Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.
The first lady went to Bowie State and addressed the graduating class. Her speech was a mix of black history and a salute to the graduates. There was also this:
But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of "separate but equal," when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they're sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.
And then this:
If the school in your neighborhood isn't any good, don't just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children's promise. ...
And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.
There's a lot wrong here.
At the most basic level, there's nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.
At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett -- or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don't extend past entertainment and athletics That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.
Enacting and enforcing policy is the job of the Obama White House. When asked about policy for African Americans, the president has said, "I'm not the president of black America. I'm the president of all America." An examination of the Obama administration's policy record toward black people clearly bears this out. An examination of the Obama administration's rhetoric, as directed at black people, tells us something different.
Yesterday, the president addressed Morehouse College's graduating class, and said this:
We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you've learned over the last four years is that there's no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: "excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness."
We've got no time for excuses -- not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven't. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that's still out there. It's just that in today's hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven't earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured -- and overcame.
This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the "president of black America," but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities.
Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people -- and particularly black youth -- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that "there's no longer room for any excuses" -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of "all America," but he also is singularly the scold of "black America."
It's worth revisiting the president's comments over the past year in reference to gun violence. Visting his grieving adopted hometown of Chicago, in the wake of the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the president said this:
For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect. And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.
Two months earlier Obama visited Newtown. The killer, Adam Lanza, was estranged from his father and reportedly devastated by his parents divorce. But Obama did not speak to Newtown about the kind of community they were building, or speculate on the hole in Adam Lanza's heart.
When Barack Obama says that he is "the president of all America," he is exactly right. When he visits black communities, he visits as the American president, bearing with him all our history, all our good works, and all our sins. Among recent sins, the creation of the ghettos of Chicago -- accomplished by 20th-century American social policy -- rank relatively high. Leaving aside the vague connection between fatherhood and the murder of Hadiya Pendleton. Certainly the South Side could use more responsible fathers. Why aren't there more? Do those communities simply lack men of ambition or will? Are the men there genetically inferior?
No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of "all America," Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn't, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.
I think the stature of the Obama family -- the most visible black family in American history -- is a great blow in the war against racism. I am filled with pride whenever I see them: there is simply no other way to say that. I think Barack Obama, specifically, is a remarkable human being -- wise, self-aware, genuinely curious and patient. It takes a man of particular vision to know, as Obama did, that the country really was ready to send an African American to the White House.
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They wil weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.
I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.
Ta-Nehisi has used an imagine of Walter White, the first African American head of the NAACP, to illustrate the pliability of the black identity. It certainly shows that there are no fixed definitions of race which are particularly useful. But that is a misconception of biological science, which is rife with exceptions and boundary conditions, and characterized by an instrumental perspective. The data above suggests that self-identified African Americans are characterized by some African ancestry, but over 90% are more than 50% African in ancestry. Walter White, who had five black great great great grandparents and 27 white ones, was almost certainly less than 20% African in ancestry. There are such people even today, but they are not typical, and do not disprove the reality that African Americans are predominantly of African ancestry.
As expected, PCA on our entire sample revealed the greatest genetic differentiation between the US Caucasians and the Africans, with the African Americans intermediate between them, reflecting their recent admixture between ancestors from Europe and Africa. Our estimate of European individual admixture (IA) in the African Americans was also roughly consistent with prior studies , with an average of 21.9%. We found considerable variation among individuals in terms of European IA, and a number of individuals with particularly high European IA values (eight individuals of 136, or 6% with values greater than 45%).Prior studies focusing on mtDNA and Y chromosomes have found a greater African and lesser European representation of mtDNA haplotypes compared with Y chromosome haplotypes in African Americans, suggesting a greater contribution of African matrilineal descent compared with patrilineal descent [6,7]. For example, Kayser and colleagues  estimated that 27.5% to 33.6% of Y chromosomes in African Americans are of European origin, compared with 9.0% to 15.4% of mtDNA haplotypes.
"Race" as a term is very nebulous. But human subgroups with similar ancestries can have group differences in DNA -- and intelligence is highly unlikely to have no genetic basis at all (although most now believe its impact is greatly qualified by cultural and developmental differences).
But what I really want TNC to address is the data. Yes, "race" is a social construct when we define it as "white", "black," "Asian" or, even more ludicrously, "Hispanic." But why then does the overwhelming data show IQ as varying in statistically significant amounts between these completely arbitrary racially constructed populations? Is the testing rigged? If the categories are arbitrary, then the IQs should be randomly distributed. But they aren't, even controlling for education, income, etc.
