Thursday, March 20, 2008

America's Secret Racism, Courtesy of White Liberal Guilt

I was reading Sue Shellenbarger's article in the Wall Street Journal today about research demonstrating that some decidedly conservative principles can prevent marriages from ending in divorce.

The article's content was unsurprising, considering the Journal's conservative bent, until I encountered the following quote (my emphasis added):
"In the Army, blacks tend to be fairly paid and promoted -- and to divorce at the same rate as white civilians. Given the well-documented tendency of workaday emotions to spill over at home, it makes sense to avoid workplaces where the deck is stacked against you."

So, the implication is that every workplace in America except the US Military engages in anti-black discrimination.

This is exactly the kind of garbage rhetoric that perpetuates the race industry in America. In case the article's author didn't notice, workplace discrimination is against the law. If she is aware of a set of businesses engaging in the practice, I suggest she report it to her local authorities. I also suggest that she include a list of these businesses in her column.

Naturally, she won't do that, because she doesn't actually have any personal knowledge of which businesses, if any, engage in these practices. What she's really doing is repeating a well-worn mantra from the civil-rights era that everyone just assumes must still be true.

Only, in the vast majority of cases no such discrimination exists. Our government has done, and continues to do, an excellent job rooting out racism in employment. Violators are prosecuted, and rightly so. But these days, it's pretty rare to see a prosecution for racial discrimination. This is a consequnce of such vigorous enforcement.

Today, America's much bigger racial issue is a culture of low expectations and white liberal guilt which combine to make it difficult for members of certain ethnic groups to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, many in the minority communities are unwilling to come forward and demand to be treated as full adult citizens of the country. I suspect this is because they want to protect benefits such as affirmative action, and because certain well-placed minority "leaders" make money hand over fist by crying racism at every opportunity.

Minorities should reject the bigoted attitude of white liberals that they cannot compete in a fair workplace. White liberals should leave their guilt behind and finally embrace minorities as fully equal human beings. Only then can all Americans make progress together.


  1. There's hard racism, and soft racism

    You provide no data for your assertions, but I'll give you a 1 + 1 with data:

    It is quite generalize about a candidates identity based on the name

    ethnic minorities, once identified, are statistically discriminated against with regard to salary and acceptance

    It is easier to say that you can meet the burden of proof for a discrimination case, and hope it's so, than for it to be so

    Discrimination is part of human nature, we are tribal critters. Saying it doesn't exist is silly.

    White conservative rhetoric about how expecting more will solve everything isn't a bad idea, and would help, but it isn't the only solution required, and won't solve anything without other solution components

  2. All good points.

    The issue I have with other "solutions" is that they undermine the ultimate goal of treating everybody in a reasonable fashion. So long as society bends the rules for a set of people, those same people will carry the burden of implied inferiority.

    I have read numerous studies about racism and ethnic stereotyping in the workplace. While there is no doubt some amount of it exists, I believe it is a small factor which is overwhelmed by more salient factors such as work ethic, intelligence and experience.

    Usually such studies amount to something like this: "Absent any other way to distinguish between candidate A and B, people sometimes resort to race."

    In the real world, there are always many other ways to distinguish, and those predominate.

  3. This is a response to the 'data' provided by Mike Hardy. The second study could hardly be called data that demonstrated evidence of discrimination "with regard to salary and acceptance". It's about behavior at card shows! Now one might want to extrapolate from this to what one thinks are similar situations, no credible social scientist would do this because that these situations are indeed similar would itself stand in need of data to support that claim. Since I know of no data that supports how behavior at card shows impacts workplace relationships, let's just put that 'data' aside.

    The other one is more plausibly relevant, but this involves decision theoretic game situations, which, if one doesn't know what they are, are too easily misunderstood. That the 'dictator' game scenario showed evidence of stereotype bias (against, I might add, 'easterners'--not Africans or African Americans--in Isreal) is evidence that people can be biased. No great shock there. But that this kind of bias carries over into an incomparably more complicated environment like a workplace (where there are substantial laws in place to mitigate it) is again, something that stands in need of further evidence. Also, it wasn't pointed out in the comment that the evidence of the 'ultimatum game' scenario was actually the reverse of the result in the other games.

    There are other studies out there about resumes and names that are more clearly a propos of this issue, so if Mr. Hardy is looking for evidence, he can find it closer to home. Yet again, is that evidence of irrational bias and prejudice, or people making attributions to individuals on the basis of evidence gathered from group data? Are those two things different anyway? It's not so obvious.

  4. I was really hunting for studies I could cite that were closer to home with regard to actual workplace bias based solely on name (I have seen some - following the name=ethnicity / ethnicity=statistically under-offered/under-hired path...just couldn't find the links! frustrating) but couldn't.

