Listen now (59 min) | This week, John and I continue our discussion of systemic racism, which was kicked off when one of my students wrote a searing critique of some of my positions. John and I agreed that “Simone” (not her real name) deserved a real, intellectually serious response. We can’t just blow off Simone and people like her—that is, sober-minded, sincere, intelligent progressives and leftists who happen to think that systemic racism is responsible for all or most of America’s racial disparities. In responding to their critiques, we hope to persuade them that there are more accurate ways to describe the situation. The first part of this attempt came by way of
Talking off on Rhonda West’s comment below, I’m thinking out loud: I’ve been very hesitant to assume the same (are white women most woke?) because I truly don’t want to be sexist - or sloppy in my thinking (availability/recency bias, etc). But anecdotally I’ve noticed the same: more affluent white women (and, again, certainly not all are white and not all are women), especially of course those who have imbibed this default, controlling narrative since K-12. It’s been well-documented that woke curricula are most common at elite liberal arts colleges and prep schools. But class and actual privilege of course also give these young women (and men) a lot of motivation to extirpate and transfer their guilt and “sin”, most aggressively onto actually less privileged whites. Many of the former have (in spite of millennial and Gen-Z angst) been handed a lot. Guilt over class privilege becomes transmuted into something far more convenient: “white privilege”. Admit their white privilege and become an aggressive “ally” and they needn’t sacrifice that plum admissions spot, or job offer a family member helped them get, or certainly the fat inheritance coming their way when the awful boomer or X generation of family that spawned them and showered largesse upon them finally pass. Most important, they needn’t sacrifice an iota of status. In many ways,(again anecdotally) privileged white women are the enforcers of wokedom. I so often see the assertion that their privilege in money and class and connections and access (social capital) is every white person’s. They stride the line claiming to both know and feel how much every moment every interaction is “harmful” and “oppressive” and “marginalizing” to PoC - and to know, first-hand, how privileged all white people truly are in every aspect of life. This is especially apparent among the very online, among whom a posturing sort of communal narcissism seems endemic. What this looks like to me is a sort of weaponized empathy, often misplaced and misdirected, even when it is sincere. If all you’ve been exposed to since childhood is “every moment alive for a black person is oppression” and you’re vaguely guilty about your own privilege (while simultaneously being inculcated in a grotesque class bias and bigotry toward “lower whites”) going woke and aggressive allyship makes sense as a way of protecting one’s status and image and one’s self-esteem, while also not just finding meaning, purpose, and community in an atomized world, but actually righting horrific present day wrongs. What gives this mentality and its means of manifesting it a darker twist is the fact that female aggression does more often find outlet in reputational destruction. That’s what gives weaponized empathy the sharp point at the end of its spear. Competing to promote yourself while taking other people down by gossip or social media-magnified smear and name-calling can be as satisfying as it is effective. You’re holding racists accountable after all! If someone won’t admit their white privilege and grovel about it enough, call them on it in front of a few thousand people.
Glenn at 13:53: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back. I know that’s what Jordan Peterson says. You all can get mad at me if you want to. He’s not wrong about everything.”
Indeed Glenn, he is not.
Current status of “Systematic Racism” or “Structural Racism” - is a question: Does system racism exist across institutions in the USA? The task at hand is for activists to demonstrate via quantitative scientific research that such a condition exists. I have not seen the evidence. Perhaps a more worthwhile proposal is to construct a bias score per institution - in numerous categories (alphabetical); age, gender, political posture, race, sexuality. Each institution would likely have a unique profile of scores across categories. Where there is bias, it needs to be properly identified so that it can be strategically addressed. The measure would need to be at 2 levels; (1) Within the institution. (2) Institutional effect upon society. Example: Level 1 = Within IRS. Level 2 = All income tax activity in USA.
Would the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) be measured only per each DMV municipal “territory” or would there also be state, regional and national DMV bias scores?