Andrew Sullivan and Freddie Deboer have two pieces up worth checking out. I disagree with Andrew's (though I detect some movement in his position.) Freddie's piece is entitled "Precisely How Not to Argue About Race and IQ." He writes:
The problem with people who argue for inherent racial inferiority is not that they lie about the results of IQ tests, but that they are credulous about those tests and others like them when they shouldn't be; that they misunderstand the implications of what those tests would indicate even if they were credible; and that they fail to find the moral, analytic, and political response to questions of race and intelligence.
I think this is a good point, but I want to expand it. Most of the honest writing I've seen on "race and intelligence" focuses on critiquing the idea of "intelligence." So there's lot of good literature on whether it can be measured, its relevance in modern society, whether intelligence changes across generations, whether it changes with environment, and what we mean when we say IQ. As Freddie mentions here, I had a mathematician stop past to tell me I needed to stop studying French, and immediately start studying statistics -- otherwise I can't possibly understand this debate.
It's a fair critique. My response is that he should stop studying math and start studying history.
I am not being flip or coy. If you tell me that you plan to study "race and intelligence" then it is only fair that I ask you, "What do you mean by race?" It's true I don't always do math so well, but I understand the need to define the terms of your study. If you're a math guy, perhaps your instinct is to point out the problems in the interpretation of the data. My instinct is to point out that your entire experiment proceeds from a basic flaw -- no coherent, fixed definition of race actually exists.
The history bears this out. In 1856, Ralph Waldo Emerson delineated the significance of race:
It is race, is it not, that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. Race avails much, if that be true, which is alleged, that all Celts are Catholics, and all Saxons are Protestants; that Celts love unity of power, and Saxons the representative principle. Race is a controlling influence in the Jew, who, for two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the negro is of appalling importance. The French in Canada, cut off from all intercourse with the parent people, have held their national traits. I chanced to read Tacitus "on the Manners of the Germans," not long since, in Missouri, and the heart of Illinois, and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers, and Badgers of the American woods.
Indeed, Emerson in 1835, saw race as central to American greatness:
The inhabitants of the United States, especially of the Northern portion, are descended from the people of England and have inherited the trais of their national character...It is common with the Franks to break their faith and laugh at it The race of Franks is faithless.
Emerson was not alone, as historian James McPherson points out, Southerners not only thought of themselves as a race separate from blacks, but as a race apart from Northern whites:
The South's leading writer on political economy, James B. D. De Bow, subscribed to this Norman-Cavalier thesis and helped to popularize it in De Bow's Review. As the lower-South states seceded one after another during the winter of 1860-61, this influential journal carried several long articles justifying secession on the grounds of irreconcilable ethnic differences between Southern and Northern whites. "The Cavaliers, Jacobites, and Huguenots, who settled the South, naturally hate, contemn, and despise the Puritans who settled the North," proclaimed one of these articles. "The former are a master-race; the latter a slave race, the descendants of Saxon serfs." The South was now achieving its "independent destiny" by repudiating the failed experiment of civic nationalism that had foolishly tried in 1789 to "erect one nation out of two irreconcilable peoples."
Similarly, in 1899 William Z. Ripley wrote The Races of Europe, which sought to delineate racial difference through head-type:
The shape of the human head by which we mean the general proportions of length, breadth, and height, irrespective of the " bumps " of the phrenologist is one of the best available tests of race known. Its value is, at the same time, but imperfectly appreciated beyond the inner circle of professional anthropology. Yet it is so simple a phenomenon, both in principle and in practical application, that it may readily be of use to the traveller and the not too superficial observer of men.
To be sure, widespread and constant peculiarities of head form are less noticeable in America, because of the extreme variability of our population, compounded as it is of all the races of Europe; they seem also to be less fundamental among the American aborigines. But in the Old World the observant traveller may with a little attention often detect the racial affinity of a people by this means.
Two years later, Edward A. Ross sought to apprehend "The Causes of Race Superiority." He saw the differences between the Arab "race" and the Jewish "race" as a central illustration:
It is certain that races differ in their attitude toward past and future. M. Lapie has drawn a contrast between the Arab and the Jew. The Arab remembers; he is mindful of past favors and past injuries. He harbors his vengeance and cherishes his gratitude. He accepts everything on the authority of tradition, loves the ways of his ancestors, forms strong local attachments, and migrates little. The Jew, on the other hand, turns his face toward the future. He is thrifty and always ready for a good stroke of business, will, indeed, join with his worst enemy if it pays. He is calculating, enterprising, migrant and ambitious
You can see more of this here.
Our notion of what constitutes "white" and what constitutes "black" is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a "Southern race" and not see the Civil War, the creation of an "Irish race" and not think of Cromwell's ethnic cleansing, the creation of a "Jewish race" and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of "whiteness" or "blackness," not even today. It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn't really "black" but "half-white." One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord.
