Category Archives: Race and race relations

Want Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization?

A white rap artist who goes by the name of Lil Dicky joined a black rap artist, Chris Brown (born in Tappahannock, Va., and best known for slapping around songstress superstar Rihanna) to produce a song, “Freaky Friday.” The conceit of the song and video is that Lil Dicky and Chris Brown find themselves occupying each others bodies, which gives rise to such witticisms as

I’m in Chris Brown’s body
I look at my soft dick with delight, it’s my dream dick…
My dick is trending on Twitter, fuck

and toward the end of the video when contributing “artist” Kendall Jenner says…

Huh, I’m Kendall Jenner
I got a vagina, I’m gonna explore that right now (woo)
Holy shit, I got a vagina (uh), I’m gonna learn
I’m gonna understand the inner workings of a woman

Then  there was this, in which Chris Brown (occupying white Lil Dicky’s body) croons the following:

Wonder if I can say the n-word (wait for real?)
Wait, can I really say the n-word?
What up, my nigga? (woo)
What up, my nigga? Big ups, my nigga
We up, my nigga, you pussy ass nigga
Man, fuck y’all niggas, ’cause I’m that nigga
Nigga, nigga, nigga, I’m that nigga

Apparently, that’s what passes for art — or maybe it’s humor — in the Millennial generation. We’ve come a long way from Rogers and Hammerstein, baby!  Released in March, this foul little ditty soared to number one in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and reached number eight on the US Hot 100. As of today, the YouTube video has received more than 90 million views. The mind-dumbing vulgarity didn’t seem to offend anyone….

Until the words were sung by members of the Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse team. Someone posted a Snapchat of exuberant young women after a win over Elon University dancing in the aisle of their bus and singing the song. Including Chris Brown’s grotesque nigga-nigga-nigga sequence.

Social media went ballistic. Charges of racism were hurled. Next thing you know, Coach John Sung was apologizing for the use of the epithet, although he insisted that there was no malice involved. “They had just won,” he said. “They’re singing songs. The first couple songs were Disney songs… They were celebrating and they were dancing and they were excited.” (From “Let it Go” to “Freaky Friday” — quite the transition.)

Then came the crowning blow, the condemnation of their peers. The Virginia Tech Student Government adopted a resolution condemning the use of the racial slur, describing it as “one of many episodes of discrimination and animosity toward marginalized groups that have occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech in recent months.”

According to the Campus Reform website, the resolution stated:

Examples of such discriminatory incidents include… a guest lecture by Dr. Charles Murray, a white-nationalist known for inaccurate theories linking race and intelligence; a Steven Crowder speaking event in which promotional materials contained homophobic language; and the invitation of Charlie Kirk, a controversial right-wing speaker whose rallies have attracted the support of white nationalists and ended in violence such as the February 2nd event at Colorado State University, to speak on campus April 30th.

Asserting that “such discriminatory incidents contribute to members of marginalized communities feeling unsafe on the campus of Virginia Tech,” the resolution goes on to “completely and wholeheartedly” condemn the Women’s Lacrosse team out of a desire to “stand in solidarity with our fellow students.

Basically, anyone to the right of Mother Jones is deemed a racist, a homophobe, or a borderline Nazi worthy only of condemnation and exile. This is concocted outrage. It is selective indignation. It is bullying. It is totalitarian intimidation. It is all about silencing opposing views and silencing anyone who even has a stray thought resembling an opposing view.

Look, the song is total trash. It is offensive from start to finish — not least the mindless repetition of “nigga nigga nigga” — and if I were the parent of one of the girls who had learned the lyrics by heart, I’d be mortified that she’d wasted her time listening to such garbage. But in the minds of the Virginia Tech student council members, there’s no problem with Chris Brown using that language. There’s no problem with putting that language on a YouTube video. There’s no problem with 90 million people listening to that language. The problem is that the wrong people used the language. When a bunch of white girls used the N word while singing the song — not in in a way meant to denigrate anyone — they were singled out for condemnation and humiliation.

I reject the N word, I never use it, I don’t defend anyone using it, and I suppose you could say the lacrosse team girls had it coming for being so vapid as to use it. But the double standards applied here are just appalling. It’s all about the power. It’s all about defining who can say what and who can’t.

