White Violence, White Data

Here is my response to those who like to argue that blacks commit a higher percentage of violent crime. Such data simply shows the how many blacks were convicted, and not the actual racial rates of criminal activity. Besides, we know many other things as well.

We know that blacks are disproportionately targeted and profiled, stopped and frisked by the police. We know that blacks are more likely to be arrested more often and convicted more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. We know blacks are more likely to be charged, convicted, and incarcerated for gun-related crimes and drug-related crimes, despite the fact that whites are more likely to carry illegal guns, to carry illegal drugs, and to use illegal drugs. We know that, when convicted, blacks are sent to prison for longer sentences, even for the exact same crimes. We know this was even institutionalized with drug laws which made the sentencing longer for drugs commonly used by blacks than drugs commonly used by whites.

The police focus most of their time in poor minority communities. It is unsurprising that they find more poor minority criminals. We tend to find what we look for. The data makes it obvious that many whites disproportionately get away with crimes because the police are mostly concentrated in the poor minority communities. A white person can shoplift and walk out of a store at the same time as a black person, and yet the black person will more likely get stopped when the alarm goes off. Whites have the privilege to more often get away with crimes.

Whites commit most of the white collar crimes. These crimes cost untold millions of dollars of damage every year.  They destroy lives and sometimes entire communities when untold numbers of people lose their life savings. Yet these crimes are the least likely to go to court or to lead to conviction and incarceration.

Whites also have a long history of mass violence that dwarfs all the individual violence of blacks combined. Most large-scale wars, wars of aggression, and world wars are started by majority white countries with white-dominated governments. The largest genocides were committed by whites. Most school shooters and serial killers are whites. Most of these acts of violence by whites rarely lead to trial, much less conviction, for the simple reason that much of this is state-sanctioned violence. The government doesn’t even keep good data about police corruption and police brutality. When police kill innocent people who were a threat to no one, typically the officer gets paid leave. Even when whites commit war crimes, there are rarely any consequences, except in the most extreme cases such as the Nazis. As long as they were on the winning side, they get accolades, parades, and medals.

Nonetheless, even ignoring the racial prejudice, in terms of raw numbers most homicides and other violent crimes are committed by white Americans. So, numerically speaking, an American is on average far more likely to be harmed by a white than by a black. This is even more true for anyone living in a white majority community for most crime against whites is committed by whites, and most communities in this country are white majority. Of course, most whites live in white majority communities. This is the very reason most crime in this country, violent and otherwise, is committed by whites. If racial prejudice in policing and the courts were ever to end, if we were to ever know the real number of white crime, it would be even higher still.

Racists have no response to all of this overwhelming proof of widespread racism. There can be no response to such political evil except to either demand justice or remain in silent shame.

* * * *

This has been on my mind for a long time. I want to write a detailed post about this one day. The data used by racists (or racialists or race realists or whatever, same difference) is frustrating because it isn’t honest data being used to make an honest argument.

There is one telling detail that I decided to leave out of the above summary.

White Southerners show the strongest support, of any demographic, for illegal wars of aggression and illegal torture. White Southerners, especially in the poor rural South, are among the most violent and crime-ridden in the country. They also are the most supportive of state violence used in policing, in the War on Drugs, and through mass incarceration. Whites in general and white Southerners in particular are strongly supportive of the harsh racial prejudice used against minorities by police and the courts. Most of the police, judges, and jurors convicting minorities harshly are white.

None of this gets included in rates of violence. Support of state violence is considered normal and acceptable, at least by whites who are disproportionately less likely to be the victims of it. When the victimizers keep the data, it is unsurprising what kind of official data is kept and shown to the public. And it is unsurprising what gets ignored and whitewashed. Most of the data is kept by whites for the purposes of a white majority society.

We need to be more careful and more honest about what data we use and for what purpose we use it. Data never speaks for itself. Instead, data speaks for those who control how the data is gathered, measured, and used. We need to keep that in mind, if we care about morality and justice, if we hope to ever create a free and fair society.

Black Majority in America

I have a question that I hope someone can answer. It is about the issue of a black majority.

For much of its history, South Carolina was majority black going back to the colonial era (see “Black Majority” by Peter Wood). So, when did South Carolina stop being a black majority state? What was the exact year or decade?

That is my basic question. I had some other related thoughts.

Frederick Douglass predicted the Deep South would have eventually become black majority. This failed to happen because of all the mass migrations of Europeans during the mid and late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

Now, the black population is growing again. It is possible that some state might become a black majority in the coming generations, depending on demographic patterns. Then again, there might be another mass migration from Europe to re-establish the white majority stronghold.

Hispanics are also growing faster as a population than are blacks. Many Hispanics are increasingly choosing to identify as white. They will probably go the way of other ethnic Americans and assimilate into American whiteness.

What will that mean for the black population? Will blacks still remain the official minority scapegoat for the nation? Why don’t blacks do what the Mormons did and start their own separate society?

If all the blacks moved to a single state, they would then have a majority and they could gain political control and self-governance. As a symbolic act, they could regain the majority they once held in South Carolina, but this time it would be different. It would be an interesting experiment.

To Know Racism

The reality of races can be argued about to a certain extent. The argument doesn’t go very far because of the lack of evidence. The reality of racism, on the other hand, is quite different. There is no debate to be had because the evidence is so overwhelming.

The challenge of debate is that the evidence is only overwhelming to the extent one knows the evidence. So, debating the reality of racism becomes a game of presenting data while the other side refuses to acknowledge or dismisses it. It is like trying to build a block tower with a toddler who just wants to knock it down.

I meet people who are overtly and intentionally anti-intellectual. Others are just situationally and opportunistically anti-intellectual. Most people, though, aren’t anti-intellectuals in the normal sense, even when they are uninformed and misinformed.

The fact of the matter is that schools and the media don’t do much in the way of helping people understand the nitty-gritty everyday reality of commonplace racism. Not bigotry, just the racial bias that seeps into ever cranny of society and every crevice of our minds.

It isn’t as if racism is hard to grasp intellectually. The basic data isn’t all that complicated either. Almost anyone could be given a basic education of the subject in a short period of time.

I went for walk with a friend. This topic was on my mind. So, I discussed it with him.

He isn’t the type of person who reads about race, crime, and other social science subjects. Like me and like most Americans, he didn’t learn much if anything about systemic and institutional racism from his public education or even from his college education. As we walked along a wooded trail, I read some statistics from a book. It was specifically about crime and incarceration, and it is a good primer for understanding how racism is systemic and institutionalized.

Within a few minutes of pleasantly chatting, he became more informed than the majority of Americans on this subject. Even if you read the entire chapter slowly while deeply contemplating it at most it would take you a half hour to get through it all. If we sat all Americans down, we could inform the entire population in a few minutes. Not a in-depth education, but we could bring most Americans up to speed with a basic groundwork of knowledge.

This isn’t rocket science.

From Slavery to Mass Incarceration

Here is one of the greatest stories unknown to most Americans.

It is about the post-Emancipation backlash of legally institutionalizing racism. This involves early mass incarceration and early industrialization, a carryover from the last decades of slavery when enslaved blacks were increasingly being used in the first major factories. Thomas Jefferson experimented with turning from agriculture to industrial products in his use of his own slaves.

The problem of industrialization was always how does the ownership class get people to do work for long hours that is both dangerous and boring. In a country with a surplus population of oppressed blacks, the answer seemed obvious for the areas with large black populations. Mass incarceration served two purposes: 1) as a means of social control once slavery was abolished, and 2) a cheap source of labor that re-created the conditions of slavery.

This puts the present system of mass incarceration into perspective. This is why some have called it the New Jim Crow.

* * * *

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War Two
Douglass A. Blackmon
pp. 51-57

To the enterprising industrialists who would reshape the southern economy in the half century after the Civil War, the new concepts of industrialized black labor had taken firm hold. Long before the end of chattel slavery, Milner was in the vanguard of that new theory of industrial forced labor. In 1859, he wrote that black labor marshaled into the regimented productivity of factory settings would be the key to the economic development of Alabama and the South. Milner believed that white people “would always look upon and treat the negro as an inferior being.” Nonetheless-indeed for that very reason-blacks would serve a highly useful purpose as the clever mules of an industrial age, “provided he has an overseer-a Southern man, who knows how to manage negroes.”42 Milner’s intuition that the future of blacks in America rested on how whites chose to manage them, whether in slavery or out of it, would resonate through the next half century of national discourse about the proper role of the descendants of Africa in American life.

Milner was no mere theorist. He was a dogged executor of his vision. It was men like Milner who would seize the opportunity presented by convict leasing to reclaim slavery from the destruction of the Civil War. As Alabama began selling its black prisoners in large numbers in the 1870s, he scrambled to acquire all that were available-plunging them by the hundreds into a hellish coal operation called the Eureka mines, and later illegally selling hundreds of these new slaves in the 1880s, along with another coal mine, to the Georgia Pacific Railroad Co.

In every setting that Milner employed convict slaves in the late nineteenth century, he and his business associates subjected the workers to almost animalistic mistreatment-a revivification of the most atrocious aspects of antebellum bondage. Records of Milner’s various mines and slave farms in southern Alabama owned by one of his business partners-a cousin to an investor in the Bibb Steam Mill-tell the stories of black women stripped naked and whipped, of hundreds of men starved, chained, and beaten, of workers perpetually lice-ridden and barely clothed.

Milner took center stage in Alabama’s new industrialization, urging southerners to “go to work…eradicating the diseases that are destroying us.” Part of that eradication would be to successfully re-regiment freed slaves. “I am clearly of the opinion, from my own observation, that negro labor can be made exceedingly profitable in rolling mills,” Milner had written of steel production in 1859. “I have long since learned that negro slave labor is more reliable and cheaper for any business connected with the construction of a railroad than white.”43

Milner and others had seen his theory of the black slave as an effective industrial forced worker vividly fulfilled during the war. The system emerging with the end of Reconstruction would mimic it repeatedly. African Americans driven by the right men, in the correct ways, could be the engines of far more complex enterprises than the old bourbon-soaked planters would ever have believed possible. Black laborers might not quite be men, the industrialists reasoned, but they recognized that African Americans were far more than apes. The renting of slaves, as much as anything, had taught them that masses of black laborers brought under temporary control of a commercial enterprise could be powerfully leveraged in commerce.

The attitudes among southern whites that a resubjugation of African Americans was an acceptable-even essential-element of solving the “Negro question” couldn’t have been more explicit. The desire of white farmers to recapture their former slaves through new civil laws was transparent. In the immediate wake of emancipation, the Alabama legislature swiftly passed a measure under which the orphans of freed slaves, or the children of blacks deemed inadequate parents, were to be “apprenticed” to their former masters. The South Carolina planter Henry William Ravenel wrote in September 1865: “There must…be stringent laws to control the negroes, & require them to fulfill their contracts of labour on the farms.”44

With the southern economy in ruins, state officials limited to the barest resources, and county governments with even fewer, the concept of reintroducing the forced labor of blacks as a means of funding government services was viewed by whites as an inherently practical method of eliminating the cost of building prisons and returning blacks to their appropriate position in society. Forcing convicts to work as part of punishment for an ostensible crime was clearly legal too; the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1865 to formally abolish slavery, specifically permitted involuntary servitude as a punishment for “duly convicted” criminals.