When the liberal says "race is a social construct," he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth. We do not go around testing the "Irish race" for intelligence or the "Southern race" for "hot-headedness." These reasons are social. It is no more legitimate to ask "Is the black race dumber than then white race?" than it is to ask "Is the Jewish race thriftier than the Arab race?"
The strongest argument for "race" is that people who trace their ancestry back to Europe, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to Asia, and people who trace their ancestry back to the early Americas, lived isolated from each other for long periods and have evolved different physical traits (curly hair, lighter skin, etc.)
But this theoretical definition (already fuzzy) wilts under human agency, in a real world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check "black" on the census. (Same deal for "Hispanic.") The reasons for that take us right back to fact of race as a social construct. And an American-centered social construct. Are the Ainu of Japan a race? Should we delineate darker South Asians from lighter South Asians on the basis of race? Did the Japanese who invaded China consider the Chinese the same "race?"
Andrew writes that liberals should stop saying "truly stupid things like race has no biological element." I agree. Race clearly has a biological element -- because we have awarded it one. Race is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on "Frankishness" in Emerson's day. Over history of race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.
"Race," writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, "is an idea, not a fact." Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason.
His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen. Topping off such excesses of cinematic technique, this Gatsby is rendered in 3D, an innovation only moderately less absurd than presenting Moby Dick in Sensurround, or Cannery Row in Smell-O-Vision. In short, although Luhrmann's film mostly adheres to the letter of Fitzgerald's novel, it would be difficult to envision a work less in keeping with its wistful spirit... Apart from the misappropriation of Fitzgerald's classic text, what is most frustrating about The Great Gatsby is that it offers yet further proof that Luhrmann has a skill-set tailor-made for comedy that he insists on squandering in ill-fated attempts at tragedy. Since his delightful 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom--recently released on Blu-ray--Luhrmann has taken five straight stabs at the latter tradition, missing the mark every time: Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, an underwhelming Broadway production of La boheme, the epic folly Australia, and now Gatsby. If only Luhrmann could be persuaded to put down his high-school syllabi and start leafing through some old song books instead. (Imagine what he could have done, to cite just one example, with the amateurishly under-directed Mamma Mia!.) But his tragic fixation seems incurable, no matter how many heartbroken narrators he cycles through. Just a few days ago, the director announced his hope to reunite with DiCaprio for an adaptation of, yes, Hamlet. And so the question is posed once again. I can only hope that this time the answer is "not to be."They are who we thought they were. Everyone (including Chris) says that DiCaprio was quite good. The basic problem here is the same as it ever was. Maybe because of its title, and Fitzgerald's outsized persona, people think that The Great Gatsby has to be a big budget extravaganza. But the book actually reads like a French film or an American indie. It's not so much that Gatsby can't be filmed. It's that it can't be filmed by this Hollywood.
Will Leitch writes about the perfect show for the ultra-connected age, founded before such connections had fully flowered:
The world into which the first three seasons of Arrested Development were released is dramatically different from the one we live in now. "I was doing a show that was all about rewatchability before there was technology that really provided that opportunity--before DVRs, etc.," Hurwitz said in an interview with Vulture last year. "In retrospect, it was more than audacious; it was foolish. "This is a key point, sort of the insane, futile genius of Arrested Development--a show that demanded the kind of giddy Internet dissections we do regularly now, but before there was any real forum in which to conduct them. The show was full of crazily subtle in-jokes you had to watch every episode over and over to catch, from the out-of-season seasonal clothing the Bluths made their housekeeper wear to Cloudmir Vodka, a brand that shows up in the background of at least a half-dozen scenes. We'd catch those immediately now, and every different Bluth family member's chicken impression would be gif'd within seconds of airing. It was a show made to be looped and recapped and deep-dived into, anticipating the current cultural moment without ever being able to benefit from it. A show for 2013 made in 2005.Then, of course, we knew not of GIFs. What we did know was that what Arrested Development was doing was so revolutionary and different it felt like public access, and it was on freaking Fox. (I remember Joe Buck and Troy Aikman plugging Arrested Development during the NFC Championship Game, for crying out loud.) And obsessing over Arrested Development made us feel better, smarter, cooler than all those dopes busy watching Two and a Half Men. In this way, Arrested Development didn't just foretell the viewing culture of 2013; it might have created it. The television world is so fractured and niche now that the shows we watch have become an important signifier of who we are--who we want to be seen as, anyway. I'm a Louie person but not a Community person. I'm a Breaking Bad person but not a Homeland one. And if I saw on your Facebook wall that you were an Arrested Development fan, well, I could bet you and I were gonna get along just fine.