But this bullying will backfire. If you want more Donald Trump, this is how you get more Donald Trump. If you want more Alt-Right, this is how you get more Alt-Right. That may be fine with the far Left because anything that engenders hate and polarizes the nation is fine with them, but it’s not the kind of country I want to live in.

We have a choice. We can succumb to the narrative of aggrievement or we can build a narrative of achievement. We can surrender to envy, resentment, nihilism, and destruction, or we can embrace hope, collaboration, improvement and uplift. Pick one or the other. That’s what it’s come down to.

Degree Inflation and Economic Mobility

Image credit: Wall Street Journal

The conventional wisdom tells us that developing human capital is the key to economic development in the knowledge economy, and that helping more Virginians (and Americans) earn more college certificates and degrees is the key to building human capital. This is a core assumption behind Virginia’s Plan for Higher Education, which aims to make Virginia the best-educated state in the country by 2030, and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Blueprint Virginia 2025, which highlights the necessity of building a talent pipeline, including making Virginia “the top state for talent.”

But Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison with the American Enterprise Institute warn in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today that the emphasis on churning out college degrees can have an unintended effect: degree inflation. And degree inflation can have a pernicious effect: disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics.

“Some 51% of employers have rejected applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they didn’t have a college degree, according to a 2017 Harvard Business School study,” Hess and Addison write. “If current trends continue, the authors found, ‘as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by degree inflation’ — meaning their lack of a bachelor’s degree could preclude them from qualifying for the same job with another employer.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. When practices have a disproportionate impact on minorities in the job selection process, employers must show that any requirements are directly job-related and an accurate predictor of job performance. Given all the legal scrutiny around employment tests, such as IQ tests, possession of a college degree is one of the few proxies for aptitude that doesn’t trigger a risk of litigation.

However, as George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan explained in a Bacon’s Rebellion interview published a week ago, only a small portion of the value of a college degree is what students learn in their classes. Employers regard a college degree mainly as a signal that a job applicant has the intelligence, diligence and social conformity required to earn a degree — all attributes that contribute to making a good employee. If the higher ed system cranks out more students with degrees, he predicted, employers will demand higher degree qualifications — in effect, creating degree inflation.

Hess and Addison also worry about degree inflation and its implications. They write:

In a 2014 survey, Burning Glass Technologies found that employers are increasingly requiring bachelor’s degrees for positions whose current workers do not have one. For example, 65% of job postings for executive assistant and secretary positions call for a degree even though only 19% of people currently employed in such roles hold a degree.

“The Harvard report found that groups with college graduation rates below the national average are disproportionately harmed by the practice,” they write. Smaller percentages of blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians possess college credentials, squeezing them out of contention for more and more jobs. And with escalating college costs creating an affordability crisis for lower-income Americans, blacks and Hispanics remain disproportionately likely to fail to complete their degree requirements — and take on debilitating student loan debt in the process.

Bacon’s bottom line: If you’re looking for institutional racism in America, this is it. The impetus behind degree inflation isn’t racism, prejudice or a desire to discriminate. As with so many things, degree inflation is driven by the best of motives. But the unintended effect is highly damaging to blacks and Hispanics (as well as to poor whites and the poor of other ethnicities). When everyone has to have a college degree to get a job, those who are poorest, attend the worst schools, and graduate with the most inadequate academic preparation are the biggest losers.

It’s a shame that the social justice warriors don’t get this. Perhaps the myopia stems from the fact that so many SJWs come from academia, making them direct beneficiaries of the degree-inflation phenomenon. It’s much less discomfiting to focus on micro-aggressions or agitate about the statues of Civil War generals than confront the real forces hindering upward mobility for minorities in 21st century America.

A More Uplifting Narrative about Race

Booker T. Washington

No sooner had I posted the previous op-ed about the battleground of race and memory, I came across this story in Charlottesville Tomorrow about Freedom and Liberation Day in Charlottesville.

Historians gave a series of presentations at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center earlier this month highlighting how freed slaves in the Charlottesville area took action after the Civil War to improve their condition in life.

Ex-slaves participated in politics and fought for public education. They agitated for the redistribution of land (which they never got, although many freed slaves managed to purchase land themselves). Perhaps most notably after the end of Reconstruction and the onset of Jim Crow segregation, they picked up and moved north to cities offering greater economic opportunity.

