Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility

“Now to be clear, I do believe that every person should play a proactive role in their own success, health, and overall well-being. The part that bothers me is that many people seem to think that black people cannot do this and exercise our right as American citizens to express displeasure with policy and practices. I would argue that being civically engaged is apart of taking personal responsibility. However, according to many right wing pundits—and increasingly people within our own community—any black person who requests a government action is asking for “free stuff” or trying to keep from taking care of our own business.”
Black People and The Burden Of “Personal Responsibility”, carrefourblog

We need to move past this false dichotomy.

More importantly, we need to move beyond the false accusation against poor minorities. I suspect that the average poor minority works harder and is forced to take more personal responsibility than is the average white, especially the average middle-to-upper class white who tends to make these kinds of judgments from the position of white privilege.

Also, minorities promoting social justice are among the most hardworking people around. That is no easy struggle to be involved in. Black leaders and black parents embrace the ideals of personal responsibility and hard work. They talk about it in speeches and sermons, but the best of them understand this in the context of a centuries-old structural racism. That latter part gets lost in translation when the more privileged take up this judgment, including blacks in privileged positions like Cosby.

Blacks worker harder to accomplish less than whites on a daily basis. If such ideals could solve the problems of structural racism in how it impacts individuals, structural racism would have ended a long time ago. We all need to take both personal and shared responsibility for the problems of structural racism. It can’t be solved alone by the victims of racial oppression and prejudice. However, working together, we can all be part of the solution.

* * * *

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/08/obama-speech-mlk-personal-responsibility

Lot of talk about holding black men responsible for their actions(rightly so) but what about holding white men accountable for theirs?

http://revcom.us/a/138/CD_personal_responsibility-en.html

In saying this, I am not trying to deny or gloss over the fact that a lot of Black people are into some bad shit. Youth are killing each other, and people desperate to survive are preying on each other. Too many Black men are into the male supremacy that is rife in this society, and too many Black women combine U.S. society’s “look out for #1” ethos with accepting its outlook on women’s place. Black people do need to get out of all this shit. They need to move from being victimized by this system to fighting to get rid of this system. They, along with basic masses of all nationalities and people from other backgrounds too, need to come forward as emancipators of humanity.

But lectures about personal responsibility won’t help make that happen. This will stand in the way of people getting what’s the real source of the problems they face, and what’s the real way to get out from under them. People don’t see any way out and can begin to think it’s because they’re fucked up. And it is a fact: Black people, as a people, are not going to “make it” under this system. The only real hope for the masses in their millions is carving out a radically different future thru revolution and changing themselves as they fight to bring a whole new world into being.

http://www.eisenhowerfoundation.org/docs/Austin%20FOCUS%20pdf.pdf

There is scant empirical evidence that demonstrates a lack of work ethic among black men. To be officially counted as unemployed, onehas to be actively pursuing a job. The black maleunemployment rate is typically about twice thewhite unemployment rate. In 2007, 9.1 percent ofblack males were officially unemployed; yet, only4.2 percent of white males were unemployed. Onecan be certain that thereare many more black mendesiring work than arecurrently employed in thisjob market.

http://www.npr.org/2011/09/15/140428359/making-it-in-the-u-s-more-than-just-hard-work

“It’s funny, the American dream is sort of steeped in this myth of work hard, be self-sufficient and push yourself forward, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that kind of thing. But much of the wealth in this country was not built on that, in no way, fashion or form,” Williams says.

http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1/article_7867.shtml

“The foundation of American White supremacy sits tenuously on a rickety base of lies and deceptions about how Whites gained their wealth and status. A century and a half after slavery the median wealth of White families is $100,000; for Black families, it’s $5,000. The belief that Whites achieved this 20-1 wealth advantage by HARD WORK is an absurd and a historical fantasy.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/opinion/sunday/when-whites-just-dont-get-it-part-4.html

Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.

Whites often don’t realize that slavery didn’t truly end until long after the Civil War. Douglas Blackmon won a Pulitzer Prize for his devastating history, “Slavery by Another Name,” that recounted how U.S. Steel and other American corporations used black slave labor well into the 20th century, through “convict leasing.” Blacks would be arrested for made-up offenses such as “vagrancy” and then would be leased to companies as slave laborers.

[ . . . . ]

WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?

Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/03/what-white-people-dont-see-watching-basketball.html

Yeah, he’s black. Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t think anybody wants to suppress the story of an undersize, pudgy engineering nerd who made himself into a gritty, overachieving captain on a Big Ten champion team and who is also black. I bet the national media would love a story like that. I suspect they just don’t see it.

The gulf in physical talent between Novak and other players was glaring. Now, look at Morgan, with his gigantic biceps. If you don’t know him and you are using a simple heuristic, you probably think he’s a pretty good athletic talent, even if if is a little short. You don’t think about the fact that he gained that muscle after intense weight training. (Announcers never mention it.) And so one player is surrounded by a narrative of hustle, smarts, and toughness, and another player with the exact same qualities is not.

The situation is far better than it was three or four decades ago, when announcers would liken the skills of black players to animals. Today, they have some awareness of racial stereotyping. What’s left, I think, is far more characteristic of how racial bias typically works. Bad intent does not come into play. White people simply have certain preconceptions, and preconceptions make you see the things you expect to see and miss the things you don’t.

http://www.salon.com/2014/04/22/poor_black_people_dont_work_lessons_of_a_former_dope_dealer/

The fact is that I can travel through east Baltimore or any urban inner city (BLACK) neighborhood for under 10 minutes and introduce you to the hardest-working Americans in our country. I know a guy that guts houses for $50 a day, a rack of uncertified tax preparers, too many single moms with triple jobs, some freelance freelancers, infinite party promoters, squeegee kids, basement caterers, back-alley auto mechanics, dudes of all ages selling bottled water and a collection of Mr. Fix Its, all living in a two-block radius. We are all American dream chasing, all trying to start our own business, all working our asses off.

Legal or illegal, the inner cities of America are our nation’s hotbed of side hustles. Even people like me with college degrees need multiple streams of revenue to survive, and I gained that work ethic from living in the inner city. Seeing my grandma work 10-hour shifts showed me I could do the same.

There are a million grinding grandmas like mine, and Darnell Baylor isn’t the only person who gets paid for 40 hours a week but works 80. Every person I know is on his schedule and gained that work ethic from the inner city. If Duncan were exposed to a different way of life, he’d probably be running a Fortune 500 company.
Lenny and Loraine didn’t beg for drugs, they performed for them. And Lenny continued to work hard years after his crack addiction faded. The Candy and Cigarette lady should be celebrated for her innovation. And I’d bet that even if the cops rushed and ended her industry, work ethic and creativity would lead to her creating a new one.

She still works hard but will be only judged for not following traditional rules, which is unfortunate because there are so many hardworking people like us who are forced to create our own industries as a direct result of being isolated by society. To me that poses a bigger question. Why employment inequality for African-Americans is always identified as laziness?

Hire us.

http://www.timwise.org/2013/08/whats-the-matter-with-white-people-a-modest-call-for-personal-responsibility/

But even if we ignore the unfairness of racial profiling, not to mention its blatantly unconstitutional nature given that whole Equal Protection Clause thing, sitting smack dab in the middle of the 14th Amendment — and even if we momentarily put aside the evidence that profiling is not justified by crime data, and can actually be counterproductive — several points have been overlooked by those who think they have either the moral or factual basis to lecture black folks about so-called pathologies in the black community. And they are points worth noting, because they indicate that not only are the Negrophobic critics of black America largely wrong about black folks (few of whom they actually know) and black communities (few of which they have ever actually spent time in), but even more interestingly, they appear to be ignoring a number of data points suggesting serious cultural rot in the white community, to which they might wish to turn their attention. Especially seeing as how they love to inveigh about “personal responsibility.” What better way for white people to take personal responsibility, after all, than to stop hectoring blacks and perhaps begin to clean up our own behavioral back yards?

http://www.leftinalabama.com/diary/4291/personal-responsibility-is-not-just-for-black-folks

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying black folks shouldn’t take “personal responsibility” whatever that means, I’m saying black folks aren’t the ONLY ones who need to take some “personal” responsibility. And we certainly don’t have to be told the same thing over and over again like we are stoopid or children, or both. I don’t condone what Reverend Jesse Jackson was caught on tape saying about President Obama talking down to black folks but I understand.

Why are black folks the only ones being told they need to “take personal responsibility” for their actions? Black folks aren’t responsible for creating the current mess we find our country in. Why are black folks the only ones told they “need to stop making excuses and blaming others for their problems”. I don’t hear anyone telling democrats to stop making excuses for being whimps. I don’t hear anyone telling republicans to stop making excuses for being obstructionist. I don’t hear anyone (well almost) telling President Obama to stop making excuses.

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/reject-obamas-personal-responsibility-snake-oil

Yet Obama had the gall to attempt selling these Morehouse men the following economic snake-oil. “You’re graduating into an improving job market,” he claimed. “You’re living in a time when advances in technology and communication put the world at your fingertips. Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it.” Many of these African men do not have control over events within the labor market. There are entrenched racist, gendered and class-related employment barriers that are resistant to personal effort and responsibility on the part of these prospective racialized, despised and stereotyped jobseekers.

I look forward to the day when Obama will tell it like it is to ruling-class white men, that there’s no longer time for excuses for their promotion of institutional white supremacy (and other forms of oppression). Furthermore, I would like to see the display of intestinal fortitude on the part of the president in declaring to largely white graduating classes that they should not blame immigrants for taking away “their” jobs, social assistance or welfare recipients as the reason for high taxes or the capital gains tax as an impediment to job creation.

http://www.theroot.com/blogs/journalisms/2013/05/obamas_2013_morehouse_speech_whats_his_personal_responsibility_to_blacks.html

“His commencement address would have been more helpful if he affirmed those young leaders and then challenged them to use their skills to become vigorous and relentless fighters against racism, classism, sexism, economic and political exploitation. The dirty little ‘secret’ of his very own presidency is that he is the ultimate example of how constrained Black achievement really can be, if it is not accompanied by a vigorous fight against structural and institutional racism. . . .”

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2013/05/22/obamas-under-fire-personal-responsibility-finger-wagging-black-audiences

…”It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing.”

