Saturday reading: Glenn Loury on the history of civil rights

October 8, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Glenn Loury is, as you know, a black heterodox thinker and writer, much like his friend John McWhorter. Loury was also the first professor of economics at Harvard to get tenure, and that at only 33. Now he works at Brown University.

I found out only yesterday that Glenn has a Substack site, and saw the post below on it. Click to read, but, as always, subscribe if you read regularly. This post is free to the public, and if you’re pulled up short, just click “Let me read it first”:

This is a long post, much of it reproduced from an earlier interview that is not online. Loury intro:

There is no better time than now to think back with a critical eye on the conditions that brought about landmark mid-century civil rights legislation and Supreme Court decisions. Below I do just that in a long interview from 2019 led by Bucknell University sociologist Alexander Riley, which is taken from his edited collection, Reflecting on the 1960s at 50: A Concise Account on How the 1960s Changed America, for Better and for WorseIn it, I speak at length on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers, affirmative action, mass incarceration, and reparations, among other topics.

A few quotes under topics I’ve chosen:

The relative efficacy of Dr. King’s actions vs. those of contemporary activists:

. . . .I get why people are saying that. I get why contemporary social justice activists are impatient with the color-blind “I have a dream that one day my children will be judged by the content of their character. Black and white will walk hand-in-hand together, etc., etc.” I understand people’s impatience with that rhetoric in our current day, but I just ask people to reflect on what the power of that rhetoric actually was in transforming structures in American society. Again, I don’t think the threats of violence, the rejection across the board of American norms, the contempt for patriotism, the classification of the Founding Fathers as a bunch of dead white males, half of whom were slave owners anyways, and “we were 3/5 of a man in the constitution,” I don’t think that kind of rhetoric gets us anywhere. So there’s that.

On affirmative action:

 I’m not one of those who would respond to affirmative action by saying it’s discrimination against non-black or non-Latino people and therefore it’s wrong and must not be done. It is discrimination to the extent that it’s undertaken to benefit blacks or Latinos, but it’s not discrimination that I think should be prevented on a constitutional argument. That’s one thing that I would say.

But we are here in the year 2019. Affirmative action is something that dates back to the late 1960s, and really gets going in the 1970s. President Lyndon Johnson famously says, I believe it’s at a commencement address at Howard University in 1965, that you don’t take someone who’s been hobbled by history, the chains that encumber them, and remove the chains and bring them up to the starting line of a race and then you set the race off and expect that you’re being entirely fair. This is a paraphrase of Johnson. What he says is we need equality as a fact, and equality as an outcome, not merely equality in principle or equality as a theory.

We are a half-century into this idea that we’ve got to do something special for the blacks in the competitive venues where they lag behind in order to ensure equality of opportunity. A half-century, that’s a long time. It’s as long from Johnson giving that speech in 1965 to where we sit right here, today, in 2019, as was the time that expired between Appomattox, where Lee surrenders to Grant, and Versailles, where the First World War is brought to a conclusion. That’s a long time. That’s three generations. It’s a long, long time.

There is a lot more he has to say on the issue, and it’s relevant because the Supreme Court is set to overturn the Bakke case. Last night I discussed with my friends, who are longtime social-justice activists of the good sort (they actually did and are still doing stuff: teachers at minority schools and social workers), and we all agreed that the true solution to underrepresentation (“inequity”) is not the magicking of equity into existence by lowering the bar for some groups, but a fundamental change in opportunity, allowing everyone equal opportunity from birth. And that would require income redistribution—anathema to most Americans and all Republicans. It would also require other changes difficult to make. But it’s the only viable long-term solution. As McWhorter notes:

There was recently this controversy about the exam schools in New York City: Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, Stuyvesant. They have an exam. They give the exam. Tens of thousands of people take it. They are admitting only hundreds. Stuyvesant constitutes a class—an incoming class for the fall next year—of 895 admits. Seven of them are black. And the newspaper article says, in the spirit of affirmative action, “Racial Segregation Returns to New York City’s High Schools.” The presumption is the low number of African Americans being admitted is a reflection of the failure of the institution to be fair and open to all people.

It is not! It’s a reflection of something else, something less pretty, something much more challenging, something that goes much more profoundly to the heart of what’s wrong in our country. It’s a reflection of the failure to develop the human potential of those youngsters who happen to be black. The test is only a messenger. It’s merely telling us what people know and what they don’t know. Some respond, “Well, let’s get rid of the test, let’s put a quota on the schools, let’s raise those numbers.” But why not, “Let’s develop those people so that they can compete”?

. . . I used to be one of those people who said, “Oh no, it is just racial discrimination, it is just reverse discrimination, and we shouldn’t do it.” And then I became one of those people who said, “Oh no, wait a minute, I do think we need to defend affirmative action.” And now I am one of these people who is saying, “Are we ever going to get serious about the actual problem of inequality and address ourselves to it? Affirmative action doesn’t take us to that point.” Imagine how weak, and, at the end of the day, pathetic it is to be in this position of begging not to have affirmative action taken away. Throwing a tantrum not to have them take away affirmative action. “We want our affirmative action!” Pathetic!

I still think that in the interim some form of affirmative action is needed, but perhaps it should be based on socioeconomic considerations rather than ethnicity. Since ethnicity is correlated with socioeconomic status, that would still create more “equity,” and perhaps that is the way colleges will counter the upcoming dismantling of affirmative action by the Supreme Court. I always wonder what will happen to the elaborate and expensive apparatus of DEI bureaucracy erected by many colleges and universities, including mine.  Will “D” no longer include race, but diversity of viewpoints and of socieconomic status?

On reparations.

I actually think that little bit of the question is kind of interesting, and maybe even ironic to me, because if I said that the family has a right to pass his wealth on to from one generation to the next without the encumbrance of inheritance tax, or call it the death tax as Republicans like to call it, a lot of progressives would say “Oh no, oh no. Just because your father made a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything. You didn’t earn it.” Well, likewise, just because my ancestors may have been deprived of the fruits of their labor by being forcibly enslaved doesn’t mean that necessarily that I am entitled to anything. I really don’t see, conceptually, a distinction between one or the other. In some sense, intergenerational entitlement being transferred from one generation to the next is intergenerational entitlement being transferred from one generation to the next.

But that’s not my main point. Do the facts of slavery, and Jim Crow segregation, and inequality, and restrictive covenants, and racial discrimination, and poll taxes, and literally tests, and anti-miscegenation laws, and all of that figure in a social scientifically identifiable way in accounting for some of the disadvantage of African American? I have no doubt that that’s true. I have no doubt that history casts a long shadow, that some dimension of African American poverty does indeed derive from historical mistreatment of African-Americans. Saying how much would, it seems to me, be a bridge too far. I don’t know how you do that as an empirical project.

. . . How about this? How about those who are concerned about the lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow as they manifest themselves in the lives of very poor and disadvantaged and marginalized people, how about if we get about the business of building a coalition of poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized people of all races, and try to formulate a politics in which the essential needs of those people for opportunity would be at the center of our advocacy? I am prepared to include white people, brown people, yellow people, red people, as well as black people in that effort. That would be, I think, a serious American political enterprise. This sectarian enterprise—“Y’all disadvantaged my ancestors and I need to get paid”—I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I don’t think frankly it should go anywhere.

There is much to read and think about in Loury’s essay, including prison reform as well as these Big Three racial issues: Is our goal to become color blind? What should we do about affirmative action? And should we enact reparations, and, if so, how? You may disagree with Loury, but he will make you think. (Feel free to give your opinions below on these three questions or other related issues.) But do read this piece.

We are probably going to have Loury speak on our campus this year, and I wonder what sort of disruptions would ensue.

A podcast: Loury and McWhorter discuss race

October 3, 2022 • 2:01 pm

Here’s a 51-minute podcast that first aired in July and has been reissued on Bari Weiss’s site (click screenshot below to listen).  It’s John McWhorter and Glen Loury discussing race in America, with good moderation by Kmele Foster. First, the podcast’s introductory statement:

Today’s episode is borrowed from the feed of the great podcast The Fifth Column. Usually hosted by Kmele Foster, Michael Moynihan, and Matt Welch, this episode, which aired in July of 2022, features Kmele and two guests who have become elder statesmen around the persistent issue of race in America: John McWhorter and Glenn Loury.