Beginning in the late 1860s, and accelerating after the return of white political control in 1877, every southern state enacted an array of interlocking laws essentially intended to criminalize black life. Many such laws were struck down in court appeals or through federal interventions, but new statutes embracing the same strictures on black life quickly appeared to replace them. Few laws specifically enunciated their applicability only to blacks, but it was widely understood that these provisions would rarely if ever be enforced on whites. Every southern state except Arkansas and Tennessee had passed laws by the end of 1865 outlawing vagrancy and so vaguely defining it that virtually any freed slave not under the protection of a white man could be arrested for the crime. An 1865 Mississippi statute required African American workers to enter into labor contracts with white farmers by January 1 of every year or risk arrest. Four other states legislated that African Americans could not legally be hired for work without a discharge paper from their previous employer-effectively preventing them from leaving the plantation of the white man they worked for. In the 1880s, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida enacted laws making it a criminal act for a black man to change employers without permission.

In nearly all cases, the potential penalty awaiting black men, and a small number of women, snared by those laws was the prospect of being sold into forced labor. Many states in the South and the North attempted to place their prisoners in private hands during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The state of Alabama was long predisposed to the idea, rather than taking on the cost of housing and feeding prisoners itself. It experimented with turning over convicts to private “wardens” during the 1840s and 1850s but was ultimately unsatisfied with the results. The state saved some expense but gathered no revenue. Moreover, the physical abuse that came to be almost synonymous with privatized incarceration always was eventually unacceptable in an era when virtually every convict was white. The punishment of slaves for misdeeds rested with their owners.

Hardly a year after the end of the war, in 1866, Alabama governor Robert M. Patton, in return for the total sum of $5, leased for six years his state’s 374 state prisoners to a company calling itself “Smith and McMillen.” The transaction was in fact a sham, as the partnership was actually controlled by the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad. Governor Patton became president of the railroad three years later.45 Such duplicity would be endemic to convict leasing. For the next eighty years, in every southern state, the questions of who controlled the fates of black prisoners, which few black men and women among armies of defendants had committed true crimes, and who was receiving the financial benefits of their re-enslavement would almost always never be answered.

Later in 1866, Texas leased 250 convicts to two railroads at the rate of $12.50 a month.46 In May 1868, four months after Henry and Mary’s wedding, the state of Georgia signed a lease under which the Georgia and Alabama Railroad acquired one hundred convicts, all of them black, for $2,500. Later that year, the state sold 134 prisoners to the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad and sent 109 others to the line being constructed between the towns of Macon and Brunswick, Georgia.

Arkansas began contracting out its state convicts in 1867, selling the rights to prisoners convicted of both state crimes and federal offenses.47 Mississippi turned over its 241 prisoners to the state’s largest cotton planter, Edmund Richardson, in 1868. Three years later, the convicts were transferred to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the former Confederate general, who in civilian life already was a major planter and railroad developer. In 1866, he and five other former rebel officers had founded the Ku Klux Klan. Florida leased out half of the one hundred prisoners in its Chattahoochee penitentiary in 1869.

North Carolina began “farming out” its convicts in 1872. After white South Carolinians led by Democrat Wade Hampton violently ousted the last black government of the state in 1877, the legislature promptly passed a law allowing for the sale of the state’s four hundred black and thirty white prisoners.

Six years earlier, in 1871, Tennessee leased its nearly eight hundred prisoners, nearly all of them black, to Thomas O’Conner, a founding partner along with Arthur Colyar of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co.48 In the four decades after the war, as Colyar built his company into an industrial behemoth, its center of operations gradually shifted to Alabama, where it was increasingly apparent that truly vast reserves of coal and iron ore lay beneath the surface.

Colyar, like Milner, was one of those prominent southern businessmen who bridged the era of slavery and the distinct new economic opportunities of the region at the end of the nineteenth century. They were true slavers, raised in the old traditions of bondage, but also men who believed that African Americans under the lash were the key to building an industrial sector in the South to fend off the growing influence of northern capitalists.

Already, whites realized that the combination of trumped-up legal charges and forced labor as punishment created both a desirable business proposition and an incredibly effective tool for intimidating rank-and-file emancipated African Americans and doing away with their most effective leaders.

The newly installed white government of Hale County-deep in the majority-black cotton growing sections of Alabama-began leasing prisoners to private parties in August 1875. A local grand jury said the new practice was “contributing much to the revenues of the county, instead of being an expense.” The money derived from selling convicts was placed in the Fine and Forfeiture Fund, which was used to pay fees to judges, sheriffs, other low officials, and witnesses who helped convict defendants.

The prior year, during a violent campaign by Ku Klux Klansmen and other white reactionaries to break up black Republican political meetings across Alabama, a white raiding party confronted a meeting of African Americans in Hale County. Shots were fired in the dark and two men died-one white and one black. No charges were brought in the killing of the African American, but despite any evidence they caused the shooting, leading black Republicans R. H. Skinner and Woodville Hardy were charged and convicted of murder. They were sent to the Eureka mines south of Birmingham in the spring of 1876.49

By the end of 1877, fifty convict laborers were at work in Milner’s Newcastle Coal Company mine outside Birmingham. An additional fifty-eight men had been forced into the Eureka mines he founded near Helena. A total of 557 prisoners had been turned over that year to private corporations by the state of Alabama.50

By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, every formerly Confederate state except Virginia had adopted the practice of leasing black prisoners into commercial hands. There were variations among the states, but all shared the same basic formula. Nearly all the penal functions of government were turned over to the companies purchasing convicts. In return for what they paid each state, the companies received absolute control of the prisoners. They were ostensibly required to provide their own prisons, clothing, and food, and bore responsibility for keeping the convicts incarcerated. Company guards were empowered to chain prisoners, shoot those attempting to flee, torture any who wouldn’t submit, and whip the disobedient-naked or clothed-almost without limit. Over eight decades, almost never were there penalties to any acquirer of these slaves for their mistreatment or deaths.

On paper, the regulations governing convict conditions required that prisoners receive adequate food, be provided with clean living quarters, and be protected from “cruel” or “excessive punishment.” All floggings were to be recorded in logbooks, and indeed hundreds were. But the only regularly enforced laws on the new slave enterprises were those designed primarily to ensure that no black worker received freedom or experienced anything other than racially segregated conditions. In Alabama, companies were fined $150 a head if they allowed a prisoner to escape. For a time, state law mandated that if a convict got free while being transported to the mines, the sheriff or deputy responsible had to serve out the prisoner’s sentence. Companies often faced their strongest criticism for allowing black and white prisoners to share the same cells. “White convicts and colored convicts shall not be chained together,” read Alabama law.51

In almost every respect-the acquisition of workers, the lease arrangements, the responsibilities of the leaseholder to detain and care for them, the incentives for good behavior-convict leasing adopted practices almost identical to those emerging in slavery in the 1850s.

By the late 1870s, the defining characteristics of the new involuntary servitude were clearly apparent. It would be obsessed with ensuring disparate treatment of blacks, who at all times in the ensuing fifty years would constitute the vast majority of those sold into labor. They were routinely starved and brutalized by corporations, farmers, government officials, and small-town businessmen intent on achieving the most lucrative balance between the productivity of captive labor and the cost of sustaining them. The consequences for African Americans were grim. In the first two years that Alabama leased its prisoners, nearly 20 percent of them died.52 In the following year, mortality rose to 35 percent. In the fourth, nearly 45 percent were killed.53

Are Blacks More Criminal, More Deserving of Punishment and Social Control?

Before recent decades of decrease of crime, there was decades of increase of crime or rather increase of criminalization.

We know that the growth of incarceration has happened through drug convictions, not from homicide, theft, etc. We also know that most of the drug convictions are for small amounts of drug possession for personal use. You could still argue that at least mass incarceration has been the cause of the decrease of drug use, but even that isn’t supported by the facts.

We also know that whites are as likely or more likely to use and carry illegal drugs. Just as we know that blacks are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for drug-related crimes. This is because blacks are racially profiled, targeted, and stopped and frisked more often.

Nonetheless, most of the crime in the US has always been committed by whites. So, most of the crime increase and crime decrease involved whites. If you look at poor whites in poor neighborhoods, you see the same social problems as found with poor blacks living in poor neighborhoods, including the problems of crime and police targeting. The police go after poor people in general, because wealthier people do their crimes behind closed doors where police don’t see it happening. Poor people are an easy target and they can’t fight  back legally and politically.

Most of this issue of crime and incarceration has had to do with the War On Drugs. As I’ve pointed out, it is no different than what happened during Prohibition. Back then, the minorities targeted were Italians, Germans, Irish, and Scots-Irish. Today, along with poverty-stricken descendants of those ethnic Americans (such as in Appalachia), the minorities targeted are blacks and Hispanics. These minorities weren’t committing more crimes. Instead, laws were created to criminalize and target these minorities.

White and wealthy people commit crimes as well. But even when these crimes are known, authorities have little interest in going after them. It is costly for the government to try to convict people who have the money to buy the best lawyers in the country. Plus, these people have political connections. White collar crimes are rampant in our society and do far more harm to far more people, but they mostly go unpunished. Even when the wealthy do drugs, it rarely leads to negative consequences. The last three presidents did drugs and it wasn’t any big deal, but a poor black kid will have their life ruined for the exact same behavior. Even many child molesters get off easier than many of those convicted of victimless drug-related crimes.

There is no excuse for any of this. The injustice should be intolerable, assuming one lived in a moral society.

* * * *

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2109777,00.html

In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.

That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/drug-war-mass-incarceration_n_3034310.html

What all that money has helped produce — aside from unchanged drug addiction rates — is the world’s highest incarceration rate. According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail.

More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.

http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/07/study-whites-more-likely-to-abuse-drugs-than-blacks/

Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.

* * * *

African American Families Today: Myths and Realities
By Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith
Kindle Locations 2664-2665

As a point of reference, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens on drug convictions alone than the entire incarcerated population of the European Union, which has a population significantly greater than the United States.

Kindle Locations 2681-2707

Many Americans assume that African American men commit more crimes and therefore it is logical that they make up the bulk of the US prison population. And , in fact in opinion poll after opinion poll , including one conducted in 2011 by New Century Foundation (Color of Crime), white Americans say they believe blacks commit more crimes than whites. If everything were equal, this would be a logical conclusion for any thinking person. Yet, as it turns out, the picture is far more complicated than what it appears to be. Once we examine the data, we see that although African American men may be somewhat more likely to commit crimes, especially of certain types, the real cause of their overrepresentation in the prison population is the discrimination they face at every stage of the process, from being identified as suspects to being arrested, charged, and sentenced. We devote the next section of the chapter to a discussion of these issues.