“Either that President Obama thinks black grads at one of the nation’s best colleges really need to be lectured about such matters; or, alternately, that White America is so desirous of exculpation for the history of racial discrimination that we need him to say such things, and he knows it, thereby leading him to feed us the moral scolding of black men we so desperately desire, and which he must know will be transmitted to us by way of media coverage of his talk.”

“Either way, the result is tragic.”

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/toure-corrects-obama-structural-racism-not-personal-responsibility-to-blame-for-black-issues/

“But when the president speaks to the black community, there’s often a dive into the politics of personal responsibility,” he continued. “I cringe at that, as if effort and excuses have been the problem.”

“No,” Touré asserted. “It’s been structural racism.”

“The accumulated impact of historic discrimination and the advantages of white privilege and the systems perpetuate all that,” he continued. “Going into personal responsibility suggests you can make it if you try, and he knows it’s more complex than that.”

“I want our president this president, to tell America to tear down the American Berlin Wall that keeps black men separated from opportunity,” Touré concluded. “That sort of big brother-in-chief would get us closer to the mountain top.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/to-critics-obamas-scolding-tone-with-black-audiences-is-getting-old/2013/05/20/4b267352-c191-11e2-bfdb-3886a561c1ff_story.html

Leola Johnson, an associate professor and chair of the Media and Cultural Studies Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., said the Obamas’ speeches “are actually not aimed at black people.”

“They’re actually for white people, liberals especially,” she said. Liberal bloggers were brimming with praise for Obama after the Morehouse speech. “It’s the legacy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and that whole group of white liberals who want to say it’s not just about structural problems that black people aren’t doing well, it’s about their own values.”

Kevin Powell, an activist based in New York who travels the country encouraging black men to take responsibility for their lives, said he has no problem with Obama challenging the black community, but . . .

“You also have to challenge the system, just as you challenge the people. It’s not an either/or,” said Powell, president and founder of BK Nation, an organization focused on education and civic engagement.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/working-hard-but-for-what/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/whose-work-counts-who-gets-counted/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/racism-without-racists-victimization-silence/

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45 thoughts on “Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility

  1. I don’t think that the average white person understands the difficulties that people of color face in the US.

    Born black, a person is far more likely to be:

    – Born from single mothers
    – Born in poverty or in a low income family
    – In a neighbourhood with poor education, food quality, and unsafe
    – A victim of police violence or the US justice system as the events in Ferguson have dramatically shown
    – The much more subtle barriers of race and social class
    – In the case of the Deep South, the very real and open racism that still exists in many places

    I think that whites remain willfully ignorant. For them to acknowledge these problems would mean recognizing that the US is not the meritocracy that they champion and that there is still some very deep institutionalized racism that continues today.

    • All true and so much more as well.

      I was involved in a debate about structural racism. Most of the people involved were white and it was hard to get them to understand or even try to understand structural racism. That isn’t unusual, but there was one unusual aspect.

      This debate was happening in a social justice group that claims it is for reforming the local justice system. One of the major social justice issues in the local area is the racial arrest disparity, one of the worst in the country. It was shocking to me that social justice activists in a liberal town would not understand and appreciate structural racism.

      That is one of the most depressing experiences I’ve had in a long time. The problem of racism in our society is obviously much worse than most realize.

      Of course, the group is headed by a libertarian who is a lawyer. There is no doubt some willful ignorance going on. These are smart and well educated people. It’s a college town, after all. If it is that hard to get well educated people in a liberal college town to understand, imagine the uphill battle we face in the rest of the country. It almost makes me feel hopeless.

  2. People would rather believe the lies than to look for themselves and see the difficult truth. The US has a long way to go before ever being post-racial.

  3. Another interesting thing about the events of Ferguson was how the politicians responded – I think that the Democrats and Republicans are much more similar than most people want to admit.

  4. Let’s see what the 2 parties agree on:

    – Dismantling the middle class through neoliberal economics
    – The domestic spying and destruction of civil liberties
    – The wars abroad and high military spending
    – The use of targeted drones to kill people
    – Servile loyalty to Wall Street and the banks for money
    – Indeed loyalty to all of corporate America at the expense of society
    – The elimination of all social programs

    Their disagreements are mostly on social issues, like racial tolerance, gay marriage, abortions, religion, etc. They are far from polar opposites that they are portrayed as.

  5. The differences:

    – Under Democrats, the decline and neoliberal state will probably occur at a slower pace, but will still occur. There may be some concessions here and there, but the overall direction is not different.

    – Under Republicans, we can expect to see a very rapid dismantling of the social benefits and a much more aggressive military, along with massive upwards transfer towards the very rich.

    The problem is that the two parties remain entrenched. Many Democrats will not vote for a 3rd party for fear of a repeat of 2000 (which I would argue is unfair, but even so, it’s unlikely that a 3rd party will gain much).

    At the same time, general public seems to be incredibly gullible.

  6. Pretty much.

    I suspect that the former option is more likely. The Republican Party has done a good job of alienating itself from Generation Y, immigrants, women, and many other social groups. They are the party of the oligarchs (much more so than the Democrats), and of old angry white men that are rapidly aging and declining.

    But at the same time, the Democrats are an Establishment party very likely to worsen rather than solve the existing problems.

    Unless you tell me that there is a viable third solution.

    In order for that to happen, people would have to be much more informed and aware as voters. That is unlikely to happen any time soon. That would need voting for a third party and greater citizen engagement.

    Hence I think that the conclusion that “too dumb dumb for democracy to work” is a very real conclusion.

    • I suspect the same. Most people find it preferable to be the frog slowly boiled to death. It leads to the same end as being stomped on by a boot, but it’s less dramatic and at least initially a much more pleasant experience. Just a nice warm bath.

      On the other hand, I’m always thinking about third options. It is hard to speak about viability, though. Many things seem impossible before they happen. Our entire country was impossible before the American Revolution. Ending slavery was impossible for a very long time.

      A viable third option won’t come about because we think its viable. It will be paradigm shattering and unpredictable, possibly entirely unforeseen. I like the idea of creating a little social disorder because that is when unusual things can arise and a gap can form in the wall of impossibility.

  7. It seems like American ideals and culture have failed miserably. There are several ugly parts of American culture manifesting themselves.

    – Anti-intellecutalism: Probably a legacy of the frontier culture, certain sects (particularly the Scots Irish, but also parts of Southern Europe), and the “can do” spirit

    – Calvanism: There’s a strong belief in meritocracy and the “just world” fallacy, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    – Individualism and libertarianism: Excesses of these have led to an “I’ve got mine, screw you” kind of culture. It is also a barrier for a real change and transforming into a social democracy.

    – Materialism: Apart from the environmental impacts, there’s also a blind worship of money and consumerism.

    There is also a certain “practical cult” mentality. I have noticed that people are disparaged whenever they choose a career path that will not lead to great riches for example.

    – Authoritarianism: I would argue that Americans are actually very authoritarian in many ways. There’s a tolerance for a high power distance and high inequality. There’s a “might makes right” or “rich makes right” sort of mentality.

    – Tradition of religion: Mostly a problem in the South and parts of the West, but it worsens the above problems. There is also an “honor culture” that is very toxic at times.

    This has also been very convenient for the very rich.

    • On a positive note, I’d say American ideals and culture have been failing ever since the country was founded. It has been a continuous process of failure. We have a lot of practice at failing while somehow not entirely destroying the country. You got to give Americans credit for that somewhat remarkable feat. We may only know how to react to collective problems, but we have quite the knack for reacting in interesting ways. That is why we need a bit more social disorder to bring out that American innovative reaction.

  8. This was a really wide-ranging and inspiring collection of related ideas and references. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. It is quite complementary to the wonderful article by Mr. Coates in the Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/ . There, he brought the concept of reparations around to a practical discussion, to recognize the inevitability of a high cost, in both money and focus- political, capitalist, and scientific focus- to eliminate poverty in America, because of the strong ties to historic and current African-American repression.

    The only thing i would add to you and Mr. Coates is a discussion about the psychological aspects of structural racism. There are two main sides to it: rightist aspects, and black aspects. Black psychology vis-a-vis inequality is an endlessly interesting topic for the right, but their fascination takes the form of a sly and implicit racism around capability and motivation- that black communities are now failing because of lesser genetic merit, so they generate misshapen, inferior men and women who have no hope of living healthy lives. Discussions on the right that bemoan the crime and poverty among African-Americans will often end with the participants shaking their heads in confusion and frustration, because there’s nothing to do about this genetic inferiority that causes black communities so many problems. As Chris mentioned, this is the just world fallacy in full bloom. Rightists are comfortable defaulting to a kind of libertarian survival-of-the-fittest framing, and tend to want to view the inequality and suffering as natural, and therefore largely inescapable, resisting even modest attempts at addressal of massive problems. Thir approach has gross inequality pegged as even desirable in its Malthusian, populist strain, with Africa itself’s social problems held up as exhibit one. Recently, I had a relative lean in this direction while he told me that the major slave traders were actually African, actually black- which fed seamlessly into his theory that ‘they will always cause their own problems’. Historical abuses are seen as something individuals would overcome if they had what it takes- ‘just get over it already’. While we liberals would appear outraged at this line of thinking if made explicit, we are nevertheless often in sympathy to aspects of this argument, especially subconciously. This translates into liberals being much less outraged at extreme inequality, and thus much less driven and practical about fixing its worst aspects. The liberal version is ‘yes, they’re probably inferior, but that’s even more reason to give them support and help’. As a clarion call for concerted action, that attitude falls very, very short, sounding as brass and tinkling cymbal instead of like Jonah at the wall.