Over the past few years McWhorter, Loury and Foster each have written, discussed and lectured exhaustively on anti-racism, the role race plays in America, and the changing meaning of the word “racism” itself. In this episode, they talk about the inadequacies of regarding people solely by their racial category, the dignity of the individual and what a future might look like if we were to abolish race all together. While all three men bring a contrarian streak to this discussion, you’ll find that they have disagreements when it comes to questions of race abolition and the so-called “Racial Reckoning” of 2020.

Loury is an economist and professor of social science at Brown University. You can listen to his interview with Bari here. McWhorter is the author of numerous books, including Talking Black and Woke Racism. He’s also professor of Linguistics, Philosophy and Music at Columbia University, and a columnist at The New York Times.

Since 2015 Kmele Foster has been a prominent voice in a number of discussions about race in America, including his reporting challenging the mainstream media’s verdict on Amy Cooper, better known as the Central Park Karen.

There’s a lot of ground covered here, including the Zeitgeist, how John McWhorter’s book Woke Racism came to be, McWhorter’s take on the pair being seen as pawns of the Right, the nature of DEI, whether it’s an ideological position, how, according to both, it patronizes and dehumanizes minorities, and the question of whether racial identity is of any use—much less being necessary—or does it merely confer a kind of soothing tribalism on people. (This is one reason McWhorter calls Wokeism a “religion”.)

This is a good take on their views, and I love to listen to these guys. Like Pinker or Sam Harris, they speak in complete paragraphs, without even an “uh” or an “umm”. But of course it’s what they have to say that we you should pay attention to.

More ideological bias: the National Science Foundation gives grants for people to document what the NSF already claims to know

September 25, 2022 • 11:15 am

You can argue about whether the purview of the National Science Foundation (NSF) should include investigating whether American science and science education are “systemically racist” in addition to doing what the NSF normally does—funding science itself.  I won’t argue that, since I think that the NSF does fund sociology, and I suppose science is as good a field for sociological investigation as any other.

But I will argue—and what I discuss hre—is that the NSF isn’t calling for investigations of whether systemic racism is an important impediment to education and professional advancement in STEM. No, the NSF assumes that this is true, and then throws money at investigators to figure out how to remedy a problem that hasn’t yet been demonstrated.

In other words, the NSF claims to already know that not only is systemic racism real and prevalent in STEM, but is also the overweening cause of the inequities in representation.

This is question-begging in the authentic sense—assuming what you want to demonstrate. And I take “systemic racism in STEM” to mean the presence of ingrained features in STEM that cause discrimination against people (it could be any group, but they’re talking about racial discrimination). “Systemic racism” does not mean that “STEM has bigots”—all fields, do, of course—but rather that education in science, math, engineering, and technology have built-in features that discriminate against minorities and women. And that’s why those groups are underrepresented in STEM studies and among STEM academics.

Many NSF-funded scientists were sent a link to a new program solicitation for “racial equity in STEM” education, which has a pot of money between $15 million and $25 million. The goal is to show how systemic racism impedes STEM education and then how to overcome these impediments. The program assumes there’s systemic racism in science and science education, something that many scientists would contest, especially in view of the eagerness of many science departments to recruit minority students and faculty, sometimes giving them advantages over non-minorities. (Not long ago the National Institutes of Health started a program that gave minorities preferential access to grant money, but then quickly dismantled it when I think they realized it was illegal.)

Before I show you this question-begging, let me add that the goal—to give historically disadvantaged minorities a leg up in education—is admirable. But before you do that, you have to figure out exactly how the disadvantages act to reduce STEM participation. And, as I note just below, “systemic racism” is one of just several potential causes for underachievement.  Especially for a science organization, you cannot assume that systemic racism is THE cause. That has to be demonstrated, not assumed. But the NSF assumes and doesn’t demonstrate.

At any rate, here’s the proposal, sent by a colleague who was surprised that an organization that gives money for scientific research assumes from the outset that “systemic racism” is ingrained in STEM, so that there is no need to

a. demonstrate that this is true using an explicit definition of “systemic racism”, and

b. further demonstrate that systemic racism is the cause for inequities of representation of minorities in STEM.  As you know, there are other possible reasons, including “pipeline problems” based on unequal opportunities that start at birth and lead to educational deficits, as well as differences in career preference of different groups.

Click on the screenshot to see the program announcement.

I’ve taken some excerpts. Here is the “Important information” at the beginning of the announcement. I’ve highlighted “systemic racism throughout” so you can see how it’s assumed. Note that three of the four requirements assume systemic racism exists and is important in cause unequal representation.

I presume that “led by or in authentic partnership” means that proposals should have principal investigators that are minorities or at least collaborators. While you can’t investigate racism without studying minorities, this may be code for saying “we will favor proposals by minority Principal Investigators.” But they can’t say that outright because it’s illegal, just as it was with the NIH.

The rationale for the study, which is fine. Every American should have an equal opportunity from birth to study science and become a scientist. That doesn’t assure equity, of course, but it does assure equal opportunity.

The NSF Strategic Plan focuses on ensuring that U.S. research is an inclusive enterprise that benefits from the talent of all sectors of American society – a research enterprise that incorporates the rich demographic and geographic diversity of the nation. The strategic plan recognizes that the more people who engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research and the more diverse their backgrounds, the richer the range of questions asked. The result is a greater breadth of discovery and more creative solutions

The assumption that inequities are due to systemic racism:



There will be a total of 15-35 awards given, each award can be for up to five years, and you can ask for up to $5 million.

Note the big problem: they explicitly and repeatedly ascribe inequities (unequal representation of racial groups in proportion to their presence in the American population) to systemic racism. This is an assumption, not a fact.  And in truth, you cannot even begin such projects without a demonstration of what role ingrained features—and exactly which ingrained features—of STEM impede education in the sciences. Perhaps the NSF should use that $15-$25 to investigate the contribution of various factors to inequities. But that, of course, is taboo, because progressive doctrine already tells us the answer without any need for empirical investigation. It’s revelation, Jake! Or at least ideology.

NYT and other media fall for a hoax because it matched their ideology

September 16, 2022 • 9:20 am

I read about this incident (or rather, non-incident) the other day, but Jesse Singal, in a post on Bari Weiss’s site, tells the whole story in detail. The lesson is that when a story appeals to the ideological bias of a newspaper, even if it doesn’t check out, they sometimes print it as if were true, or at least don’t check it out especially thoroughly.  It’s especially galling when America’s premier newspaper, The New York Times, falls prey to this confirmation bias, as it did in this story.

Click to read; it’s free and short (but do subscribe if you read often):

The story is one indicting Brigham Young University (BYU) students as racists, supposedly evinced during a volleyball game against Duke University on August 26:

Last month, Rachel Richardson—the only black starter on the women’s volleyball team at Duke University—leveled a shocking accusation. She said that during her team’s August 26 match against Brigham Young University, fans inside the BYU arena in Provo, Utah inundated her with racist abuse and threats.

After the match, 19-year-old Richardson told her godmother, Lesa Pamplin, about the incident. Pamplin is a criminal defense attorney running for a county judgeship in Texas, and was not at the game—but the next day, she published a tweet that rocketed the story to national attention: “My Goddaughter is the only black starter for Dukes [sic] volleyball team. While playing yesterday, she was called a [n-word] every time she served. She was threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus. A police officer had to be put by their bench.”

The tweet is no longer available, but it racked up 185,000 likes before it was archived. LeBron James himself responded: “you tell your Goddaughter to stand tall, be proud and continue to be BLACK!!! We are a brotherhood and sisterhood!  We have her back. This is not sports.”

The story was reported widely, most prominently by the New York Times in this story by Vima Patel (click to read):

One student, said to have led the racist insults, was banned from all University athletic venues. The story then spread widely:

The national response to this heinous allegation was swift and righteous. Utah’s governor, Spencer Cox, issued a statement on Twitter (now deleted) expressing his shock and disappointment. “I’m disgusted that this behavior is happening and deeply saddened if others didn’t step up to stop it,” he wrote. “As a society we have to do more to create an atmosphere where racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.” For its part, BYU quickly acknowledged that something horrible had happened in the fieldhouse. The day after the game, it published an apologetic statement, saying that the fan deemed responsible for shouting the epithets—who was not a BYU student—had been banned from all university athletic venues.