There is a great tradition of self-improvement among African-Americans, epitomized by the great Booker T. Washington who called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship. Washington was eclipsed by W.E.B. Du Bois, who called for political change to end segregation and discrimination. Sadly, the crusade for equal civil rights has morphed into a crusade for equal economic outcomes, and Washington’s philosophy of self-improvement seems a quaint anachronism.

Perhaps it’s time for a Booker T. Washington revival. Given all the discussion about the history of race and racism these days, it would be more helpful and inspiring to celebrate the positive accomplishments of black Americans in the face of adversity than nourishing the narrative of victimhood in the face of abundance.

The Battleground of Race and Public Memory

The University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello have just wrapped up an international symposium, “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape.” The conference, a great success according to the symposium website, provided a forum for “a free-ranging conversation about researching the enslaved past, disseminating findings to a broader public, and breaking down disciplinary boundaries as we collectively work to tell a fuller story about our own pasts.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the subject of reparations came up more than once.

Said Ana Lucia Araujo, a Howard University professor of history:

This very city and campus are living examples of how such public battles over public memory can unfold. But where reparations for slavery are increasingly accepted and embraced by governments and other institutions, there is usually a great silence surrounding the idea of financial reparations for slavery.

Symbolic reparations touted by government and universities — renaming buildings, adding memorials and plaques, creating commissions, may not be enough.

Then there was this from Craig Wilder, author of “Ebony and Ivory”:

A lot of the universities have launched reports, but they have launched reports and studies somewhat reluctantly. The question of reparations was, in part, a reflection of how a lot of colleges and universities got to the point of studying their histories … which was often driven by students.

It’s impossible for us to know whether comments about reparations were typical of the sentiments expressed during the conference or cherry-picked by the Times-Dispatch reporter because they were controversial. And one can only conjecture whether the dialogue at the international symposium will reflect the tenor of the upcoming “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, the purpose of which is to inspire UVa faculty to revise their course syllabi to “present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.”

My fear, however, is that the sentiments expressed are widely shared by the “subject matter experts” who will be teaching the “Teaching Race at UVa” sessions. If I am correct, the Leftist views espoused at the “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape” conference will inform the perspectives propagated by the “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, which will alter the syllabi of a wide range of courses taught at UVa, which in turn will shape the worldviews of a new generation of students. Leftist thought might be diluted in the process, but the flow of influence will be entirely one way.

The study of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, racial prejudice and desegregation are entirely appropriate subjects for a university to undertake. Indeed, as a former student at UVa and the Johns Hopkins University of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and African history, I find myself intrigued by much of the symposium’s subject matter. Furthermore, I agree that it is appropriate to use history as a tool to illuminate contemporary society. We are, after all, products of the past.

What worries me is the narrow range of intellectual perspectives that are considered. The historic focus on past racial injustices is part and parcel of the larger obsession with racial and ethnic disparities today. The underlying assumption is that disparities in income, education and other outcomes are the result of America’s grievously flawed institutions and continued white privilege. The modern academy gives very little attention to the possibility that over the past 50 or so years the modern welfare state, social engineering projects and social justice initiatives have backfired badly, harming those whom the Left purports to help.

The obsessive focus on race represents a form of intellectual doubling down on the bad bet that once Civil Rights were affirmed for all, government then needed to intervene proactively to address equality. African-Americans especially have been the subjects of one botched policy experiment after another. Thus we have witnessed the devastation of intact neighborhoods by urban renewal, the concentration of the poor into housing projects, the undermining of the family structure by the welfare state, the denigration of “bourgeois virtues” that facilitate upward mobility, the assault on disciplined behavior in public schools, the push for lower-income households into home ownership and the subsequent obliteration of wealth after the housing crash, and most recently the credo that everyone is entitled to a college education despite overwhelming evidence that low-income Americans are disproportionately likely to drop out before earning a degree and accumulate debt they can never discharge.

While these policy disasters have afflicted low-income Americans of all races and ethnicities, they have devastated African-Americans most of all. The Left, fixated on race, identity politics, and the sinfulness of America, is unwilling to acknowledge its grotesque failures. Instead, it has adapted to the persistence of poverty and social breakdown among African-Americans (replicated to various degrees among Indians, Hispanics and whites) by finding racism in micro-aggressions and blaming poverty on ever-more-subtle forces of institutional racism.