    Liberals will often refer obliquely to problems within the black community that need to be addressed by the black community, but this mention is typically only made on the way to stating (usually in the same sentence) that, much more importantly, the system needs to be changed. Maybe that emphasis is ok in many contexts. It troubles me, though, that my experience with black people is in wide contrast with some of your quotes. I’ve been in lots of contact with both very unhealthy and very healthy portions of the black community. The statistical variance within the black community, with (to be a bit coarse) the religious and educated on one side, and the criminal underclass and very poor on the other, is a much wider social disparity than what white people are used to experiencing in their neighborhoods. In black America, that variance is seen and experienced every day. What isn’t mentioned by liberals on the way to vying for healthy systemic change is the way that structural racism has destroyed a massive segment of the African-American population’s understanding of how a healthy life is lived. Part of structural racism is the multi-generational shame, demasculation, and economic repression that has erased a sense of possibility for many black people, through a Pavlovian, entirely understandable and well-documented set of stimuli and response. This has led inexorably to the disintegration of the nuclear family in high percentages, the rapid cessation of healthy religion, and a bias against education as a way to get ahead. It’s created a fixation on consumerism among very poor African-Americans, in an ironic embracing of one of the main causes of structural racism. And in south Oakland, where I lived until recently, I’ve seen a large-scale defaulting to an entirely reasonable assumption among the very poor that crime and exploitation need to be part of the required ‘side hustle’ mentioned in one of the articles you quoted. To me, this psychological miasma, the grinding psychological training of hundreds of years of abuse, is a grave, self-reinforcing aspect of the tar pit of structural racism. Cultural disintegration may well prove to be the worst aspect of a history structural racism to repair. We see these attitudinal and educational problems in Haiti and many parts of Africa as well, following centuries of colonial repression. These racism-generated, entrenched weaknesses are what rightists ironically think of as genetic inferiority. Well, they’re correct in that African-American communities have a psychological set of weaknesses not seen in white communities at nearly the same level. And those weaknesses do make socioeconomic challenges much more difficult to beat. But the right is very wrong about the causes being genetic.

    The papering over of this internal weakness and variability among black communities is a mandate on the left (sometimes even within academia) and is fought vociferously by the right. Both the left and the right are motivated to minimize this internal weakness, the left because internal problems drain political inertia for system change, and the right because they prefer to think of the problems as genetic and natural (trying to fix the issues admits their fixable, which implies historical causation and the need for reparation/response). Good science gets ignored and good science goes undone while victims are blamed or exonerated of blame, depending on your orientation.

    The greatest evidence of this multi-generational shock, of the desperation the damage has caused, is during situations like Brown and Martin, as less-than-entirely-reasonable excuses for focus on reparation are engineered by African-Americans and their supporters. When O.J. Simpson kills his wife and an overwhelming number of African-Americans view him as innocent, contrary to reasonable evidence, it means that there’s a sector of society who will naturally justify any means, any slight victory, to beat white oppression, even if for a small moment, and even if not reasonable or fair in the specific instance. That unreasonable opinion is best considered a throbbing indicator of the gaping wrongs held beneath observation, held within families and communities. White liberals stayed silent about O.J. and hoped that black anger would translate somehow into healthy systemic change (white liberals believed overwhelmingly that O.J. was guilty). The most important sense to draw from Michael Brown is not about case facts, or even about brutality, but the extreme desperation on a much broader front that is lived by many black people, The right sees these cases as manipulative; what makes the situation difficult is that they are manipulative, to varying degrees, but for reasons that the right should be paying attention to. In other words, the liberal message needs to be riveted on the abject structural racism well-evidenced in research, so that the right doesn’t feel so entitled to make genetic suppositions, and to pick at the facts of the individual case as if they matter in the context of the ongoing spiritual annihilation of African-American communities.

    I wanted to treat that subject more fully than I’ve seen, as I think it important to see our way clearer to what’s going on psychologically. I didn’t bring it up because of my ability to understand what to do about it, though fortunately many of the fixes don’t have much to do with race, and have everything to do with classic poverty and inequality responses. Remembering the psychological poisoning that is integral to this dilemma helps us understand why any solution is multi-generational as well, that we have great immediate losses ahead of us, and more to come that are an execution carried out of a sentence proclaimed by an unbending, long wheel of history. Beyond that, though, I only want us to be more explicit about African-American psychological damage and its causes, so that we have a better chance of seeing our way to healing.

    I want to close by thanking you for intermittently doing so much scholarship on this subject, Benjamin, as well as on genetics and race. You have helped me to think much less in terms of race, while greatly improving my understanding of racism. I look forward to a time when existing scholarship is better leveraged for the good of the African-
    American community, and when new scholarship helps mute the drumbeating on the right, and takes away the left’s excuses for sounding such an uncertain note on behalf of justice.

    • Here is a simpler response than the long one below.

      As I see it, all the factors can’t be separated. The psychological can’t be separated from the sociological. The personal can’t be separated from the systemic. The community can’t be separated from the society. The family can’t be separated from the economics. The mass unemployment can’t be separated from mass incarceration. The permanent underclass can’t be separated from the history.

      I often see ‘culture’ as a way of speaking about that mess of issues. There is the cultural upbringing someone carries around with them. There is the culture of families and communities. There is the culture of institutions. And there is the larger culture of the entire society. All of these cultures blend into each other. They influence and borrow from each other.

      We humans are inherently social animals. We cannot be anything else. We never act as individuals. Everything we do is in a larger context. This doesn’t deny personal responsibility. It just means that personal responsibility never exists outside of and separate from shared responsibility. There is simply no way to clearly blame anyone for we are all responsible agents whose collective influence extends far beyond us.

      There is never any result or condition in life that lacks a social context and hence social contributing factors. In our hyper-individualist society, we see this acknowledgment of social reality as a weakness or as a threat. But I think it is our greatest hope. We would be doomed facing these vast problems, if we weren’t social animals.

      • You make a similar point often; you’re just being consistent. I agree totally in this case, kind of in the extreme, which I think is part of the answer for why we have the attitude about reparation we do, and why those on the right seem to us to be decoupling individuals from their social context. There’s a way that one can read what you’re saying to imply an unreadability of the current situation in the context of a complicated history, but I think the opposite is more true here, that knowing history and relying on tight social coupling makes the results and cures easier to see and understand.

        I’d say that one of the key differences between our American modern conservative and liberal are the respective related framings of individuality and interdependence. This is a general outlook difference that comes up a lot in all kinds of ways. It’s a different subject, but I think there are both healthy and unhealthy aspects of this difference in perspective, and we’re discussing one that reflects an unhealthy tendency on the right to decouple current racial issues from its origins. I realize you (and I) are unusual, but I strongly believe that liberals are quite often ‘little conservatives’, such as in our attitude around reparation, so that we tend to be led around by conservative attitudes to the point where our natural framing of interdependence gets blunted when it comes to policy fostering and implementation. Being a mini-conservative is my way of saying that liberals are subject at almost the same level to the just-world fallacy and other human biases and heuristics that blunt the connection between cause and solution, so that we do conservative bidding unwittingly. In another example of how tightly connected we all are socially.

        • “You make a similar point often; you’re just being consistent.”

          Yeah, there are a few key insights I tend to repeat a lot. Most of these I repeat because so many don’t understand.

          American hyper-individualism is a reality tunnel. People can’t see outside of it. We are indoctrinated into this worldview from a young age. It really fucks with our heads and, in our sense of disconnection and alienation, it makes our hearts grow cold. The belief in the isolated individual is demented and sad.

          I’ll repeat what I see as truth with my dying breath.

          “There’s a way that one can read what you’re saying to imply an unreadability of the current situation in the context of a complicated history, but I think the opposite is more true here, that knowing history and relying on tight social coupling makes the results and cures easier to see and understand.”

          There can be no context for understanding our humanity without understanding the context of our humanity. If we are to be serious about solving problems, we for damn sure better get serious about understanding them. But I think that is precisely what some people fear, the understanding itself. As Howard Schwartz puts it in Beyond Liberty Alone,

          “The question at hand is this: How much of what we have, in our talents, in our historical circumstance, in the efforts of our parents and our ancestors, do we deserve because of who we are and our own efforts? It seems like a fair question, but one that we are no longer permitted to ask. If we dare to ask the question, we are accused of undermining liberty, of demotivating individuals from working hard, seeking to better themselves, making new discoveries, and being entrepreneurial. If we even ask the question of whether individuals deserve everything they have, we are accused of undermining all the advances of human society. We are the enemies of progress.”

          That is the kind of radical I am. I question assumptions. It is a simple form of radicalism, but in its simplicity it can be powerful and threatening to the status quo.

          “I’d say that one of the key differences between our American modern conservative and liberal are the respective related framings of individuality and interdependence.”

          I think so. That is at the heart of the matter.

          “liberals are quite often ‘little conservatives’”

          I often call them conservative-minded liberals. I see a lot of them here in the Midwest, but I suppose they are everywhere. I realize my ‘radical’ liberalism is rare. The only thing that actually makes my liberalism radical is that I’m more consistent in my liberalism, following my values to where they lead.

          “such as in our attitude around reparation, so that we tend to be led around by conservative attitudes to the point where our natural framing of interdependence gets blunted when it comes to policy fostering and implementation.”

          I’ve often discussed the psychological research. It is a strange phenomenon in how easy it can be to make liberals think like conservatives. It requires only a minimal amount of emotional manipulation. Fear works best, and there is always plenty of fear to go around, especially in the media.

          In many ways, liberals are more conservative than conservatives, the ultimate defenders of the status quo, at least in our society. The reactionary element to conservatism makes for a rather unconservative mindset. But Corey Robin argues that this unconservative mindset is precisely what makes conservatives who they are. Obviously, our language fails us in trying to make sense of our complex human nature in simplistic ideological labels.

          “Being a mini-conservative is my way of saying that liberals are subject at almost the same level to the just-world fallacy and other human biases and heuristics that blunt the connection between cause and solution, so that we do conservative bidding unwittingly.”

          I’ve met plenty of liberals who don’t want to confront the depth of problems in our society. Liberals see the gains we’ve made. They are willing to sacrifice future progress, if they believe it will help maintain the progress already achieved. But in doing so, they ultimately undermine everything that is good about liberalism and what hope it might offer.

          This is why I argue that liberals need left-wingers to keep them honest. We need a left that pulls the liberals free from the ideological domination of reactionary politics.

    • “While we liberals would appear outraged at this line of thinking if made explicit, we are nevertheless often in sympathy to aspects of this argument, especially subconciously. This translates into liberals being much less outraged at extreme inequality, and thus much less driven and practical about fixing its worst aspects. The liberal version is ‘yes, they’re probably inferior, but that’s even more reason to give them support and help’. As a clarion call for concerted action, that attitude falls very, very short, sounding as brass and tinkling cymbal instead of like Jonah at the wall.”

      I wanted to point out that I’m not one of those kinds of liberals. I’m as outraged as one can be at extreme inequality, without turning to terrorism or revolution. I just don’t see judgments such as inferiority as either accurate or helpful. They ignore the deeper and more pervasive problems.