Unsurprisingly, major media outlets were all over this story. The Times’ coverage set the tone, with the Washington Post and CNN and Sports Illustrated and NPR all publishing similar articles, alongside the predictable think pieces. The incident also had consequences for BYU sports more generally. The head coach of women’s basketball at the University of South Carolina canceled its home opener against BYU. A match between Duke and Rider University’s women’s volleyball teams—scheduled to be played at the BYU arena—was moved to a nearby high school gym in order to provide both teams “the safest atmosphere,” according to Duke’s Director of Athletics, Nina King.

For millions of people watching this story unfold, this was yet another example of the ineradicable stain of American racism, of just how little progress we’ve really made.

Singal, whose reporting I like quite a bit, then adds the four-word kicker.

Except it didn’t happen.

Yes, this was all made up. Completely made up. There is no evidence that any slurs were emitted, that the n-word was used when Rachel Richardson was serving, that there was a cop assigned to sit by the Duke bench, and so on. And it’s not as if there weren’t potential witnesses, either: there were cameras recording the game, cellphones doing the same, and thousands of witnesses. Not a single bit of film documented the assertions, and no witnesses came forward, even with requests to do so by the cops and the newspapers.

It was either a hoax or a massive lie, however you want to characterize it. How was it discovered, then?

Not by any major paper. The Salt Lake Tribune did question whether the right student had been banned, but the whole truth came out via—you guessed it—”a conservative campus newspaper at BYU”, the Cougar Chronicle  (BYU is a Mormon school, quite conservative, and has few black students.)  Here’s their attempt to get at the truth, done the old-fashioned way: using the phone and shoe leather.

Click to read:


BYU then did its own investigation, and on September 9 issued this statement (click to read):

An except:

From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event. As we stated earlier, we would not tolerate any conduct that would make a student-athlete feel unsafe. That is the reason for our immediate response and our thorough investigation.

As a result of our investigation, we have lifted the ban on the fan who was identified as having uttered racial slurs during the match. We have not found any evidence that that individual engaged in such an activity. BYU sincerely apologizes to that fan for any hardship the ban has caused.

Yet, as often happens during these hoaxes, institutions who were deceived nevertheless must say something that affirms their virtue, so the statement adds this:

Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews, we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at BYU feel safe. As stated by Athletics Director Tom Holmoe, BYU and BYU Athletics are committed to zero-tolerance of racism, and we strive to provide a positive experience for everyone who attends our athletic events, including student-athletes, coaches and fans, where they are valued and respected.

This is typical of what happens when a campus “hate crime” is revealed as a hoax—as a substantial proportion of them are. I suggest having a look at Wilfred Reilly’s book, Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War. (Reilly, by the way, is black.) I’ve read it, and the stories he tells are dire. I can’t remember the proportion of campus hate crimes or hate “incidents” that turn out to be fake (usually perpetuated by a member of the minority group that was a victim of the fabricated “hate”), but it’s substantial.

What’s telling is what these incidents have in common after they’re revealed as hoaxes. The perpetrators are often not punished, even when they’re caught; the fact that the hate crime or incident was a hoax is not revealed to the college community (this is bad, because it perpetrates the idea that racism is prevalent on campus); these hoaxes happen everywhere, and, after the “crime” is revealed as a hoax, the schools nevertheless continue to insist that it could have been real because racism is everywhere. Finally, the colleges even put in place new antiracist initiatives—simply to show that they’re doing something, even in the face of a hoax. These colleges, like the newspapers, have a substantial ideological investment in perpetrating the idea that racism is ubiquitous.

At any rate, the New York Times also responded with a retraction (below), but also some tut-tutting about the prevalence of racism at BYU. Here’s the retraction:

And Singal’s take on the NYT’s most recent story, which still maintains that the “hate” against the black player happened as described.

By this point, between the original New York Times story and a tepid followup, a combined five reporters and researchers had been pantsed by a small student paper. If all this provoked any soul-searching on the part of the Times, it was unclear from its report on BYU’s findings.

Remarkably, their most recent story treated the events as unresolved: “B.Y.U. did not directly address why its findings contradicted the account by Richardson, and the statements by both universities left questions unanswered.” It also included a statement from Duke’s athletic director saying the university stood by the volleyball team. The story ends with a reminder that at the overwhelmingly Mormon school, less than 1 percent of students are black, and that a recent report highlighted the university’s diversity issues. It’s unclear exactly why this is relevant; the point seems to be for the Times to advertise that it understands racism is a serious problem at BYU, and that even if the school were not guilty of it this time, everyone knows the university’s soul is not entirely spotless.

The lessons are several. People were all too willing to believe a story that comported with their ideological views, especially the view racism is everywhere and “systemic”. But the press bought into it too, abjuring their traditional role in news stories to state the facts and omit anything that isn’t supported by the facts. Further, this shoddy reporting damages people, as well as the public, who are misled by biases. Singal mentions, as examples of similar hoaxes taken seriously by the public and the media without proper vetting, the Covington Catholic High School issue (three media settled with the supposedly “smirking racist” for a substantial amount of money), and the Jussie Smollett case, immediately believed as an incident of racism though Smollett’s claims were ridiculous.  And of course the fact that a “hate crime” or a “hate incident” was a hoax is never publicized as widely as the original “transgression” itself, so the public never learns the truth.

Here’s Singal’s conclusion:

. . . there’s an established pattern of journalists being far too credulous when these incidents first burst onto the scene.

It won’t take some radical revolution for journalists to better cover fast-developing, controversial incidents involving race and other hot-button issues. All they have to do is rediscover norms that are already there, embedded in journalistic tradition. The best, oldest-school newspaper editors—a truly dying breed—constantly pester cub reporters to make that one extra call, ask that one extra question, follow that one extra unlikely lead. They do this all in the service of making sure their organization prints the best, most accurate version of the news (and doesn’t get sued). They can adhere to these norms without becoming a shill for the powerful. It’s simply a matter of approaching a story with curiosity and skepticism, of not believing they are the advocate for one side in a conflict—no matter how righteous and obvious the battle lines may seem at first glance.

It’s getting so that one has to turn to Substack instead of the “MSM” to get the real news!

The lesson, then, is one that scientists have long had drilled into them. If a result tends to jibe with your innate biases—with what you want to be true—then that is the time you have to exercise the most doubt and give the results the highest scrutiny.

NPR touts CRT, and CRT embraces MLK

September 14, 2022 • 9:45 am

If you follow National Public Radio (NPR), partly funded by American taxpayers, you’ll know that it’s gone pretty woke. The latest example was called to my attention by a reader who noted a 7-minute interview between NPR host A. Martinez and Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the big doyens and architects of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Krenshaw was in fact the person who introduced the concept of “intersectionality” into CRT.

There were three things about the interview—you can either read it or listen below—that bothered the reader. First, CRT was presented as a done deal without any issues or criticism, due largely to softball questions by the interviewer. Second, the interview sounded scripted, as if the whole “discussion” had been written down and was being read. (This is a no-no in journalism, but I’m not as bothered by it as by the other two issues.) Finally, Crenshaw tries to fold Martin Luther King into CRT, presenting his views as an early version of CRT when they were nothing of the sort.

But let’s back up. Here’s what the reader sent me:

Thought you might be interested in this. I had on Morning Edition this morning and my jaw just about dropped as I washed my face and heard this. It’s like they did an infomercial for Critical Race Theory. CRT is presented as if it’s a physics formula, an absolute given that it’s 100% correct and nothing controversial, but it’s been hijacked by crazy right-wingers.

It’s mostly an interview with Kimberle Crenshaw, but this “interview” sounds as if it’s literally pre-arranged to make sure she gets to say exactly what she wants. And I do mean “literally.” Do you know how the NPR presenters will often a back-and-forth conversation with one of their correspondents, rather than having the correspondent just report their story? When they do that, it’s very irritating because it’s clear they’re following a script but pretending to have a spontaneous conversation. And that is exactly what this sounded like. I seriously think they had a pre-arranged script with Crenshaw.

I already stopped supporting NPR, so I can’t do it again unfortunately.

The reader added this caveat:

If I’m wrong and this interview was not scripted, that’s almost as bad—because the reporter did nothing but back up Crenshaw and ask leading questions to let her continue giving an infomercial for CRT, rather than asking her any of the many valid questions about the real problems with CRT. He didn’t even try the “some people say this, what do you say to them?” approach. And since Crenshaw is one of the creators of modern CRT, that is bizarre journalism.

