Responding to Briahna Joy Gray

A letter from a reader

Perhaps predictably, my conversation with Briahna Joy Gray has raised some hackles among TGS commenters. That’s not the worst thing in the world! Who would I be if I wasn’t stirring the pot a little?

I did receive an email from my semi-regular correspondent Clifton Roscoe that I think lays out many of the objections of people in the comment section and my inbox, with links and graphics to boot. With his permission, I present it here in lightly edited form.

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Dear Professor Loury,

This may qualify as a “Dear Glenn” email, but I'll do my best to keep it concise. 

While I thought your conversation with Briahna Joy Gray was a good one overall, there were times during the discussion when minutiae got in the way of the big picture. That was especially true when the conversation covered black culture and the impact it has on the racial gaps that are commonly discussed, the pros and cons of capitalism, and Black America's internal conflicts when it comes to how we feel about our country. 

I'm going to choose my words carefully. While I give Briahna Joy Gray props for her two Ivy League degrees and being a good debater, she's all hat and no cattle when it comes to her actual experiences and her data sources. Let's start with her assertion that black women are the best educated demographic in America, which would appear to refute anyone claiming that black culture doesn’t value education. 

You chose not to push back on this, but the source of her assertion is questionable at best. Data from the US Census Bureau suggests that it's flat our wrong. This piece reflects Gray’s assertion. And here’s a representative excerpt from HBCU Buzz:

Black women surpassed any other group based upon race and gender in 2014 by having the highest percentage that is the most educated. Reports by the National Center of Education Statistics as reported by the US Census state that black women have the highest numbers for current enrollment in college.

Black And Married With Kids posted a YouTube video last spring titled, “Black Women Top This List.” This video explains the significance behind the 9.7% mark that states that black women are #1. Hosted by Janks Morton, he questions media’s reactions to this data and states that this history in the making. “I’m here to tell you today that African-American women and African-American men today are holding up the lamp that has always been a testament to blacks in this country. We have always valued education.”

But data from the US Census Bureau tell a different story.

Here are the percentages of various demographic groups, 18 and older, with bachelor's degrees as of 2019:

All Americans: Men - 20.8%, Women - 21.7%

White Alone: Men - 21.2%, Women - 22.1%

Black Alone: Men - 15.1%, Women - 15.8%

Hispanic (of any race): Men - 10.8%, Women - 12.9%

Asian Alone: Men - 30.8%, Women - 33.3%

Black women are less likely to have bachelor's degrees than the overall population. So who are we kidding? The joke's on anybody who buys this BS or otherwise allows it to go unchallenged.

Let's give Briahna Joy Gray the benefit of the doubt and say that she was “imprecise” with her claim. Let's look at young black women and see if they're on the front end of a trend that hasn't manifested itself among the broader population. 

Here are the percentages of people between the ages of 25 and 29 who have bachelor's degrees by gender:

All Americans: Men - 28.0%, Women - 30.7%

White Alone: Men - 28.3%, Women - 32.2%

Black Alone: Men - 24.7%, Women - 21.0%

Hispanics (of any race): Men - 16.0%, Women - 18.5%

Asian Alone: Men - 39.6%, Women - 44.2%

Younger folks are more likely to have college degrees than their elders, but the overall racial gaps seem to worsen if you compare black women between the ages of 25 and 29 with most of their peers. I was surprised that black men between the ages of 25 and 29 were more likely to have bachelor's degrees than their black female peers, so I checked the numbers a couple of times. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that black women are more likely to earn bachelor's degrees than black men.

It's possible that the US Census Bureau's data is wrong, but I'm not in a position to argue with their numbers. Either way, the claim that black women are the most highly educated demographic in America is demonstrably false if you compare the percentages of various demographic groups who have bachelor's degrees. Numbers aside, this claim never passed the sniff test. It's another false narrative. 

Minutiae aside and at least one false narrative debunked, let's talk the big picture.  Let's start with culture. I find it helpful to start these kinds of conversations with a definition of terms. Here’s an excerpt of a useful definition of “culture”:

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. ... Thus, it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to the group.

I would argue that culture is a factor in almost every racial gap that's talked about today. Reasonable people can dispute the degree to which culture factors into these gaps or whether the residual influence of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, etc. impact culture. But that's a different debate.