      Structural problems seep into every aspect of society, including the minds of every individual. To that degree, we all are racist in this society built on an oppressive racial order. It doesn’t usually have anything to do with overt bigotry. It’s a soul sickness that is a rot at the very heart of our society, and we are all a part of it.

    • Here are some additional thoughts. They relate to the view of humans as social animals.

      First, I was thinking further about the relationship between personal responsibility and social responsibility. As a social animal, all social things are personal. The social isn’t just the context for the individual person, but is at the core of personal identity.

      That is something I wanted to emphasize. I’ve learned to take this seriously from years of reading about all the fascinating social science research. I’ve come to the conclusion that environmental influences are extremely powerful.

      That brings me to the second point. Making changes on the personal level always goes hand in hand with making changes on the social level. The influence is always going both ways, for they never really are separate.

      We are more used to thinking about how the individual has influence. We think of personal responsibility and personal choice. In our society, we believe in the individual, specifically as a rational actor. It is a core tenet. All of capitalism, as we presently know it, would be unjustifiable if this turned out to be false. It is an assumption we cannot question without questioning the entire basis of the world we know and are a part of.

      But we don’t need to question individuality itself in order to respect the, at the least, equal value of the social sphere. People can only make socially good choices, if optimal choices are realistically and relatively easily available to them.

      For example, if someone is unemployed in a society with more people than jobs, it is natural that someone goes on welfare or turns to drug dealing. The answer to that isn’t to blame the individual, but to change the economic system so as that it doesn’t exclude so many people and forcing them into desperate poverty. Desperately poor people do desperate things. Poverty, especially with vast economic inequality, has been shown by research to strongly contribute to social problems. Combine that with a society also with vast racial prejudice and oppression and you have a desperation that is soul-crushing.

      The other aspect of the social comes from one of the more fascinating pieces of social science research. It is psychological priming. How the mind is primed largely determines how people act. It is so powerful because it is unconscious. If you have people unjumble a word puzzle and then answer a question, they’ll give a more rational response. If you have the Ten Commandments hanging on a wall, people will act more morally. An opposite example of this is the stereotype threat. If a stereotype is elicited through the language or framing of a task, the person who the stereotype is directed at will do worse at the task.

      Think of how the environment of our society, especially advertizing and media in general, is constantly framing our consciousness. We are being bombarded with things that prime us for living in a violent capitalist society.

      The reason companies spend so much money on advertising is because it is highly effective. It uses the same techniques from government propaganda. Advertising and propaganda arose from the same origin and have never parted ways very far, the only difference being to what use they are directed toward. It is easy to manipulate people when you constantly elicit their emotions, desires and fears. On top of that, the media is constantly putting everything into the context of stereotypes, and it isn’t even necessarily consciously intentional, as those in media have internalized these stereotypes form our society.

      The world we live in wasn’t accidentally created. It serves some people’s interests. The individual can only do so much on his or her own to fight against a system so far beyond him. This is particularly true for a system that wasn’t designed for the disadvantaged person. It is simply a fact that our country wasn’t designed and still isn’t organized for the benefit of minorities. In fact, it was specifically and consciously designed to keep them in their place. The continuing structural racial biases maintain this racial order, and it takes great effort to do so. The same goes for poor people, black and white. Our society wasn’t intended to serve their purposes. If it had been designed to serve their purposes, we’d have a functioning democracy instead of plutocracy and corporatocracy.

      None of this denies personal responsibility. But it is immoral for someone part of the advantaged class to preach to the oppressed about personal responsibility. Those on the bottom of society already fully understand. They realize they have to fight for every inch of ground they gain and try to maintain. Those on the bottom of society take more responsibility for their lives and work harder than the upper classes have ever done in their entire lives. Poor minorities don’t have the advantages of privilege. They have to work for everything they have. None of it is given to them. Anyone who says otherwise is either clueless or a straight-up asshole.

      We have a war going on right now. It is a war over freedom and equality. The people are demanding it and those in power are denying it. Those people protesting in the street are taking personal responsibility by demanding a government that represents them rather than targets and oppresses them. One of the chants of protesters in the streets is, “This is what democracy looks like”. The problem is that those in power fear the disadvantaged taking personal responsibility for their lives, both personal and shared. There is no greater threat to power than democracy, the ultimate form of personal responsibility as self-governance.

      To remind people that we are social animals is a radical act in our society.

      • “it is immoral for someone part of the advantaged class to preach to the oppressed about personal responsibility.”

        This is an interesting statement. I wish it had more currency in America. But I also was trying to highlight how the bifurcation (statistical volatility) of black society plays into why talk of personal responsibility creeps in so easily in the public sphere. The right ignores the effect of history that causes that bifurcation, while the majority of black people are constantly demonstrating high levels of personal responsibility.

        You stated that this bifurcation exists in white society as well. While that’s true of course, and it’s a worthy point, equating the two through tying to poverty alone hides something. That, in fact, is the gist of my point. The much higher epidemic of crime in black America is not explainable by poverty alone, and I’d respectfully contend that incarceration rate differentials are not at all explainable through prejudice in the legal system. That was my point about historical repression impinging multi-generationally on attitude and behavior worse in black communities, and how confusing that is for the right. As you mentioned, something similar happened in some poor white ethnic communities, but their suffering was not usually nearly the same magnitude or consistency over generations.

        One of my favorite activities is visiting black churches in the poor south when I travel there, because of the amazing contrast between their perspective and one common in Oakland in my neighborhood, where hope is fleeting, and the psychological link between personal action and results feels random. I have never seen a more inspiring, positive perspective than I get in church on those visits, because the context of repression is so clear, and yet their call is so clarion, so assured. To me, the contrast within their communities is an extension of the principle behind ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’; the black community is the source of both the best and the worst examples of reaction to stimulus, which are both best thought of as natural results of repression.

        “An opposite example of this is the stereotype threat. If a stereotype is elicited through the language or framing of a task, the person who the stereotype is directed at will do worse at the task.”

        Unrelated points- stereotypes are both positive and negative, so that some will do better at a task if positive stereotypes (a boy doing math) are exploited. Also, there’s the common implication that stereotype is negative, which is understandable in the context of prejudice, but which is totally false in the broader domain of life, where we need and use powerful generalizations to succeed. Our use of the term stereotype to connote only negativity seems to me to discourage healthy generalization, like the kind freely thrown about by you and I. It’s a tough word, I know, but well-researched stereotype is some of most important tools we have, even when there’s risk from the loss of detail or structure.

        • “But I also was trying to highlight how the bifurcation (statistical volatility) of black society plays into why talk of personal responsibility creeps in so easily in the public sphere.”

          That sounds like an important point, but I’m not sure I fully understand. I get the general meaning of bifurcation and statistical volatility. I’m just not sure what specifically about black society you are referring to. I wanted to make sure I actually understood you, so as to make an intelligent response.

          “You stated that this bifurcation exists in white society as well.”

          Are you primarily speaking of economics here? Do you mean bifurcation in terms of high economic inequality?

          “While that’s true of course, and it’s a worthy point, equating the two through tying to poverty alone hides something.”

          I see what you’re getting at here. I think I agree with your point. The confusion in American society is that race and class get conflated. This disallows a more nuanced understanding of either.

          A lot gets lost in most discussions. I think it is problematic in many ways to even speak of race. It’s a social construction that gets reified and leads to lazy thinking.

          There is no singular black population or white population. The average black immigrant to the US actually has a higher IQ and more education than the average native-born white American. Blacks in some Northern states have higher average IQs than whites in some Southern states. Being a poor white in New England is also vastly different than being a poor white in Appalachia. There is vast regional and ethnic differences within so-called races.

          “The much higher epidemic of crime in black America is not explainable by poverty alone, and I’d respectfully contend that incarceration rate differentials are not at all explainable through prejudice in the legal system.”

          Those are strong claims.

          As I recall, the data I’ve seen doesn’t support such conclusions. When poverty (and economic inequality) is controlled for, at least some data shows that the racial disparities in the rates of certain social problems disappears. I’d have to look back at the data I’ve seen and compare it to whatever data you are looking at.

          The second claim I think would be particularly hard to defend. Have you read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander? There are other books that cover similar material, but Alexander’s is one of the most thorough and comprehensive. She gathers immense data to argue against those kinds of assertions. If you don’t find her analysis persuasive, there is probably nothing I could present that would your mind.

          But maybe I’m misunderstanding your actual argument. Also, I might be entirely unfamiliar with whatever data you are referring to. I’ll gladly look at any info you are familiar with or any books you think make a good case for your point of view.

          “That was my point about historical repression impinging multi-generationally on attitude and behavior worse in black communities, and how confusing that is for the right.”

          Yeah, that is true, to an extent. It is one fator among many. The problem with the right is that they have no desire to actually understand. They just want a scapegoat.

          For those who do want to understand, there are two books that I think would be helpful, specfically when paired together. One is The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. I talk about it a bit in the following post:

          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/facing-shared-trauma-and-seeking-hope/

          She presents some of the most fascinating data I’ve come across in a long time. She digs deep into how social/cultural patterns persist. She explores all possible pathways of transmission, including family.

          She does find family in some cases can be a powerful force across generations, but there are some limits to this. It only shows its strongest influence in traditional communities or where immigrants of the same ethnicity all settled together. The family is only a strong influence to the degree it is part of a larger community culture that reinforces its influence.

          This brings me to the second book. I already quoted from it. It’s The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris. She wasn’t looking at the longer historical trends. Instead, she was focusing more narrowly on what is impacting the child. After spending a career writing psychology textbooks, she came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t any good data about parents having immense influence on their children, as was assumed. Instead, she found peers had more influence than parents.

          This doesn’t contradict the powerful influence families can have in traditional communities. She was looking at research that probably had largely been done in the US where there isn’t much traditional community, except in pockets such as the Amish. In a traditional community, a child’s peers would be raised by parents of the same culture as the child’s parents and it would all be part of a tightly-knit community where there was much shared experience (same church, same extended families, etc).

          Tight-knit traditional communities are rare in the US. Not non-existent, but not applicable to the experience of the average American, black or white. I went to public schools in the Deep South. My white peers were of a mix of ethnicities and class. As for the blacks in my class, they were about half of my peers and they also came from different backgrounds, some from the projects and many not, some poor and others wealthier. A similar phenomenon would be found even in majority black schools in the North, since their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents would have likely moved there from other places.