African Americans do commit certain crimes more often than whites . For example, homicide is now one of the leading causes of death for African American men. The data on homicide indicate that more often than not the perpetrator in these homicides is also an African American male. In fact, an examination of the data on all violent crimes (rape, homicide, assault) reveals that violent crimes are primarily intraracial; in other words both the victim and the offender are of the same race. However, when one examines the range of statistics on crime, one finds that just as African Americans are disproportionately likely to commit certain crimes (homicide), whites are disproportionately likely to commit others. Though some of these are nonviolent, financial crimes like those that executives such as Bernie Madoff (the ponzi scheme master ) and Ken Lay (Enron Corporation) were convicted of, their nonviolent nature does not mean these crimes do not have victims. In fact, these crimes harm millions of American victims; many of whom have lost their life savings. For those unsuspecting folks who were employed in these firms, they lost their weekly paychecks, health insurance, and indeed their livelihoods when the firms collapsed as a result of the scams. Perhaps more perplexing is the fact that whites are also more likely to be serial murderers, child molesters, and school shooters. In fact the dominant profile of the perpetrators in all of these horrible crimes is not just white , but male. White men commit these crimes at disproportionately high rates. When we look closely at the treatment of child molesters- who are primarily white men- by the criminal justice system, we learn that the average child molester serves shorter sentences than crack offenders, who are primarily African American men. Child molesters are sentenced to an average of six years, and serve, on average, only 43 percent of their full sentences whereas the average person convicted of possession of crack is sentenced to eleven years and serves 80 percent of his sentence. In practical terms this means that the average child molester serves just under three years where as the average person convicted of possessing a small amount of crack serves nearly three times longer, just under nine years. Because the length of the sentence shapes the overall number of people in prison-those serving longer sentences contribute more to the overall incarcerated population than those who serve shorter sentences, the racial gap in incarceration rates cannot be explained entirely by the rate of committing crime. Part of the incarceration rate is driven by differences in sentencing that keep certain people in prison for longer periods of time than others.

Kindle Locations 2723-2733

Along with differences in traffic stops and arrest, there is also substantial evidence to support the argument that African Americans receive stiffer sentences than their white counterparts who commit the same crime. For example, among people convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African Americans to be sent to prison. Specifically, in his testimony to the US Sentencing Commission on Racial Disparity in 2012, Marc Mauer reported on his research on sentencing demonstrating that in state courts 33 percent of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence whereas 51 percent of African American defendants received prison sentences for the same drug convictions. 2 In addition , in a review of forty recent and methodologically sophisticated studies investigating the link between race and sentence severity, many of the studies, especially at the federal level, found evidence of direct discrimination against minorities that resulted in significantly more severe sentences for African Americans than their white counterparts. 3 Therefore, we conclude that part of the explanation for differential rates in incarceration is racial disparities in sentencing. More African American men are in prison than their white counterparts because when convicted of the same crime they are more likely to receive harsher prison sentences.

Kindle Locations 2758-2762

Though for a variety of reasons- including a lack of DNA evidence in most crimes- there is no way to estimate the number of wrongful convictions; some scholars who study the issue estimate that 6 percent of those in prison were wrongly convicted. To be clear , this does not mean people who were sent to prison for the wrong charge- armed robbery instead of simple robbery- this refers to people who are factually innocent; they did not commit any crime. Even if only 6 percent of the half a million African American men in prison are actually innocent, the years of life lost in prison is supremely significant to those men and to their families.

Kindle Locations 2767-2790

Across the twentieth century, Americans’ attitudes around drugs (and alcohol) have changed in terms of both drug and alcohol use as well as in terms of the use of the criminal justice system to regulate drugs and alcohol . One common misperception is that the dramatic rise in arrests, convictions, and incarceration for drug charges reflects an overall increase in the number and percent of Americans using controlled substances . In fact, research by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Information Clearinghouse, 5 which has collected data on drug use, from 1975 to the present, shows overwhelming, in every category, that drug use rose from 1975 to 1979 and then dropped off significantly in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. These declines occurred in every age group and for every period for which data were collected . For example, the percent of Americans over the age of twelve who reported using an “illicit substance ” in the last thirty days declined from 14 percent in 1975 to 7 percent in 2002. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the threefold increase in drug convictions between 1980 and 2008 are not in response to increased drug use, but rather to changes in the criminalization of substances (which occurred slowly across the entire twentieth century) and changes in the policies designed to address drug possession.

Drug Policies

The “War on Drugs” officially began in 1972 with a formal announcement by President Richard Nixon. The “War on Drugs” was significantly ramped up under the administration of President Ronald Reagan who added the position of “Drug Czar” to the President’s Executive Office. The War on Drugs did not so much criminalize substances as that had been happening across the early part of the twentieth century. What these laws did do was put into place stiffer sentencing guidelines that required (1) longer sentences, (2) mandatory minimums, (3) moving certain drug offenses from the misdemeanor category to the felony category, and (4) the institution of the “Three Strikes You’re Out” policy. Taken together, these drug laws result in:

*Longer initial sentences: Today crack cocaine defendants receive an average sentence of eleven years.
*Longer overall sentences that result from “Mandatory Minimums”: The most frequently cited example is the sentencing guidelines for possession of crack-cocaine. As part of the War on Drugs, a conviction of possessing five grams of crack now mandates a five-year minimum sentence.
*Felonizing drug offenses: Small possession convictions, particularly of crack cocaine, were recategorized from misdemeanors to felonies in the 1986 Drug Abuse Act.
*”Three Strikes You’re Out”: This law allows for life sentences for convicts receiving a third-felony conviction. Coupled with the recategorizing of some drug possession offenses (i.e., crack cocaine) as felonies, the result has been that many inmates serving life sentences are there for three drug possession offenses; in effect, they are serving life sentences for untreated addictions.

Kindle Locations 2791-2817

One of the most important and decisive changes to the drug policies that began implementation in the 1980s revolved around drawing distinctions between two forms of cocaine: crack (or rock) and powder. Crack is created by cooking powder cocaine with baking soda; the residual, or “rocks,” are what we commonly refer to as “crack.” It is commonly believed that crack was developed as a way to deliver a similar high in a cheaper form. Because crack is less pure than cocaine its street value is significantly lower. Many men and women we interviewed about their drug addictions talked about buying or selling a “rock” for around $ 20. As a result, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s exploded with the heavy marketing of crack in low-income black communities, much as “meth” is today in rural white communities. By the early 1980s, around the same time that the Rockefeller Drug Laws were developed, crack had become associated with black urban ghettos and with that image of the “crackhead” being an African American man or woman. In contrast, the more expensive powder cocaine was largely associated with the upper -class professional community as well as with Hollywood. Readers may remember that by the late 1980s it was common to see the latest victim of a cocaine binge- often a child actor like Dana Plato who appeared in the television hit show Different Strokes-in handcuffs or in a mug shot displayed on the nightly news. 6 Those studying drug policy argue that as a result of racialized differential use of crack versus cocaine, drug policies regarding crack and cocaine developed in a racialized manner as well.

Additionally, New York City has a “zero tolerance” policy with police arresting individuals with as little as 25 grams of marijuana, causing an upsurge in arrests, from fewer than 1,500 in 1980 to 50,000 today. The human cost of zero tolerance has been devastating to New York City African American families. 7

In sum, federal drug policy draws a distinction between crack and powder cocaine and sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms. This means that possession of just five grams of crack cocaine (about a thimble full) yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence. Crack cocaine is the only drug for which there is a federal mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession. In contrast, the laws around the illegal possession of narcotic prescription drugs, such as oxycontin, for example , do not vary based on the number of milligrams of the drug per tablet. Yet, this is just what the crack cocaine laws do.

The impact of these drug policies on the lives of African Americans and their families are not only severe, but they are way out of line with other postindustrial nations. Currently, in the United States, 450,000 of the more than 2 million inmates (45 percent ) in state and federal prison are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. In contrast, this is more people than the European Union, an entity with a 100 million more people than the United States, has in prison for all crimes combined. States and the federal government continue to spend about $ 10 billion a year imprisoning drug offenders, and billions more on the War on Drugs. These costs do not include the impact incarceration has on the economic and social life of the country, individual states, and communities . Because inmates incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately likely to be African American, the impact on the African American family, and community, is devastating.

Kindle Locations 2836-2839

Thus, in a poor African American community-inhabited by the abandoned- perhaps as many as 50 percent of the men will have been to prison. If 50 percent of men in a single community have been incarcerated and have felony records, then half the families in this community will face the consequences of the chronic unemployment and underemployment these men face as a result of their incarceration.

Kindle Locations 2855-2862

Pager designed an experiment in which she sent out “testers” to apply for jobs. In one case the job applicant indicated that he had a felony record and in the other he indicated that he did not have a felony record. Both African American and white men played both roles. Her study revealed that whites were more likely to be called back for an interview regardless of incarceration history. White men without a felony were, not surprisingly, the most likely to be called back of all groups. The shocking finding from her research is that whites with a felony record were more likely to be called back than African Americans without a felony record. Fewer than 5 percent of African American men with a felony record were called back (compared to 15 percent of whites with a felony record). Incarceration is problematic for anyone, but the effects are devastating on the employability of African American men and ultimately on the families they are hoping to support.

Kindle Locations 2927-2954

Incarceration depletes political capital, both of the individual and of the community from which the individual comes. This depletion of political capital is critical both symbolically and practically . The disenfranchisement of felons has symbolic power because it takes away a right, the right to vote, that is the quintessential symbol of being an American citizen. Furthermore, because of the high rates of incarceration of African Americans , disenfranchisement also takes away the power of African American communities to choose their political representation at the local, state, and national level. According to sociologists Chris Uggen and Jeff Manza, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was shaped in part by felony disenfranchisement. 9 Finally, the relocation of inmates from their home communities to prisons in other counties, in other parts of the states, changes the way that resources are allocated by the state and federal government. Though many people know that inmates are relocated for the purposes of incarceration, the way that this shapes resource allocation is less well known, but extremely important and thus worthy of discussion.

The Impact of Incarceration on the US Census

Currently, the Census, which is used every ten years to, among other things, redraw congressional districts to ensure that districts are proportional , allows rural communities with prisons to “count” inmates as citizens. In New York, like most states, prisons are in rural regions but the majority of inmates originate from urban communities, thus the relocation of inmates to rural prisons has significant outcomes for the Census and ultimately for both the counties that house the prisons and the counties from which the inmates originate. This practice allows rural counties to “grow” and thereby get more congressional representation while urban communities “dwindle” and get fewer representatives and fewer tax-based economic resources. This is despite the fact that the inmates counted as citizens of rural communities are disenfranchised and thus cannot vote. Therefore , they are in no way “citizens” of these rural communities. Again, New York State provides a useful illustration.

New York City loses 43,740 residents annually to the districts of upstate legislators where they are incarcerated in rural areas. Inmates have been moving up there for decades, but since 1982, all new state prisons in New York are built upstate . As a result of Census rules, rural upstate communities counting the prisoners as “citizens” are actually overestimating their populations beyond the 5 percent rule established by the US Supreme Court. In fact, the population of some upstate towns comprised mostly of inmates. The majority of the population of Dannemora, New York, is incarcerated in its “supermax” prison and almost half (3,000) of the town of Coxsackie’s population (7,000) is in prison.

As many as twenty-one counties in the United States have more than 21 percent of their population incarcerated as recorded by the Census. In four counties, the percentage is nearly one-third. We note that these counties are both rural and for the most part, southern; thus the poorest regions of the country are able to actualize and access government resources by decimating urban ghettos.

This process is racialized as well. For example, the majority of inmates coming from the boroughs of New York City are African Americans who live in predominately African American districts. They are relocated and counted in predominately white counties. Thus, congressional representation and federal and state resources are rerouted from predominately African American districts to predominately white districts.

