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Walter Williams

Dr. Walter Williams

In my post on my review of the book Red River (Unfulfilled Potential) I included a link to a speech given by Walter Williams, an African-American professor who takes issue with some of the assumptions I attributed to the author of Red River. How strongly the author holds to such assumptions, I don’t know, but I made some assumptions of my own based on her comments in the back matter of the book. Looking over my post, I thought it might be helpful to take Professor Williams’ speech and condense it to what I was getting at in my book review. Williams fundamentally “gets it” when we white people express frustration in dealing with race relations of the sort I mentioned in my earlier post. So, below are my notes on his revealing speech:

According to Walter Williams, there are three basic assumptions we take for granted when we look at race discrimination in America. They are: (1) Discrimination has adverse effects on the achievements of a race; (2) statistical differences between races imply or measure discrimination; and (3) statistical differences will no longer exist or persist if discrimination were eliminated.

Dr. Williams then takes each of these assumptions in turn and explains them.

Assumption One: Discrimination has adverse effects on the achievements of a race (and blacks in particular).

Race Relations GraphicThrough the centuries Jews have faced great discrimination and yet they have achieved a higher average income than the general population and have a higher-than-average education. Now, you might say that the Jew is at an advantage because he could simply change is name from “Goldstein” to “Smith” and simply melt into the population. However, most have not and are in fact generally known to be Jewish or we wouldn’t have their stats to look at.

The Japanese and Chinese have also faced horrible discrimination, and they cannot simply change their name to melt into the general population. About 15% of the general population in America are professional workers; however, among Japanese Americans 25% of their population are professionals. 24% of Chinese Americans are professionals. Both these groups have a higher income then the national median and have the lowest crime rate, lowest alcoholism rate and highest marital stability.

But, you might say, people have a “special dislike” for African Americans. Well, West Indian blacks in America also have a higher income than the national average and have a slightly higher average of professionals in their workforce. Now, will a potential employer take the time to find out if the black he is interviewing comes from the West Indies? Probably not. (These West Indian blacks have a similar heritage of slavery as the American-born blacks.)

Lest you think discrimination only has effects in America, consider that 60% of GNP in the Southeast Asian countries of Burma and Malaysia is owned my Chinese citizens, even though they are only 13% of the population. In fact, there are Affirmative Action programs for the natives in some Southeast Asia countries.

Also, Armenians in Turkey have a higher average income than the Turks who discriminate against them.

Assumption Two: Statistical differences between races imply or measure discrimination.

“But for the fact of discrimination we would all be alike,” is the argument made by many racial reform activists. Statistical differences exist, no one denies that, but they do not usually have anything to do with “discrimination.”

Black Americans are 13% of the population, yet they make up 75% of the NBA basketball players. They are also the highest paid in the NBA. Does the NBA “have it out” for white players?

There is only one black in the national hockey league—is the national hockey league racist? No one contends that it is. In addition, more than 50% of American hockey players are from Minnesota. What kind of conspiracy is Minnesota conducting?

Jews are no more than 3% of the American population, yet 33% of all American Nobel Prize winners are Jewish. Are the Jews hiding the books from the rest of us?

Statistical disparities do not imply negative discrimination. Equally productive females only earn 59% of the salary of their male counterparts on average. Unmarried men earn only 62% of what married men earn (when adjusted for age). Why don’t companies hire more of the “cheaper” females and unmarried men? Companies often fail when their costs are only 2% higher than the competition. They would be able to outbid other companies out of the market my hiring more women and unmarried men! Why don’t they? Do the vast majority of businesses in America “have it out” for women or single men? That would be the easy answer, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if companies are trying to be competitive.

Now for the hard-truth answer: First you must ask, “Are all women ‘equally productive’?”  Females who remain unmarried and work continuously from age 18 to 37 actually have a slightly higher income than their exact male (never married) counterparts. Female professors who never married also have a slightly higher income than a male professor who has never been married. Apparently, marriage exacts a high cost on women. Because of the traditional roles in marriage, and let us not forget actual biology, women usually become a greater burden on employers once they have married. Their “workforce capital” decreases. Not only do they need time off for pregnancy and maternity leave, they are the ones who are usually called when their child has problems at school, is sick, or needs to be taken to soccer practice. Women traditionally take care of the household needs, such as shopping and cleaning. In other words, their attention is divided; their priority may not, and in some cases cannot (such as childbearing), be with their employment. Also, for whatever reason, women tend to visit the doctor more often then men, costing employers more in health insurance. This is undeniable: health insurance policies on women are slightly higher than on men. Taking all this into account, although married women may be “equally productive” while actually doing the work at their jobs, their costs to employers in time off, divided attention, and other inconveniences brings their “workforce capital” down.