          People move around a lot in the US. That has been true at least since it was observed back in the early 1800s. Americans don’t typically form or manage to maintain traditional commmunities.

          That said, I would be the last person to dismiss the significance of culture. It seems obvious to me that many aspects of cultures persist in American society. The regional differences demonstrate this. Also, I’d argue that racism is also a culture that has become institutionalized.

          Beyond that, cultures don’t exist in isolation. For example, the British cultures existed in a sybiosis in Britain. They were a web of cultures. It wasn’t just the cultures that were transplanted to the US but also the relationships between them. There was prejudice and repression against the non-English back in Britain and that continued in the US. The poverty of the rural South was transplanted from Britain.

          Cultures are so powerful because they form these larger patterns of social relations.

          “As you mentioned, something similar happened in some poor white ethnic communities, but their suffering was not usually nearly the same magnitude or consistency over generations.”

          That would be the poor whites in the rural South, especially Appalachia. Many of them descend from poor Scots-Irish and other non-English British people. These populations, in some cases, have been continuously poor for their entire histories. That is most true of the Scot-Irish. These poor whites are in many ways worse off than inner city blacks because rural life isolates them and makes social services inaccessible. The social problems, including violent crime, is as bad as anything in the poorest minority neighborhoods.

          Also, it is good to keep in mind that there are more whites than blacks in poverty and on welfare. These poor whites are disproportionately of particular ethnicities and not of others. There is no such thing as a general category of ‘whites’. It doesn’t exist.

          “To me, the contrast within their communities is an extension of the principle behind ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’; the black community is the source of both the best and the worst examples of reaction to stimulus, which are both best thought of as natural results of repression.”

          I must admit I’ve never been to a black church. I used to sometimes watch or listen to the sermons at black churches when I lived in the Deep South, although that wouldn’t be the same kind of experience as being there in person. Nonetheless, I understand the point you are making.

          Difficult conditions always bring out both the best and worst in people. That is as true in racialized, impoverished ghettoes as in a war zone or a concentration camp. Under extremes of stress, people are pushed to extremes of behavior.

          “stereotypes are both positive and negative, so that some will do better at a task if positive stereotypes (a boy doing math) are exploited.”

          In Whistling Vivaldi, Claude M. Steele discusses positive stereotype effect in relation to stereotype threat.

          “Also, there’s the common implication that stereotype is negative, which is understandable in the context of prejudice, but which is totally false in the broader domain of life, where we need and use powerful generalizations to succeed.”

          I’m not entirely sure all that you might be talking about, but I get the general idea. Obviously, cultures involve stereotyped generalizations. We have to use generalizations anytime we speak about larger patterns and connections. When used wisely, that can have immense value.

  9. jswagner – I have a long response for your long comment. I enjoy such detailed discussions. That is the only way to get to the fundamental issues and clarify otherwise murky areas.

    Let me begin by saying that I basically agree with much of what you wrote. But some aspects I would emphasize and frame differently. So, my conclusions differ.

    I have read Coates article, but I probably should reread it. I appreciated the author’s argument at the time. You make clear some of the conflicts between ‘libertarians’ and ‘liberals’. The argument, on both sides, often treats blacks as an object rather than as a subject, as a problem to be dealt with rather than genuinely understood. Blacks are those other people. And so race becomes just another political football.

    Most white people have little interaction with and experience of black people. Blacks, black communities, and black problems are never fully real to them.

    That would go for me as well. It is true that I spent many years in South Carolina where I went to the desegregated public schools that were about half white and half black. I’ve worked with many blacks when I lived in South Carolina and North Carolina. But these days I live in white majority Iowa. The blackest people I interact with are from Africa, not the inner city or the South.

    The other aspect of my experience is that part of my family are whites on the poorer end of the economic scale. This has made me interested in class issues as much as race issues.

    “It troubles me, though, that my experience with black people is in wide contrast with some of your quotes.”

    I can’t say that I’ve had as much experience as you have had with blacks. I have enough experience to understand some of the differences among particular parts of that demographic. Like with whites, it is hard to generalize about blacks.

    “I’ve been in lots of contact with both very unhealthy and very healthy portions of the black community.”

    I’ve come to be wary of speaking about such things in terms of ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy’. I’m not against value judgments, but value judgments have to be understood in specific contexts. Is something healthy or unhealthy in response to what, toward what end, and by what standard?

    Let me explain.

    Since black men are being racially targeted for imprisonment and unemployment, it is a natural response for black women to remain unmarried. Blacks can’t control that racial targeting that is destroying their communities, but they can make a rational choice within limited options. Also, the black father isn’t as absent as many people think.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/black-families-broken-and-weak/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/the-myth-of-weak-and-broken-black-families/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/black-feminism-and-epistemology-of-ignorance/

    When few jobs are available, it is rational for blacks to turn to the black market for work. The risks of the black market are great, but the risks of unemployment and homelessness can be seen as even greater. Also, not all those black market jobs are drugs and prostitution. People repair cars in alleys and do lawn work for cash. What other options do they have in a society built on an oppressive racial order, especially even when whites with racial privilege are also experiencing high rates of unemployment and poverty.

    Gangs serve multiple roles in such desperately poor communities. They are one of the largest employers, offering work for better pay that can be found anywhere else for this population. Also, gangs offer security in a dangerous world where an isolated individual is a target of both criminals and police. Gangs, in many ways, are what white people would call a militia.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/working-hard-but-for-what/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/whose-work-counts-who-gets-counted/

    Blacks are trying their best to solve their own problems, under almost impossible conditions. Many whites can’t even imagine that world, much less imagine what it must be like to be born into it.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/social-environment-human-potential/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/immobility-of-economic-mobility-or-running-to-stay-in-place/

    “The statistical variance within the black community, with (to be a bit coarse) the religious and educated on one side, and the criminal underclass and very poor on the other, is a much wider social disparity than what white people are used to experiencing in their neighborhoods.”

    I would disagree with you on one point. This all depends on what whites you are talking about. You may know many poor blacks, but you aren’t speaking with familiarity about poor whites.

    Most poor people are white. Some of the most violent communities in American are white, largely in rural areas and in the South. Poor whites and poor blacks, as the data show, have equally high rates of social problems, including violent crime. There is a permanent white underclass that has been continuously poor for centuries. They are often thought of in terms of the Scots-Irish, but their ancestry is quite mixed.

    “In black America, that variance is seen and experienced every day.”

    In white America, that variance is seen and experienced every day. But poor whites are segregated and isolated from middle class and upper class whites. The poorest white communities are nearly invisible to wealthier whites. They usually only see about it occasionally in a documentary about Appalachia or something like that.

    Also, their is a cultural blindness. Because race and class are conflated in our society, whites can look at poor whites and sometimes not even realize they are poor. They don’t fit the stereotype of the poor as minorities. Poor whites haven’t been as much forced into high concentrated urban areas, and because of white privilege it was always easier for poor whites to escape poor white neighborhoods. A poor white can get all kinds of advantages just by being white.

    Because of this, there are more poor whites living in wealthier communities. They are accepted as normal, rather than judged as poor. Their poverty often isn’t even seen nor the struggles that go with it. Still, living in wealthier communities, these particular poor whites have access to all the social capital and white privilege of such communities: employment opportunities, high quality public services, well-funded schools, etc.

    Sundown towns (and suburbs), on the other hand, have kept blacks out of these communities through the mid twentieth century. They still make many of these communities highly unhospitable to blacks seeking a better life. It’s easy to forget that slavery under a different name continued into the century following the official ending of slavery. The improvements we’ve seen in undoing racism is a recent phenomenon.

    “What isn’t mentioned by liberals on the way to vying for healthy systemic change is the way that structural racism has destroyed a massive segment of the African-American population’s understanding of how a healthy life is lived.”

    There are some similarities between poor whites and poor blacks. But there are also some differences.

    There is a permanent underclass to be found in both and for not dissimilar reasons. Ethnic groups like the Scots-Irish didn’t experience slavery, but they didn’t experience other forms of oppression throughout their long history.

    The difference is that slavery was more destructive of African culture than anything the Scots-Irish (or other poor ethnicities) have ever experienced. Scots-Irish culture was never destroyed. If anything, part of their poverty has to do with the entrenchment of a culture of poverty, if we are to speak in terms of unhealthy cultures, although I’d argue their culture is a ‘rational’ response to the historical oppression and isolation they’ve experienced.

    The conservative Thomas Sowell argues for what he calls the “black redneck”. He speulates that inner city blacks inherited their culture of poverty and culture of honor/violence from Southern whites. This replaced whatever original culture Africans brought with them. Blacks then brought this with them when they moved into Northern inner cities. He also believes that this redneck culture has mostly disappeared from the white population, although that part of the argument doesn’t fit the known facts since redneck culture is alive and well among Southern whites.

    “Part of structural racism is the multi-generational shame, demasculation, and economic repression that has erased a sense of possibility for many black people, through a Pavlovian, entirely understandable and well-documented set of stimuli and response.”

    This relates to what I mean by a ‘rational’ response to conditions. It makes perfect sense why poor people act the way they do, under the conditions of poverty. From the white perspective, this is explained by Joe Bageant and Linda Tirado. When your choices are severely constrained, your behavior can seem unhealthy to those who don’t live under such constraints. But it makes perfect sense in that social reality of structural biases, economic desperation, and political disenfranchisement.

    We all respond to our circumstances. It’s just that our circumstances are different. Poor minorities aren’t responding in any more of a Pavlovian manner than poor whites and wealthier whites. Few people ever question the conditions they are born into. And even those few who do question, even fewer ever come to understand those conditions and see beyond them. We all have a tendency of getting trapped in social reality tunnels, although some are more comfortable than others in the worlds they were born into.

    “This has led inexorably to the disintegration of the nuclear family in high percentages, the rapid cessation of healthy religion, and a bias against education as a way to get ahead.”

    None of those things differentiate poor blacks from poor whites. In terms of pure numbers, it is highly likely that these problems impact more poor whites.