Kindle Locations 2969-2974

How important was the disenfranchisement debacle in Florida in 2000? Uggen analyzed what he first identified as the demographic characteristics of the pool of wrongly disenfranchised and then examined the previous voting patterns for these groups. By extrapolating the voting records on top of the election outcome, his research demonstrates that had African Americans who were wrongly disenfranchised in Florida in the 2000 presidential election had their right to vote restored and recognized, the outcome of the election would have been clearly in favor of Vice President Gore. Thus, the consequences of felony disenfranchisement are significant and affect the lives of all Americans .

Kindle Locations 2996-3006

It is not hard to demonstrate that incarcerating young African American males, ages sixteen to thirty-five, directly affects family life. It can be underscored in a “what if” scenario: One in nine African American men between the ages of sixteen and thirty -five is behind bars. According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau we learn that 70.5 percent of African American women between the ages twenty and thirty have never married. Is this a direct correlation? Probably. If men and women marry mostly members from their own race group, something is going on here.

Stanford University professor Ralph Richard Banks, in his book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, sheds light on the reasons why African American women are the most unmarried group of people in the United States. The answer is not because African American men are with white women- as spouses or boyfriends- as some wrongly believe. It is, to be sure, what Harvard sociologist William J. Wilson means when he argues that the male marriageable pool is depleted. Women of all races, including African American women, don’t marry men who are jobless and they sure can’t marry them if they are in jail or prison or dead. 11 Thus, the over-incarceration of African American men contributes to many of the issues plaguing the African American family that we have explored elsewhere in the book, including low marriage rates for African American women, high rates of single-parenting, and poverty.

* * * *

The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander
pp. 181-182

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions-victims, perpetrators, and bystanders-know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know- and don’t know- that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.

The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families

This further verifies a point I made in an earlier post, Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance. I took a quote from a work I was reading, where someone stated that, “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.” I discussed a passage from another book that showed that black parents have larger social networks of support than do white parents.

On top of that, it appears that black fathers are more dedicated to their children in many ways, despite the social disruption of severe poverty and mass incarceration. The idea of a weak family or a broken family is typically a judgment made by those who lack both knowledge and self-awareness. They are judging others who they know little about and doing so through a very narrow lense that blinds them to their own problems and failures. They can neither see the strength in others nor the weaknesses in themselves.

There is nothing surprising about the self-serving bias, but it is nonetheless important to give clear examples of it. We all easily fall prey to it.

* * *

The Myth of the Absent Black Father
by Tara Culp-Ressler
ThinkProgress,  1/16/4

Considering the fact that “black fatherhood” is a phrase that is almost alwaysaccompanied by the word “crisis” in U.S. society, it’s understandable that the CDC’s results seem innovative. But in reality, the new data builds upon years of research that’s concluded that hands-on parenting is similar among dads of all races. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to bust this racially-biased myth.

The Pew Research Center, which has tracked this data for years, consistently finds no big differences between white and black fathers. Gretchen Livingston, one of the senior researchers studying family life at Pew, wasn’t at all surprised by the new CDC data. “Blacks look a lot like everyone else,” she pointed out.

Although black fathers are more likely to live separately from their children — the statistic that’s usually trotted out to prove the parenting “crisis” — many of them remain just as involved in their kids’ lives. Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.

And there’s compelling evidence that number of black dads living apart from their kids stems from structural systems of inequality and poverty, not the unfounded assumption that African-American men somehow place less value on parenting. Equal numbers of black dads and white dads tend to agree that it’s important to be a father who provides emotional support, discipline, and moral guidance. There’s one area of divergence in the way the two groups approach their parental responsibilities: Black dads are even more likely to think it’s important to financially provide for their children.

* * *

Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”
Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility

Substance Control is Social Control

Substance control is social control. And social control always targets minorities first. The minorities targeted sometimes change. The methods remain the same.

Many Americans say, “But I’m not a minority”. What short memories we have. Those minorities of the recent past, just a few generations ago, were the grandparents and great-grandparents of most Americans today. They were ethnic Americans, what the likes of the KKK disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans”. They were German-Americans and Irish-Americans and many other ethnic ancestries as well.

Besides, it never is just about minorities. That is simply where it begins. The tactics of oppression used against minorities, in time, are used against the entire population. Social control is about controlling all of society, not just keeping those minorities in line. Other people’s problems are our problems, that is what history demonstrates, and yet we never learn from history.

Many Americans in the past supported Prohibition because it was sold as targeting those other people, the ethnic Americans, immigrants, and Catholics. In the generations following, the War On Drugs was sold as targeting blacks and Hispanics (at an earlier time, Chinese were targeted with the early prohibitions on opiates; also, interestingly, the Scots-Irish in places like Appalachia who in the past were targeted by the Whiskey Tax and Prohibition also now are targeted by the War On Drugs, as Appalachia has become a major center for the growing of marijuana and the production of meth). It is true that these were the primary targets, but in the end all citizens became targets. It is the same as with the Cold War and the War On Terror. When the government gains that much power, it never ends with the original justification. This is how police states are always formed.

Ignoring that, everyone knows Prohibition was a failure. It wasn’t a secret. It was one of the worst public policies in all of American history. Yet the War On Drugs was started several decades later, as if this time substance control would be different. Actually, it was an extension of the same substance control policies for the earliest drug prohibition began in 1914, five years before alcohol prohibition began. As the minorities targeted change, so do the substances prohibited. Nonetheless, the fundamental pattern is the same, repeating the same tactics and problems, and in the end failing the same basic way.

Repeal always happens when it is found too many white people, especially middle class white people, are getting harmed by the policies intended to only harm the minorities and ethnics. When these policies are formulated, those in power try to protect those of their perceived group, their demographic, their class, race, and ethnicity. During Prohibition, for example, the ban wasn’t on consuming alcohol in one’s home but rather the making and purchasing of alcohol. An important distinction. The wealthy had or built large cellars prior to Prohibition and filled them with alcohol. All alcohol bought before Prohibition began was legal to drink in one’s home. Besides, it would have been near impossible to prove when some rich guy bought the alcohol in his cellar and certainly he was given the benefit (i.e., the privilege) of the doubt. Rich white people weren’t the target.

Anyway, few revenuers would have been stupid enough to target the politically well connected. If they did attempt that, their careers would have been short. The same is true now with the War On Drugs. The police target poor minority communities, even though the wealthy do plenty of illegal drugs and even though whites use and carry drugs more than blacks (not to mention more likely to carry illegal guns). There wasn’t much attention given to the police confiscation of property in relation to drug crimes, until they attempted this on some wealthy and well connected people.

There is another interesting angle. I’m not an anti-tax libertarian or anarchist. Still, I can’t help but notice that there is a connection between tax laws and social control. Taxation isn’t just about procuring the funding for government and its activities. This also relates to why there are so many tax lawyers and tax loopholes that help the rich. Almost any category of law mostly targets those least able to avoid and defend against government oppression. Social control is the greatest tool of the privileged and wealthy, a tool that they use mostly against the most undreprivileged and disenfranchised (and, in the case of jury duty, targeting of underprivileged minorities just disenfranchises them further which is the entire point).

When the government couldn’t get bootleggers on their bootlegging, they implemented tax evasion laws. That is reminiscent of why the government went after the Whiskey bootleggers after the American Revolution. And it comes back to the War On Drugs, when tax evasion charges are often added on top of charges of possessing and dealing drugs. Of course, these tax evasion laws in their use toward substance control have disproportionately impacted minorities, yet more social control for non-WASP Americans.

That is also one of the weaknesses of substance control. Once the government makes the tax evasion argument, the public might start wondering why we don’t legalize the substance and just tax it (even many local government officials start asking that as well, when their tax revenue is negatively impacted). Economic hard times brings home this realization in the minds of Americans. Government oppression often becomes less tolerable when the general public is also experiencing economic oppressiveness.

On a positive note, I was considering some past thoughts I’ve had on minority communities. The focus of mainstream media, a majority white perspective (and a professional upper class perspective at that), reports on such issues with particular frames and interpretations. Even mainstream academia often fails on this account. There is a social capital that exists in the most poor minority communities that people not living there can’t see or even comprehend. It is entirely outside of their sense of reality.

I have two examples in mind that I’ve recently made note of: family structure and socioeconomic class, often portrayed in terms of “broken families” and “welfare queens”. On the issue of marriage and family, here is some commentary I made in my post Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance:

Blacks and women, most especially black women, are among the poorest people in America and in the world. Being poor, in some ways, makes them more likely to act in ways that are considered caring and humane. To be on the bottom of society, an individual is more dependent on and interdependent with others.

This could explain why middle and upper class people, both black and white, don’t understand the family structures and support systems of the poor. All they see are marriages under stressful conditions, calling the families weak or broken, but they don’t see the strength of communities surviving under almost impossible conditions.. The ignorance of this judgment from privilege hit home for me when I read the following passage from Stephen Steinberg’s “Poor Culture”:

“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.””

Those rich in wealth are poor in so many other ways. And those poor in wealth are rich in so many ways. It depends on what you value. People can’t value what they don’t see and understand.

And on the issue of poverty and unemployment, I explained an insight I had in my post Working Hard, But For What?:

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

There is a strength that comes from adversity. This was demonstrated by ethnic immigrants in the past, such as the close-knit bootlegging community of German-Americans in Templeton, Iowa. People who have had histories of disadvantage and/or oppression sometimes learn amazing skills of social adaptation and survival. They develop forms of social capital that those more privileged lack. If the economy really tanked or our society fell into disorder, the present American underclass would handle the challenges a lot better than the more well off whites would.

This directly relates to why the American Dream has always had life breathed into it primarily by immigrants. They actually believe in the ideals of our country, whereas most native-born Americans are too cynical to take it seriously. When the Templetonians illegally sold alcohol or now when the poor black guy illegally sells weed, they are working harder than most upper class white people. Those upper class white people have no fucking idea what hard work really means. It means doing whatever it takes to make a living, to pay the bills, to support one’s family. Sometimes that means working in the black market (not just selling drugs, but also taking cash for doing yard work or car repair), and at other times it means working two or three legal jobs (when such jobs are available).

Social control ultimately fails because it makes those at the top lazy and weak, while forcing those on the bottom to become ever more innovative and persevering. Some people become so dependent on racial and class privilege that it becomes both a personal weakness and a moral hazard. They see their position in society as a strength when in actuality it is their Achille’s Heel. If we are to look for positive change in our society, we need to look further down from the top.

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

“Europeans immigrated to British North America to gain religious, economic , and political independence during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and they built their freedom on the labor of slaves and on the land of Indians whose independence they stole. In London, meanwhile, kings and queens, imperial ministries, and members of Parliament believed that the colonists harbored treasonous ambitions for independence from the very founding of the colonies, and they described them pejoratively as “independent,” by which they meant chronically rebellious.”
~Thomas P. Slaughter, Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, Kindle Locations 72-75

Independence, that is the central theme of American society, according to Slaughter. I tend to agree. As he explains, independence is a theme not simply because it is a cherished value, but also because it has been a regularly betrayed value. It is the frame by which we understand and judge our society, including our failures.