I actually missed Arrested Development the first time out. I was introduced to it on Hulu, and I've probably rewatched the show's episodes more than any other I can think of. There is something very literary about the show—there are so many deep references and cross-references that you can't really catch until you've watched the entire run five different times.
It's certainly in my top five comedies. Can't wait for it to come back.
Random tangential thought: I stopped watching Community because it felt too self-referentially nerdy. (The D&D episode actually turned me off.) I'm starting to think maybe I was unfair. I should try again.
Dave Weigel is one of my favorite reporters, but I think this piece on Jason Richwine, intelligence research, and "race" deserves a closer look:
Academics aren't so concerned with the politics. But they know all too well the risks that come with research connecting IQ and race. At the start of his dissertation, Richwine thanked his three advisers -- George Borjas, Christopher Jenks, and Richard Zeckhauser -- for being so helpful and so bold. Borjas "helped me navigate the minefield of early graduate school," he wrote. "Richard Zeckhauser, never someone to shy away from controversial ideas, immediately embraced my work. ..."
Anyone who works in Washington and wants to explore the dark arts of race and IQ research is in the right place. The city's a bit like a college campus, where investigating "taboo" topics is rewarded, especially on the right. A liberal squeals "racism," and they hear the political-correctness cops (most often, the Southern Poverty Law Center) reporting a thought crime.
It is almost as though the "dark arts of race and IQ" were an untapped field of potential knowledge, not one of the most discredited fields of study in modern history. We should first be clear that there is nothing mysterious or forbidden about purporting to study race and intelligence. Indeed, despite an inability to define "race" or "intelligence," such studies are one of the dominant intellectual strains in Western history. We forget this because its convient to believe that history begins with the Watts riots. But it's important to remember the particular tradition that Charles Murray and Jason Richwine are working in. A brief reminder seems in order.
Here is antebellum "race realist" Josiah Clark Nott writing in 1854 to justify slavery:
That Negroes imported into, or born in, the United States become more intelligent and better developed in their physique generally than their native compatriots of Africa, every one admits; but such intelligence is easily explained by their ceaseless contact with the whites, from whom they derive much instruction; and such physical improvement may also be readily accounted for by the increased comforts with which they are supplied. In Africa, owing to their natural improvidence, the Negroes are, more frequently than not, a half-starved, and therefore half-developed race; but when they are regularly and adequately fed, they become healthier, better developed, and more humanized. Wild horses, cattle, asses, and other brutes, are greatly improved in like manner by domestication : but neither climate nor food can transmute an ass into a horse, or a buffalo into an ox.
Here is an excerpt from Madison Grant's 1916 study The Passing of a Great Race:
These new immigrants were no longer exclusively members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones who came of their own impulse to improve their social conditions. The transportation lines advertised America as a land flowing with milk and honey and the European governments took the opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy and hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and asylums. The result was that the new immigration, while it still included many strong elements from the north of Europe, contained a large and increasing number of the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, submerged populations of the Polish Ghettos.
Our jails, insane asylums and almshouses are filled with this human flotsam and the whole tone of American life, social, moral and political has been lowered and vulgarized by them. With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to reverse or obliterate immemorial hereditary tendencies, these newcomers were welcomed and given a share in our land and prosperity....
The result of unlimited immigration is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the Jew. The native American is too proud to mix socially with them and is gradually withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed.
The man of the old stock is being crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners just as he is to-day being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear his clothes, they steal his name and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race.
Another from Lothrop Stoddard's 1922 work The Revolt Against Civilization and the Menace of the Underman:
In Massachusetts the birth-rate of foreign-born women is two and one-half times as high as the birth-rate among the native-bom; in New Hampshire two times; in Rhode Island one and one-half times, the most prolific of the alien stocks being Poles, Polish and Russian Jews, South Italians, and French-Canadians. What this may mean after a few generations is indicated by a calculation made by the biologist Davenport, who stated that, at present rates of reproduction, 1,000 Harvard graduates of to-day would have only fifty descendants two centuries hence, whereas 1,000 Rumanians today in Boston, at their present rate of breeding, would have 100,000 descendants in the same space of time.
To return to the more general aspect of the problem, it is clear that both in Europe and America the quality of the population is deteriorating, the more intelligent and talented strains being relatively or absolutely on the decline. Now this can mean nothing lees than a deadly menace both to civilization and the race.
More from Lothrop Stoddard's 1921 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy:
In the United States it has been the same story. Our country, originally settled almost exclusively by Nordics, was toward the close of the nineteenth century invaded by hordes of immigrant Alpines and Mediterraneans, not to mention Asiatic elements like Levantines and Jews. As a result, the Nordic native American has been crowded out with amazing rapidity by these swarming, prolific aliens, and after two short generations he has in many of our urban areas become almost extinct.