Not so for men—their “workforce capital” actually increases with marriage. In the traditional marriage where the woman assumes the primary role in child-rearing (someone has to), the man gets a “helper.” By becoming married the male can devote more to work because, again, in the traditional marriage, the woman now takes care of the majority of household upkeep, freeing the man from those distractions. The woman simply cannot efficiently develop her “workforce capital” in a traditional marriage. Married men therefore earn an average of 38% more by being married—an advantage of having a “helper.” The woman thus owns 38% of her husband’s income without question. If a woman wants to make the same income or better, she simply should not get married. This is simply one of those “hard facts” in life (if you chose to see it that way) that cannot be overcome without sacrificing valued (and most would probably argue “natural”) roles in marriage and family culture.

Assumption Three: Statistical differences will no longer exist or persist if discrimination were eliminated.

Hotel On FireYou may say a specific hotel fire was caused my oxygen. That is true, but does it explain why another hotel, also surrounded by oxygen, did not burn down? Oxygen is so pervasive that it alone cannot explain the fire. Likewise with discrimination—it alone cannot explain any single case of “racial discrimination”—other causes must contribute to each case of “racial discrimination.”

Discrimination is everywhere. For instance, we use it in selecting a wife or husband. We always have criteria for our decisions and we don’t give all an equal chance based on our varied criteria. We eliminate opportunity with every choice we make and discrimination is solely the act of choice. When choosing a husband or wife, we all systematically eliminate vast categories of potential mates. Either they’re the wrong gender (there goes one-half of the pool), are not athletic, don’t make adequate income, don’t share the right religion or beliefs, are not physically attractive to us, and so on. In other words we discriminate. Like oxygen, discrimination is everywhere and cannot be eliminated. Claiming you didn’t get a job because of discrimination is true. It is true in every single case of someone not getting a job. Scarcity requires us to choose (there is only one job opening for many applicants). Someone will always be injured by our choice.

Scary TigerPrejudice literally means “pre-judge” or to use a stereotype. We all use prejudices out of necessity to survive. When you unexpectantly see a tiger sitting on your front porch you will probably “stereotype” it by running away. Why is that? Is it based on any specific knowledge of that particular tiger, or is it based on tiger folklore, what your mother has told you about tigers, videos of tigers acting aggressively, or so forth? Now, that particular tiger may be tame as a kitten; nevertheless, a quick calculation is being made: The expected benefit of additional information about that particular tiger is less than the expected cost, so we discriminate against that tiger without further searching. In other words, cheaply acquired observations are of greater benefit than more costly acquired observations.

If offered a million dollars if they win a basketball game, and given 5 white males, 5 black males, 5 white females, and 5 black females, (and you are unable to watch them play beforehand) most people would pick the 5 black males. They could be labeled sexist or racist for doing so, but they would have a much better chance of getting the million dollars. Can you assume everyone doesn’t like white men or females? Even the Grand Master of the Ku Klux Klan would pick the 5 black males—it’s a million dollars!

Simply watching someone’s behavior will give you very little information about their preferences. A known bigot and the most open-minded person will make the exact same choice in the above example if their objective is to maximize the winnings from the basketball game.

If you are an employer and you are looking for a high school graduate with a high SAT score for a particularly challenging internship and it costs you $100 for every person you interview, would you send your recruiters to a Newark, New Jersey inner-city school or to a more affluent suburban school? Where would you have a higher probability of finding a successful candidate at the lowest cost? You may or may not dislike blacks, but it would probably not affect your decision.

There may not be a causal relationship between race and SAT scores, but there surely is an associative one. Likewise with the basketball players—there is no specific reason to not choose the white males, but out there in the real world there is certainly an associative one. Same goes with the tiger. We have no direct cause to run when we see one, but we have ample associative reasons to do so.

Physical characteristics can serve as proxies for other characteristics that are more costly to observe. (We could choose the white females for the basketball game but that would likely be more costly by not winning the game, even though we can say we gave them a “fair” chance. We’re not saying they could not win or even do better than the black males, it’s just with a million dollars on the line, it is not worth the risk.)