Unlike most other societies, liberty is our ideological watchword. It is a ambiguous term, no doubt; but it obviously means something very different than, for example, fairness. David Hackett Fischer associates this difference, in Fairness and Freedom, with the era of the founding of the United States. Freedom and liberty was in the air and it left a permanent imprint.

This wasn’t just about the English colonists declaring their independence from England. Early on, “as the colonies ’ domestic economies and population grew, as they geographically expanded and became ethnically heterogeneous , the colonists developed identities independent of the one that tethered them to the British Empire” (Independence, Kindle Locations 83-84). It was probably a two-way response to changing demographics, as I’ve speculated. America has always been ethnically diverse. This was noted centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Paine, about which I wrote:

Most interesting to me is his focus on the diversity of the colonies. What did it mean to speak of attachment to England as a mother country when colonies like New Netherlands weren’t originally English (with laws and a population that remained largely Dutch) and when colonies like Pennsylvania and New Jersey consisted only of a minority of Englishmen. This kind of thinking seems radical to many conservatives today as it did to conservatives back then. The only difference is that the conservatives back then were British Tories.

What ever returns to my thinking is how often the arguments against Britain would now apply to our federal government. The argument against both, respectively by the Revolutionaries and the Anti-Federalists, was an argument for freedom, for democratic self-governance. The American Revolution wasn’t fought for patriotic conformity and ethnocentric nationalism, for authoritarian subservience and centralized statism; but the complete opposite. The Revolution never ended and we continue to fight for those Revolutionary ideals.

It is hard to believe that the British aristocracy back in England didn’t take note of this obvious fact about the colonial population. This probably would have been alarming to their English identity, for they had not yet come to terms with what being an empire entailed. Their politics were firmly grounded in being English and the same was true for most of the ruling elites in the colonies, as I’ve explained in another post:

One of the conflicts colonists had with the British government was over the rights of Englishmen. I wonder if the reason the British government was so uncertain about the colonies was the fact that there were so many colonists who weren’t Englishmen. I could understand as the ethnocentric ruling elite of an empire that they were wary of equally offering the rights of Englishmen to people who weren’t Englishmen. Those are the kinds of problems that come from empire-building. Nonetheless, the ruling elite in the colonies were also mostly Englishmen. So, they took quite seriously their supposed rights as Englishmen and took offense at their being denied.

American colonists weren’t just seeking political independence, but cultural and religious independence as well. Many of these early Americans were less concerned about assimilation than we are, for assimilation was at that time identified with the British Empire and its attendant oppression. Most colonists didn’t have the understanding of toleration for all, but that idea had taken root early on with the likes of Thomas MortonRoger Williams, and William Penn.

Immigrants such as the Irish, German, and French understood the need for freedom from oppression to a greater degree than most English immigrants. The violence and persecution they were escaping was at times genocidal. Their choice to immigrate was in the context that, if they had remained in their homelands, they might have been mass murdered or forced to assimilate. They escaped for the very reason they valued their independence and understood all too well what it meant to lose that independence.

These non-English typically didn’t find independence in the urban coastal communities that tended to be majority English in population or else majority English in ruling elite. What they found was xenophobia and new forms of oppression. So, many of them went West, which at the time meant the frontier territory of Pennsylvania and Virgiania. For example, “The 1790 federal census” for Virginia, “provides some information on the size and ethnic background of the region’s populace. About 37 percent were of English origin or descent, 7 percent had Welsh names, 17 percent were Scottish, 19 percent Irish, and 12 percent were German. The ethnic heritage of the remaining 8 percent cannot be determined. The various immigrant groups were not evenly distributed among the western counties. Germans, for example, were the largest single nationality to settle in Bedford County. Non-English settlers predominated in all the western counties, but most strongly in Westmoreland and Bedford. Those of English origin or ancestry comprised 47 percent of Fayette and 43 percent in Allegheny” (Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion, Kindle Locations 1340-1344).

Independence for European-Americans was culturally linked to alcohol, the freedom to make it and the freedom to drink it. It was as much a part of their ethnic identity as was the religious practices they brought with them. Germans, French, and the Alsace-Lorraine border people had traditions of beer and wine, in particular. This link existed just as strongly for the non-English British people. Whiskey originated with the Scottish and Irish and later was popularized in America by way of the Scots-Irish. Other ethnic groups such as the Dutch also favored making whiskey.

Their reasons for heading to the frontier even included their love of alcohol. In the 1700s, this mostly meant the Scots-Irish. In her article When Whiskey Was the King of Drink, Mary Miley Theobald explains that,

About a quarter of a million Scotch-Irish came to the American colonies in the fifty years before independence, making them the largest immigrant group of that century. They brought with them a fiercely independent spirit, abhorrence for government regulation, and an affinity for whiskey.

Interestingly, it was the British government that unintentionally helped make Whiskey so popular beyond the non-English British settlers. “The Revolution,” Theobold writes, “meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America. When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.”

The independence of American alcohol and the protest against taxation has always gone hand in hand. This continued with the new American government creating yet another tax, this time on whiskey. Small producers were taxed at a higher rate than larger producers, at a time when economic inequality was growing and the power of the wealthy was growing. The small producers were so poor that they barely had enough money to live on, much less pay taxes on the whiskey they were producing to make a living. The response was the same as when the British tried the same tactic. This led to the Whiskey Rebellion (similar to Fries’s Rebellion, it involved many ethnic Americans). The wide protest movement was put down, but resistance continued for it was difficult to enforce. The government was forced to repeal it.

One of the effects of the Whiskey Rebellion was to push many ethnic Americans further West. Kathy Warnes points out (George Washington’s Whiskey Legacy from the Whiskey Rebellion to NASCAR) that, “After the Whiskey Rebellion, many of the rebellious Dutch and Scots-Irish farmer and distillers moved farther west to escape the tax collectors. Many found the right kind of water for whiskey distilling in Southern Indiana and Kentucky.”

During the Civil War, a tax on whiskey was put back in place. Like with the British and with the early US government, taxation on luxury goods such as alcohol was used to pay for the war. This caused a decrease in whiskey consumption, although it remained popular in the South. In its place, beer became the new alcoholic drink of choice for most Americans. With new waves of immigrants, especially Germans, beer consumption really took off around 1900. This coincided with a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. The KKK in the North was mostly concerned with the menace of immigrants and Catholics. Because of this, the Klan was a big proponent of Prohibition, for the same reasons marijuana was made illegal because of its association with African-Americans and Jazz.

It wasn’t just groups like the KKK, though. The KKK at that time was fully mainstream and fully in line with mainstream opinion. Even though most Americans had non-English ancestry, those in positions of power tended to be largely of English descent or if they weren’t they wouldn’t admit it publicly. Being a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant became the very ideal of a true American, according to those with the power to make such declarations (Bryce T. Bauer, Gentlemen Bootleggers, Kindle Locations 550-563).

Like many celebrities across America, preacher Billy Sunday took up the charge against Germany when the First World War erupted— but he did it, as he did all things, with more vim and vitriol than anyone else. He began promoting Liberty Bonds at the pulpit— demanding that his congregants either purchase them or stay away from his tabernacle. And he decided that if America was God’s chosen country— and to Sunday, America was God’s chosen country— then Germany must be the domain of the devil. The Kaiser and the Huns became Satan incarnate, and he spared them no consideration , even going so far as to state, in a prayer before the United States House of Representatives, “Thou knowest, O Lord, that we are in a life-and-death struggle with one of the most infamous, vile, greedy, avaricious, bloodthirsty, sensual, and vicious nations that has ever disgraced the pages of history. We pray Thee will beat back that great pack of hungry, wolfish Huns, whose fangs drip with blood and gore.”

It’s surprising he didn’t add alcohol to the list. For years Sunday had also been linking alcohol with anti-Americanism. In his Famous Booze Sermon, he declared that he was drawing his sword “in defense of native land,” and that he held alcohol responsible for “every plot that was ever hatched against our flag and every anarchist plot against the government and law.” But now temperance leaders throughout the country were using anti-German hysteria to take down booze as well. And they were assisted by the indelible connection in popular minds (as well as in reality) between Germans and the liquor trade.

“We have German enemies in this country too,” one dry Wisconsin politician stated in early 1918. “And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.”

The real purpose of Prohibition, as with the anti-immigrant movement overall, was to destroy the independence of ethnic Americans, to eliminate their culture (language, religion, traditions, customs, etc), and to force them to assimilate. This is why public education and child labor laws were implemented in the same era as Prohibition. All of these were intended to target the non-English and to finally end the independent ethnic communities that had existed in America since before the Revolution. People forget or never learn the fact that the ideal of the Melting Pot is modern and hadn’t previously been so dominant in American society.

It is unsurprising that those who fought back the hardest during Prohibition were the non-English. This was true of the Irish mafia in the Northern big cities, the Scots-Irish that had been illegally making moonshine for centuries, and the Germans across the Midwest. Not all of these were gangsters. Most were just people trying to make ends meet during one of the hardest of economic times.

There was a farm crisis at the time. Small family farmers weren’t able to make enough money from crops. The only way they could avoid losing their farmland was by finding new sources of income. There weren’t many opportunities, besides bootlegging.

This is my family story as well. My mother’s family were ethnic immigrants (mostly German ancestry) who went west to Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Some of the earliest work they did was distilling. During Prohibition, they returned to this family tradition and skill by trying their  hand at the bootlegging business when no other work was available. This included the running moonshine across state lines.

Farming was hard work and it was far from dependable. The Populist Movement was largely built on the struggles of farmers. In the end, many rural people were forced to head to urban areas. Ethnic Americans, in particular, became concentrated in the big cities (and African-Americans as well). My mother’s family likewise headed toward the industrial North. This is how anti-immigrant sentiments became associated with anti-urban sentiments (and why to this day the rhetoric about inner cities is so powerful in the American psyche). There was a movement getting Americans back to nature and making men of boys by promoting hunting and fishing, which is why the Boy Scouts formed and the federal park system promoted. Because so many immigrants were Catholic, this is how cities became associated with Catholicism and so did labor unions, high rates of both existing in the same regions of the industrial Midwest.

Even so, pockets of ethnic Americans remained in rural areas. An example of this is Templeton, Iowa. You might know of it for its famed Templeton Rye, made famous of course during Prohibition. It was a unique place right from the beginning. As Bryce notes (Kindle Locations 146-148),

Templeton was founded in a township known as Eden, in southern Carroll County , which was named after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence . In their own ways both names, Eden and Carroll, were apt, providential.

It was no accident that it was named after a Catholic of such distinction. Catholic churches are found all across rural Iowa. The difference was that these were a very specific ethnic group concentrated in one place. “Templeton wasn’t united just by its religion, as the author explains (Kindle Locations 168-171) for, “It attracted a specific kind of Catholic: immigrants from Germany, especially the western and southern provinces of Bavaria and Westphalia, who sought the opportunity of cheap land. Only a few places in the country could claim a higher percentage of residents of German heritage than could Carroll County and, specifically, Templeton.”

This town had one of the highest numbers of Germans per capita in the country, and they were almost entirely Catholics from the same region of Germany. They had a lot of common culture and a lot of what would be called social capital. These people weren’t just pioneer individualists. No, like other Germans, they believed in taking care of their own. They were a tight-knit community and they were determined to stick together during hard times.