Let's start with violent crime. Anybody who's been paying attention knows that culture is a major driver of violent crime when it comes to young black folks. Tio Hardiman, the founder of Violence Interrupters in Chicago, talks openly about the role that culture plays in the violence that plagues Chicago. Here's a quote from a recent Mary Mitchell column in the Chicago Sun-Times:

“First and foremost, the mass shootings have become fashionable for some of the guys involved in gang conflict,” said Tio Hardiman, founder of Violence Interrupters, an anti-violence organization that claims to have mediated 40 conflicts so far this year.

He said something similar and specifically used the word “culture” when he appeared on Roland Martin's podcast recently.

Hardiman ties culture to the mass shootings that are common in Chicago these days and the high number of carjackings being perpetrated by black teens. Roland Martin and the progressives on his panel sidestep what Hardiman says was the “elephant in the room.” But what person of goodwill can ignore what Hardiman is saying? 

The concept of violence interrupters is a black thing. Maybe other racial groups have a need for these types of organizations, but I don't hear about them. I don't see big city mayors emphasizing the importance of violence interrupters when they announce violence reduction plans, which are almost always geared towards black neighborhoods instead of those primarily occupied by whites, Latinos, or Asians.  

Could the broader society do more to help Black America? Sure, but they can't fix the fundamentals that retard black progress. We should never lose sight of this basic truth. White folks can't save us from ourselves. 

Let's shift gears to capitalism. Who the hell is Briahna Joy Gray kidding? What aspect of her life would be better if America was a socialist or communist nation? What socialist or communist nation created the technologies that she takes for granted?  What socialist or communist nation has created more wealth? What other economic system has lifted more people out of poverty around the world? What economic system has solved more of the world's problems? What socialist or communist nation led the way in the development of COVID-19 vaccines or any of the other major medical advances of the past century? I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. 

Capitalism has flaws, and some argue that various forms of inequality are more of an issue in America than in countries with more robust safety nets or countries with socialist or communist economic orientations. That's true. But most of those nations are not yielding good results. People often come to America from those nations in search of more freedom and a chance at a better way of life. We should never lose sight of this fundamental truth.

Concerns about various forms of inequality have to be balanced with reality. We could temporarily eliminate poverty, for example, if the government abandoned any sense of fiscal responsibility and wrote big checks to every poor person in America. We'd be economic toast afterwards, but we could feel good about ourselves for a hot minute. I could be wrong, but I get the sense that Briahna Joy Gray lives for that hot minute. I don't think she fully appreciates the way the world works and how the pros and cons of economic systems manifest themselves over extended periods of time. 

Last topic: Black patriotism and how we feel about our place in America. 

Black folks have always had mixed feelings about our place in America. We crave validation as being the equals of our fellow citizens. But then we go out of our way to denigrate our country and question the validity of its ideals. We run hot and cold about America. It has always been fashionable for black folks to find issues with America.  That won't change in my lifetime. 

What's happening today, however, is worrisome. There's a level of negativity within Black America that's unhealthy and borne of false narratives. Consider this recent polling from Gallup. And here are some graphs that speak volumes:

The trend in sentiments displayed in this graph make no sense if you look at the black unemployment rate and black poverty rate, both of which which reached an all-time low in 2019. By contrast, a growing percentage of black folks thought that the job market was unfair.

The black poverty rate reached an all time low in 2019 as well.

You wouldn't know any of this if you only listened to the black folks with three names, the “educated” black folks who promote false narratives and constantly wallow in victimology. 

To make a long story short, there are good reasons for black folks to have reservations about America. But we've done ourselves a disservice by accepting racial snake oil at face value. We're stuck on stupid, and we're paying a heavy price for it.

I don't want you to construe any of the above as a criticism of you. You're a better debater than I'll ever be. You had to respond in the moment, and I had the luxury to think about your discussion with Briahna Joy Gray, to outline a counterargument in my head, and to type out my arguments and supporting data sources. 

Part of the challenge for me, and perhaps for you, is that I've been immersed in this stuff for a long time. Things that I think are obvious aren't always obvious to others, and I'm sometimes caught off guard if I have to revisit topics that I thought were settled long ago. I also tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when they come at me with “facts” that are total BS. I don't always push back as vigorously as I should.  I've begun to keep a mental crib sheet of data sources to refute false “facts,” but it's a burden I sometimes resent having to bear.

Keep up the good work!

Clifton Roscoe

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