Click to read or listen, and note that the title is a simple declarative statement of truth, which is not true when applied to Martin Luther King.

Listen for yourself.  The distortion that upset me most was the attempt of Crenshaw, as I said, to pretend that Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually a critical race theorist. Here’s the telling exchange:

MARTINEZ: You wrote an article – an op-ed actually – in the LA Times in January, and the headline is “Martin Luther King Was A Critical Race Theorist Before There Was A Name For It.” [JAC: it’s here but it’s paywalled, and I haven’t read it.] In what way, Professor?

CRENSHAW: Well, in several ways. No. 1, he was a critic of the contradiction between what America says it is, what its deepest aspirations are and what its material reality is. You know, a lot of people like to quote his March on Washington speech, particularly the part where he talks about how our aspiration is to be judged on the content of our character, not the color of our skin. That was his sort of aspirational moment. The rest of the speech was a trenchant critique of the idea that America had given African Americans a rubber check. Basically, the promises of the 13th and the 14th Amendment came back marked insufficient funds. So his entire point of that speech was to make good on the Democratic promises.

Well, I urge you to read the entire “I have a dream” speech (transcript here), paying attention to the “rest of the speech” touted by Crenshaw as expressing CRT.  As you might know, there’s been considerable agitation concerning King’s famous statement in this speech that I’ve put in bold below: his aspiration to have all people judged not by their skin color but by the content of their character. That implies that we should stop dividing, judging, and treating people differently based on race; rather, we should judge people by who they are as individuals. He’s calling for universal brotherhood.

That, of course, explicitly contravenes CRT, which makes race and racism the central organizing principle of American society, and insists that people’s views be judged taking race into account as well as  being treated differently based on their race.  King’s views have discomfited advocates of CRT, and now, as Crenshaw is doing here, they are starting to paint King (and his famous aspiration) as really being an early advocate of CRT. That’s about as wrong as you can get.

First, although the components of CRT, an academic theory, vary among analysts, we need to know its main contentions. I could have used the book Cynical Theories by Pluckrose and Lindsay, which did a very good job laying out the tenets of the theory. Although both authors are opposed to CRT, I thought their presentation of it was quite good, and presented my summary of its tenets here. (Note that the idea of race as a social construct, but one that gives members of a group a unique voice, were not embraced by King.) However, I’ll use the Wikipedia “common themes” of CRT as I suspect they’ve been vetted by advocates of the theory, so we can take them as more or less a definitive summary. Here’s the list (quotes are taken from the article).

  1. Critique of liberalism. “First and foremost to CRT legal scholars in 1993 was their ‘discontent’ with the way in which liberalism addressed race issues in the U.S. They critiqued ‘liberal jurisprudence’, including affirmative action, color-blindness, role modeling, and the merit principle. Specifically, they claimed that the liberal concept of value-neutral law contributed to maintenance of the U.S.’s racially unjust social order.”
  2. Storytelling/counterstorytelling and “naming one’s own reality”. “The use of narrative (storytelling) to illuminate and explore lived experiences of racial oppression.”
  3. Standpoint epistemology. “The view that a members of racial minority groups have a unique authority and ability to speak about racism. This is seen as undermining dominant narratives relating to racial inequality, such as legal neutrality and personal responsibility or bootstrapping, through valuable first-hand accounts of the experience of racism.”
  4. Intersectional theory. “The examination of race, sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation, and how their intersections play out in various settings, such as how the needs of a Latina are different from those of a Black male, and whose needs are promoted.”
  5. The discussion of essentialism vs. anti-essentialism. “Scholars who write about these issues are concerned with the appropriate unit for analysis: Is the black community one, or many, communities? Do middle- and working-class African-Americans have different interests and needs? Do all oppressed peoples have something in common? This is a look at the ways that oppressed groups may share in their oppression but also have different needs and values that need to be analyzed differently. It is a question of how groups can be essentialized or are unable to be essentialized.”
  6. Structural determinism and race, class, sex, and their intersections.  “Exploration of how ‘the structure of legal thought or culture influences its content’ in a way that determines social outcomes.”
  7. The debate over cultural nationalism/separatism. “The exploration of more radical views that argue for separation and reparations as a form of foreign aid (including black nationalism).”
  8. Legal institutions, critical pedagogy, and minorities in the bar. “. . . differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by race. Institutionalized racism is normative, sometimes legalized and often manifests as inherited disadvantage. It is structural, having been absorbed into our institutions of custom, practice, and law, so there need not be an identifiable offender. Indeed, institutionalized racism is often evident as inaction in the face of need, manifesting itself both in material conditions and in access to power.”
  9. Black/white binary. “The black-white binary is a paradigm identified by legal scholars through which racial issues and histories are typically articulated within a racial binary between Black and white Americans. The binary largely governs how race has been portrayed and addressed throughout U.S. history.”

Now read King’s speech from the 1963 March On Washington, delivered August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve put below not only the words following his famous quote, but do read what goes before as well. It’s these statements that Crenshaw say make Martin Luther King an early advocate of CRT. Emphasis is mine:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,  From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Those are of course stirring words, but, either before or after the quote in bold, I find very little that corresponds to CRT. Crenshaw tries mightily to drag King into the CRT corral, but what his entire speech consists of is a passionate advocacy of equality—combined with the palpable fact that the founding fathers and people like Abraham Lincoln declared all “men” equal, but that this promise had not been met. There is nothing about intersectionality, standpoint theory, “lived experience,” a critique of liberalism, and so on. What we see is the delineation of a persistent, vicious, and hurtful racism that violates America’s own principles, and a call for brotherhood: for equality, not for separation. And, of course, his famous line underscores that.

If you want to say that those sentiments make King a CRT advocate, then you’re really throwing overboard the tenets of CRT and just asserting that it’s about racism per se and a striving for brotherhood and equality. But that’s not what CRT is about. Other King writings I’ve read and speeches I’ve heard (see a famous example here) don’t materially differ in what they call for, nor bring King closer in philosophy to modern CRT. The only similarity between King and, say, Ibram Kendi, is their emphasis on racism and how to rectify it. But how they portray racism, and the methods they espouse for eliminating it, are completely different. I won’t dwell on this: if you know your Kendi or DiAngelo, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Antiracists, disturbed by King’s words and especially the bold line above—which in fact accurately expresses his views—have either ignored the disparity with CRT, or, lately, tried to pretend that King and Kendi are two peas in a pod. But over the years I’ve also seen mentions of King diminish, though I expected the opposite during the “racial reckoning.” That’s because his views don’t really jibe with modern ones based on CRT. My correspondent also noticed this:

Yes, the whole thing of claiming MLK was espousing CRT started this past year, and there were at least a couple of very good articles explaining how completely wrong, and knowingly wrong, that is. I didn’t bookmark them or anything but I’m sure you can find by googling if you want to. Before, CRT was trying to play down or erase MLK, and this is their attempt to instead claim he’s one of them. But I was just reading that the California ethnic studies curriculum—I believe it was California—literally doesn’t include him, since until recently, it was easier to ignore him since MLK completely conflicts with CRT. Note no pushback from the interviewer even though this was a well known issue only a little earlier this year.

I found just one of those articles, by Coleman Hughes, and a discussion article here. I also looked at the latest draft of the California ethnic studies curriculum and found a handful of mentions of King as well as of CRT. (Update: there’s more on his relative neglect here, and here.) But King is perhaps the most eloquent and effective African-American of our time with respect to civil rights—a man whose powers helped bring the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts into being. He deserves a much bigger portion of the curriculum. Oh, and he wasn’t an early exponent of CRT.

As for NPR, well, let’s just say that once again their programming is ideologically slanted, and this time in a misleading way.


I’ll finish with a quote from the Coleman Hughes piece (it was written when he was an undergraduate):

With regard to the role that racial identity should play in politics, King was unequivocal: First and foremost we are human beings, not members of races. The verbal tic of modern racial-justice activists—“As a black man . . .”—would sound foreign on his lips. Even when fighting explicitly racist policies, he deployed universal principles rather than a tribal grievance narrative.