The racial displacements induced by a changed economic or social environment are, indeed, almost incalculable. Contrary to the popular belief, nothing is more unstable than the ethnic make-up of a people. Above all, there is no more absurd fallacy than the shibboleth of the "melting-pot." As a matter of fact, the melting-pot may mix but does not melt. Each race-type, formed ages ago, and "set" by millenniums of isolation and inbreeding, is a stubbornly persistent entity. Each type possesses a special set of characters: not merely the physical characters visible to the naked eye, but moral, intellectual, and spiritual characters as well. All these characters are transmitted substantially unchanged from generation to generation.
To be sure, where members of the same race-stock intermarry (as English and Swedish Nordics, or French and British Mediterraneans), there seems to be genuine amalgamation. In most other cases, however, the result is not a blend but a mechanical mixture. Where the parent stocks are very diverse, as in matings between whites, negroes, and Amerindians, the offspring is a mongrel -- a walking chaos, so consumed by his jarring heredities that he is quite worthless. We have already viewed the mongrel and his works in Latin America.
Here is Karl Pearson in 1925 looking at Jewish immigration into Britain:
What is definitely clear, however, is that our alien Jewish boys do not form from the standpoint of intelligence a group markedly superior to the natives. But that is the sole condition under which we are prepared to admit that immigration should be allowed. Taken on the average, and regarding both sexes, this alien Jewish population is somewhat inferior physically and mentally to the native population. It is not so markedly inferior as some of those who wish to stop all immigration are inclined to assert. But we have to face the facts; we know and admit that some of the children of these alien Jews from the academic standpoint have done brilliantly, whether they have the staying powers of the native race is another question*. No breeder of cattle, however, would purchase an entire herd because he anticipated finding one or two fine specimens included in it; still less would he do it, if his byres and pastures were already full.
Far from being relegated to some musty corner of intellectual life, the Stoddard tradition, the tradition in which Jason Richwine stands, proved to be an influential force in world history. The Stoddard tradition gave us forced sterilization, "euthanasia" programs, miscegenation bans, and, ultimately, the Holocaust.
One might oppose the Stoddard tradition strictly on its tendency to birth suffering, misery, and catastrophe. But one can oppose it for simpler reasons -- its practitioners have a nasty habit of being wrong. Harvard still stands. The Jews of Poland seem to understand American ideas quite well. And it was not the darker races who threatened civilization, but the cannibal Nordics rampaging under the Nazi flag. History has been deeply unkind to Jason Richwine's spiritual ancestors. It's comforting to think that the academics who show no interest in the "dark arts" do so out of fear of the leftist cabal. More likely, they do so to avoid being associated with a specious field of study whose primary contributions to the world include justifying slavery and inspiring genocide.
Which is not to say these authors should not be read. Pearson is especially instructive. In 1925, he claimed the Jews immigrating to Britain threatened to become a "parasitic race." Under similar thinking, Jews were subsequently subjected to college quotas throughout America. Today, the descendants of Pearson tell us that Jews are the intellectual cream of the genetic crop.
This is what Barbara and Karen Fields mean when they talk about "racecraft." Power must justify itself. When it is proven wrong, it simply recalibrates. Conditions and actions are explained away as the inalterable work of genetics. Yesterday's yellow peril becomes today's model minority. In the 1930s Jews dominated basketball because of their "Oriental background" and "flashy trickiness." Today blacks dominate it through their animal strength and agility.
You see this shifting in Weigel's own article, where we are told that Richwine is looking into "race." But Hispanics are considered an ethnic group, not a race. That is because we have trouble explaining why Matt Yglesias, Sophia Vegara, Carmelo Anthony, Rosario Dawson, and Charlie Rangel can be said to comprise a separate "race." One should also have trouble explaining why Walter White, Whoopi Goldberg, Djimon Hounsou, Jay Smooth, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, and I are all the same "race."
These people do share something in common -- their geographic ancestry makes them potential targets of white racism. If there is any fact we are warned away from, this is it. Richwine's theories originate from a long tradition of white racism, the tradition of Grant, Stoddard, and Pearson. But to say this is to indict an insupportable portion of our own history and traditions. It is to remind us that the differences between us were constructed by men who sought power, and are maintained just the same.
I imagine that had Joakin Noah gave the middle finger to Heat fans on the way out, he would have been fined. And rightly so. Perhaps I'm reacting to the angle or the still picture. But this strikes me as an actual invasion of a person's space, and an invitation for violence. Noah did the right thing and is saying all the right things. But they should strip Filomena Tobias (the fan) of her season tickets.