They would be tested during Prohibition, as this town became one of the most famous bootlegging communities in the country. They weren’t big city gangsters. They were just Germans who liked to drink (Kindle Locations 179-182):

And as the paper also indicated, the German settlers brought with them their traditions, such as a fondness for beer in celebrating family and community. It was just one of many customs associated with people who attached with a hyphen their old identity to their new American one. The German-Americans were hardly alone in their fondness for booze. They’d arrived in a country that already had, by the late-nineteenth century, a well-developed and, at times, fraught relationship to alcohol.

The law came down hard on this town. The only snitch in the community was, of course, a non-German. Otherwise, no one would turn on anyone else. The last safeguard of democracy is a jury of one’s peers. In this county, no jury would convict any of its citizens of bootlegging. Gangsters like Al Capone had plenty people turn on them, but Templetonians were a different breed. They practically flaunted their bootlegging and they couldn’t be touched, within their county. Prohibition was hard to enforce, especially in the big cities, but Templeton was unusual for a dry state like Iowa.

I take their example as an inspiration. “We must, indeed, all hang together or,” as Benjamin Franklin warned, “most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” A jury of peers is a precious thing that we should defend at all costs.

This lesson is more important than ever during this era of the drug wars that target otherwise defenseless poor minority communities. If minorities don’t create close-knit communities that take care of their own, no one else can be depended upon to do it for them. Justice is never given easily by those who benefit from injustice. Indpendence has always required interdependence.

The most powerful weapon against oppression is community. This is attested to by the separate fates of a Templetonian like Joe Irlbeck and big city mobster like Al Capone. “Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago” (Kindle Locations 7-9). What ruled Templeton was most definitely not violence. Instead, it was a culture of trust. That is a weapon more powerful than all of Al Capone’s hired guns.

What the mob forgot was that the Mafia began as a civic organization, the Black Hand. It was at times violent, as was the KKK, but most of what these civic organizations did was community work. They defended their communities and cultures, their traditions and customs. The Germans had their Bund, which served a similar purpose. Hispanics also have a history of forming tight-knit communities that will defend themselves.

African-Americans, however, have a tougher road to travel. Their unique African ethnic culture, language, and religion was annihalated by slavery. Even Native Americans fared better on this account. The social capital of African-Americans was intentionally destroyed. It has been an uphill battle for them to rebuild it, against all odds. They don’t even have the privilege of a jury of their peers, for the police targeting of blacks and the racial bias in the courts has disenfranchized so many of them from the opportunity of jury service. Many blacks find themselves before a jury of white people and, unlike the Templetonians, they have little hope of being saved from the jaws of injustice.

The War on Drugs will fail as Prohibition failed and as the Whiskey Tax failed. But many lives will be destroyed in the meanwhile. This War on Drugs is in reality a war on specific groups of people. The only way to fight back is to fight for independence as have so many generations before. Independence is what this country is about and that is what the oppressed today must demand. And they should accept nothing short of that demand. It is a war that can only be won by fighting together, communities across the country making their stand together.

Americans Left Behind: IQ, Education, Poverty, Race, & Ethnicity

Race realists like to use the example of No Child Left Behind.

They see it as proof that next to nothing can be done about the social problems in this country. In their minds, it is some combination of inferior genetics, inferior culture, inferior parenting, etc; just generally inferior people, individually and collectively.

Hence, we shouldn’t waste money and effort on people who don’t deserve it or, to the extent we do offer some assistance, we should at least not expect much from anything we do. Instead, we should expect failure and so there is no reason to try avoid failure, since it is inevitable, right?

My main focus here is No Child Left Behind, but I want to keep it within the larger context. Also, I want to make clear that this isn’t just a ‘black’ issue about ‘black’ problems. No, these are collective problems involving a society-wide failure.

In this light, I’ll begin with a passage from the perspective of a Scots-Irish white guy from Appalachia, Joe Bageant. He writes about poor whites and the oft-proclaimed ethic of taking personal responsibility and working harder. He only has one mention of No Left Behind, but the way he frames it all is a doozy!

After that passage, there several more passages from other books where No Child Left Behind, along with education in general, is discussed more fully.

* * * *

Meanwhile, the conservative Republicans ballyhoo “personal responsibility” to working-class employees like the guys and gals here at Royal Lunch. Most working people around here believe in the buzz phrase “personal responsibility.” Their daddies and mamas taught them to accept responsibility for their actions. They assume responsibility for their lives and don’t want a handout from the government. They see accepting public help as a sign of failure and moral weakness. Consequently, they don’t like social spending to give people a lift. But self-reliant as they are, what real chance do they have living on wages that do not allow them to accumulate savings? What chance do they have living from paycheck to paycheck, praying there will be no layoffs at J. C. Penney or Toll Brothers Homes or Home Depot?

According to Republican economic mythology, human beings are economic competitors; the marketplace is the new Olympia where “economic man” cavorts; the almighty market is rational and rewards efficiency, thrift, and hard work; and free competition “rationally” selects the more worthy competitor, and thus the wealthy are deserving of their elite status. According to the conservative canon, if you haven’t succeeded, it can only be because of your inferiority. Nearly everybody at Royal Lunch feels socially inferior. But in any case, they feel they can at least be self-reliant. They can accept personal responsibility.

We first started hearing about the average Joe needing to take complete responsibility for his condition in life, with no help from the government, during the seventies, when Cold War conservatives Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz dubbed themselves “neoconservatives.” In doing so, they gave a name to an ultrarightist political strain that passionately hated taxes and welfare of any kind, and that favored a national defense strong enough to dominate any part of the world—or the whole world—at any given time. Neoconservatives hated the counterculture and saw it as the beginning of everything that was wrong with America. And they saw plenty of evidence of a shift toward a welfare state, most notably Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which for the first time funded school districts, college loans, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and cut poverty in half. America was close to being a Communist welfare state, and people had better start taking some personal responsibility, they thundered. We find neoconservatives today all but owning the Republican Party and attempting to axe Social Security and slash unemployment insurance in the name of “personal responsibility.”

But what sort of personal responsibility is possible in the neocon environment? A wage earner’s only asset is his willingness to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, the price of which he does not determine. So where does he get the wherewithal to improve his circumstances? He gets that wherewithal from the wages he earns. But in the new neocon environment, that wage does not support savings. It does not support higher education. It only allows the wage earner to survive from paycheck to paycheck, hoping he doesn’t lose his job and feeling like a loser down inside. Another beer, please.

Admittedly, a real blue-collar middle class still exists in some places, just as unions still exist. But both are on the ropes like some old pug boxer taking the facial cuts and popping eye capillaries with no referee to come in and stop the carnage. The American bootstrap myth is merely another strap that makes the working poor privately conclude that they must in some way be inferior, given that they cannot seem to apply that myth to their own lives. Hell, Pootie, if immigrants can put together successful businesses of their own, why can’t you keep up with your truck payments? Right now, even by the government’s spruced-up numbers, one-third of working Americans make less than $9 an hour. A decade from now, five of the ten fastest-growing jobs will be menial, dead-end jokes on the next generation—mainly retail clerks, cashiers, and janitors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some of us were born sons of a toiling god, with the full understanding that life was never meant to be easy and that it comes with more than enough opportunities for personal responsibility. But at least we could always believe that our kids had a chance for a better life. I certainly achieved a better life than my parents. These days, it’s harder to believe that. I am quite certain that if I were trying to get into college today with the mediocre grades I made back then, and no family college fund or family home to second-mortgage, I would not make it as far as I have. Years ago, there were college scholarships, loans, and programs out the yin-yang, and a high school education more or less prepared a person for college.

That is not to say the class divide was not a steep and ugly ditch back then. It was. But it is an absolute canyon now, and growing deeper. All you have to do is look back at the unfunded No Child Left Behind program or the scam of “teacher-based accountability.” When it became obvious that Johnny is now so dumb that he can’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the bottom—assuming he can even read the instructions—the elite regime in power was quick to get up a posse to lynch the school marm, then resume the theft of education funds on behalf of the rich. Conservative leaders understand quite well that education has a liberalizing effect on a society. Presently they are devising methods to smuggle resources to those American madrassas, the Christian fundamentalist schools, a sure way to make the masses even more stupid if ever there was one.

Is it any wonder the Gallup Poll tells us that 48 percent of Americans believe that God spit on his beefy paws and made the universe in seven days? Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution. It is no accident that number corresponds roughly to the percentage of Americans with college degrees. So intelligent liberals are advised to save their depression and the good booze for later, when things get worse.

Until those with power and access decide that it’s beneficial to truly educate people, and make it possible to get an education without going into crushing debt, then the mutt people here in the heartland will keep on electing dangerous dimwits in cowboy boots. And that means educating everybody, not just the small-town valedictorian or the science nerds who are cherry-picked out of the schools in places like Winchester or more rural areas. These people end up in New York or Houston or Boston—places where they can buy boutique coffees or go to the art cinema—holding down jobs in broadcasting or research or economics.

But what about the rest of the class? What about this latest generation of kids left to suffer the same multigenerational cycle of anti-intellectualism and passivity? Right now there are millions who will be lucky if they are accepted by the military, and if they are extra lucky they will qualify for a vocational school before they are absorbed forever by America’s passive, ignorant labor pool culture. In Winchester, for example, even though we are getting an influx of Washington, D.C., suburbanites who feel differently, most native hometown kids are not concerned with upward mobility at all. They could give a rip about school, and they care even less about what educated upscale people think of them.

This is a terrible and silent crisis. Working-class passivity, antipathy to intellect, and belligerence toward the outside world start early. They begin at home and continue in grade school. Yet even if the entire working class in America suddenly got religion and wanted to send every child to college, and if all children made perfect grades and wanted to broaden their worlds, it would be financially impossible under the present system. They have no savings and nothing to borrow against. Many people reading this financed their children’s educations with second mortgages. These days, working-class people who own homes have no equity left due to refinancing to pay credit card debt or medical bills. And the working poor have even less of a chance. They rent until they die, with no hope of passing along to their children any accumulated wealth in the form of equity in a home. So over the generations they stay stuck or lose ground. And they stay dumb and drink beer at Royal Lunch and vote Republican because no real liberal voice, the kind that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives. Hell, it doesn’t even enter liberals’ lives these days. But it can. I have on many occasions at this very tavern found an agreeing ear to all of the very arguments made above.

One of the few good things about growing older is that one can remember what appears to have been purposefully erased from the national memory. Fifty years ago, men and women of goodwill agreed that every citizen had the right to health care and to a free and credible education. Manifestation of one’s fullest potential was considered a national goal, even by Republicans. Ike wanted national health insurance and so did Nixon. Now both are labeled as unworkable ideas. (Maybe even downright com’nist, Pootie.)

Bageant, Joe (2008-06-24). Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (Kindle Locations 353-416). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

“Compensatory education has been tried, and it apparently has failed.”
—Arthur Jensen (1969)

“There is no evidence that school reform can substantially reduce the extent of cognitive inequality as measured by ability] tests.”
—Christopher Jencks and others (1972)

“There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend.”
—Charles Murray (2007)

IN 2002 THE U.S. CONGRESS passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated that American schools eliminate the gap between the social classes and between minority groups and whites by 2014. I don’t know if most members of Congress actually believed that such accomplishments are possible. But if so, they are deeply ignorant of the forces that operate to produce high academic achievement.