“The problem is not a purely racial one, with Negroes set against whites,” King writes of the civil-rights movement in his 1958 essay “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression.” He adds that “nonviolent resistance is not aimed against oppressors but against oppression. Under its banner consciences, not racial groups, are enlisted.”

. . . If we use the adjective “radical” to describe King, then we should follow it with the right nouns. King was a radical Christian, as demonstrated by his commitment to loving his enemies no matter how much they hated him. He was a radical truth-teller, whether that meant telling white moderates that blacks wouldn’t wait any longer to be granted full rights, or telling blacks not to make oppression an excuse for failure. Most important, he was a radical advocate, not on behalf of any subdivision of our species, but on behalf of humanity as a whole.

When should the media mention the race of suspects or criminals?

September 12, 2022 • 10:45 am

This story is from a conservative website, but all I care about here is whether the data are accurate (I assume other places will vet them). After all, you’d never see an analysis like this in the liberal mainstream media, but the topic is of interest: the racialization of American politics and media. The data adduced tell us not so much about race, but rather about how the media manipulates the mention of race to push an ideological agenda. Click to read:

I noticed soon after the murder of George Floyd inflamed American racial tension that the media seemed to emphasize race in some instances and downplay it in others. My own experience involved reading about attacks on Jews in New York City, where the race of the apprehended was often omitted from the article (the accused were often black if you looked at other reports), but was mentioned when a white person attacked a person of color. But that was just my unsubstantiated impression, produced by my wondering who was going after the Jews.

Ideally, one wouldn’t need to mention the race of an offender in a news article, whether or not he (I’m assuming male suspects here) was convicted or only apprehended. What would be the point? For suspects at large, on the other hand, race is an identifying feature that could help apprehend criminals, and should be included in descriptions.

The media, however, often chooses to identify the race of “offenders” (apparently “suspects”, those not yet convicted). But as the Washington Free Beacon claims, data show that the race of black offenders is not only mentioned far less often than of white offenders, but when it is mentioned it appears much later in the news story.  That itself is evidence against structural anti-black racism in the news media, but it also shows something more: the media apparently use the mentions and placement to downplay crimes committed by blacks relative to those committed by whites. That is a choice that, the paper suggests, is made by the “MSM” (mainstream [liberal] media) to buttress a liberal antiracism by either minimizing black crime, maximizing white crime, or both (since we’re talking about differentials, we can’t tell for sure). The result is the same: differential treatment and, I think, more divisiveness.

Here’s the method used:

Washington Free Beacon review of hundreds of articles published by major papers over a span of two years finds that papers downplay the race of non-white offenders, mentioning their race much later in articles than they do for white offenders. These papers are also three to four times more likely to mention an offender’s race at all if he is white, a disparity that grew in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020 and the protests that followed.

The Free Beacon collected data on nearly 1,100 articles about homicides from six major papers, all written between 2019 and 2021. Those papers included the Chicago TribuneLos Angeles TimesNew York TimesPhiladelphia InquirerSan Francisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis’s Star-Tribune—representatives of each paper did not return requests for comment for this article. For each article, we collected the offender’s and victim’s name and race, and noted where in the article the offender’s race was mentioned, if at all.

They also controlled for high mentions of high-profile white offenders by eliminating them, but more on that later.

First, the data on when in a story the race of the offender is first mentioned:

Their analysis:

The chart above indicates that papers are far quicker to mention the race of white murderers than black. (Those two races account for 92 percent of mentions in the data, so others are not shown.) Half of articles about a white offender mention his race within the first 15 percent of the article. In articles about black offenders, by contrast, mentions come overwhelmingly toward the end of the piece. Half of the articles that mention a black offender’s race do not do so until at least 60 percent of the way through, and more than 20 percent save it until the last fifth of the article.

They present no statistics to show whether this difference is statistically significant, but a simple 2 X 10 chi-square, with numbers in each cell representing a decile, could show that. But given the chart above, the difference is surely statistically significant.

There follows an analysis of how often an offender’s race—again, only two are used: black and white—is mentioned in the article. Here’s a chart showing the results, but first the method:

To measure these choices, we identified the race of the offender in roughly 900 stories where his name, but not his race, was mentioned, first by looking at the race of people with the same name in Census data, and then hand-confirming race based on mug shots or other images published in local news stories.

The hand-confirmation is important given that people of different races can have the same name. The results?

And the conclusion, as well as a caveat about oft-mentioned white offenders:

Again, the skew is startling: White offenders’ race was mentioned in roughly 1 out of every 4 articles, compared with 1 in 17 articles about a black offender and 1 in 33 articles about a Hispanic offender.

This effect is driven in part by a handful of major news stories involving white perpetrators, though the attention paid to these stories is also an editorial choice. But even after omitting reports about white offenders Kyle Rittenhouse, Derek Chauvin, and the killers of Ahmaud Arbery, the race of white offenders is mentioned in 16 percent of cases, two to three times the rate at which the race of black offenders is mentioned. (Middle Eastern offenders were labeled as Asian in this analysis, but labeling them as white results in only a small change to the race mention rate.)

. . .This disparity widened following George Floyd’s murder. Before May of 2020, papers were roughly twice as likely to mention the race of a white (13 percent of stories) versus a black perpetrator (7 percent). After May of 2020, the numbers were 28 percent and 4 percent, a ratio of seven to one. Even omitting the above-mentioned stories, papers still mentioned race in 23 percent of stories about white killers post-Floyd, a six-to-one ratio.

It could be that there were more stories in which a white offender’s race was relevant after Floyd’s death than before. But it is also easy to see how the increased attention to white murderers represents a change in what reporters and editors thought it was, and was not, important for their readers to hear about, particularly after they publicly committed to revamping their crime reporting following Floyd’s death.

Again, I’m guessing the differential in all cases would be statistically significant because the samples are large and the differences substantial. But newspapers don’t do statistics.

It would be interesting to see if newspapers of different political stripes have different data here, but since many of them draw their stories from the same wire services, I wouldn’t expect to find much of a difference.

There are several explanations for this disparity, of course, but the obvious one to me is that newspapers are downplaying crimes by black and playing up crimes by whites as part of a social justice agenda. (For similar reasons, papers like the New York Times capitalize “Black” as a race but not “white.”) This conclusion is supported by other things highlighted in the article:

Newspapers across the country—including the Inquirer—stopped publishing mugshot galleries in part because, two Florida newspapers wrote, they “may have reinforced negative stereotypes.” Others committed to overhauling their language, substituting phrases like “formerly incarcerated person” for “felon” to respond to what the Poynter Institute described as an “inextricabl[e]” link between reporting on crime and “race and racism.” And the Associated Press amended its style guide to discourage the use of the word “riot,” which allegedly has racist connotations.

If you control for high profile murders by whites, as the article did, the only explanation that makes sense is an ideological one.  (One might think that the race of the offender is useful for sociological analyses of crime, but that’s of interest mainly to sociologists.) And there’s no acceptable reason for the disparity. Either give the race of the offender all the time when it’s known, or leave it out all of the time unless crimes are racially motivated and that needs to be known as a potential social trend. And if you do mention race, the placement in the article should be the same for all races. If you really do think the race of an offender is relevant, why should it appear in different places in an article based on the race itself.

If the conclusion be correct, then newspapers, in the name of perpetrating social justice, are not only selectively reporting the news, but are actually increasing racial divisions in America.  If there’s anywhere that equality should and actually can be mandated, it’s in the way crime is reported.


In today’s guest essay in the NYT (click screenshot),  Margaret Renkl takes on the “race of perpetrator and victim” issue with respect to the recent kidnapping and murder of Memphis schoolteacher Eliza Fletcher, who is white, by the accused murderer, Cleotha Abston, who is black.

Renkl’s view:

We need to work continually toward making our cities less dangerous and our criminal justice system more just. We need news coverage of everything — not just crime — to be completely accurate and completely fair, particularly on a subject as sensitive as race. God knows we need to find a way to make it safer for all women to move through the world at any time of day.