Reader Devin Bunten sent me a note expanding on the problems of contract-buying, redlining, and the kind of segregated housing market that characterized America through much of the 20th century:
I wanted to send you a quick note about the thread today, with some added economics. I could/should just post it as a comment, but it's quite late for that thread I'm afraid. You mentioned in the thread that "the vast majority of these guys found themselves buying houses way beyond the appraised value." A house appraisal is only meaningful in the context of the neighborhood, and the switch from an all-white neighborhood to an all-black neighborhood would have changed the appraisal substantially -- which is of course a large part of the point.
However, that's separate than how economists think about price and value, and I think adding the econ perspective actually makes the situation worse. I'd think about it like this: in Chicago at the time, there were two fundamental housing markets: one for whites, and one for blacks.
Removing the black population from competition within the white market was a(nother) large transfer of wealth to whites: whites faced less competition for the large supply of houses, which actually kept white house prices lower than they would otherwise be.
This enabled a large number of whites to move up the ladder into the middle class. On the other hand, the legal framework, enforced by terror, that prevented blacks from moving into these neighborhoods meant two things: a small supply of houses in the "black housing market", and a large and increasing demand.
This would have kept prices quite high -- much higher than any appraised value. Any black family would be bidding not against the white speculator, but against the large number of other black families looking to get a house. Because the speculators were few and the black families were many, prices were kept quite high in these black neighborhoods. The rules you wrote about obviously kept these high prices from being realized by black sellers, as blacks so rarely came to own the homes they were paying for.
Devin's last point is basically how the the history actually played out. In the overcrowded ghettoes of Chicago, there was a pent-up demand for housing. The money was there. And the money was pilfered.
I understand why academics have spent so much time studying the black poor. But in many ways, if you want to test how true this country has been to its founding creed, the black middle class is a fertile field of study. When you look at the early black home,buyers in mid-20th century Chicago, you are looking at people who did not exhibit the kind of "pathologies" pundits routinely inveigh against. Marriage rates are high. Men are working. In some cases, women are homemakers. In other words, you have the conservative fantasy of what an American family should be.
These American families were swindled by public policy, white terrorism, and private action. This was done to advantage people who happened to look different from them. And we are only talking about housing here. We are not talking about school segregation. We are not talking about job discrimination. We are not talking about business loan discrimination. We are not talking about the shameful implementation of the G.I. Bill. Or the sharecropping system in the South. This is but one front in the long war.
For young black people growing up in that era, what was the message? America's promise is that everyone who plays by the rules will have a chance to compete. If you are a black boy, or a black girl, and you watch your parents play by the rules while everyone else cheats, what do you conclude? How do you feel when your parents exhibit middle-class values and your country rewards them with pariah-class treatment? How do you then evaluate your own prospects? How do you see your country? Might you then look around, survey all the double standards and hypocrisy, and find yourself not so proud?
When the discussion turned to the launch of Sim City Online, Wright was quick to declare his first thought. "I feel bad for the team," Wright said. Beyond that, Wright had some definite opinions about the launch. "I could have predicted—I kind of did predict there'd be a big backlash about the DRM stuff. It's a good game; I enjoy playing it a lot." Still, Wright understands the audience response. "It was kind of like, 'EA is the evil empire, there was a lot of 'Let's bash EA over it,'" Wright said. "That was basically inexcusable, that you charge somebody $60 for a game and they can't play it. I can understand the outrage. If I was a consumer buying the game and that happened to me, I'd feel the same." The struggles of Electronic Arts—layoffs, reorganization and the CEO Riccitiello leaving—didn't seem to be that critical to Wright. "It's hard to talk about EA as this monolithic thing with one agenda," Wright explained. "If you move back it's like all these different studios going in slightly different directions; it's almost more like a loose federation. It is going through a lot of restructuring right now, but I don't even have the time to tune into it." The DRM issues that EA has had with Sim City Online, and the controversy over rumors about Microsoft's new console requiring it to be always connected because of DRM, do seem to have a foundation, according to Wright. "I think people care if it doesn't work," he said. "If you can't play it on planes, stuff like that... I think there are some very valid concerns about it. Also there's a perception; I don't expect to play World of Warcraft on the airplane, because my perception is it has to be on the 'Net. Sim City was in this very uncomfortable space, like the uncanny valley, almost; [it was caught] between was it a single player game or was it a multiplayer game?"I can't really play more than one MMO at a time. Evidently you can hack your way into a single-player mode. I've loved SimCity since high-school. But I'm a grown-ass man, dog. I'm not paying $60 only to have to hack my way into the game I want.