In previous years, I have worked hard on a number of research projects, where the objective was to humbly demonstrate that A is associated with B. A year ago, I was horrified to find a paper circulated in serious and highly educated circles, that asserted “Due to historical slavery and Jim Crow in the southern states, therefore white supremacy is a severe problem nationwide in 2020 in profession X”, without presenting evidence. In fact, the paper assumed this novel idea was established fact, and discussed how to supposedly correct the problem.
Sorry, I am still unclear about how you define the words 'systemic' and 'racist'. By racist (ism) do you mean bigotry, or do mean a more comprehensive set of ideas that include a view that blacks are genetically and intellectually inferior? About what does Simone object, specifically?
Consider whether your views do, or do not, take account of the legal status of US Indian tribes, tribal members, and tribal rights. Are those racist, too? Are reservations manifestations of objective 'racism' ? Indian casino operations?
How does this fit within your discussion of "structural racism"?
The Left refuses to consider these questions. They simply assume that all PoC are victims. Your views, Gentlemen?
A couple of direct man-in-the-street questions:
1. Doesn't the extreme overrepresentation of Blacks in professional sports seriously undercut the theory of systemic racism? It's the most primo occupation in America, one almost all children (particularly males) dream of.
2. Dr. Loury has pointed out that when we say, "Blacks are underrepresented on Wall Street" we are also saying -- whether we acknowledge it or not -- "Jews are overrepresented on Wall Street." If we take the first as evidence of "systemic racism," are we forced to take the second as evidence of "a Jewish cabal"? The latter is rightfully accepted as a hateful conspiracy theory. The former is propagated as unassailable truth; question it at your own risk.
I continue to believe the political strategy of emphasizing identity group above all is one of the most destructive things imaginable.
The discussion on racial wealth disparity would be improved greatly if one of you presents data wealth distribution by deciles. Two or three years ago, you made a presentation at Harvard on admissions by race. Glenn presented compelling information to support the points he was making. Similar data are needed here.
As fun as it is to listen to Profs. Loury and McWhorter riff on the factual failings of the historical and empirical arguments put forward by "the elect," it seems they're missing some of "Simone's" strongest potential counterarguments. When Prof. Loury says "no one is coming to save us," a savvy (and somewhat heartless) Simone could parry and riposte with:
"That's simply not true, at least for a certain value of 'us.' Look how the pose of black helplessness and prostration - whether warranted by the historical facts or not - has conquered the commanding heights of American culture and policy! Look at the set-asides in every elite institution from education to corporate America to politics that we've won for ourselves, including preference and overrepresentation in securing governmental posts. Look at the moral dominance our narratives exert over CEOs and Presidents! Look at how elite media bends over backwards to accept our version of even the most implausible narratives (Smollett, 'Karens in the Ramble,' 'mostly peaceful protests,' etc.) and even invent new justifications for our narratives. Look at the extensive and lucrative diversity-training industry we have created for ourselves out of nothing, that's now extracting significant rents from just about every major institution. Look at our overrepresentation in culture and entertainments! What does it matter if we lack some intangible 'dignity' right now? The suburbs of Atlanta and Houston and a dozen other cities are filling up with a new black middle class, as you're so intent on proving with your statistics attacking the racial wealth gap. This moral pose, this 'bluff and bludgeon,' has wealthy, progressive white America bending over backwards to elevate black-identifying people, all because they want to get one over on conservative rubes and cleanse themselves of the spiritual taint of racism. And you want us to throw it away? No, that would be wasting one of, if not the single most effective tool for elevating the material circumstances and intangible social status of people like me that has been devised in the history of this country."
I wonder what Profs. Loury and McWhorter would say to that.
Glenn, you briefly mentioned something that has been part of my more serious bug with the whole discourse: that black college graduates have significantly less wealth than white high school graduates. This is something that really bothers me, and is something I believe is very illustrative of a problem with the discourse, because it's always presented as a GOTCHA factoid. Objecting to concerns about a wealth or income gap by noting the education gap, you might be gotcha'd by this factoid.