Any discussion of such subjects is bound to become heated, and that’s as it should be. Open public discourse is a privilege of living in a democracy. But while this kind of conversation is appropriate in a discussion of public policy, it is not at all appropriate in the discussion of an innocent person who lost her life to a seemingly random act of violence. Tragedies will always garner public interest. That’s just human nature. But tragedies should never be reduced to tweets and talking points or turned into a narrative to justify a political agenda.

h/t: Luana

The future of affirmative action

August 30, 2022 • 1:00 pm

. . . is bleak. According to the New York Times, two cases involving affirmative action will be heard by the Supreme Court this fall:

The Supreme Court is scheduled on Oct. 31 to hear the lawsuits brought by the anti-affirmative action organization Students for Fair Admissions that challenge the race-conscious methods that Harvard and the University of North Carolina use to pick freshman classes.

The organization says that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans and that North Carolina gives an admissions boost to underserved racial minorities. And the group argues in its own brief, filed this week, that ending affirmative action nationwide would help improve diversity at the University of California and the University of Michigan, “because they could better compete with universities who currently use race.”

With the Supreme Court’s recent shift to the right, the affirmative action cases could upset 40 years of precedent that says race can be considered as one factor in determining university admission.

Does anybody have any doubt that the Supreme Court will rule against affirmative action, overturning the Bakke decision of 1978? In that decision, the Court ruled that race could be taken into consideration in admissions decisions, but ruled against the use of quotas. Yet, as we saw with Dobbs, the Court has apparently lost all respect for precedent, and I’d be willing to bet a substantial sum that the Justices will overturn Bakke and completely ban the use of race in admissions decisions.

The reason that Students for Fair Admissions mentions California is that the main point of the article was that two other big and high-quality university systems—the University of California and the University of Michigan, have been unable to boost minority enrollment after those states outlawed affirmative action by local edict. (They’re among nine states that do this.) Lawyers for those schools are submitting briefs to the Supremes to try to forestall a foregone conclusion:

It has been more than 15 years since two of the country’s top public university systems, the University of Michigan and the University of California, were forced to stop using affirmative action in admissions.

Since then, both systems have tried to build racially diverse student bodies through extensive outreach and major financial investment, well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Those efforts have fallen abysmally short, the universities admitted in two amicus briefs filed this month at the Supreme Court, which is set to consider the future of affirmative action in college admissions this fall.

. . . The outreach programs are extremely costly. The University of California system says it has spent more than a half-billion dollars since 2004 to increase diversity among its students.

In the briefs, lawyers for the universities argue that, without affirmative action, achieving racial diversity is virtually impossible at highly selective universities.

I have to say, the argument for getting rid of affirmative action so that Michigan and California can compete with everyone else for racial diversity is both sleazy and unconvincing. Without affirmative action, what would increase diversity? That’s why the programs are there! Unless I don’t get it, the argument that competition with schools lacking affirmative action will increase diversity in elite schools that already have it—but won’t in the future—makes no sense.

At any rate, the failure of outreach and other efforts to increase diversity is depressing, for I still think we should have some form of affirmative action. While changing admissions standards has always troubled me, since I wouldn’t know how to do it, I still ponder how to do it in a palatable way. But I also thought that increased outreach to minority communities and finding other ways to single out promising but “minoritized” students was another possible way. (Others include mentoring and special pre-college classes.) But even standardized tests, which are one way to find minority students who are good bets but don’t have stellar academic grades, are on the way out. We’re left with the risible concept of “holistic” admissions, based on personal statements, grades, and (yuck) letters of recommendation.

This article from Inside Higher Ed (click on screenshot) tries to suggest ways around the upcoming Supreme Court ban:

Here’s one solution by Tichavakunda and Kolluri (henceforth, T&K):

. . . universities committed to the ideals of racial justice might push back by requiring their applicants to think and act on issues of racial justice. Could racial equity be expanded by requiring all applicants to have taken an ethnic studies class or by requiring students to include in their application a statement on their commitments to racial justice? Though universities may soon be denied the ability to consider race in admissions, they can consider a commitment to racial justice as part of a holistic admissions process.

This is the equivalent of requiring DEI statements for appliants, to which I’m opposed for reasons I’ve stated in earlier posts.  And, no doubt, it will lead to massive duplicity on the part of college applicants.  Can you imagine all the rich kids, both black and white, who would hire people to write their diversity statements? (You can already hire people to do that.) This would favor those from higher socioeconomic classes, not people of specific ethnic backgrounds. That, in turn, might lead colleges to admit those students with ideologically acceptable statements who are also minorities—but that would be forbidden as a form of affirmative action. Most important, no ideological commitments should be required for admission to college, or be considered for admission to college.

This solution doesn’t seem much better, though I like the outreach part:

In addition, universities might partner with school districts serving students of color to expand the resources of those communities. For example, schools like Yale University, located in New Haven, Conn., and Stanford University, situated in the Bay Area of California, often have scant reach into their local urban schools and neighborhoods. These elite institutions might collaborate with high school students on projects seeking justice in their communities. Meanwhile, these students might be connected to resources on these campuses and offered support with the application process. Racial justice requires community uplift, and elite universities can play a more active role with high schools and their neighborhoods in serving communities of color.

As a whole, though, this program turns the university into enacting a specific ideological program and getting involved in things the government should be doing.

The solution that seems best to me, and liable to create more equal opportunity and achievement for minorities, is the last one suggested by T&K: renewed support for MSIs (minority serving institutions) and HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). If affirmative action is overturned, there will suddenly be a lot of qualified and available minority students who were in elite institutions because of affirmative action. If MSIs and HBCUs were funded much more intensively, they could be highly attractive alternatives to elite schools, and would have the advantage that fewer minority students would drop out or feel they were admitted because of their race.  This is not affirmative action, but it’s a way of affording reparations—if, like me, you see reparations as a rationale for affirmative action.

When the Supreme Court overrules Bakke, people like T&K, and colleges themselves, will begin thinking of ways to effect the same results, but in a less obvious manner. Some of those ways are more efficacious than others. But in the end, I simply don’t want to see elite colleges that comprise only white and Asian students. We must find ways—and they will be hard and expensive—to prevent that from happening.

Jesse Singal on inequality, inequity, structural racism, and the “pipeline problem”

August 19, 2022 • 9:15 am

Jesse Singal has a nice piece on racial disparities on his Substack site, and you can read it for free (do subscribe if you read often). I had to read it twice to grasp his point, for the title is a bit confusing. Now, however, not only do I see where he’s coming from, but in the main I agree with him. Our only disagreement seems to be semantic: about what “structural racism” means. But that semantic difference is important. I’ll get to that shortly.

I recommend reading it, which you can do by clicking on the screenshot below.

I’ll summarize what I think is his point. He sees structural racism not as present-day features of institutions that mandate or facilitate discrimination, but simply as racism that has persisted through American society since slavery (he counts “blacks” in his discussion as American descendants of slaves, not including immigrants from Nigeria or the Caribbean). “Structural racism,” though waning, persists because, due to racism as recently as his grandparents’ time, there’s been a persistent inequality of wealth and resources between whites and blacks. This leads to an inequality of resources available to blacks and whites—resources that help people get jobs and attain the diverse measures of success. This disparity of resources means that entry to prestigious or lucrative jobs is more limited for blacks than for whites, leading to the present “inequities” that are so visible—the subject of a lot of worry. In other words, blacks have a narrower entrance to the pipeline that leads to success.

In this way, the “structural racism”—racism beginning early in America and persisting up to our era—leads to unequal outcomes, and that’s through a restricted entry of blacks into the “pipeline” of opportunity. To Singal, it’s a matter of wealth, the lack of which limits opportunity. Ergo, if you accept “structural racism”, then you have to also accept “pipeline problems.”

If you see “structural racism” in this way, then I agree with him. My only disagreement with Singal—and it’s an important one—is that “structural racism” is usually construed as institutionalized forms of discrimination: laws, rules, or codified practices that discriminate against people of color. This construal is important (and Singal alludes to it) because it implies that present inequities reflect present-day racism, and leads to the view that we can fix inequities simply by either ferreting out the structural biases, or lowering the bar by lessening the degree of meritocracy. Singal sees this form of “structural racism” as different from his. But in the end, Singal’s solution would seem to be mine as well:  assure equal opportunity for everyone from birth.

The problem is that if “equal opportunity” reflects, as it surely does, inequality of wealth, then how do you assure it without making everyone equally wealthy, or at least wealthy enough get what you need to compete for good jo?  His solution to inequity, then, seems to be to drastically reduce income inequality. And that’s a tough row to hoe.

