Listen now (65 min) | The Black Guys are back on track after last week’s snafu. This episode was recorded on my birthday, and what better gift could I ask for than a conversation with my friend John McWhorter? After I run down the mouth-watering birthday menu my lovely wife LaJuan planned for me (it was as delicious as it sounds), we get into a topic I know many of you have been waiting for:
Does anyone know the study John referenced in his analysis of language of middle and working class people? He said it was a classic study from the 1980s
Perhaps given John's area of expertise, he can explain the upside down state of today's language. Both anti-racist and anti-fascist are the polar opposite of what they claim to be and numerous other words are being twisted to the point of meaninglessness. But I digress.
How typical for a race hustler like Henry Rogers to blame the instrument while completely ignoring the system that failed to prepare minority youths for exams. And what of black kids who do quite well on these tests? I can agree that test performance is not an absolute indicator of future performance but it remains a necessary component of trying to judge a person's aptitude for a subject and - far more importantly - odds of being successful at a given institution.
One reason why Ward Connerly opposed the use of affirmative action in the University of California system was the huge number of minority students who dropped out before graduating. Being admitted to places like Berkeley had the perverse effect of setting them up for failure. Many of those students would have far better off within the Cal State system or even jucos rather than being thrown into an environment for which they had not been adequately prepared. A young person is far better off having graduated from a perceived "lesser" school than for failing at an elite school. And again, this calls into question the K-12 system and its ongoing, almost intentional, way of failing minority students.
Wonderful discussion. Belated wishes, Glenn!
Yes, I partly agree "the way to disprove racists who underestimate the intelligence of black wrong is for blacks to start acing tests not abolishing them'. However, we need a dual-pronged approach.
(1) It's important to understand that Black academic success is not going to happen, even with the best of intentions, in one generation, or even two. It takes time. This is a 50-year plan that starts now. We need to focus on getting the next generation of Black kids, not through college, but through elementary school with skills that will help them be successful in middle school. This should be our area of focus. When a Black kid can complete middle school successfully, the chances of his completing high school successfully are much higher, and the chances of his kid graduating college are in turn much higher. Therefore, start with Transitional Kindergarten, which Biden is promoting, have intensive intervention programs for at-risk kids with regular communications involving parent, child and teacher, have more teacher-assistants in younger classes, and of course vote for school choice!
(2) Since the above efforts will obviously take some time to pay off, they should also be supported by policies that invest in non-academic paths to success as well, such as electives in middle school teaching hospitality, fire conservation, auto-tech, graphic design, etc so the kid who is not so hot at lessons can still make a meaningful and gainful and stable career choice that engages him, so that his kid in the future may very likely have a higher chance of success at school.
As I see it, the immediate areas of need are a focus on policies for elementary school success, and second, a pathway for vocational training/apprenticeships leading to careers.
"the way to disprove racists who underestimate the intelligence of black wrong is for blacks to start acing tests". Careful there. Editing needed.
If you spend more time trying to be a gangster, and less time studying, it's likely you won't perform well on an exam.
If a white person fails an exam, does it mean the exam is racist?
Usually, it means that person didn't study hard enough. And more rarely, it might mean they are not intelligent enough to pass the exam. But assuming everyone received the same exam, and the exam is scored objectively, then of course there is nothing racist about the exam. Ibrahm Kendi is a pseudo intellectual. He's a pre-enlightenment thug.
A big thanks to Glenn and John for standing up to him.
Great discussion, but I'm kind of surprised that the two of them didn't comment on the fact that John called Kendi by his birth name of Henry Rogers. That seemed kind of.... provocative?
FYI: The name of John's Montessori friend made it into the audio version! It sounded like he wanted that cut.
Happy birthday Glenn!!!
Ha! Glenn referenced my comment, except I said "Kendi starting shit with John." This was a sanitized version.
Anyway, great episode. I did my PhD in a field that is disproportionately white and male. But in 2022, there are stars of every sex and color. They might be the minority, but they exist. If I said "Oh, I can't do math because I'm a woman" someone could point to a female superstar and say "What about her, then?"
It's the same with race. There are young Black professors kicking ass at the hard stuff. Their kids will be the next generation of scholars (PhDs tend to have PhD parents). Anyone who listens to Kendi and blows off testing will be left behind. He's hurting his own fans by saying the tests are racist.
Word. Happy birthday Prof. Loury! A very interesting discussion, loved the childhood story about Witty. Standardized testing should be protected at all costs against woke vandals.
Good stuff, guys. I would have loved to hear you riff more on the lesion of politics that now hobbles the field of anthropology. Two things, specifically:
1) Physical anthropology that comes after the arrival of anatomically modern humans has been put on the shelf. It is as if we suddenly stopped evolving 200,000 years ago. As Yan Shen and others note, morphological differences between groups are clearly evident. They are also fascinating, yet the only scholars who dare touch them are either dinosaurs or good old-fashioned racists. The distribution of human height and wingspan alone is enough to put a huge tilt on the NBA draft, putting aside for a moment fun things like muscle mass or neoteny.
