - reinventing herself down to her name, even.  You can be dealt a shit sandwich in life, but that doesn't mean you have to eat it.

Sadly, few people have the intelligence or the ambition to overcome adversity this way - and it ain't easy, and the worst obstacle to success will be your peers - the folks in the trailer park or the ghetto who think you are "getting above yourself" and will pull you back down into the crab bucket.

I saw this firsthand, as my drug buddies tried again and again to drag me back to the bong and the beer keg, when I quit drugs and went back to school full-time (and worked all night at United Parcel).  I would come home at 4AM from work (instead of a bar) and find my old Chevy covered with beer bottles - they had partied all night there, waiting for me to come home.  Kind of touching, in one way.  Kind of evil, in another way.

Funny thing, that.  Growing up with "white privilege" - I had access to good schools, my parents instilled the value of education and hard work (the so-called Protestant Work Ethic), and coming from a middle-class family - I still managed to fall down the economic ladder.  The greatest challenge to my success in life was myself.  And my peers were not much help, either.  I was able to pull out of that nosedive, with much effort.  My peers and other family members were less fortunate (or less willing to work at it).

Eliminating racism is a good idea - but eliminating all racism will never happen.  Trying to shame white people for being successful only ensures that racism will be perpetuated.  And the causes of low achievement among some minorities cannot be explained by racism alone.  Life is a lot more complicated than black and white.