But a lot of what Singal says makes sense. I’ll give a few quotes:

First, his definition of a “pipeline problem”:

Before I unlocked this article, my copy editor pointed out that I failed to define pipeline problems, assuming readers would be familiar with the phrase. A pipeline problem is a situation where disparities in workplace or academic settings might partially reflect disparities in the pool of qualified applicantsfor these positions rather than discrimination in hiring. To take an extreme and hopefully uncontroversial example, imagine Company X lacks any Lithuanian American employees. It could be because the company’s hiring process is biased against Lithuanian Americans, but it could also be because it received few or no competitive applications from this relatively small group.

Fair enough. I think we all agree that such issues are the primary explanation for the absence of racial diversity, at least in academia.

And his construal of structural racism (or so I think):

But whatever you think of the precise way race continues to shape things today, and how much it can be fully separated from class, race has obviously shaped the transmission of wealth and opportunity across generations. Again, we’re talking just two generations ago. There is no wild conspiracy theorizing going on here. It’s just not credible to deny this. So the tl;dr version of all this can be boiled down to: “I am successful in part because my grandparents were able to accumulate wealth on an uneven playing field, and millions of other white people can say the same thing.” This is not a knock on the grandparents in question, who really did work hard. But, again, everyone knows that a lot of people work hard. People travel tens of thousands of miles, on foot, just for a chance at a slightly better backbreaking job. “Well, they worked hard!” is a cop-out that doesn’t really explain who gets what.

You’re telling me that this stuff doesn’t matter and that it can’t help explain things like the racial wealth gap?

If you think of “structural racism” as inequality of opportunity caused by racism that was pervasive as recently as our grandparents’ generation, then you plunge yourself into a convoluted argument that that (Singalian) structural racism is the main problem rather than entry into the pipeline. (Singal sees them as pretty much equivalent). His quote:

If you believe in structural racism but don’t believe that white people are better positioned than black people to produce competitive job applications, on average, think about what you’re saying:

1) White people have, over the generations and on average, been endowed with opportunities black people have been robbed of

2) This extends well past K–12 education and into the elite corners of higher education, which white people have much more realistic access to than black people, on average — and degrees from top-tier schools are much more advantageous than degrees from middling ones

3) White people are also, relative to black people, endowed with more of every conceivable sort of training, tutoring, career guidance, access to young professional networks, and other benefits associated with successful job-searching, on average

4) Despite all this, white people and black people produce about equally competitive job applications.

I don’t know how anyone in their right mind could believe this sequence of claims. To do so, you have to think that all the stuff you were (rightfully!) yelling about 30 seconds ago — the vastly unfair and discriminatory apportionment of wealth and opportunity in America over the generations — just doesn’t matter when it comes to job applications.

Ergo, if you believe in “structural racism”, you must believe in pipeline problems, for the former (again, construed as Singal does) causes the latter. And you can’t rectify the latter simply by making a few tweaks in the structure of corporations, universities, or, indeed, society. DEI initiatives won’t work: we need a fundamental shake-up of American society.

The reason that people prefer the “pipeline argument” to the “structural racism” argument is that the former absolves them not only of blame, but also pretends there is an easy fix to inequality. A couple of quotes:

And [the pipeline explanation] very beneficial to privileged people, because it draws attention away from that privilege, away from how much they have and how much other people lack, and toward the idea that whoops, some bias infected some people’s brains (coulda happened to anyone), and once we banish it, diversity will bloom within our selective institutions.

By “discrimination” below, I don’t think he means simple racism, but discrimination among those of unequal qualifications—i.e. a meritocratic approach to hiring:

. . . One more time: It is comforting to think that discrimination is what’s leading to the outcomes we don’t like. It suggests relatively easy, nearby fixes. No one wants to be discriminatory.

And this—the fact that we’re nowhere near equality of opportunity, which correlates with equality of income—is the reason why people think that weak or even virtue-flaunting solutions are going to do anything about unequal representation. Again, by “discrimination”, I think he means “discrimination based on qualifications”, not race:

What people do want — or what the sorts of people in a position to shape how companies look want, at least — is to win the meritocracy game. They want that for themselves and for their kids. That’s why the conversation will grind to a halt if you press people on the actual depth of their desire for racial and socioeconomic justice. As in, if the results you see around you aren’t generated by discrimination, but rather by a big, complicated machine, are you still going to be enthusiastic about trying to change things? What about when you reflect on the fact that this big, complicated machine has generated excellent outcomes for you and your family?

Below is his case for diversity, which I agree with. I suppose that, in the end, this is the reason I favor some forms of affirmative action (I go back and forth between the diversity-is-inherently good justification, which was the basis of the Bakke decision, and the diversity-as-a-form-of-reparations argument):

Forced to choose between the two, I do certainly prefer a meritocracy with diverse faces at the top than a meritocracy dominated by white people. I think that all else being equal, diversity is a very good thing. I know it sounds like I’m reciting a mantra, but I’m a city boy and Jewish and so much of the culture, food, and literature that has meant the most to me has been the result of different groups colliding, mixing, and creating new things. America was always built to be a diverse place — it really is in our DNA, to borrow a phrase — and we’re at our strongest when it’s a cacophonous throng of voices from different backgrounds. So I don’t want to paint too dire a picture for those simply seeking to hire more diverse workers.

But this puts him in a bind, for as I see it Singal still views the meritocracy as inevitable (I don’t know if he approves of it), and holding that view will automatically create inequities.

What is the solution? In the final section, called “The Good News (Sort Of)”: Singal has some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that things are getting better: inequalty and inequity are lessening as racism wanes. (Only someone who’s blind can deny that.)

The bad news is that not only is it nearly impossible to create a level playing field, but people don’t even want to talk about the needed fixes, much less the problem. Those fixes require too much work and too much money for those of us in a position to help, and to discuss the problem leads to accusations of racism:

What it comes down to is that if we can’t openly and honestly talk about what the problems are, they will be impossible to solve. And part of me thinks that’s the point. For a lot of powerful people, the system we have is working great for them and their kids, minus a pesky lack of diversity where they work or where their kids go to school. If they can just tweak that — and it’s certainly getting easier to do given the aforementioned burgeoning middle class of talented non-white Americans — then their world will look pretty good, pretty just. And they can get there without ever having to really question, let alone act contrary to, their own material self-interest.

Were I to grade the piece, I’d say that it’s about 40% too long. But it’s well worth reading anyway.


Audubon’s cancellation proceeds as Seattle chapter ditches his name

July 26, 2022 • 11:30 am

From KOMO News (h/t Williams), we have this headline on a short article (click to read):

. . . and that tells it all.  An excerpt:

The Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society says it is dropping “Audubon” from its name because the man the organization is named after was a slave owner and opposed abolition.

KNKX reports that Seattle Audubon is one the largest chapters of the National Audubon Society, the nonprofit dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats, but Seattle Audubon is one of the largest in the country.

Earlier this month, the board voted to change the chapter’s name because the man the organization is named after – illustrator, painter and bird lover John James Audubon, author of the seminal work “The Birds of America” – owned enslaved people.

J. Drew Lanham, a former board member of the National Audubon Society and a wildlife ecology professor at Clemson University, called the move courageous.

Lanham, who has written about Audubon and left the national chapter over concerns the nonprofit was not doing enough about racial equity, says organizations need to grapple with what to do about problematic monuments.

(Let me remark that I don’t see the move as “courageous”, except in the sense that it may cost the Society members. It takes no moral courage these days to remove someone’s name from a Society because he enslaved people.)

There is no doubt that Audubon owned slaves; the Audubon Society itself admitted it in an article on the Society’s website. And that is an unmixed bad thing to do. Short of killing someone, making them into a slave is about the worst thing you can do: you’re taking away their freedom and treating them as property, for no reason (in the antebellum US) other than their race.

The question at hand, though, is whether effacing Audubon’s name from the Society and branches of the Society is something that is worth doing. I’ve pondered this at length, and for a while I could have gone either way.

My criteria for deciding whether someone should be “erased” for having done immoral stuff has alway been twofold. If both criteria aren’t met, there’s no reason to keep a name.

1.)  The name or honorific is there for the good things people did. (That rules out, by the way, Confederate statues, though I think it might be better if they were “contexualized”; see below).

2.) The person’s life constituted a net good for the world. This is hard to determine, since “well being” is measured in many currencies.