    At least both your replies are very reasonable, as I was trying to be (why do I come to expect just a bunch of yelling these days, anywhere? It's a shame)

    I will say that I don't believe bending the rules for one set of people implies inferiority.

    From a different perspective: is there a connection between current racial wealth gaps and the chain of events beginning with slavery, going through share-cropping and jim crow, and ending with segregation quite recently? If there is a connection (and I will say I think there is), could that that not account for a large percentage of the achievement gap between black and white folks?

    Going further out on a limb (if it could...) how do you go about closing the gap? Is closing the gap even a "social good" worth pursuing?

    Now, if that connection were proven, and redress were deemed worth it, would that redress imply that recipients were inferior? It doesn't seem to me that it would. It seems like it would imply that the system used to be rigged, and there's an attempt not just to unrig at present, but to re-balance based on what "could" have been. Similar to South African rules about corporate ownership. I'm not saying I agree or not with any of these policies, just saying that it shouldn't have bearing on feelings of inferiority for the people involved at present.

    Perhaps the heart of it is what you hit on though, is it even possible to attempt to close any of these gaps without corrupting the system of rewards for straight hard work? It's clearly not easy.

  5. Very interesting. I feel this touches on a concept that I have rarely, if ever, heard discussed. Namely, whether or not stereotypes are, in and of themselves, actually A Bad Thing.

    Studies show that humans are quite good at forming accurate stereotypes about the world (which, from an evolutionary point of view, is kind of an obvious conclusion). I personally believe that the vast majority of racial stereotypes are not the result of pernicious self-reinforcing racism, but simply reflect an imperfect world as it actually is; this is why studies show that minorities hold many of the same stereotypes about themselves that outsiders do. And while I do believe it's possible (and desirable) to legislate against clearly racist behavior, I also believe it's impossible to stop people from forming reasonable, accurate generalizations about the world they live in. In other words, it's impossible to legislate away 'soft' racism.

    What, then is the solution? It's tricky, because attitudes are like viruses - they evolve in the face of a changing environment. The standard liberal solution of affirmative action is like throwing weak antibiotic at TB: instead of resistant TB, you wind up with Clarence Thomas, someone who reinforces the notion that even successful minorities are inferior.

    In the absence of affirmative action - or other attempts at social engineering - evolutionary mechanics work in exactly the opposite direction. Subtle discrimination acts to ensure that only the best, most talented, highly motivated minority candidates will survive the selection process to become doctors, lawyers, judges. After a generation or two of that, 'soft' racism would collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

    I guess this is just a long way of saying that respect is earned and not given, and that affirmative action deprives minority communities the opportunity to earn it. Is it 'fair' that minorities HAVE to earn respect after generations of racism, slavery, etc? No, probably not. But it seems to me to be the only way of actually fixing the problem.

  6. Mr. Hardy:

    I'm a little skeptical of the argument that the current achievement gap has a large contribution from the twin horrors of slavery and Jim Crow. Or, more precisely, if there is a connection, we don't have instruments to detect it. If one controls for things like family income, education level of parents, high quality schools, indeed virtually everything imaginable, the achievement gap still shows up. So, if it's a legacy, it's one that's impervious to all of that (and that's a lot). Ogbu's work on Shaker Heights demonstrates pretty clearly that just coming from uneducated, poor parents isn't necessary for the gap. I think the problem is cultural, and the culture pervades certain communities at all levels of wealth and income. How does one explain that the gap shows up as early as 3? How has the legacy manifest itself that young? How does one explain that the average African American infant, even controlling for the educational level of the parents, is exposed to markedly fewer words as an infant? Easy answers to these questions (slavery, etc.) aren't doing anyone any good.

  7. I never thought that one of the most concise posts on race relations would be written by a self labeled conservative. The responses are also very well thought out. Thank you all!
    I agree with you that white liberals today "need" racism more than a typical white conservative. In an attempt to be sensitive and multicultural, white liberals continue to reduce minorities to their historical roles. Also many white liberals have very little going on for themselves morally besides their sense of pity. However, I disagree with you about Blacks and other minorities not facing discouragement in the workplace as I myself have felt this in jobs @ East Bay non profits and UC-Berkeley of all places (being asked my race during job interviews, etc). I am half white and half Asian so I can only imagine the way other people are treated. It takes surprisingly little rejection from whites for other people to want to reject whites back. Ex: I know UC-Berkeley graduates who refuse to build credit or return DVDs on time because "that's white people stuff." They might not necessarily be helping themselves but I can see how 20something years x 365 days of rejection, this mindset is a natural response. People do studies on vocabulary of black children v. white, but there should also be studies on ethics and ability to cooperate between minority children and white children because I think in these cases, the minorities might be better prepared for a 21st century world in which diversity is a daily matter.