2) Cultural relativism, and the inherent difficulty in navigating objectivity, leads many to the notion that all cultural traits that can be described must so be done in only the most flattering of terms. I have previously asked in the Q&A forum how we can proceed with an honest assessment of celebrated -- indeed, deeply revered and closely protected -- traits that may be otherwise detrimental to success in the modern world. Glenn mentions "spontaneity" in reference to black culture, and I wonder, even as I grew up worshiping "blackness" and the very spontaneity he describes, how well does being spontaneous translate to, say, the sub-fields of economics that rely heavily on quantitative analysis?
So, Bloom got in a quarrel at Barney Kiernan’s with the Citizen and a biscuit tin was thrown. Lets ask Kendi if James Joyce is racist against the Irish (the same way the British were) for knowing that the Citizen is up to no good. Joyce could criticize Irish culture with the best of them, certainly didn’t want to live there, and yet when he died Dublin was written on his heart.
Such an excellent episode.
Happy birthday, Glenn!
I can’t see how African American dominance in the NBA is cultural. Athletic success can lead to tremendous wealth and status or, more realistically, free college. Whites want that stuff just as much as blacks. Why do you have to scroll waaaay down the list of top historical 100 meter dash times before you find someone who is not black? It’s a genetic advantage.
Why is there a lack of African Americans in winter sports? Thats cultural. And thats why a couple retired black sprinters decided to go into bobsledding and had instant success. I believe that if African American kids grew up dreaming about being soccer stars, America would be one of the best teams in the world. They largely don’t though. They dream of NBA and NFL stardom, which is why we aren’t all that great.
Happy Birthday Glenn!!! I want some collards now!! Observation.. John not getting “picked.” Don’t we all have similar experiences? The youngest child trying to play with older children, the freshman college athlete proving they do belong and they should start.. the movie Elvis - the less experienced actor, non “singer,” getting the part over a musician. We go thru life proving ourselves almost every day. Some experiences more difficult than others. Anyone who is not “proving” on some level, especially growing up is lazy, checked out or is full of excuses. IMO. I just listened to the rest of the convo regarding the light skin friend and sports.. exactly my point .. great conversation. I love Clarence Thomas .. the end. ❤️
This was an excellent discussion Glenn. Regarding culture I agree that an orientation towards pursuit of a particular domain is clearly a necessary if not wholly sufficient criterion for success in that domain. China has developed rapidly in STEM over the past 40 years, which one would surely attribute to differences in cultural mindset and institutional reform compared to the chaos during the era of 1950-1980 when China's achievements in global science and technology were minimal.
In referencing a prior comment of mine, I found the dominance of Africans, in particular Nigerians, in competitive Scrabble to be one of the more interesting and compelling cultural arguments in the entire nature versus nurture debate. I learned of the phenomenon a few years back from having read the articles of an African writer named Chanda Chisala. I think this data point is particularly relevant because to John's point about Blacks proving it, this is one of the few examples of Black success at the highest levels in an intellectual as opposed to an athletic or artistic domain. Even more interesting was the fact that at least among non-Blacks, there seemed to be a disproportionate share of individuals with mathematical backgrounds at the highest levels of competitive Scrabble and that the game itself seemingly favored mathematical as opposed to verbal ability at the higher levels of play.
On the specific issue of Black dominance in basketball, I actually am a bit skeptical that it's primarily cultural. Basketball is huge in China. The top NBA players are routinely treated like gods there and there is enormous interest in the sport among the masses. Furthermore, the Chinese government has invested enormous time and effort building up China's national basketball program but with only limited success. The Chinese men's national team is currently ranked 29th worldwide by FIBA and has never medaled in 9 Olympic appearances. Only a couple of players like Yao Ming or Yi Jianlian have ever been good enough to play in the NBA. Washed up former NBA players routinely head over to the Chinese Basketball Association and put up massive numbers. I can't remember the exact quote or where I read it, but I vaguely recall a former NBA player who had played in the CBA comparing the level of local talent in the league to NCAA college level basketball in the US. I have to suspect that there's some biological component that limits the ability of Chinese people to rise to the highest levels of competitive basketball despite enormous energy having been devoted to the sport. There are 1400 million Chinese people on the mainland and their level of success in basketball is only a fraction of what has been attained by a population of 40 million or so in the United States.
On the issue of athletics and group differences I'm inclined to agree with Jon Entine who in his book Taboo that came out a couple of decades ago argued for sports being a bio-cultural phenomenon. Culture is certainly relevant but so is biology. Entine's focus wasn't even entirely on inter-racial group differences among Blacks, whites and Asians, but also on intra-racial differences. Specifically he highlighted the biological differences that resulted in West Africans such as Jamaicans being world-class sprinters and East Africans such as Kenyans excelling in endurance events such as marathons. I'm certainly not an expert in any of this, but I think that at least when it comes to athletics, it might be somewhat incorrect to argue that there's no biological component to observed group differences and that culture can explain almost all of it. I think the least controversial physical differences are those between biological males and females and that's certainly been one of the major points made in the entire transgender debate.
I definitely laughed when I heard John referencing the fact that Ibram X. Kendi was born Henry Rogers. It reminded me of the famed Afrocentrist Molefi K. Asante who was born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. Personally I'm glad I never adopted an Anglo first name and that my parents kept my name as Yan Shen. Life's burdens are definitely easier to bear when one isn't fettered by the shackles of a slave name alas.
Anyway really excellent conversation as always and hope you and John have both been well. Happy 74th birthday Glenn!