It's easy to say you would have acted better than a slave master if you had lived in the antebellum South; or escaped poverty if you grew up in an inner city in more modern times. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have, and then ask "Why?"
We had a lot of fun with this on Twitter last night:
The President's speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.
I am not a poor black kid.
I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn't mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn't mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don't believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.
It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available. Like technology. As a person who sells and has worked with technology all my life I also know this.
If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn't care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you're severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.
When I read this piece I was immediately called back, as I so often am, to my days at Howard and the courses I took looking at slavery. Whenever we discussed the back-breaking conditions, the labor, the sale of family members, etc., there was always someone who asserted, roughly, "I couldn't been no slave. They'd a had to kill me!" I occasionally see a similar response here where someone will assert, with less ego, "Why didn't the slaves rebel?" More commonly you get people presiding from on high insisting that if they had lived in the antebellum South, they would have freed all of their slaves.
What all these responses have in common is a benevolent, and surely unintentional, self-aggrandizement. These are not bad people (much as I am sure Mr. Marks isn't a bad person), but they are people speaking from a gut feeling, a kind of revulsion at a situation that offends our modern morals. In the case of the observer of slavery, it is the chaining and marketing of human flesh. In the case of Mr. Marks, it's the astonishingly high levels of black poverty.
It is comforting to believe that we, through our sheer will, could transcend these bindings -- to believe that if we were slaves, our indomitable courage would have made us Frederick Douglass, or if we were slave masters, our keen morality would have made us Bobby Carter. We flatter ourselves, not out of malice, but out of instinct.
Still, we are, in the main, ordinary people living in plush times. We are smart enough to get by, responsible enough to raise a couple of kids, thrifty to sock away for a vacation, and industrious enough to keep the lights on. We like our cars. We love a good cheeseburger. We'd die without air-conditioning. In the great mass of humanity that's ever lived, we are distinguished only by our creature comforts, and we are, on the whole, mediocre.
That mediocrity is oft-exemplified by the claim that though we are unremarkable in this easy world, something about enslavement, degradation and poverty would make us exemplary. We can barely throw a left hook--but surely we would have beaten Mike Tyson.
It's all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have and then ask, "Why?"
Some weeks ago I met a student who was specializing in economy and theater. She said that what she loved about both fields was that she had to presume a kind of rationality in studying her actors. She had to surrender herself--her sense of what she would like to think she would do--and think more of what she might actually do given all the perils of the character's environs. It would not be enough to consider slavery, for instance, when claiming "If I was a slave I'd rebel." One would have to consider, for instance, family left behind to bear the wrath of those one would seek to rebel against. In other words, one would have to assume that for the vast majority of slaves rebellion made no sense. And then instead of declaration ("I would do..."), one would be forced into a question ("Why wouldn't I?").
This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this--You are not extraordinary. It's all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have and then ask, "Why?"
This is not an impossible task. But often we find that we have something invested in not asking "Why?" The fact that we -- and I mean all of us, black and white -- are, in our bones, no better than slave masters is chilling. The upshot of all my black nationalist study was terrifying -- give us the guns and boats and we would do the same thing. There is nothing particularly noble about black skin. And to our present business it is equally chilling to understand that the obstacles facing poor black kids can't be surmounted by an advice column.
Let us not be hypothetical here. I am somewhat acquainted with a poor black kid from West Philly, and have been privileged to grapple with some of the details of his life. When he was six he came home from school and found his entire life out on the sidewalk. Eviction. He says he saw some of his stuff and immediately reversed direction out of utter humiliation. He spent the next couple of weeks living on a truck with his father, his aunt and brother. Everyday they'd search the trash for scrap to take to the yard for money. His father abused everyone in the family. He last saw his father alive when he was 9. At 17, convinced he would die if he stayed in Philly,he dropped out of high school and lied his way into a war.
You will forgive me if I've written in these pages of my father with a kind of awe. It is not merely the fact of being my father, but having acquainted myself with his childhood conditions, I shudder to think of what might have become of me.