It is important to change the characteristics associated with a race or gender to eliminate this kind of “cheap” pre-judging. If we tame a majority of all tigers in the world and actively market and promote the knowledge that most of them are tame, then we may have fewer kitties with hurt feelings as people no longer so readily run away at the sight of one.

The use of the word “minority” is misleading when used in the context of race. The largest identifiable ethnic group in America are people with English ancestry, they are slightly more than 15% of the population. Next are those of German ancestry who are 14% of the population. Next are those of African ancestry who make up 13% of the population. Every other ethnic group is in the single-digit minorities.

Whites are not all alike. White people in their European homelands have been trying to slaughter each other for centuries. The longest period of peace in Europe has been only since the end of the Second World War. You can’t lump all white people into one bag.

How much of what we see in African-American relations can be attributed to discrimination?

African-American and GradesMuch of it is fraudulent education. The average black will score between 100 and 150 points below the average white on the SAT and still have the same high school diploma in hand. This is not made up in college. The GRE scores of blacks are slightly over 125 points lower than the national norm. 12 years of fraudulent education in primary and secondary schools cannot be corrected in 4 years of college. If diplomas or degrees cannot be trusted as proof of the same level of learning, one is forced to look at other criteria for making good choices.

The saddest aspect of this education fraud, in which employers are forced to compensate for by using the “cheaper” race discrimination, is that it need not be. In private schools 85% of blacks read at or up to three grade levels above their own grade level. The majority of these black children come from low or middle income families. It is not generally a question of capability, but culture.

Throwing money at the problem is not the solution: In Philadelphia, the cost for tuition to one private school with the above success rate is $1,200 whereas the per capita cost for a child in Philadelphia’s public schools is $5,000 with only the national average results. Blacks don’t need to capture a white kid to sit by. These private schools with successful black students, most notably the black muslim schools, are not into bussing and integration programs. In these schools you observe utter quite. The kids have pencils in their hands and their eyes on their teachers. This is all black kids need: Parents who make sure he does his homework, gets him to bed early on school nights, feeds him a breakfast in the morning, and makes sure he gets to school in a business-like fashion ready to learn. There is no mystery.

Black White HandshakeThere is a huge reserve of racial goodwill in America which we are needlessly wasting. Racial incidents and resentment have increased in traditionally black-accepting colleges where affirmative action has been in effect. People know that disregarding behavior is being dishonest. Many colleges either have or are considering such things as black economics courses simply because some dishonest person suggested it. What if someone suggested a course on Polish economics, or Japanese-American economics? They would be thrown out. We need to have courage.

Recognizing the truth is only half the battle, now we need to correct the negative discrimination by first “taming the tigers”—getting rid of the fraudulent education by strengthening the family culture and stop using blame as an excuse—and publicizing this fact after it has taken effect. Affirmative Action and like policies—when based on a lie or fraud—will only exacerbate the problem as all people (blacks included) naturally react to being lied to.

Discrimination is everywhere. We use it in selecting a wife or husband. We always have criteria for our decisions.
We don’t give all an equal chance based on our varied criteria.
We eliminate opportunity with every choice we make.
Discrimination is solely the act of choice.
Scarcity requires us to choose. Someone will always be injured by your choice.
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Red River book coverI just finished reading Red River by Lalita Tadamy. This book is a fictional account of her forebears from the last events of Reconstruction after the the Civil War down to the early adulthood of her father.

This book focuses mainly on the men of the family. I understand her previous book, Cane River, was mainly about the women.

The main theme I sensed throughout the narrative was the struggle of these men to claim their right to be simply accepted as full and equal men—”real” men with the exact same wants, talents, curiosity, freedom, striving, and quest for happiness of all men. But, they couldn’t escape the “mark” of their race. A touching element throughout was their desire to learn. From the struggle to be allowed to learn to read to the pursuit of higher knowledge they had to waste incalculable energy just to fight for the mere privilege to get ahead. One character prized his hard-earned “library” of mostly used books and wouldn’t let just anyone touch them. These books took on a symbolic role for him. They represented knowledge, and thus freedom and self-determination, but they also represented his defiance toward the role the whites wanted to impose upon him. It is sad to think of all the wasted potential these men possessed—wasted because they were expending most of there reserve energy struggling just to get the same opportunities taken for granted by the white men.

This book illustrated for me the depth and variety of personal inner struggles of each of these men—struggles I did not understand well, being a white man, but Tadamy described them through her character’s thoughts in a way that resonated and helped me comprehend, at least to a little better degree, the world facing black men in an overpoweringly white culture. Each of the men she created and developed responded to their society in different ways, but there was the common element of oppression throughout all their lives. These singular struggles taken as a whole were formed by, but also shaped the truly unique American society we live in today.