It’s clear that Audubon passes the test for #1. The problematic part is #2. Is slave-holding so bad that it can’t ever be compensated for by the good someone does? Most people seem to think that George Washington and Thomas Jeffrerson, who were also enslavers, did sufficient good to warrant keeping their names on things like the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument (not to mention the $1 bill or Washington, D.C.

Does Audubon fall in their class? I don’t think so, but he certainly did good things, awakening naturalism and conservation impulses that resulted in the Society that bears his name.

It’s a tough call, but I decided that the name “Audubon” should stay because of two considerations:

a.) You can and should contextualize his name, letting people know that Audubon did things that were seen as immoral even in his time. (There were plenty of abolitionists.) If you can contextualize history rather than erasing it, I’d prefer the former.

b.) Taking Audubon’s name off societies and the like is a performative, symbolic act that doesn’t do anything to achieve racial equality. If you want people to know about the bad stuff in history, contextualize it and condemn it rather than erase it. I would feel more strongly about removing the name if doing so was more than a symbolic act.

So my overall take—an I pondered this a lot vis-à-vis Audubon—is to keep his name on the Society and on Awards (see the list of distinguished awardees of the Audubon Medal, given for conservation efforts); but be sure that people know his history.

Readers may disagree, and feel free to do so in the comments.

A Leftist schoolteacher tells us that things are at least as bad as we’ve heard

July 21, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Here are some stories from a Leftist schoolteacher, writing on Wesley Yang’s Substack site, telling us that in a “Blue city in a Blue State”, wokeness had gotten to the point where it’s damaging the very people that the Woke profess to be helping. This is just one person’s tale, of course—and the person is unnamed—but Yang says he checked the correspondence to and from this teacher and has no doubt that the narrative is true. As Yang says in the introduction,

There is something poignant about the dilemma he describes, about being unable to communicate to his fellow leftist peers the awful magnitude of the moral abdication to which he is witness and party precisely because it is so extreme that all will dismiss it as right-wing propaganda. It is a dilemma widely shared across a range of liberal institutions in which conscientious actors see destructive practices being entrenched and immunized against critique by the same dynamics which they find powerless to resist because the specter of right-wing reaction makes any self-criticism impossible.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Halfway through the article the teacher gives his liberal creds: he’s an anticapitalist leftist, supports abortion and demand, and “unironically use[s] phrases like ‘systems of oppression’ and ‘the dominant culture’.” As he says, he can’t be dismissed as a “conservative crank.”

The anonymous teacher reports that he was teaching eleven students enrolled in a public summer school course that recruited students between ages six and twelve. He was teaching at one grade level, and although the ethnicity of the students isn’t specified, the program apparently had a mix of both black and white students.

Eventually of the eleven students in his class, eight remained enrolled but didn’t show, and he wound up teaching just one.  One kid in the class! Amazingly, there was no penalty for non-attendance.

You’d think that the missing students could be kicked out and replaced with other students, including minorities, sitting on the waitlist, but you’d think wrong. Here’s the story/ What the teacher wrote for Yang is indented and the bolding is his (he’s identified as a man):

Early on, an administrator confessed that this sort of setup could lead to “attendance issues,” which I took to mean some kids showing up late or even skipping class once in a while. Nine of the eleven students in my grade level were absent the first day. The next day, it was ten. By the end of the week, I had one student consistently attending and a few who had been officially withdrawn by their parents – but there were still eight children on my roster who were technically enrolled while having never once shown up.

At this point, I took a look at the waitlist to see if there were any students I could bring in to replace them; the games and activities I’d planned needed more kids anyway, and I knew the waitlist was where families who actually wanted their children to attend usually ended up (students who were just referred by teachers had priority placement). On my lunch break, I walked into the administrator’s office and asked them when I could expect the half-dozen or so children on my grade’s waitlist to be let in.

Immediately, I was informed of something truly absurd: The district is not allowed to remove any student from the program on the basis of non-attendance. A child remains enrolled in my classes until a parent explicitly states they’d like them removed, even if they have never once actually shown up.

Now, when I say the district is “not allowed” to do so, I don’t mean they’re forbidden by some state law or local ordinance. Rather, the district actively embraced this policy as part of their larger equity and racial justice overhaul, and even bragged about doing so in public-facing materials. Their explicit position is that requiring attendance for any district program unfairly victimizes children of color, as does factoring in attendance to any student’s grades during the regular school year. The administrator I spoke to seemed baffled that I would even ask. “I’ll let you know if any parents pull their kids out,” he told me, “but otherwise, your class is technically full.”

How patronizing can you get than “requiring attendance unfairly victimizes children of color”. That is, of course, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

But it gets worse. The teacher had the good idea of dismissing the no-shows, who were clearly never going to come to class, and replace them with kids on the long waitlist, kids who (see above) presumably had a greater motivation to go to class.  The effort failed on both counts:

As an extra dose of insanity, we can’t even request that the parents of a non-attending student remove their child from the program; doing so, I was told, could “make them feel disrespected” and “communicate to them that their children are not welcome.” We just have to wait and hope they make that decision on their own, risking the occasional hint on a daily absence call that most don’t even pick up.

Over the past week or so, some of the chronically absent have finally been unenrolled. But as the program reaches its halfway point, the number of students who have never once attended but remain on the roster is still larger than the number of students on the waitlist. Today, as I write this, more than a dozen children whose families have actively sought out our help are still sitting at home, unable to attend “full classrooms” of four or five students – who are themselves struggling without peers to work with!

To most people, this sort of policy is absolutely inexplicable. How could it possibly benefit racial justice or equity to keep classrooms half-empty, excluding students who want to attend in deference to those who don’t? The whole thing sounds like the sort of outrageous Kafkaesque fantasy a conservative would invent to satirize the ultra-woke and their bigotry of low expectations. But that’s precisely the problem. After all, what options do you have when so many of the people in charge of our schools have priorities so disordered that merely describing them, no matter how dispassionately, will earn you accusations of strawmanning?

This is insane. It’s considered “disrespectful” to boot a child who never shows up to class? What kind of world is this? And, of course, as the teacher points out, the net result is that minority students in the school district get a poorer education than they would have otherwise. The tacit policy is that “avoiding disrespect” is more important than “giving kids a leg up in their education.”

It is things like these that apparently prompted the teacher to speak out. He recounts two other episodes that he considers equally “crazy”. I’ll give just one:

I once attended another meeting – lots of meetings when you’re a teacher! – where we were working to approve a new weekly schedule for students. When I said I was concerned that it would require leaving some sections of the curriculum untaught, a colleague said that might actually be a good thing, because most of our students are white and their test scores dropping slightly would help shrink the racial achievement gap in our state. Again, to clarify: I don’t mean my colleague had a a more nuanced approach to testing that a dishonest interlocutor could twist to sound like that. I mean my colleague literally spoke those words. (To be fair, one other teacher did speak up and challenge them this time, albeit very politely.)

And this is the problem with Woke initiatives that lower academic standards—for giving students credit for a course they don’t attend is just one way to lower standard.  Other ways are eliminating AP (advanced placement) courses, eliminating standardized tests, using “holistic admissions” that includes “personality scores” (the way Harvard kept out Asian students); the methods, both in practice and on tap, go on forever.

“But,” you might say, “These tactics increases the representation of minority students in schools.” Well, it can (though it didn’t in this case), but it also while lowers academic standards at the same time.

This, then, is a dilemma if you want both minority representation and standards that will provide a good education. I constantly ponder this dilemma, trying to think of forms of affirmative action that keep academic and professional standards high—ways to increase equity while retaining meritocracy.  The ultimate solution, of course, is what I call “equality of opportunity for everyone”, but that starts in youth, and by the time kids are in school, they’ve already missed it, for it depends on socioeconomic and cultural factors, as well as government policy. Solving this will take tons of will, money, and research, and there’s no quick fix. (There seems to be no will, either.) Even John McWhorter’s three-part solution (teach kids phonics, don’t assume that everyone has to go to college, and end the “war on drugs”) will work only very slowly.

It’s a tough problem and as I think through it I may post here from time to time. But this much I know: what the teacher describes above helps neither equity nor academic quality. And that is all this kind of performative effort does.  Its main accomplishment is to make a bunch of “elite” people feel better about themselves while actually ignoring the goals they profess to care about.