That’s the problem I have with these academic seminars and symposia. Far from fostering “free-ranging conversations,” they tolerate only a limited spectrum of views. They ignore strains of thought that would threaten their sinful-America paradigm. Instead of embracing a positive approach — how can individuals and communities lift themselves up from poverty — they pursue a divisive, zero-sum game. Reparations in the United States is a non-starter. The idea of collectively punishing one race for the sins of committed by members of that race more than 100 years ago in order to repay the descendants of the victims is intellectually incoherent. Not only does the idea stir great resentment, it distracts us from the proper task at hand — identifying policies that actually work.

After 400 Years, the Pamunkeys Shall Rise Again

Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray. Photo credit: WTJU

Wow, ever since winning federal recognition as an Indian tribe, the Pamunkey Indians are on a tear. Last week I  highlighted PamunkeyNet, a proposal to bring broadband Internet service to rural counties in the Chesapeake Bay region. Now, we find out that the Pamunkeys are thinking bigger… way bigger.

According to Daily Press, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is looking for land to build what it envisions as a $700 million gaming center that features shows, a spa and a hotel. The project would employ some 4,000 full-time workers and would have a $200 million payroll. Not bad when you consider that the Pamunkeys number only 380 members!

It’s hard to know what to make of all this activity. Since securing their federal recognition, the Pamunkeys have been conducting negotiations with investor groups that specialize in helping Indian tribes launch similar ventures. The value proposition of Indian tribes is their ability to access federal funds and their exemption from many state and local restrictions.

I’ll be the first to admit to an anti-Pamunkey bias, dating back to 1675 and the original Bacon’s Rebellion. Nathaniel Bacon led a movement comprised mainly of poor farmers and white and black former indentured servants against the corrupt regime of Governor Sir William Berkeley. The Pamunkeys sided with Berkeley. The frontier was notorious for tit-for-tat raids and retaliations between English settlers and Indian tribes, and it is fashionable among historians now to accuse Bacon’s forces of making indiscriminate attacks on innocent Indians, including the Pamunkey. Bah! Politically correct thinking infects everything! I reject it. Cross Nathaniel Bacon for whatever reason, and you’re on my black list.

I bear modern-day Pamunkeys no ill will for the deeds of their misguided ancestors. But I find myself astonished by the sudden good fortune about to be showered upon a handful of tribesmen by virtue of their ancient lineage. Whether they succeed in building a casino or not, it seems they have hit the proverbial jackpot.

Judging by the Daily Press article, the Pamunkey tribe has an enlightened attitude. It is using its privileged status to help the broader community by expanding senior housing, rural broadband services, and job creation.

“We don’t live in teepees; we’re just your neighbors,” said Chief Robert Gray. “We’ve got jobs in Richmond, Mechanicsville, Williamsburg. We’re retirees, kids … right now we can use HUD (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) funds, the Indian Health Service. But wouldn’t it be great if we paid for our own health care — more self-sufficiency, more self government.”

The Pamunkeys sound like good neighbors. And I respect the fact that they have managed to maintain a distinct identity for hundreds of years. But in the irony of ironies, they are adopting a strategy that’s become as American as mom and apple pie — working the leviathan state for privileges and favors. They’re joining the ranks of the rent seekers. What a shame.

Spend Less, Invest More, Improve Credit Scores

U.S. Personal Saving Rate since 1960. Too low for all Americans.

The editorial board of the Virginian-Pilot finds it a matter for “concern” that African-Americans are denied mortgage loan applications in the Hampton Roads region at a higher rate than whites. “In Hampton Roads,” writes the Pilot, black applicants during the study’s period — 2015 and 2016 — were 2.4 times more likely to be denied mortgages than white applicants.

As I began reading this editorial, I braced myself for the usual insinuations that the disparity is due to discrimination, white privilege, institutional racism, or whatever. But I was pleasantly surprised. The editorial writers acknowledged that the study by the Center for Investigative Reporting from which they drew their data did not account for the credit scores of borrowers (or loan-to-asset ratios, for that matter). Indeed, they went so far as to aver, “There is no evidence that the gap is a direct result of discrimination.”

Still, they find the disparity troubling, and they suggest that “something more than economic trends might be a factor.” The report should prompt a “serious review” of lending practices to ensure that there’s “no subtle discrimination at play, no policies or actions that could — even unintentionally — lead to racial discrimination.”