Intellectual capital is the result of stimulation and support for exploration and achievement in the home, the neighborhood, and the schools. To think that this can be changed by mandate— operating only through the schools —is preposterous. Moreover , the schools attended by minorities and the poor are wanting in ways that cannot be drastically improved overnight. The problems include quality of teachers willing to work in these less rewarding schools, the caliber of school management, the disruptiveness produced by high levels of student turnover, and the nature of the schools’ clientele, whose homes and neighborhoods make it unlikely that they will be encouraged toward high academic achievement.

It should be clear from the previous chapter that there is no theoretical limit on the degree to which the achievement gap between blacks and whites can ultimately be closed. Though there is far less evidence on the native intellectual ability of the extremely broad and diverse group of cultures labeled as “Hispanic,” I see no reason why the gap cannot ultimately be bridged there as well.

On the other hand, it should be clear that unlike the black/ white and Hispanic/ white gaps in achievement and IQ, the social-class gap is never going to be closed. This is true, if for no other reason, because the well-off are always going to find ways to get a better education for their children and are always going to find ways to be ahead in terms of parenting skills and are always going to be able to provide superior neighborhood environments. In addition, there is always going to be at least some difference in the gene pools of the lower class and the middle class. Recall from Chapter 1 that within a given family the sibling with a substantially higher IQ achieves much higher socioeconomic status (SES) than less favored brothers and sisters. And since the higher IQ is attained in part by virtue of a better luck of the draw from the gene pool of the parents, higher SES is always going to be in part a result of better genes for intelligence. So higher-SES people are going to pass along better prospects for intelligence to their offspring by virtue of having, on average, better genes and by offering better environmental advantages to their offspring.

But these considerations should not be cause for pessimism about the degree to which the intellectual lot of lower-SES people can be improved. Recall from Chapter 2 (on heredity) that the effect of an upper-middle class upbringing on children born to lower-SES parents is to raise the IQ by 12 to 18 points. The theoretical ceiling for improvement of lower-SES intellectual capital is very high indeed.

But how much improvement can we realistically hope to produce for lower-SES individuals and for currently disadvantaged minorities?

Nisbett, Richard E. (2009-01-08). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Kindle Locations 1840-1869). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Since school makes children smarter, there is no doubt that better schools can make them smarter still. Although vouchers, charter schools, whole-school interventions, and teacher certification or higher academic degrees do not reliably improve education, other factors do— and some matter a great deal. Teachers differ a lot in quality, and so finding ways to improve the quality of teaching could make a great difference. If we could replace the bottom 5 percent of teachers every year with average-quality teachers, the level of children’s academic performance would increase hugely in just a few years. Use of computer-assisted forms of teaching can produce huge gains in the rate of learning, and some types of cooperative learning are highly effective. And recall the Herrnstein demonstration with an intensive program in Venezuela that radically improved the problem-solving skills of ordinary junior high school students . It also raised their IQ scores by a nontrivial amount— 5 points on a typical test of multiple problem-solving skills.

The received opinion about the relationship between social class and intelligence is that intelligence, which is largely inherited, drives social class. Smarter people have better genes so they are destined to rise in society, whereas less smart people have worse genes so they are destined to fall. It is true that intelligence is partially heritable, and more intelligent people on average will be of a higher social class in virtue of their greater inherited intelligence. But I believe that the role of genetic inheritance in determining social class is fairly small. The difference between the average IQ of the children of the lower third of the socioeconomic status (SES) distribution and the average IQ of the children of the upper third is about 10 points. We know that some of this is due to biological but not genetic factors, including exercise, breast-feeding, and exposure to alcohol or cigarette smoke, as well as hazardous chemicals and pollution. And some of it is due to the disruption in schools of lower-SES children and to the fact that peers are pulling intelligence mostly in a down direction. We also know that socialization in lower-SES homes is not optimal for developing either IQ or school readiness. Moreover, a child born into roughly the bottom sixth of the SES distribution will have an IQ 12 to 18 points higher if raised by parents from roughly the top quarter of the SES distribution. All of this does not leave much room for genes in the social-class equation. I do not doubt that genes play a role, but I would be surprised to find that the differences in inherent genetic potential of the social classes are very great. Certainly much if not most of the 10 points separating the average of the children of the lower third and the average of the children of the upper third is environmental in origin.

For the race difference in IQ, we can be confident that genes play no role at all. Most of the evidence offered for a genetic component to the race difference is indirect and readily refuted. Virtually all of the direct evidence, which is due mostly to the natural experiment resulting from the fact that American “blacks” range from being completely African to largely European in heritage, indicates no genetic difference at all with respect to IQ. And the difference between the races in both IQ and academic achievement is being reduced at the rate of about one-third of a standard deviation per generation. The IQ of the average black is now greater than that of the average white in 1950.

The No Child Left Behind Act demands that the difference in academic achievement between the classes and between the races be erased in half a generation by the schools alone. This is absurd. It ignores the fact that class and race differences begin in early infancy and have as much to do with economic factors and neighborhood and cultural differences as with schools.

That is the bad news about gap reduction . The good news is that big improvements in IQ and academic achievement for lower-SES and minority children are possible. And we know at least the outlines of what those improvements look like. Half-measures have been tried and are not going to make a lot of difference. We need intensive early childhood education for the poor, and we need home visitation to teach parents how to encourage intellectual development. Such efforts can produce huge immediate gains in IQ and enormous long-term gains in academic achievement and occupational attainment . Highly ambitious elementary, junior high, and high school programs can also produce massive gains in academic achievement. And a variety of simple, cost-free interventions, including, most notably, simply convincing students that their intelligence is under their control to a substantial extent, can make a big difference to academic achievement.

Believing that intelligence is under your control— and having parents who demand achievement— can do wonders. At any rate that has been true for Asians and Jews. There is no reliable evidence of a genetic difference in intelligence between people of East Asian descent and people of European descent. In fact, there is little difference in intelligence between the two groups as measured by IQ tests. Some evidence indicates that East Asians start school with lower IQs than do white Americans. After a few years of school this difference seems to disappear. But the academic achievement of East Asians—especially in math and the sciences, where effort counts for a lot— is light-years beyond that of European Americans. Americans of East Asian extraction also differ little in IQ from European Americans. In any case, the academic achievement and occupational attainment of Asian Americans exceed by a great amount what they “should” be accomplishing given their IQs. The explanation for the Asian/ Western gap lies in hard work and persistence.

Jewish culture undoubtedly has similarly beneficial effects. Jewish values emphasize accomplishment in general and intellectual attainment in particular. Differences between Jews and non-Jews in intellectual accomplishment at the highest levels are very great. A genetic explanation for this is not required inasmuch as even greater differences have occurred for Arabs and Chinese versus Europeans in the Middle Ages, for differences between European countries at various points since the Middle Ages (with reversals occurring between Italy and England and with movement from savagery to sagacity in scarcely two centuries in Scotland), and for regional differences in the United States. We are left with an IQ difference of two-thirds to a standard deviation between Jews and non-Jews. At least some of this difference is surely cultural in origin.

Finally, there is much that we can do to increase the intelligence and academic achievement of ourselves and our children . Everything from the biological (exercise and avoidance of smoking and drinking for pregnant women, and breast-feeding for newborns) to the didactic (teaching categorization, following good tutoring principles) can make a difference to intelligence.

We can now shake off the yoke of hereditarianism in all of our thinking about intelligence. Believing that our intelligence is substantially under our control won’t make us smart by itself. But it’s a good start.

Nisbett, Richard E. (2009-01-08). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Kindle Locations 2967-3018). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

Although the premise of “No Child Left Behind” (the Bush administration’s signature education bill) is that racial achievement gaps should be closed completely within ten years, the legislation never came with the kind of resource supports needed to make that goal achievable. Although No Child Left Behind requires certain outcomes, it does not mandate that schools must equalize the resources available to all students in order to make those more equitable outcomes likely. Nor did the law—which has so far been continued under the Obama administration, with very little functional change in its specific policy formulations—seek to put an end to the pernicious tracking practices in our schools that all but guarantee the leaving behind of children. In fact, many states have adopted norm-referenced tests as determinants of their “annual yearly progress” (mandated by the law), failing to appreciate that norm-referenced tests by definition produce a distribution where half of all test-takers will fall below the 50-percentile mark and thus be considered below average.169 In other words, tests that mandate failure and inequity in achievement are being used under a law intended to promote success and reduce inequity! To advocate equity but maintain structures that, by definition, create inequity is the ultimate contradiction.

As a result of No Child Left Behind, schools have been under intense pressure to meet federal guidelines for test scores, so as not to be sanctioned by the Department of Education. This pressure has been especially intense for schools serving mostly students of color, causing many such schools to emphasize teaching to the test, simply to meet federal and even state standards, rather than teaching the kinds of high-level materials given to students in suburbs and private schools.170 High-stakes testing has also created incentives for schools to push lower-achieving students out, rather than keep them in the schools, attempt to educate them and suffer the possible penalty if they fail, in terms of meeting testing requirements.171 In Chicago, for instance, schools have been expelling low-achieving students even by the age of 16, under the pretense that their academic achievement or attendance records make it unlikely that they would graduate by the age of 21. Rather than resolve to educate such students—almost all of whom are students of color—the schools give up, remove the students and thus boost their test-score profile as a result, with blacks banished from the schools at three times the rate of whites or Latinos.172

In post-Katrina New Orleans, supposedly “open enrollment” charter schools—intended to inject competition into the city’s previously failing school system and lauded as having done so—have been pre-screening students to determine which of them are unlikely to pass a state required test the following year. Then the students who fail in the pre-test are pushed out, so as to protect the school’s test scores in line with state and federal mandates. Others have counseled parents of lower-achieving students, or those with inconsistent attendance, to voluntarily withdraw from charter schools or face expulsion. Once these students are removed, the charters are left with the supposedly “better” students, which allows them to meet federal and state standards by selecting their student bodies. Needless to say, virtually all students being pushed out are black.173

Also under No Child Left Behind, schools must demonstrate the elimination of performance gaps between those who have limited English proficiency (LEP) and those for whom English is their native language. Although this is an admirable goal, it cannot be met in most cases for one simple reason: namely, in most districts, once students demonstrate English proficiency, they are removed from the LEP group and their scores are no longer considered part of the LEP group averages. Thus, by definition, the only persons remaining in the LEP group will be those who are not proficient in the language of the test, and who therefore will not likely perform well on it.174

In addition to unequal instruction and regulations under No Child Left Behind that all but ensure disparate racial outcomes in schooling, there is also a substantial amount of evidence demonstrating profoundly unequal discipline meted out to students of color as compared to whites. Nationally, fourteen separate studies have found clear racial disparities in rates of suspension and expulsion from school. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than whites, even though they do not, contrary to popular belief, violate school rules disproportionately, relative to white students.175 Indeed, when it comes to some of the most serious school rule infractions, whites often lead the pack, and they certainly violate those rules at least as often as black and brown students do, from possession of drugs to drinking and smoking.176 Most of the infractions for which students of color are punished are vague, highly subjective offenses—far more given to interpretation and thus implicit bias on the part of teachers—such as “disrespect for authority,” “making excessive noise” or loitering.177

