By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
Two weeks ago Starbucks was forced to abandon a widely ridiculed campaign to promote discussion of race in America by writing “Race Together” on coffee cups. The Right criticized it as another self-righteous exercise in p.c., while the Left complained that a discussion starter introduced by a rich product of “white privilege” like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wasn’t quite leftist enough.
Over at EPJ, Bob Wenzel pointed out the not-exactly-unexpected finding that Schultz lives in a part of Seattle called Madison Park, whose 1,538 residents include a mere 80 black people. And in fact, Schultz lives in an especially exclusive part of Madison Park: a nine-house gated community that doesn’t exactly “look like America,” if I may borrow a phrase.
To help push the discussion along, Starbucks also ran an advertisement in USA Today, in the form of a questionnaire, demanding to know how many times per year we’ve hosted someone of another race at our homes, and how many times customers had dined with people of a different race. It is evidently not enough for people to make uncoerced decisions regarding their friendships and social lives; they should instead choose their friends on the basis of percentages and bean counting.
The Starbucks fiasco pointed to a broader point: almost no one calling for a frank discussion of race really wants one. What they want is an echo chamber. They want to hear the same ideological assumptions behind racial differences in income, employment, and education thoughtlessly repeated. Since those assumptions are false, these discussions produce nothing of value. Just more misplaced resentment, anger, and frustration.
The usual “discussion about race” we are supposed to have involves attributing racial differences in income and employment to “discrimination,” oppression, and “white privilege,” and then coming up with suitable programs of penance and redistribution. But as Thomas Sowell has shown, differences in income and employment between groups exist all over the world, in a great multitude of situations; he even points to plenty of cases in which groups suffering official state discrimination have outperformed a country’s majority population. Sowell has also demonstrated that when we correct for age, geographical location, education, and other relevant demographic factors, the racial income gap in the US essentially disappears.
As for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sowell reveals already-existing trends in black employment that few know about and no one mentions, and finds that the Act did not accelerate those trends:
In the period from 1954 to 1964, for example, the number of blacks in professional, technical, and similar high-level positions more than doubled. In other kinds of occupations, the advance of blacks was even greater during the 1940s – when there was little or no civil rights policy – than during the 1950s when the civil rights revolution was in its heyday.
The rise in the number of blacks in professional and technical occupations in the two years from 1964 to 1966 (after the Civil Rights Act) was in fact less than in the one year from 1961 to 1962 (before the Civil Rights Act). If one takes into account the growing black population by looking at percentages instead of absolute numbers, it becomes even clearer that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented no acceleration in trends that had been going on for many years. The percentage of employed blacks who were managers and administrators was the same in 1967 as in 1964 – and 1960. Nor did the institution of “goals and timetables” at the end of 1971 mark any acceleration in the long trend of rising black representation in these occupations. True, there was an appreciable increase in the percentage of blacks in professional and technical fields from 1971 to 1972, but almost entirely offset by a reduction in the percentage of blacks who were managers and administrators.
By 1980, in fact, college-educated black couples were earning slightly more than whites of the same description. Similar long-term upward trends are evident for Asians and Hispanics as well.
Ah, but correcting for education merely conceals the inequities, a critic might say: given the lousy education they wind up getting, no wonder blacks are underrepresented.
It’s certainly true that the state gives these kids a rotten education. But that can’t be the full explanation of what we are seeing. When students of different races were asked what grades would get them into trouble with their parents, Asian students responded that it was anything below A-. The threshold for white students, on the other hand, was B-, and for black students it was C-. This is the tip of the iceberg of a problem that those who urge us to discuss race don’t really seem to want investigated.
If anything, the so-called privilege we hear so much about runs in reverse. Blacks are admitted into education and employment despite much poorer average credentials.
Some of us are old enough to recall the leak at Georgetown Law School two decades ago, revealing that blacks who had much lower test scores than whites were being admitted. But this wasn’t really news: only 17 black students in the entire country had at least the average LSAT score of a Georgetown student, and Georgetown was admitting 70 black students.
For those who pretend these differences are attributable to class differences, the data provide little comfort. In fact, the racial gap in educational achievement is only slightly smaller when social class is held constant.
Are blacks underrepresented in academia because of “racism”? This thesis began to be advanced in all seriousness in the late 1980s, even though US universities were tearing each other limb from limb in competition for the small number of qualified black candidates. And that, not “racism,” is the issue. The 25 blacks who earned doctorates in mathematics in the US in 2009, for example, were only 1.6 percent of all doctorates in the field given out by US universities. For engineering the figure was 1.8 percent.
That year, not a single black student earned a PhD in agronomy, animal breeding and nutrition, astronomy, astrophysics, chemical and physical oceanography, classics, horticulture, logic, marine science, number theory, nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, paleontology, Spanish, theoretical chemistry, or wildlife/range management. Perhaps this, rather than the automatic assumption of white wickedness, has more to do with it.
Then there is crime. Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us, describes the situation:
Today blacks are about 13 percent of the population and continue to be responsible for an inordinate amount of crime. Between 1976 and 2005 blacks committed more than half of all murders in the United States. The black arrest rate for most offenses — including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes — is still typically two to three times their representation in the population. Blacks as a group are also overrepresented among persons arrested for so-called white-collar crimes such as counterfeiting, fraud and embezzlement. And blaming this decades-long, well-documented trend on racist cops, prosecutors, judges, sentencing guidelines and drug laws doesn’t cut it as a plausible explanation.
And according to William Stuntz, the late Harvard Law professor, “High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination. The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segregation but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans – and of African American control of city governments.”
The kind of conversation Starbucks and the rest of the “racism” industry wants us to have about race expects us to chalk all this up to “racism” – or “institutional” or “structural” racism, a phenomenon that apparently failed to affect Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, who have been despised by all sectors of American society, whether labor unions in the 19th century or hyper-patriots in the 20th, with Japanese-Americans even being confined in camps during World War II. But they had matched whites in income by 1959, and were earning one-third more just a decade later. The success of Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, in fact, has created such difficulty for the discriminationists that those groups have now been conflated with less successful Samoans, Hawaiians, and Vietnamese, in a category called “Asian and Pacific Islanders,” in order to make their achievements look less impressive.
If anyone wanted a free and genuine discussion of race, it would have to be honest enough to include issues like these. Such a discussion might also include, along the lines of Walter Williams’ book The State Against Blacks, some mention of how the state makes life difficult for the poor, how the minimum wage eerily parallels black teenage unemployment, and how labor unions have been a protectionist racket intended to protect white workers against competition.
If the phrase “Race Together” can be made meaningful at all, it would have to mean an attitude of genuine good will between the races, as opposed to the condescending oppressor-and-oppressed model that has yielded us such perverse results. Professor Williams jokes that he received his Ph.D. in economics “back when it wasn’t fashionable for white people to like black people.” What he meant by that, obviously, wasn’t that it’s good for members of one race not to get along with those of another, but that in those days his professors felt comfortable treating him just like everyone else, without the condescending tokenism and pats on the head that would later become so prevalent. When he spouted nonsense, they told him so. And he’s a better scholar for it.
What is holding back nonwhites is not a lack of good will by white people, or inadequate wealth redistribution or coercive special privilege. For all the talk of white “racism,” whites have yielded countless university and employment spots, at the expense of their own children, to nonwhites who would not otherwise have been accepted. And for an indication of what trillions in welfare-state spending have yielded, one need only take a glance at Detroit, or take a stroll down the corridor of an inner-city school.
The double standards, the demonization of whites, the use of the “racism” slur, the race hustlers who profit from inciting hatred – all of this would have to go if we are truly to “Race Together.”