The answers are out there. But they will not improve your self-esteem.
The House intelligence committee chair, a Trump ally, muddied waters and gave comfort to the White House, but he provided no evidence of wrongdoing or support for Trump’s “wiretap” claims.
Updated on March 22 at 5:24 p.m.
In a head-spinning development on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, revealed that … well, what Nunes revealed isn’t totally clear.
Nunes held a brief press conference Wednesday afternoon saying that “on numerous occasions the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” But Nunes’s vague statements raised a host of questions, and his decision to announce them publicly and then go to the White House to brief President Trump, having not informed Democrats on the committee about his new findings, cast a pall of politics over the proceedings.
“There is evidence that … is very much worthy of investigation” of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, the Democratic vice chair of the House intelligence committee tells Meet the Press Daily.
Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said MSNBC Wednesday afternoon that there is evidence that is “not circumstantial” of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Schiff’s statement escalates the rhetoric on Capitol Hill about allegations of ties between Russia and the president’s circle. It follows two major developments. On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau is investigating collusion. Then, on Wednesday, Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House intelligence committee, made a puzzling announcement about so-called incidental collection of information from Trump team members. Nunes made that announcement without informing Schiff first.
New research on the creatures’ family tree could “shake dinosaur paleontology to its core.”
When I first read Matthew Baron’s new dinosaur study, I actually gasped.
For most of my life, I’ve believed that the dinosaurs fell into two major groups: the lizard-hipped saurischians, which included the meat-eating theropods like Tyrannosaurus and long-necked sauropodomorphs like BrontosaurusYes, Brontosaurus. It’s a thing again. ; and the bird-hipped ornithischians, which included horned species like Triceratops and armored ones like Stegosaurus. That’s how dinosaurs have been divided since 1887. It’s what I learned as a kid. It’s what all the textbooks and museums have always said. And according to Baron, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, it’s wrong.
By thoroughly comparing 74 early dinosaurs and their relatives, Baron has radically redrawn the two major branches of the dinosaur family tree. Defying 130 years of accepted dogma, he splits the saurischians apart, leaving the sauropods in one branch, and placing the theropods with the ornthischians on the other. Put it this way: This is like someone telling you that neither cats nor dogs are what you thought they were, and some of the animals you call “cats” are actually dogs.
Warnings that the president’s cavalier disregard for truth would have real-world consequences were vindicated on Tuesday.
Donald Trump’s first two months in office have obviously been rocky. But the disruptions have mainly been internally generated—Trump’s tweets, the tensions and shakeups in his staff, his battles with the press, the investigations—rather than responses to genuine external emergencies. By historic standards, not much has really “happened” in the outside world since January 20.
Sooner or later, something will happen, and Trump and his administration will have to respond.
In mid-April of his first year in office, the new president John Kennedy had to deal with Bay of Pigs fiasco that he had authorized. In early April of his first year, the new president George W. Bush had to manage the repercussions of Chinese and U.S. military planes colliding midair off Chinese territory, and the U.S. plane being forced to a landing at a Chinese base. (Not to mention what happened in September of his first year.)
New books point to gathering trouble in both Asia and Europe.
As the United States under President Trump recedes from world leadership, things are not looking so good elsewhere on earth. Two new books—with similarly morbid titles—have arrived to warn of big trouble ahead for both the European Union and the emerging economies of Asia.
The End of the Asian Century by Michael Auslin offers a point-by-point debunking of the “Asiaphoria” that gripped so many imaginations a decade ago. James Kirchick’s The End of Europe tours a continent in which democratic and liberal forces are losing ground to Russia-infatuated extremists of right and left. The conclusion left behind by a reading of the two together: The post-American world predicted by Fareed Zakaria a decade ago is shaping up as an exceedingly unstable and uncomfortable place.
Many experts have blamed a poor job market, but new research indicates that an overlooked cause may be poor health.
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina—John LaRue is having a tough time of it these days. He used to move things for people, advertising his services on Craigslist. But work slowed up, and he became homeless and started sleeping in his truck, until, that is, someone stole it.