    I would point out one thing that few understand. There was no disintegration of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is a recent invention. Africans, Scots-Irish, and other similar ethnicities have and still to some degree maintain non-nuclear kinship ties. Historically, people often died young and so it was common in the past for their to be single parent families, especially among the poor. By necessity, families relied on larger social networks of kin and community. Poor people to this day still depend on larger social networks.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/black-families-broken-and-weak/

    Poor Reason: Culture Still Doesn’t Explain Poverty
    by Stephen Steinberg
    Kindle Locations 59-74

    “Far from having a chilling effect on researching and thinking about culture in relationship to poverty, the debate over the Moynihan report spawned a canon of critical scholarship. For the first time, scholars came to terms with the economic underpinnings of the nuclear family, which tends to unravel whenever male breadwinners are unemployed for long periods of time, as was true of white families during the Depression.

    “No longer was the nuclear family, with its patriarchal foundations, the unquestioned societal norm. The blatantly tendentious language that pervaded the Moynihan report — “broken homes” and “illegitimate births ” — was purged from the professional lexicon. More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”

    “Yet even Moynihan’s harshest critics did not deny the manifest troubles in black families. Nor did they deny that the culture of poor people is often markedly at variance with the cultural norms and practices in more privileged sectors of society. How could it be otherwise? The key point of contention was whether, under conditions of prolonged poverty, those cultural adaptations “assume a life of their own” and are passed down from parents to children through normal processes of cultural transmission. In other words, the imbroglio over the Moynihan report was never about whether culture matters, but about whether culture is or ever could be an independent and self-sustaining factor in the production and reproduction of poverty.”

    To continue with what you have written:

    “It’s created a fixation on consumerism among very poor African-Americans, in an ironic embracing of one of the main causes of structural racism.”

    Like most Americans, blacks have come to believe in the American Dream. They want that American Dream. They’ve been told it is the ideal of our entire society and the standard by which all are judged. This is how we define the good life: a well-paying job, a house, consumer goods, etc.

    But at the same time American society makes this American Dream so far out of reach for so many blacks. The shaming of the poor is severe in our society. They are endlessly told they are worthless and yet rarely given opportunities to prove their worth. So, they take what they can get.

    “And in south Oakland, where I lived until recently, I’ve seen a large-scale defaulting to an entirely reasonable assumption among the very poor that crime and exploitation need to be part of the required ‘side hustle’ mentioned in one of the articles you quoted.”

    In my opinion, it is largely a practical issue. The unemployment rate, especially for blacks, is at one of the highest points its been in recent history. We haven’t seen unemployment like this since the Great Depression. For young blacks, this shift toward increasing unemployment actually began decades ago when the good industrial jobs started moving out of the cities and into all white racist suburbia. With ‘honest’ work gone, they did what they had to do to make ends meet. The ‘side hustle’ is simply a response to the conditions they live in.

    Here is the context from the article for that ‘side hustle’:

    http://www.salon.com/2014/04/22/poor_black_people_dont_work_lessons_of_a_former_dope_dealer/

    “The fact is that I can travel through east Baltimore or any urban inner city (BLACK) neighborhood for under 10 minutes and introduce you to the hardest-working Americans in our country. I know a guy that guts houses for $50 a day, a rack of uncertified tax preparers, too many single moms with triple jobs, some freelance freelancers, infinite party promoters, squeegee kids, basement caterers, back-alley auto mechanics, dudes of all ages selling bottled water and a collection of Mr. Fix Its, all living in a two-block radius. We are all American dream chasing, all trying to start our own business, all working our asses off.

    “Legal or illegal, the inner cities of America are our nation’s hotbed of side hustles. Even people like me with college degrees need multiple streams of revenue to survive, and I gained that work ethic from living in the inner city. Seeing my grandma work 10-hour shifts showed me I could do the same.

    “There are a million grinding grandmas like mine, and Darnell Baylor isn’t the only person who gets paid for 40 hours a week but works 80. Every person I know is on his schedule and gained that work ethic from the inner city. If Duncan were exposed to a different way of life, he’d probably be running a Fortune 500 company.

    “Lenny and Loraine didn’t beg for drugs, they performed for them. And Lenny continued to work hard years after his crack addiction faded. The Candy and Cigarette lady should be celebrated for her innovation. And I’d bet that even if the cops rushed and ended her industry, work ethic and creativity would lead to her creating a new one.

    “She still works hard but will be only judged for not following traditional rules, which is unfortunate because there are so many hardworking people like us who are forced to create our own industries as a direct result of being isolated by society. To me that poses a bigger question. Why employment inequality for African-Americans is always identified as laziness?

    “Hire us.”

    If they don’t hustle what work they can find, legal and illegal, they will fall into ever more desperate poverty and be threatened with homelessness. What else are they to do? They are so focused on surviving that they don’t have much time to think of anything else. That could be interpreted as an ‘unhealthy’ state of mind. Sure, it is less than optimal, but it is the world they were born into and society has offered them few opportunities for escape. Even when they do escape into white communities like the one I live in, they aren’t welcomed and they continue to experience racism, racial bias, and racial profiling.

    “To me, this psychological miasma, the grinding psychological training of hundreds of years of abuse, is a grave, self-reinforcing aspect of the tar pit of structural racism.”

    And of structural classism, for all races and ethnicities. Environments of oppression and desperation, when enforced long enough onto specific populations, do create cultures and shared mindsets of oppression and desperation. That is far from surprising. You wouldn’t be telling blacks anything they don’t already know.

    “Cultural disintegration may well prove to be the worst aspect of a history structural racism to repair.”

    It is easier to destroy something than to rebuild it again. What has been destroyed is social capital, specifically through the destruction of entire communities and cultures. In particular for blacks, it was cultural genocide. It was intentionally destroyed. And every time blacks sought to rebuild it, whites destroyed it again… and again and again.

    Blacks had developed their own communities after the Civil War. They had their own businesses, newspapers, and governments. But whites couldn’t tolerate that success and independence, and so they destroyed these communities. Other blacks moved into white communities and sought to integrate, but they had their property destroyed and wealth lost when they were herded like cattle into the inner cities.

    It is only the most recent generation of blacks that has begun to see a slight glimmer of a new possibility.

    “We see these attitudinal and educational problems in Haiti and many parts of Africa as well, following centuries of colonial repression.”

    That repression isn’t just something of the past. They continue to be violently targeted, manipulated, and taken advantage of by Western governments and corporations. Colonialism never ended. It just took a new form. The American military empire with bases all over the world is an example of neo-colonialism. The US has this past century continuously meddled with the governments of poor countries, from arming rebels to assassinating democratically elected leaders.

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as Faulkner so famously put it.

    “These racism-generated, entrenched weaknesses are what rightists ironically think of as genetic inferiority. Well, they’re correct in that African-American communities have a psychological set of weaknesses not seen in white communities at nearly the same level. And those weaknesses do make socioeconomic challenges much more difficult to beat. But the right is very wrong about the causes being genetic.”

    It is easy to speculate, but it is harder to gain genuine understanding. Saying something is psychological doesn’t necessarily explain anything at all. It is the same with criticisms of culture. These become words that symbolize more than they overtly admit. What are we really talking about?

    I’ll end with a passage from The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/immobility-of-economic-mobility-or-running-to-stay-in-place/

    “When the biological father is living but not living with his kids, you have a family situation that is statistically associated with unfavorable outcomes for the kids. Let me show you how it might be possible to account for the unfavorable outcomes without reference to the children’s experiences in the home or to the quality of parenting they receive there.

    “Most single mothers are nothing like Murphy Brown: most of them are poor. Half of all homes headed by women are below the poverty level. Divorce usually leads to a drastic decline in a family’s standard of living— that is, in the standard of living of the ex-wife and the children in her custody. 22

    “The loss of income impacts the kids in several ways. For one thing, it can affect their status in the peer group. Being deprived of luxuries such as expensive clothing and sporting equipment, dermatologists and orthodontists, can lower kids’ standing among their peers. 23 Money is also going to play a role in whether the kids can think about going to college. If it’s out of the question, then they may be less motivated to graduate from high school and to avoid getting pregnant.

    “But by far the most important thing that money can do for kids is to determine the neighborhood they grow up in and the school they attend. Most single mothers cannot afford to rear their children in the kind of neighborhood where my husband and I reared ours —the kind where almost all the kids graduate from high school and hardly any have babies. Poverty forces many single mothers to rear their children in neighborhoods where there are many other single mothers and where there are high rates of unemployment, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and crime. 24

    “Why do so many kids in these neighborhoods drop out, get pregnant, and commit crimes ? Is it because they don’t have fathers? That is a popular explanation, but I considered the question in Chapter 9 and came to other conclusions. Neighborhoods have different cultures and the cultures tend to be self-perpetuating; they are passed down from the parents’ peer group to the children’s peer group. The medium through which the cultures are passed down cannot be the family, because if you pluck the family out of the neighborhood and plunk it down somewhere else, the children’s behavior will change to conform with that of their peers in their new neighborhood.

    “It’s the neighborhood, not the family. If you look at kids within a given neighborhood, the presence or absence of a father doesn’t make much difference. Researchers collected data on 254 African-American teenage boys from an inner city in the northeast United States . Most of the boys lived in households headed by a single mother; others lived with both biological parents, a mother and a stepfather, or in other kinds of family arrangements. Here are the researchers’ conclusions:

    ““Adolescent males in this sample who lived in single-mother households did not differ from youth living in other family constellations in their alcohol and substance use, delinquency, school dropout, or psychological distress.” 25

    “Within an economically disadvantaged inner-city neighborhood, the kids who live with both parents are no better off than those who live with only one. 26 But within a neighborhood like this, the majority of families are headed by single mothers, because mothers with partners generally can afford to live somewhere else. The higher income of a family that includes an adult male means that kids with two parents are more likely to live in a neighborhood with a middle -class culture and, therefore, more likely to conform to middle-class norms.”

    • Thanks much for the considered reply, Benjamin. I haven’t had time to explore your references adequately on family structure issues, and I look forward to doing that over the near haul. On the face of it, the story/research at the end is confusing because on the one hand it says that fatherless families suffer most because of an economic differential (it’s the neighborhood), and on the other it says being raised by single mothers makes no difference to kids. It kind of blithely says “If you look at kids within a given neighborhood” to draw this latter conclusion, and I want to stop it there, because that’s not what we’re doing, as they’re implying that mobility is bought by having two-parent families, and mobility is all-important. I would like to read more, and am sure that there’s more to find on the subject. In the meantime, I promise to not fling around nuclear family talk in the context of black repression effects.