Before six o'clock that morning, Mr Tanimoto started for Mr Matsuo's house. There he found that their burden was to be a tansu, a large Japanese cabinet, full of clothing and household goods. The two men set out. The morning was perfectly clear and so warm that the day promised to be uncomfortable. A few minutes after they started, the air-raid siren went off - a minute-long blast that warned of approaching planes but indicated to the people of Hiroshima only a slight degree of danger, since it sounded every morning at this time, when an American weather plane came over.The two men pulled and pushed the handcart through the city streets. Hiroshima was a fan-shaped city, lying mostly on the six islands formed by the seven estuarial rivers that branch out from the Ota River; its main commercial and residential districts, covering about four square miles in the centre of the city, contained three-quarters of its population, which had been reduced by several evacuation programmes from a wartime peak of 380,000 to about 245,000. Factories and other residential districts, or suburbs, lay compactly around the edges of the city. To the south were the docks, an airport, and an island-studded Inland Sea. A rim of mountains runs around the other three sides of the delta.Mr Tanimoto and Mr Matsuo took their way through the shopping centre, already full of people, and across two of the rivers to (the sloping streets of Koi, and up them to the outskirts and foot-hills. As they started up a valley away from the tight- ranked houses, the all-clear sounded. (The Japanese radar operators, detecting only three planes, supposed that they comprised a reconnaissance.) Pushing the handcart up to the rayon man's house was tiring, and the men, after they had manoeuvred their load into the driveway and to the front steps, paused to rest awhile.They stood with a wing of the house between them and the city. Like most homes in this part of Japan, the house consisted of a wooden frame and wooden walls supporting a heavy tile roof. Its front hall, packed with rolls of bedding and clothing, looked like a cool cave full of fat cushions. Opposite the house, to the right of the front door, there was a large, finicky rock garden. There was no sound of planes. The morning was still; the place was cool and pleasant. Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the Sky. Mr Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city towards the hills.It seemed a sheet of sun.
"We do not plan any additional work with Lil Wayne moving forward," PepsiCo said in a statement on Friday. "His offensive reference to a revered civil rights icon does not reflect the values of our brand." Wayne began appearing in ads for the brand early last year. A rep for the rapper told The Times the split was due to "creative differences," and said it was an amicable parting. On Wednesday, months after he created a firestorm for the reference that appeared on a remix of the hit "Karate Chop" by Atlanta rapper Future, Wayne acknowledged the effects of his controversial lyrics in a letter he sent to Till's family. "It has come to my attention that lyrics from my contribution to a fellow artist's song has deeply offended your family. As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain that your family has had to endure," he wrote. "I would like to take a moment to acknowledge your hurt, as well as the letter you sent to me via your attorneys."Jon Caramanica looks at the decoupling of Rick Ross from Reebok, and Mountain Dew's decision to pull an ad crafted with Tyler, The Creator:
Mr. Ross's lyric is reprehensible; Lil Wayne's is regrettable and tacky. (Lil Wayne is by no means the only rapper to mention Emmett Till in song, but his use is easily the messiest.) Both men issued tepid nonapologies. Mr. Ross eventually progressed to a full apology, but only after prodding. In each case justice was swift, as companies said, rightly, that their values didn't jibe with the sentiments of those lyrics—and, by extension, those artists. Except when they do, that is. A cursory glance at any rapper's catalog, from Jay-Z on down, will be likely to turn up a lyric that's offensive, in poor taste or eyebrow-raising. By that metric, almost every rapper of note would be ineligible for corporate partnerships.I think the issues is the difference between a catalog and right now. I also suspect that Jay is a little savvier than Wayne and Rick Ross. In terms of the substance, I don't really see the hypocrisy. Corporations exist to make money. We have evidently reached a point where endorsing rape, or insulting the family of lynching victims can be judged to have market consequences. That is a good thing.
I'm working on a story right now that is rooted in the racial wealth gap and New Deal era public policy -- mostly housing policy. One of the problems with writing about racism is that even though the public is shamefully ignorant of its effects and its foundational role in America, academics have produced reams of excellent research on the subject. In my explorations of slavery and the Civil War, I only skimmed the surface, and I know it. (Never read any David Brion Davis. Shameful, I know.) It's the same for public policy and the black/white wealth gap. There is just a ton of great research on the subject. Moreover, the excuse that "academics can't write" doesn't really hold water. A lot of this stuff is really compelling -- but very few people ever read it.
At the end of the day, the writer is charged with sifting through a great deal of information and deciding what to present. He may not have ever taken a basic statistics class. He certainly has not sat through the various symposiums on his subject. If he is doing his job, he is familiar with the important debates (Did racism precede slavery, or did slavery precede racism?) But at the end of the day, he is an amateur, pulling from various sources. And various disciplines. The sociology bleeds into history and statistics, and the history bleeds into economics and anthropology, and the anthropology bleeds into philosophy, and the philosophy takes you right back into history. And so on.