I wouldn’t say this novel has a plot in any conventional definition. It is written more or less in the style of a family history—stories you would hear at family reunions, but more as it would be told through the thoughts and minds of the storytellers. The book starts off strong with a lot of action and heightened emotional tension as the black men experience a tragic struggle to retain the rights they thought they had been awarded with emancipation. Tadamy bases her, at times quite dramatized, accounts on actual history, but it is a very fragmented history that for many years was hidden and much was thus forgotten. Later, the book slides into a more prolonged account of the multi-generational effects of the realizations acquired through the earlier pivotal struggle.

In some ways these black men and many of the African-Americans today would define themselves by their struggles. This, in my opinion, is somewhat tragic. I’m Mormon, and throughout the early years of Mormonism, and to a lesser extent today, we were almost overpoweringly defined by the persecution heaped upon us. Even today, I think, we spend an inordinate amount of time in our worship services emotionally honoring the sacrifices and struggles our forebears experienced to the expense of the whole point of our religion, that point being to become as Jesus Christ is. Not to denigrate the pain and efforts of those who came before—their perseverance through struggles is certainly an aspect of Christlike character—but, it seems to sometimes overpower the many other aspects of Christ’s teachings and example that are equally important. This, in a way, has happened in African-American society on the cultural rather than religious front. Rather than taking more pride in their unique and colorful heritage, they harp on the discrimination they’ve suffered, and sometimes still suffer, to the expense of original thought and their own personal and cultural development. Yes, their past struggles define them to some extent, but I hope they don’t allow themselves to become like the Shiite Muslims who still hold a lethal grudge for a single assassination nearly 1,500 years ago. It’s kind of like blaming the Jews of today for Christ’s death 2,000 years ago—at some point it simply becomes stupid.

I can’t imagine a thousand years from now the descendants of today’s African Americans still harping on the abuses their umptenth great grandfather suffered through slavery, but that risk is always there. We should not deny the reality of their struggles, but books like this, if not countered by equally emotional positive reinforcement of all the good and the progress we have made, could needlessly prolong the healing. It’s like Mormons continuing to hate Missourians for running us out of their state 150 years ago, ridiculous!

This book runs this risk because it poetically dramatizes some incredibly horrible things. It is all based on facts, but the details of those facts are missing. The author does a superb job of filling in those elements with highly emotional experiences, which could be taken as gospel-truth when it is still only poetic speculation. I wouldn’t change any of it necessarily, I would have just liked to have seen, since she is speculating anyway, more positive accounts of good things whites did to sort of counterweight the horrible.

Unfortunately, I kind of got an idea of where the author stands through a comment she made in the back matter of the book about the “victimization” of African Americans in the hurricane Katrina catastrophe. This is what stupefies us white folk. We feel we are bending over backwards to not be prejudice and then African Americans continue to make blaming remarks like these. Saying we “still have a long way to go,” and such. African Americans have every opportunity and then some that white folk have! Occasionally they may have to put in a little more effort, but don’t we all sometimes. For every black caught in the floodwaters of Katrina there are many, many more who have excelled to their potential, much like the author of this book. Simply because some have not chosen to take advantage of opportunity, they find it all too easy to blame “The Man.” No one is holding the blacks in New Orleans down! When the hurricane was coming, no one told them, “No, you can’t leave.” No one said, “You got to live (or continue to live) in the low land where the water might come.” They all have television, they all know what opportunities are out there—they’re not stupid! It’s sometimes just easier to blame, and their successful “brothers” all too often take their side, merely on racial grounds rather than character. Not to denigrate the Katrina victims and their trials. Many chose to stay for good reasons, whatever they might be, and we should help them like we would help anyone, black or white.

Now, all that said, there will always be some injustice in the world. As long as people are still human, there will be someone out there who hates me because I have green eyes. You will continue to find a few knuckle-dragging, emotionally damaged, prejudiced people out there, but they should in no way be allowed to even cast a shadow on the vast, vast majority of us who could care less about how much melanin someone has in their skin.

To conclude, this book is an excellent read and should be read by all who want to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of African American culture. Just need to remember to feel gratitude that, for the most part, we have all overcome—blacks and whites alike.
Below is basically what I’m getting at:

How much can discrimination explain? from FEE on Vimeo.

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