      • “On the face of it, the story/research at the end is confusing because on the one hand it says that fatherless families suffer most because of an economic differential (it’s the neighborhood), and on the other it says being raised by single mothers makes no difference to kids.”

        Poverty, in our society, does two things. Because of high economic inequality, it concentrates the poor in particular neighborhoods. And, because of a racial segregation and high unemployment, it puts the most stress on those famies all concentrated together and so puts stress on the entire communities.

        One results of long term unemployment is high divorce rates. One of the results of mass incarceration that hits these poor neighborhoods hard is that there are few potential husbands available. Fathers often are in prison or caught up the legal system. When entire neighborhoods (already desperately poor and suffering from systemic prejudice) are racially targeted by the police, both individuals and families will do worse under those conditions of extreme stress.

        So, the two things you bring up are being impacted by the same set of environmental factors. By the way, it didn’t say families don’t matter, but that families are part of a larger social framework. Single mothers in poor neighborhoods tend to have large social networks of caretakers. But under those conditions, there is only so much families and social networks can do.

        “It kind of blithely says “If you look at kids within a given neighborhood” to draw this latter conclusion”

        I wouldn’t call it blithely. The problem is that we have no controlled experiments. The only way we can’t imperfectly control for the neighborhood effect is by looking at poor families in wealthier neighborhoods.

        “and I want to stop it there, because that’s not what we’re doing, as they’re implying that mobility is bought by having two-parent families, and mobility is all-important

        I don’t think that is being implied. That is to oversimplify it by ignoring the larger context of data. Studies show that racial and class biases make it much more difficult for poor blacks to find better housing and employment. Having two parents doesn’t change the systemic biases.

        If two parent families bought social mobility, there would be no two parent families in poverty. Being a poor minority makes it difficult both to escape poor minority neighborhoods and maintain stable families in such an unstable environment.

        Unemployment is at high point right now, and deindustrialization has been hitting hard black communities for decades. Inner cities used to be places of high employment and high economic mobility, including for blacks. What changed was the factories were either moved to the suburbs or to other countries, while racially biased housing practices kept blacks trapped in the inner cities where there have since been fewer good jobs available.

        Unemployment is highest among minorities, especially poor black males. There is pervasive racial bias in hiring, as in all other aspects of American society. When controlling for all other factors, it is easier for a white man with a criminal record to get hired than it is for a black man without a criminal record. Now, that is plain effed up.

        Between lack of available jobs and racial bias in hiring, what are minorities to do?

        One choice is to go on welfare, but welfare isn’t as easy to get on as it used to be and is extremely difficult to get on for men. Many minorities, especially men, look to the black market as the only other source of paying the bills and so keeping themselves from becoming homeless. But that too often leads to prison time and a criminal record, which makes it even harder for them to find a job. It is technically illegal for employers to base hiring practices on criminal records, but it is a law that isn’t enforced.

        This creates a vicious cycle of poverty and unemmployment. And so this is why we now have a permanent racial underclass.

        People who are unemployed and/or have a criminal record don’t make for attractive marriage material. But that is the vast majority of people in many poor minority neighborhoods. If a woman is on welfare, she has to be careful who lives with her for criminal records can cause welfare to be taken away.

        So, a poor minority ex-con who wants to be a good husband and father has everything going against him. He might love to be married, have a good job, and move to a nicer neighborhood, but our society doesn’t give him that option. There is little opportunity for turning his life around. Unlike for privileged white people, there are few second chances for poor minorities.

        Yes, it is true that more families have two parents live in more well off communities. But it doesn’t logically follow that having two parents buys economic mobility, in any simple sense. Most of those people, for one, didn’t begin their lives in the poorest of poor neighborhoods. There are varying degrees of poverty, some easier to escape out of than others. Two parent families is just one factor amidst millions of other factors that shape people’s lives. Few if any single factors buy much of anything.

        • This fellow touched on most of our points well this morning in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/opinion/charles-blow-first-michael-brown-now-eric-garner.html?action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article . My point about the right’s view of the problem as black pathology/genetics and your point about factors being inextricable from one another are the main supporting points to his overall message that this is must be a broad-based fight to reduce an epidemic of racism.

          Here is the main response of Fox News this morning to the non-indictment in Eric Garner’s death, in the form of an interview of former mayor Rudolph Guiliani. All my other conservative news sources were silent or quite muted. This is a story that is difficult to slant effectively to the right, but Mr. Guiliani is his usual courageous and persuasive self, and does a good job. http://video.foxnews.com/v/3923192459001/rudy-giuliani-reacts-to-eric-garner-grand-jury-decision/#sp=show-clips The actual breaking Fox story of Garner protests was brief, bloodless, and lacked any commentary, a common ideological trick both sides use to minimize news that is anti-narrative. Pertinent patterns of Mr. Guiliani’s response: protester and politician lack of respect for the process of law; public figures commenting about racism are ‘throwing NYPD under the bus’; inaccuracies in protester stories and protester logic are all-important; inability to see the full rationale that was only made evident to the Grand Jury; protesters are actually the ones who incite racism; the real problem being (deliberately) obscured is black-on-black violence (problems in the black community.

          • Thanks for the links. I have to go to work right now. But I’ll check it out and respond later. Thanks for engaging me with worthy discussion. It is a breath of fresh air, compared to some other discussions I’ve been involved in on social media.

            I’m glad to see that public dialogue is increasing on these issues. Michelle Alexander was noting that just today in a post on her facebook page. Things only said by a few are now being said in the mainstream. It’s nice to see that change.

          • Interestingly, Judge Napolitano and Bill O’Reilly offered criticisms of the police actions, specifically in the Garner case. Even Fox News can’t entirely deny the recent injustices. It may be off narrative, but at some point the facts become overwhelming.

            From a different perspective, Paul Street had some comments about the problems with white liberals. He is an author who lives in the white majority liberal college town I also live in, Iowa City. He discusses the collective amnesia that people here have about an incident not that long ago where a cop shot a black guy, after a white guy started a fight with the black guy.

            https://zcomm.org/zcommentary/campus-town-amnesia/

  10. On a positive note, I’d say American ideals and culture have been failing ever since the country was founded. It has been a continuous process of failure. We have a lot of practice at failing while somehow not entirely destroying the country. You got to give Americans credit for that somewhat remarkable feat. We may only know how to react to collective problems, but we have quite the knack for reacting in interesting ways. That is why we need a bit more social disorder to bring out that American innovative reaction.

    I’m not so optimistic. I’ve said it before, but I think that the reasons why the US became the world’s superpower are:

    1. Screwed up the least during the 20th century (Europe with the World Wars) and in the case of China, centuries of stagnation.

    2. The large land Westward, along with the natural resources that were basically stolen from the Native American population.

    3. Politicians of the past, despite their flaws were visionaries that were more future oriented. Alexander Hamilton, both Roosevelts, etc. These were not perfect people, but they at least had their nation’s best interests at heart.

    4. The massive immigration, from various parts of the world, in many cases offering top scientists, engineers, and a very well educated and/or hardworking populace.

    5.. Yes, I will concede that sometimes American entrepreneurship and can do spirit was sometimes very useful.

    But all of these are under attack right now.

    The other issue is that “innovation” might end up being in the wrong direction. A revolution could end up like Germany’s in the 1930s. That’s a very real danger that I get the feeling you underestimate the risks of.

    • I understand your perspective. All of your points are valid. I just think there is more to American society than that.

      There is great potential in being a large, diverse, and reactionary society. All of the conflict creates an environment of dynamic change, not always good change, but still a society that is more familiar with and accepting of change. We are entering an age of accelerated change. Societies that can deal well with it will more likely do well.

      I don’t really even mean American entrepreneurship, which is usually thought in terms of hyper-individualism. I’m more speaking about a culture of change. We Americans aren’t good at standing still, which makes our society situated well for a world that refuses to stand still.

      It isn’t any specific social conditions that make the American experiment interesting, not to my mind. It is the crazy quilt culture that dominates. It is only because of the culture(s) already in place that allowed particular social conditions to be taken advantage of. Not all other countries would have done as well under the same circumstances.

      I like to emphasize America as an experiment. For experiments never fail. They are ways of learning. That is the advantage the US has as a country that lacks much in the way of tradition. I think Americans would be wise to return to a mindset of seeing the country as an ongoing project instead of a finished product.

      • I am not sure if the American people are more likely than others to change. Witness the unwillingness to make changes to address the global warming crisis for example.

        To me the most likely outcome is that the US gets some hard lessons. Europe for example got some hard lessons in the first half of the 20th century and it’s relative influence declined irrecoverably in some ways, although most of Western Europe enjoys higher living standards on average today, in part due to the lessons learned.

        The other question is whether the US will even learn the hard lessons. The wars and foreign policy is not encouraging.

        • “I am not sure if the American people are more likely than others to change. Witness the unwillingness to make changes to address the global warming crisis for example.”

          That isn’t exactly my argument. Americans are human, like any other people. There is always a natural impulse to resist change.

          But when push comes to shove, I think there is a capacity to accept change in a way more difficult in older, well established, and traditional societies. The immaturity and instability of American society creates a tendency to react to problems, but it also allows for the possibility of a more dynamic response.

          It is akin to the difference between how a teenager and a senior citizen responds to a change. A teenager quite possibly won’t respond in the most responsible manner, maybe even doing something quite stupid and naive, but there is also in this a greater likelihood of acting in an unpredictable way. There is a potential for innovative thought in the young mind that often gets lost as people (and societies, I’d argue) they age.

          It is an imperfect metaphor. But I think it gets at a key point. The US being young, along with being large and multicultural, creates a set of conditions that are rare.

          “To me the most likely outcome is that the US gets some hard lessons.”

          That is a separate issue. As I said, the US has been in continous process of failing ever since the beginning. Many hard lessons have been learned and will continue to be learned. As a young nation, our society has much left to learn, especially about the price of being an empire.

          Some of those lessons might come at very high costs, maybe more than we can afford. It’s always possible we are on a path toward self-destruction.

          “The other question is whether the US will even learn the hard lessons.”

          That will be the main issue the US will face. I’m sure many hard lessons are heading our way.

  11. That isn’t exactly my argument. Americans are human, like any other people. There is always a natural impulse to resist change.

    This was not my argument. Earlier you implied that compared to other cultures, Americans were more open to change because society is reactionary.