This is largely a vent. Or rather it's an attempt to distract myself from the tons of academic papers I have currently sitting in my dropbox. There is just so much to know. It really is ridiculous.
I think our own Yoni Applebaum gave the best advice some years back:
Choose the things about which you genuinely care, and come to know them deeply and well. Form your own judgments, and constantly question them. In other matters, attempt instead to ascertain the consensus of expert judgment. It will be right far more often than not. The only alternative is to form your own judgment upon every question, and I can assure you that you will be correct far less frequently.
If you encounter an attack upon a conventional piety that troubles you, first assess its source. Has its author taken the time or trouble to know his subject deeply or well? Then, assess its content. Does it seem sophisticated and convincing? If it meets those two tests, ask yourself how much you care to know about the matter. You can always add it to the list of things you wish to know deeply. But if you feel that you simply don't have the time, because of the realities of your life, then bracket your concerns and set them aside. The regnant consensus will do.
Wise words. You simply can't know everything, and you can't always be right. But you can be honest and you can be brave.
If you haven't seen Ken and Sarah Burns' Central Park Five documentary, I'd urge you to check it out. At the moment there's a small furor erupting over a petition calling for Elizabeth Lederer, who prosecuted the case, to be dismissed from her position at Columbia Law School.
Jim Dwyer, who is a sobering and clarifying presence in the film, objects:
The petition against Ms. Lederer, in part, reduces her life in public service to a single moment, the jogger case. In fact, she has a lengthy résumé of unchallenged convictions in cold cases, having pursued investigations of forgotten crimes. No one lives without error. And designating a single villain completely misses the point and power of the documentary. The jogger case belongs to a historical moment, not any one prosecutor or detective; it grew in the soils of a rancid, angry, fearful time.
Ken Burns added "It is just simple retribution, and we are appalled by it," he said. "We don't subscribe to any of it."
You can read Frank Chi, who started the petition, and Raymond Santana, one of the accused and subsequently exonerated responding here.
For my part, I'm a little puzzled by Dwyer's defense. Before she scrubbed her bio, Lederer proudly advertised her role in the prosecution of the Central Park Five. Ledere did not simply fail to live "without error." She sent a 16-year old boy to Riker's Island on the basis of coerced testimony. She sent four other boys off to prison, and she did this even after it was revealed that no DNA from any of the attackers was found on the victim. The real rapist was not found because of the investigative efforts of the police or Lederer, but because of his own need to confess. If not for that confession the Central Park Five would still be considered rapists. By that time the rapist had gone on to rape other women, killing one.
The notion that someone who played a principle role in this travesty should be training lawyers at one of the best schools in the country is rather amazing. We are not suggesting that our prosecutors must live "without error." We are suggest that those who participated in one of the most dubious cases in the city's history, and have never apologized for it, should not be in the business of educating the next generation of lawyers.
From the petition of the text:
Today, Lederer is still an assistant District Attorney in New York, and she also teaches at Columbia Law School. No individual who is responsible for locking up innocent boys for years should ever step foot in a classroom to teach students. Ever.
I am struggling to see what is so absurd or vengeful about this standard.
I suspect this ultimately boils down to power -- Lederer has enough so that her errors do not affect her position. Mike Nifong did not. Today Nifong is disgraced and bankrupt -- as well he should be. But by the system's lights, his mistake was not prosecutorial malfeasance, so much as picking on the wrong people.
I think Chris Hayes had it exactly right:
Along with all of the other rising inequalities we've become so familiar with -- in income, in wealth, in access to politicians -- we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both inside traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.
Last night The Atlantic won two awards. The first was for best website. The second was for essays and criticism. The essay in question was written by me. In my mind, these awards are linked. Writing for the website has fundamentally changed how I write in print.
If you crawl back through the archives of early to mid 2012, you will find me writing this story, on this blog, with some assistance from you. (The Trayvon coverage, for instance.) If you crawl even further back to the summer of 2010, you can find me writing this story with some assistance from you. (The Shirley Sherrod coverage, for instance.) And if you crawl back to the archives of 2008, you will see the same thing.
This space is my notebook. But in the borders and outside the margins you can see the added scribblings and post-its authored by The Horde. You can read through the current housing coverage in Chicago and see the same thing happening right now. People often praise this site for its comments community. They speak to me as though I am doing a public service. In fact, my aims are wholly selfish. This is my notebook. The scribblings and post-its have to actually help me.
So I want to thank The Horde. I want to thank The Horde for telling me to read Confederate Emancipation. I want to thank whoever it was that told me to read Making The Second Ghetto. I want to thank all the philosophy-heads who dive into my naive and infrequent discussions of Hobbes. I want to thank everyone of you who endures and corrects mon pauvre français.
Thank you all. For the Horde.
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