Now, he told me, he’s fighting alcoholism and his health is deteriorating from living on the streets. I met LaRue at a Social Security office outside of Charlotte, where he was hiding his belongings in the bushes because he didn’t have anywhere to keep them and wasn’t allowed to bring them inside. “I feel like there’s a cloud over my head,” he told me. “It’s just been one thing after another.”
LaRue is one among many. In 1957, 97 percent of men in America ages 25 to 54 were either working or looking for work. Today, only 89 percent are. Italy is the only OECD country with a lower labor-force participation rate for men in their prime years. Just why there are so many men who aren’t working is a matter of debate. In a 2016 report, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers examined the declining labor-force participation rate and suggested that a drop-off in good jobs for low-skilled men was part of the explanation. Wages, the report theorized, are so low for many jobs that don’t require a college education that men don’t find it worth it to seek out bad jobs. A lack of job training and job-search assistance—when compared to other OECD countries—makes it more difficult for men to move into more lucrative fields. And a surge in incarceration has made it more difficult for men to find work when they leave prison, according to the report.
The president was cheered at a Kentucky rally for a politically correct attack on Colin Kaepernick.
During the 2016 election, dozens of voters told me they would vote for Donald Trump partly because they were sick of “social justice warriors” and political correctness. “There is no saying ‘Hey, I disagree with you,’ it's just instant shunning,” a 22-year-old told me in a long exchange on the subject. “Say things online, and they'll try to find out who you are and potentially even get you fired for it.”
Nothing was less popular among this cohort than those who targeted someone’s job, or took glee in their denying them the ability to earn a living, over their speech or political views.
And yet, as best I can tell, they are silent this week. There is no appreciable backlash among President Trump’s supporters to a Kentucky rally where he gleefully bragged about his role in publicly shaming a man for his political views, and the ongoing inability of that man to find a job because of his call-out.
Even if the ride-sharing service goes under, it won't necessarily set off a bubble-popping chain reaction.
The thing about a market bubble is that you don’t really know how big it is until it pops. So it doesn’t pop, and doesn’t pop, and doesn’t pop, until one day it finally pops. And by then it’s too late.
The dot-com collapse two decades ago erased $5 trillion in investments. Ever since, people in Silicon Valley have tried to guess exactly when the next tech bubble will burst, and whether the latest wave of investment in tech startups will lead to an economic crash. “A lot of people who are smarter than me have come to the conclusion that we’re in a bubble,” said Rita McGrath, a professor of management at Columbia Business School. “What we’re starting to see is the early signals.”
Tech companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve conditions for female employees. Here’s why not much has changed—and what might actually work.
One weekday morning in 2007, Bethanye Blount came into work early to interview a job applicant. A veteran software engineer then in her 30s, Blount held a senior position at the company that runs Second Life, the online virtual world. Good-natured and self-confident, she typically wore the kind of outfit—jeans, hoodie, sneakers—that signals coding gravitas. That day, she might even have been wearing what’s known as the “full-in start-up twin set”: a Second Life T-shirt paired with a Second Life hoodie.
In short, everything about her indicated that she was a serious technical person. So she was taken aback when the job applicant barely gave her the time of day. He knew her job title. He knew she would play a key role in deciding whether he got hired. Yet every time Blount asked him a question about his skills or tried to steer the conversation to the scope of the job, he blew her off with a flippant comment. Afterward, Blount spoke to another top woman—a vice president—who said he’d treated her the same way.
The chairman of the House intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s electoral interference, has made public statements so hard to believe that they verge on disqualifying.
Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is therefore leading a key probe into whether or not Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Can an inquiry he leads be trusted?
The skeptics include Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who launched an independent bid for the presidency last year, billing himself as a conservative alternative to the Republican nominee. He says the House GOP “can't be trusted to investigate Russia & Trump's Kremlin ties,” adding, “a special select committee is needed.” And that mistrust seemed vindicated Tuesday when Nunes responded to a journalist’s question about the Russia investigation with a highly dubious answer.