Monday, January 14, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part IV

What is most striking about the narratives that present racism and discrimination as the primary explanations of  racial achievement gaps is that they are extremely macro-social and abstract in nature. While a broad, structural analysis can often bring insight to a discussion, in this case it allows ideology to supplant an honest, inquisitive exploration of data.The said narrative utilizes ill-defined, nebulous concepts, such as institutional racism and structural racism as articles of faith; the former is defined as "a form of racial inequality resulting not from conscious discrimination, but from the cumulative effect of subconscious racism and / or the aggregate inertial discriminatory effect of individuals within a non-diverse group favoring like-minded individuals."  Their very focus on a phenomena that they define as invisibleunintentional and even subconscious,  precludes a clear, empirical analysis of the actual manner in which individuals and groups advance or lag in different institutions.They fail to use data to construct a clear line of causality that demonstrates that privilege or discrimination determine the actual outcome. Rather their arguments rest of anecdotal evidence or the spurious explanation that the very presence of an achievement gap is proof of ongoing privilege and discrimination. The author of this blog believes that the foundation of understanding economic and social performance of individuals and groups must be based on intellectually honest case studies, grounded in rich, comprehensive details. Only once this has been established can we construct compelling abstractions and ideology. Or put simply, one cannot hope to grasp the dynamics of a forest, until they understand the nature of the flora and fauna that populate it.

Take the question of classroom achievement: logically, those who wanted to understand it should start by exploring the specific behaviors, norms and strategies of the students who academically excelled. For the sake of a sound analysis, naturally they should compare students of a similar economic background, who enjoyed access to equal educational resources, i.e. those from the same school. I am confident that they would find an exceptionally strong correlation between success and interrelated factors such as: discipline, a future orientation, intellectual curiosity and a desire to utilize all available resources. They could set forth a reasonable maxim, in order to academically succeed, a student must do X, Y & Z. We would certainly find that the majority of students with poor academic performance did not undertake these specific measures and strategies. I am strongly inclined to believe that the most relevant factor, regardless of race, is the extent to which students are not willing to utilize available resources and opportunities. And underlying the student's orientation is the values and specific that predominate in their families and communities.

The next reasonable step would be to determine if African-Americans who undertake X, Y & Z experienced positive outcomes, like their classmates, or did institutional racism prevent them from enjoying the fruits of their labors? To demonstrate that racism was a relevant factor we would require empirical data that showed that teachers and administrators engaged in statistically relevant patterns of discriminatory conduct. Did they grade them more harshly? Were they less willing to assist students simply because of their race? Did they discourage equally capable students from pursuing an honor's class, because of their background? Were they discouraged from utilizing free tutors that schools provide? Do any specific policies account for their much higher drop-out rate? I would be shocked if any one of these acts of discrimination were found to occur at a statistically significant rate, given that the mission statement of virtually every teacher training program and school district is to promote social justice, combat racism and celebrate diversity. This is especially unlikely considering that a large portion of African-Americans are taught by African-American educators. If indeed discrimination is not a key factor, the primary cause of the achievement gap is the varying rates that specific values and behaviors occur within different communities. But, for the sake of the discussion, let us say that I am understating the importance of structural factors, such as resource allocation, this still would not exclude the importance of cultural-behavior factors. The effects of institutional racism could be compounded by  normative patterns that lead many individuals to under-utilize the unequal resources and opportunities that are available to them.

To better understand the wealth gap, we would  investigate the extent to which specific financial behaviors occur within different ethnic groups. In order to compare "apples to apples" it would be imperative to control for age, education, the starting income level of the samples that comprise each group. Specifically, we would study the level of wealth creation over the course of 5 or 10 years, of individuals who started at comparable socioeconomic levels. The next step would be to determine the aggregate growth rate of each group over that period. And then using credit reports, bank statements and interviews, we would seek answer to the following questions: To what extent did the subjects amass debt in non-essential, luxury purchases? To what statistical extent did the members of each group lower their consumption level in order to save money? Did they invest the saved capital? If so, in what manners? What percentage of each group had poor credit scores? How often did the poor credit scores reflect uncontrollable circumstances (such as health issues) and how often were they the consequences of poor financial planning? Did poor credit limit their access to capital to invest in education, real estate and commercial enterprises? Analyzing the connection between wealth generation and specific behaviors and the extent to which they are found in each group would help us put together a credible explanation of the dynamics of the wealth gap. Of course we would also test the discrimination-privilege thesis, by discovering the extent to which each group experienced statistically significant rates of discriminationfavoritism and familial assistance. And if they were found to be statistically prevalent did unfavorable or favorable treatment occur in the absence of divergent behavior patterns or did simply serve to augment their effects? What is most puzzling is that so few of the individuals who sound the alarm on income equality bother to ask, yet alone empirically answer these essential questions.

The few liberals who are willing to concede the profound flaws in their narrative will most likely respond: the pathological behaviors of today, are a historical product of the legacy of past discrimination. The reason why a student is not willing to take advantage of the resources that are now available is because of the long history of the social, political and economic marginalization. And the challenges that students from impoverished communities face makes it harder to commit academically. I will concede that there is a great deal of truth to these positions. But, never the less misdiagnosing the source of the achievement gap as present discrimination that bars students from enjoying the fruits of their labor will ensure that the private sector will continue to pursue ineffective remedies. The  experiences of groups, such as Chinese-Americans, who have now surpassed European-Americans academically and economically, demonstrate that once legal equality has been ensured, culture and values becomes the strongest determinant of outcomes. In fact this has led to a virtuous cycle, in which the widespread adoption of positive behaviors has lead to favorable social and economic outcomes, which has all but eliminated the toxic stereotypes that most Americans once held about East-Asians. This may seem harsh, but in reality it is far more hopeful than the fatalist liberal narratives that hold that we are bound by past and present racism. For we as individuals and communities can transform our behavior and our culture, in the process changing the course that others set for us. 

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