    I am saying it is quite the opposite. The political reactionaries are the ones most vocally denying for example global warming, while trying to impose their ideology on everyone else.

    To me, the reactionaries offer no advantages and many drawbacks.

    The difference between right and left may be smaller in say, the Scandinavian nations but they seem better politically equipped to deal with change. Diversity as defined by political opinion may be a drawback for the US in this regard. That’s mostly because of the reactionary right though and the corporate state.

    The problem is that the “young” mind right now is not really open to new ideas and perspectives. If you were to compare for example, the US to other societies with a lot of immigrants, I’d argue Canada, Australia, and a few other nations are more open to new ideas, new cultures, and change.

    Some of those lessons might come at very high costs, maybe more than we can afford. It’s always possible we are on a path toward self-destruction.

    That’s the issue. Some cultures do worse than before when faced with challenges.

    • “Earlier you implied that compared to other cultures, Americans were more open to change because society is reactionary.”

      These are relative terms. To continue with the metaphor, the average teenager is more open to change than the average senior citizen. Yet both possess the human trait of being resistant to change. It’s more of a matter of the ratio of opennness to resitance, and so which one tends to win in the end. That is what I mean by, “when push comes to shove.”

      “The political reactionaries are the ones most vocally denying for example global warming, while trying to impose their ideology on everyone else.”

      Reacting to something and being a political reactionary can be related terms, but not necessarily.

      As in the metaphor, all young people tend to react more to life. This is simply because they have little experience upon which to base a proactive attitude. Plus, they have less sense of the future and consequences. Their reacting to events has more to do with a stage of development than with a more general reactionary stance.

      The US is in a particular stage of development. Unlike Canada, the US completely cut ties with its mother country at an early time. The American Revolution was a destabilizing force that we are still grappling with. Other young countries that detached from their imperial origins also have similar destabilized histories. The continuous waves of immigrants added further to that instability.

      “To me, the reactionaries offer no advantages and many drawbacks.”

      The standard founding fathers were all reactionaries. The lower class radicals forced revolution to happened. The so-called founders then reacted to a situation they didn’t choose. In reacting, they coopted the revolutionary movement and formed a government to their liking.

      The Civil War was another period of reaction. It likewise was incited by radicals who destabilized the previous order. The reactionaries never like that and so they create a new order. The radicals and reactionaries feed each other.

      If we were a more mature society, we would be capable of slower change without this dynamic between radicals and reactionaries. But, as I argue, we’d also be less dynamic society.

      “The difference between right and left may be smaller in say, the Scandinavian nations but they seem better politically equipped to deal with change.”

      Yep, that seems true. That relates to the argument I’m making. Scandinavian nations are old and mature societies with established cultures that go back millennia. They are societies that are in it for the long haul. They are less likely to change as quickly for that reason. And when major change does happen, resistance would be greater than the US.

      Scandinavian countries are known for their reactionary element and a kind of social conservatism. Sweden, for example, is an ancient kingdom with a nobility that retained direct ties to the government until a decade ago. Scandinavian countries would be incapable of dealing with the kind of immense diversity Americans have dealt with for our entire history. Scandinavians seem less tolerant of foreigners than many other nations. Their strong cultures of trust go hand in hand with a strain of xenophobia, similar to Japan.

      “Diversity as defined by political opinion may be a drawback for the US in this regard.”

      I’d argue that diversity is both our strength and our weakness. Even with American reactionaries, they can’t agree with one another. This helps keep the reactionaries in check, and this will disempower reactionaries even more as the minority-majority takes over. Reactionaries in a less diverse society would be able to organize more easily.

      “The problem is that the “young” mind right now is not really open to new ideas and perspectives. If you were to compare for example, the US to other societies with a lot of immigrants, I’d argue Canada, Australia, and a few other nations are more open to new ideas, new cultures, and change.”

      A complication is that the US is a large population. The US population is larger than the combined populations of Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, and all the Nordic Countries.

      Plus, this large population is spread across a large territory, across an entire continent and including some islands, covering the territory of multiple former empires and their former populations along with many separate native populations. This includes multiple regional cultures and political traditions, along with separate state governments held together by a federal government where many of those states are larger than many countries around the world.

      It is hard to generalize about all of the US population. There are large differences between rual and urban, beteween North and South, between East Coast and West Coast. It is a challennge to create a singular coherent society out of that vast mess of diversity.

      So, I’d say parts of the population are extremely open to new ideas and change. And other parts not so much. This goes along with the vast economic and educational inequality, which is different than most other developed countries, especially Western countries. Parts of the US are at the same level as developing countries and other parts more like Northern European countries.

      “That’s the issue. Some cultures do worse than before when faced with challenges.”

      I don’t know what it all adds up to. It just seems to me that the US is a different kind of country. It has one of the largest populations in the world and one of the most diverse populations in the world. There are other countries with large populations and other countries with diverse populations, but I’m not sure there is any other country that combines those two factors to the extent that the US does.

      I’m not arguing that is necessarily a good thing. I’m simply pointing out that it is very interesting. It seems like a unique experiment. However, as you know, I often argue for breaking the US up into smaller countries or returning back to actual confederation.

  12. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the ability to react to change.

    There are other reasons why I think the US is faring poorly, but in ability to deal with change is an example:

    – The US has proved unable for example to mount a serious reaction to global warming as I have noted. The fossil fuel industry is to blame, but also the fact that many people (not just on the political right) simply do not want to change and would rather believe a lie. There are other nations, Germany, the Scandinavian nations (read about Denmark and wind energy for example), and China that are taking leadership here.

    – Another example might be the rapid rise of China’s manufacturing. Japan, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations again have been able to hold onto a sizable manufacturing base, despite China’s rise. In many cases, the damage to American manufacturing has been dealt by the greed of American corporations.

    – Perhaps one could argue the War on Terror is an example of a desire to maintain military dominance over the world in a Cold War style mentality under the pretext of fighting terror.

    – You could argue that the very existence of the Religious Right is an example of a huge segment of American society that is not able to deal with the modern world. Perhaps even the resentful racists in the South too.

    There you argument that America is regionalistic bears some fruit. But elsewhere, I would disagree.

    What matters is what happens at the national level. For example, most Americans living in Blue States might have strongly opposed the Iraq invasion in 2003, but it still happened anyways. Likewise, many Americans disliked Bush intensely, but that did not stop the election of 2004. Many Americans don’t like it, but it still happened.

    It works both ways of course. Many Americans in the South dislike Obama for no other reason than he is black. They also resent the fact that he is proposing immigration reforms. But that does not stop the changes from happening.

    The reason why I emphasize the society as a whole is because it’s what becomes national policy that matters.

    The US leadership and I would argue that American people as a whole have not demonstrated the ability to deal with a rapidly changing world very well.

    • I’m not sure I strongly disagree with you on individual points you are making. I’m just emphasizing the unpredictable nature of the US. There are no precedents for it and so no clear basis for making predictions.

      Take Canada and Australia, as comparable examples. They also arose out of British society, at least in part. The differences is that they maintained their connections to the mother country. This stabilized their societies. Besides, they have much smaller populations. Neither country has had an equivalent to the American Revolution and the Civil War.

      A country like the US with its vast diversity is prone to drastic changes. The American Revolution and the Civil War were complete realignments of American society. The Civil Rights Movement was another complete realignment, although more peaceful than the other two. We are bound to have another complete realignement before long or else likely fall apart.

      You don’t see complete realignments like that in many Western countries, especially not at that scale. In Britain, you have to back to the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution to find an equivalent complete realignment. Even the American Revolution didn’t directly impact the lives of most British people, as it was fought elsewhere largely using merceneries.

      Slowly over time, the US has become another empire. It has in many ways taken the place of the British Empire on the world scene. But the US is a new form of empire. It isn’t clear what kind of empire it is or what the consequences of it will be in the long term. A realignment of US society would now mean a realignment of world power.

      I always go back to America being an experiment. It is unpredictable. It won’t proactively deal well with global warming and changes in the global economy. The US government will react, as it typically has done in the past. Even so, reactions can still be revolutionary. In fact, reactions are more likely to lead to drastic or even revolutionary change than are more controlled responses that tend toward gradual reform. No one could fully predict the American Revolution or the American Civil War, and no one could predict what would follow in their wake. Entire new political orders were created.

      Americans react. It is what Americans have been doing for centuries. No one knows what will happen the next time the US is severely confronted with a challenge to the social order. But my best guess is that it will be very interesting, possibly quite devastating on a global scale. Even a collapse of the American empire would be more than interesting. Good or bad, something interesting will happen.

      Canada or Australia could experience major social change without necessarily impacting the rest of the world. That is not the case with the US. If Americans suffer, it probably will mean the world suffers. A breakdown of US society would probably involve a world war.

      I’m not arguing that Americans are good at change. Rather, I’m arguing we are prone to a drastic kind of change that happens on the large scale. The shifting of US demographics along with shifts in the larger world imply that we might see a drastic change at a scale that is even unprecedented for American society.

  13. Perhaps so. The problem is that whether the decision is right or wrong has some very real consequences for Americans.

    As far as impacting the world, the relative decline of the US I suspect in the coming years will mean that although what the US does will have a major impact, it will not be the massive impact that it once did.

    But I firmly feel that the fact that the US is so reactionary, so unwilling to address the serious problems is what will cause serious consequences for the US in the future.

    I would not be surprised if the US decline begins to accelerate at some point due to self-inflicted problems.

  14. How is it that there is enormous prejudice against Asian Americans, yet they have lower unemployment rates and higher h.s. and college graduations rates than whites and far higher incomes and wealth than blacks? Why is it that companies/hr heads hire Asian Americans, often despite being personally prejudiced against them? Is it because the folks hiring them, almost always non-Asian, know that Asian have a strong work ethnic? Why is it that banks lend to them, giving them mortgages and business loans, even though those same banks often don’t lend to blacks? Is it because Asians have the stereotype of a strong work ethic, for not committing crime, and being disciplined and reliable?

    As far as black Americans, aren’t we just getting a never ending list of excuses as to why they can’t make it to school and graduate, why they commit so much crime (particularly violent crime), why they can’t maintain employment, maintain houses, etc? Hispanic American’s even perform better in nearly all metrics, despite being frequently discriminated against and often not being able to speak english… Now that we made it through the 1990s, the 2000s, and are over half way through the 2010’s – when are the excuses going to stop…????

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