Significantly, the research suggests that unequal discipline is not due to mere class bias against lower-income students. In fact, even when comparing only blacks and whites of the same economic status, black students face disproportionate suspensions and expulsions relative to rates of misbehavior. As Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University, notes:

“Contrary to the socioeconomic hypothesis, the current investigation demonstrates that significant racial disparities in school discipline remain even after controlling for socio-economic status. In this sample, an index of socioeconomic status had virtually no effect when used as a covariate in a test of racial differences in office referrals and suspensions. Indeed, disciplinary disproportionality by socioeconomic status appears to be a somewhat less robust finding than gender or racial disparity.”178

As with so much of the evidence regarding racial inequity in the educational system, this suggests that colorblind universalism as a way to reduce racial disparities will prove inadequate. There is simply too much race-specific injury occurring to allow for post-racialism (at the level of ideology or policy) to suffice. Unfortunately, teachers often go out of their way to be colorblind— or what educational theorist Mica Pollock calls “colormute”—by failing to discuss race, or even to use basic and benign racial descriptors to describe their students. As a result, educators replicate inequities by failing to get to the bottom of their own biases or the structural impediments to equal opportunity within their schools.179

Wise, Tim (2010-06-01). Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 1544-1604). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And finally, authorize a substantial amount of money, as part of the No Child Left Behind educational reform package, to train teachers nationwide on the various ways that racism and discrimination—both explicit and implicit—can indeed leave children behind, despite the best of teacher intentions. Although No Child Left Behind is problematic in any number of ways, one of its biggest weaknesses is having a mandate for the closing of racial achievement gaps without the resources necessary to actually close them. Those resources, however, are not just material supplies—as is often believed—but also the resources of teacher preparation and an understanding of the specific dynamics that are contributing to the racial achievement gap in the first place. Unless teachers are trained, and consistently so, to recognize the social determiners of the achievement gap, even their best efforts at instruction may not help close those gaps. If the federal government is going to place mandates on local schools and school districts, it should see to it that teachers receive the kinds of preparation needed to make their efforts successful. These trainings should be developed in conjunction with educators in the nation’s teaching colleges, utilizing the best practices known to them for preparing teachers to reduce racial achievement gaps.

Wise, Tim (2010-06-01). Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 2700-2709). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

170. Paul Street, Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 78.
171. Linda Darling-Hammond, “From‘Separate but Equal’ to ‘No Child Left Behind’: The Collision of New Standards and Old Inequalities,” in Many Children Left Behind, eds. Deborah Meier and George Wood (Boston: Beacon Press, (2004), p. 4.
172. Street (2005), p. 81.
173. Sarah Goff, “When Education Ceases to Be Public: The Privatization of the New Orleans School System, Post–Hurricane Katrina,” submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master’s of Science in Urban Studies, University of New Orleans (May, 2009).
174. Darling-Hammond (2004), 10.
175. Russell J. Skiba et al., The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment (Indiana Education Policy Center, Research Report SRS1, June 2000), pp. 6, 13.
176. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Youth 2003 Online, Comprehensive Results (2004), http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/yrbss.
177. Skiba et al. (2000), p. 4.
178. Russell Skiba, Robert S. Michael, Abra Carroll Nardo and Reece L. Peterson, “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment,” The Urban Review 34:4 (December 2002), p. 333.
179. Mica Pollock, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

* * * *

Education experts are keeping an eye on the Afrikan Centered Education Collegium Campus (ACECC) in Kansas City, Missouri . The 40-acre campus, which opened in 2007, serves mostly black pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students . Teachers stress cultural pride and “expected greatness” as students strive for academic excellence. In 2007, all the schools on the campus met the Average Yearly Progress (AYP) standard mandated by the national “No Child Left Behind” Act.

The schools are the brainchild of educator Audrey Bullard, who worked as a teacher in Liberia for 18 months more than 30 years ago. In 1991, Bullard led a grassroots effort with other educators and parents to transform J.S. Chick Elementary in Kansas City into a school with an African-centered curriculum. The school has consistently scored as one of the top schools in the school district, with 48 percent of its students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) fourth -grade math test in 2005 . Comparatively, only 24 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students statewide scored as high that year. Although the approach relies heavily on parental involvement and an innovative curriculum, it offers another important component: students are taught to see themselves as contributors, leaders, potential entrepreneurs, and valuable parts of their communities.

The Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago, founded by Madhubuti and his wife Safisha, is an institution that teaches black children that they control their lives and futures. It’s a crucial factor, Madhubuti said:

“You can’t minimize the importance of cultural knowledge… you cannot build a healthy child— most certainly, he or she will not have a healthy world view—if he or she does not see himself or herself involved creatively in the development of civilization, culture, industry, science.”

In 2006, the school ranked first in composite test scores among 10 public schools in the Greater Grand Crossing area, where Shabazz is the only charter. Sixty-seven percent of the school’s students met the state’s educational standards. When teaching science, for example, Makita Kheperu, principal at Shabazz, explained how the school makes the subject relevant to a student’s environment: “In science, they examine what kinds of decisions scientists make… and they learn the scientific method by exploring culturally relevant questions like: Why is diabetes more prevalent among African Americans than the general population?”

According to Illinois State data, Shabazz and Woodlawn Community School— another African-centered Chicago school— outperformed several neighboring schools on the 2006 Illinois Standard Achievement Test, with about 68 percent of Woodland’s students meeting the state’s standards.

These schools reflect the unfinished business of educational experiments started after Emancipation with the likes of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the dreamers who sought to establish independent black schools before they were sidetracked by the promise of better education in white schools. These institutions offer templates for educational reform that can reprogram parents and students to help close the achievement gap, and open bold new pathways to unlimited possibility.

Burrell, Tom (2010-02-01). Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority (Kindle Locations 2877-2902). SmileyBooks. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

Test score gaps between minorities and majorities are real, and they measure something that matters for performance in economic and social life. However, they do not estimate all that is important.

Gaps in Soft Skills.

Most discussions of racial and ethnic achievement gaps focus on measures of scholastic ability. Indeed, many analysts measure the achievement gap exclusively by differences in scores on standardized academic tests. This emphasis reflects a broad consensus in American society about the value of achievement tests that are used to monitor the success and failure of schools and students. The No Child Left Behind Act has pushed this focus to what some have described as a mania. The program has created a culture of “teaching to the test” in schools, with consequent neglect of the subjects and by-products of schooling that are not tested.[25]

Success in life requires more than book learning or high scores on achievement tests.[26] As filmmaker Woody Allen put it, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”[27] While the cognitive skills measured by achievement tests are powerful predictors of life success, so are socio-emotional skills. Sometimes called “soft skills” or character traits, these include motivation, sociability (the ability to work with and cooperate with others), attention, self-regulation, self-esteem, and the ability to defer gratification. Good schools and functional families foster soft skills as well as cognitive skills.[28] Soft skills are as predictive, if not more predictive, of educational success, wages earned, and participation in crime or in healthy behaviors as are cognitive skills.[29] Disadvantaged children of all race groups possess lower levels of soft skills.[30]

Klarman, Michael J.; Sabbaugh, Daniel; Lee, Taeku; Young Jr., Alford A.; Massey, Douglas S.; Wilson, William Julius; Heckman, James J.; Nisbett, Richard E.; Bobo, Lawrence D. (2011-07-14). Daedalus 140:2 (Spring 2011) – Race, Inequality & Culture, Vol. 2 (Kindle Locations 1703-1717). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

25 Daniel M. Koretz, Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008); Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder, Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (New York: Economic Policy Institute and Teachers College Press, 2008).
26 Mathilde Almlund, Angela L. Duckworth, James J. Heckman, and Tim Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics,” Handbook of the Economics of Education, ed. Eric A. Hanushek, S. Machin, and L. Wößmann (Amsterdam: Elsevier, forthcoming 2011).
27 William Safire, “On Language; the Elision Fields,” The New York Times, August 13, 1989.
28 See the evidence summarized in Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, and Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics.”
29 Ibid.
30 See the evidence cited in Pedro Carneiro and James J. Heckman, “Human Capital Policy,” in Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? ed. James J. Heckman, Alan B. Krueger, and Benjamin M. Friedman (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003); Flavio Cunha, James J. Heckman, Lance J. Lochner, and Dimitriy V. Masterov, “Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation,” in Handbook of the Economics of Education, ed. Eric A. Hanushek and Frank Welch, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 2006).

 

 

 

Working Hard, But For What?

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about what Bill Cosby has said about blacks. One thing he argues for is the need for hard work. The thing that he doesn’t understand is most blacks believe in hard work as much as most whites. But being a hardworking poor minority doesn’t get you very far in this country without all the privileges of race and class.

The cook at McDonalds making minimum wage, the self-taught unlicensed car mechanic working in an alley, the people doing yardwork for cash, the prostitute, and the drug dealer are all working hard. But they are working hard in a society that is working against them when they are poor minorities.

Those are some of the hardest jobs in the world. And some of the people working them are the among the most brilliant and talented around. The guy who works his way up from a high school drop out to the head of a gang is more hard working and innovative than the average manager you’ll find in other careers. I’m often reminded of the drug dealer who was intelligent and was well informed about economics (Social Environment & Human Potential):

“In the project, Venkatesh finds men and women who easily flit back and forth between the legal and illegal economies (depending, usually, on which pays more at any given moment). Drug dealers aspire to buy small businesses, and their subordinates move between legitimate jobs and the hustle of drug dealing and prostitution. What Venkatesh is able to develop, through the view J.T. grants him, is a new way of thinking about the ghetto and ghetto crime, as the consequences that come when morality is uncoupled from the law.

“J.T. is a good tutor. He is a learned and steady bureaucrat of the drug trade, a man with some college and management experience behind him. Most of his life is spent dealing with, somewhat endearingly, the small headaches of petit bourgeois career life—managing less-than-competent subordinates, handling the objections of Taylor Homes residents, and trying to restrict police access to the project.”

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

They do this all under the hardest conditions in America. It is quite impressive what humans are capable of. Imagine what poor minorities could accomplish if the larger society supported them instead of trying to destroy their lives?

If hard work mattered in this country, black communities would be among the wealthiest. If there was a way to measure it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results showed the average black is more hardworking than the average white.

Cosby isn’t wrong in saying hardwork is generally a good thing. But it misses the entire point.

It seems to me that most Americans love to work, even in our off time when no one is paying us. If Americans have a problem, it is that we work too much and work so hard that we work ourselves into an early grave.

In a just and fair world, we would work less for more. But neoliberal capitalism tells us our only worth is our time spent in labor and our worth is measured by our pay check. That seems effed up to me. There is or should be more to life than work, especially the drudgery work most Americans have to do just to get by.

We live at a time when there are more people looking for work than there are jobs. With mechanization and computerization, those jobs aren’t coming back and even more jobs will be disappearing. The advice of working harder is cruel and ignorant, especially when directed at the most poor and disadvantaged, those least likely to be able to find a job no matter how hard they work or how much education they get.

That said, if we must speak of hard work, let’s talk about working hard to build stronger communities, to build more social capital, to build better schools, to build much needed infrastructure, to build housing for the homeless, to build more parks, to build a stronger labor movement, and to build an actually functioning democracy.

Why not use our hard work for things that matter and make the world a better place? Why not use all the hard work we are already doing in order to achieve great things in our communities and our country?