Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part VIII

One of the most essential tools in understanding the nature and dynamics of population groups is the normal distribution, which is popularly referred to as a bell curve. When the statistical distribution of virtually any characteristic, such as height, weight, intelligence and income, is graphically represented it invariably forms the general shape of a bell curve. The rate of outcomes and occurrences, from grades on a math test within a classroom, to the rates of incarceration within a nation, can also be plotted in this fashion. Populations can be grouped, analyzed and compared based an almost endless number of criteria, such as: region, religious affiliation, race, gender, profession, political orientation and even by attitudes towards science fiction. 

When we compare the bell curves of different populations, for almost any given factor, such as years of schooling obtained, we find: 

1) Members of each population group are represented at every point in the graph.

2) There is a tremendous degree of overlap between each population group.

3) There is a much greater degree of diversity within each group, rather than between the group.

4) But, never the less, the shape (distribution of scores) of bell curves are rarely identical, which means that at different points (outcomes) on the graph, some groups are better represented than others.

5) A good many individuals within a group with a lower mean score will still exceed the scores of a segment of the higher scoring group. 

In practical terms, what can this tell us about race and culture?

When we meet an individual, we have absolutely no way of knowing where they fall within a bell curve for any given socioeconomic factor, which I refer to as the: Iron Law Of Individuality. For many factors, the African-American bell curve is skewed to the left, yet the graph clearly demonstrates that there are many African-American individuals who outperform European-American individuals. Hence, it would be irrational and immoral to object to  an African-American (or member of any other group) from moving next door to you, solely based on their ethnicity. And conversely, it is foolish to automatically welcome any individual because of their ethnicity. The only instance in which prejudice is a rational option is if you are in a potentially dangerous situation in which you do not have the luxury to gather information on each stranger. When I walk down the street late at night, I will choose to avoid males over females, young over old and whites over Asian-Americans, because statistically crime rates are lower for the former. 

While a bell curve does not allow us to reasonably predict the nature of an individual, the larger a statistical sample is, the more predictable aggregate outcomes becomes, which I refer to as the Inescapable Law Of Averages. So while we cannot know what a Polish-American, Puerto Rican or Gay neighbor will be like, simply based on their identity, whether we admit it or not, we can make strong predictions on what a Polish, Puerto Rican or Gay neighborhood will be like. From the demographic makeup of a neighborhood, we can make reliable predictions on the level of crime, the quality of schools, the pervasiveness of litter and 101 other socio-economic factors. The exception to this rule is when the higher scoring outliers of a lower performing group congregate in an area, such as Chicago's Chatham Neighborhood, allowing for the establishment of stable, middle class milieu. But, with the end of de jure segregation, many upwardly mobile African-Americans have opted for more integrated neighborhoods, leaving once prosperous enclaves in decline. Given the significant overlap of bell curves, it would appear that the positive and negative outliers of a community have a disproportionate impact on its quality of life. Or, more specifically, in even the worst neighborhoods, the majority of residents are law abiding, yet a relatively small number of criminals can create  a violent, unstable environment, in which few businesses are willing to endure the risk of providing needed goods, services and employment opportunities. 

Most people of good will implicitly accept these principles; far from being hateful or resentful, they celebrate successful minorities that contribute to cultural, economic and political life, yet their actions indicate that they are not optimistic about the impact of demographic changes on their neighborhoods. This is why there is such a clear divergence between popular rhetoric and private choices, in which even the staunchest progressives will pull their children out of a school when it becomes "too diverse". Most educated people realize that the pathology they are fleeing does have historical roots in the terrible discrimination that minorities experienced. But, they do not want to subject their family to needless risk, especially considering that the fate of other individuals is rarely improved through osmosis. Due to the dearth of honest, viable narratives that synthesize these seemingly contradictory sentiments, many Americans experience a form of cognitive dissidence. And by default, they opt for well meaning, but flawed liberals narratives on race and racism that do not articulate their hopes and fears. The result is the silence of some, the insincerity of others and a nation that is none the more integrated. 

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