The problem being that the average black college grad is in their late 20s and the average white high school graduate is in their mid-40s, where lifecycle effects of income absolutely dominate human capital from education. You bring this kind of thing up during the course of your conversation, which is nice to see. A discussion of the ways in which the black and white populations differ in entirely innocent ways (so, not Murrayan population genetics, but instead just demographics like the above: the Baby Boom lasted a bit longer for African Americans than it did for European Americans, so Black America is a bit younger than White America) and the effect these differences may have on aggregate statistical outcomes isn't something that is ever part of the discussion.
The whole discourse relies on these 'gotcha' factoids. Yes, there is often SOME sort of research extant to back the factoid, but the research often seems almost to have been done with the purpose of buttressing the rhetorical factoid, rather than the factoid having fallen out of research being done for any other reason research might be done. The Desmond article you mention is like this: it feels like the whole New History of Capitalism (of which Matthew and Sven are part) project seems to be about substantiating political rhetoric, generating gotcha factoids for activists to use in influencing public opinion.
This is especially obvious when the research is of such thing quality that it's so easily excoriated by other researchers without the same rhetorical mission. Olmsted and Rhode have not been kind to Beckert and Baptiste (another member of the NHC school of thought). Why is it, do you think, that the research of Sven and Matthew gets featured in the New York Times and the rejoinder from other scholars remains obscure? For one, the refutation is technical and doesn't lend itself as well to being transformed into publicly consumable rhetoric. And that may be all it takes: if 'American wealth is built on the back of cotton slavery and whip torture' as a rhetorical factoid can only be refuted through and in-depth look at plant genetics and historical national accounts, the factoid will win in the court of public opinion by default. No one will pay attention to the technical refutation long enough to understand it.
This is an important problem with explanations for social outcomes arising from the cultural hegemony theory: they're Pat, simple, and very easy to understand and get angry about. Alternative explanations are often involved and not so easily packaged for soundbyte consumption. This is a problem when everyone only has so much time to spend on The Issue and otherwise has to grind out the rest of their life.
Can black people be racist? The answer seems to be “no.” As a white women, I find the “white women liberal social justice warriors” the loudest and most aggressive. I’m wondering if John or Glenn have had a “Bethany” or an “Emily” in class who have offered their argument for systematic racism.
An interesting discussion. Woke Simone may not be convinced by the arguments but she will have a lot to think about.
I'm gonna HATE the day these two decide to discontinue this series =)
Really excellent conversation Glenn. I just had one question where you and John talk about the wealth disparity between Blacks and whites. You guys say that comparing the wealth of the median Black family to the median white family isn't the best methodology, i.e. pointing out that the median white family has 10x the wealth of the median Black family for instance is misleading. You guys go on to point out that the disparities are largest between Blacks and whites in the upper portions of the wealth distribution. However even looking at the median already reveals a substantial racial gap, so I guess is the argument that gap is in fact being understated? I ask in part because I thought John brought up Coleman's argument that once you account for relevant underlying factors the racial wealth gap isn't nearly as bad as it superficially appears?
Great discussion once again. I love what Glenn said early in the episode about cowardly. Take on the obstacles head on. Don't cower.
And I love what John stated towards the end concerning people who actually like the backlash the riots and violence bring out. It confirms the ideology of the ELECT that the country is truly fascist. It's so sad, but true that there are people who actually think this way.
Another point on measuring inequality: most measurements fail to take into account the value of entitlements (e.g., present value of future social security benefits).
Excluding entitlements from the inequality conversation seems particularly egregious given that they are paid for by *reductions* on wage-earners income (via payroll taxes).
Always a great conversation. I am really looking forward to "solutions" presented by you two.
Excellent question and commentary all the way through. A question that comes to mind often is why are so many AA's tethered to the idea of systemic/structural racism as if somehow it prevents them from having a fulfilling life. It's as if they believe the blame game works for us void of infantilizing us in the eyes of rational thinkers. If the country and or whites are so oppressive, why would they depend on it to save them? I've had very reasonable and rational conversations with other blacks as to why it is counterproductive to continuously subscribe to victimhood thinking, some of which they are in agreement. However, they always revert back to "but..." and that saddens me.