I applaud the Pilot editorial writers for breaking free of the simple-minded institutional-racism narrative. But they don’t go nearly far enough. They remain so ensnared by progressive assumptions that they can’t imagine any other explanation for the disparity than a subtle, as-yet-undetected bias — even though, as they acknowledge, mortgage lenders say it wouldn’t make financial sense to deny a loan to any qualified candidate.

I would refer the editorialists to a December 2017 commentary by Alfred Edmond Jr. in Black Enterprise. Edmond addresses a fact, celebrated in other contexts, that African-Americans were estimated in 2016 to wield some $1.2 trillion in consumer buying power. Buying power is not the same as wealth, he cautions.

Addressing other blacks, Edmond writes:

The ability to build wealth depends on the degree we control our spending, so that after we pay income and other taxes, and for necessities such as housing, food, and transportation, we have something left over to not just spend, but to earmark for emergency savings, retirement savings, an investment portfolio, buying real estate (beginning with our own homes), financing businesses, and acquiring other assets.

Right now, while black income has grown rapidly over the past 70 years, our spending has grown even faster, which means we are spending every penny we make and then some (which is the case for most Americans). And what allows us to spend more than we make? Easy access to credit, of course. …

The truth is that money is in our garage, in our homes, and on our bodies, in the form of consumer goods, such as cars, clothes, electronics, and experiences (such as that daily, gourmet coffee-dessert) that we’re convinced we deserve and can’t live without, or even defer long enough to save, rather than borrow at interest, to have. And far too much of our money is going toward interest payments on the debt we took on (much of it via credit cards) to make these purchases.

Blacks can pursue one of two paths, he says:

A poverty-creation lifestyle. Spend more than you make, regardless of income, and borrow, paying interest and fees, to cover the difference. After providing for basic necessities (and often instead of doing so) you spend all of your income on high-priced, low-value, depreciating assets, such as clothes, cars, jewelry, etc.

A wealth-creation lifestyle. Spend less than you make, regardless of income, and save and invest the difference, earning interest, dividends and capital gains. Invest as much as possible in sensibly priced, appreciating assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, etc.

What Edmond writes, of course, is true for everyone, not just African-Americans. Personal thrift and saving were long considered virtues in the United States. But with the general disparagement of “bourgeois virtues” and the rise of hyper-consumerism, the willingness to defer gratification has gone out of style. Savings rates in the U.S. are half of what they were in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. (See the chart atop this post.) For whatever historical or cultural reason — perhaps attributable to past discrimination and a desire to enjoy the material blessings that other Americans take for granted — African-Americans spend more (thus accounting for their punching above their weight in consumer spending), save less, accumulate more debt, and have worse credit scores. Which means they get turned down more frequently when they apply for mortgages.

Rather than engaging in wild goose chases, seeking auras and penumbras of discrimination in the banking industry, society should be encouraging African-Americans to embrace the virtue of thrift. Resources devoted to underwriting deeply flawed and deceptive “investigative” reporting such as the Center for Investigative Reporting study (see my take-down here) would be far better deployed to teaching financial literacy to African-Americans — indeed, to all Americans, for financial illiteracy and irresponsible spending know no ethnic or racial bounds. Meanwhile, the editorial writers of the Virginian-Pilot would be well advised to broaden their reading list. Black Enterprise might be a good place to start.

Is the “Bias” at UVa Worth All the Attention It Gets?

The University of Virginia promotes an “inclusive and welcoming environment for all.” It encourages students to promptly report bias-related incidents so the administration can evaluate them to determine if university policies have been violated. The university also collects data on “bias” incidents reported by students.

The incidents include verbal, written or physical threats, harassment or intimidation, and it covers a wide range of protected groups based on age, color, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital status or — get this — family medical or genetic information. You can find the report for the 2016-17 academic year here.

The UVa administration divides bias reports into four categories. Category 1 consists of actual threats or harassment. Category 2 describes conduct directed not at individuals but protected groups generally. Category 3 includes incidents that do not appear to involve any bias-motivated conduct, and Category 4 covers allegations lacking sufficient detail to evaluate. Categories 1 and 2 are the only ones worth worrying about, so I will exclude the other two from this discussion.

Now, in a 24,000-student university ruled by identity politics, how many Category 1 and Category 2 bias incidents would you expect to be reported over the course of the year? 100? 500? 1,000?

None of the above. Depending on exactly what you’re counting, the number is more like 40 to 45.

Most of the allegations involved verbal or online harassment. Only one incident rose to the level of someone making a threat. One entailed vandalism, and one involved property damage. Not one physical altercation was reported.

And remember, these are allegations — before UVa has investigated the truth behind the charges. UVa does not reveal the results of its investigations, but it would be interesting to know how many cases were verified as real, and how many had mitigating circumstances. For example, how many incidents arose during an argument of escalating rhetoric and insults? How many consisted of “micro-aggressions” made unwittingly?

Conversely, it is likely that some bias incidents were never reported. Still, the numbers — roughly one report filed for every 530 students — strikes me as astonishingly low given the hyper-sensitivity on college campuses these days.

The hopeful message from this data is that the vast majority of UVa students of all races, ethnicities, and religions mix easily with one another. There may be the occasional incident like that one I noted yesterday about pro-Palestinian protesters busting up an event sponsored by Jewish groups, but that is a rarity.

The low number of incidents also tells me that the campus obsession with identity politics is misplaced. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to get along, and in fact they do. The right-wing and left-wing political extremists who stoke racial and gender grievances represent the biggest problem. If UVa categorized the students who filed complaints by their level of political consciousness, who knows what else we might find?

Race, Responsibility and the Welfare State

by Vic Nicholls

What is the justification for taxing people to provide healthcare? There is no mandate for it in the Constitution. The “general welfare” was never considered to include health care. The campaign slogans of the Founding Fathers never included, “Free leech treatments for all!”

Are all men “created equal”? No. Everyone has different talents. I can’t get on a football or basketball team. They can’t do what I do in Information Technology. Is it the job or responsibility of the United States government to make me equal to them or them equal to me? No. Are we equal in the sight of God? Yes.

Should people who sacrificed to made the personal choices to earn college degrees and delay having children until they were married be penalized for making those choices by forcing them to pay for others who didn’t? Would you expect to pay higher insurance because your neighbors’ kid wrecked two of his parents cars? Is it fair to discriminate against those with bad driving records? Should the government require equal insurance premiums for everyone?

If we institute Medicare/Medicaid for all, where would personal responsibility start and end? If there is a shortage of doctors, how do we determine who gets one and who doesn’t? Since we were given the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” how does freedom from the tyrant’s power to tax me to fund his armies and empire translate into the power of my fellow countrymen to tax me to provide them 21st-century medical care?

Nowadays, appeals to personal responsibility and initiative are described as justifications for white privilege. If you earned a B.A. degree, got a job in your field, married, and then had kids, would you expect your children to have a better start in life than one who’s parents didn’t? Of course! Does that make you “privileged”? Not at all.

Notice that in listing the essential requirements for success in life, I didn’t mention race. That’s because I know non-white spouses who followed the formula and live as well as I do.

Many assume that all differences between the races are due to racism. But once you factor out marriage, education, in-wedlock birth, age (whites are older on average than blacks and Hispanics and have had more time to climb the income scale), and inheritance from parents who made the same responsible choices, what difference is there left?

If it’s racism that keeps people down rather than hard work and grit that allow people to rise, how do we explain the career of the noted African-American economist Dr. Walter Williams? He grew up in the projects with his mother and sister, but no father. He earned a Ph.D. in 1972, and has been teaching at George Mason University since 1980, and he publishes a nationally syndicated column. Racism was worse back then than it is now. How do we explain his success?

Explain Mae Jemison. She was born in Alabama in 1956. Her mother was an elementary English/math school teacher and her father was a maintenance supervisor. Her family moved to Chicago to give her better educational opportunities. She graduated high school in 1973 and went to Stanford at age 16, graduating 4 years later with a B.S. in chemical engineering and B.A. in African/Afro-American studies. Engineering professors would pretend she wasn’t there. Her family was always encouraging, though. She got her M.D. in 1981 at Cornell.

Explain Dr. Ben Carson, Dr. Charles Drew, or countless others less famous. Explain my African-American next-door neighbors, both of whose kids have masters’ degrees. I can explain their success: My neighbors married before the kids were born and have lived in the same house since the ’80’s. They sacrificed a ton to make sure their kids got a solid start in life. 

It’s time we asked a different question: When government takes away from those who worked for their success and gives it to those who didn’t, does it subsidize failure? When government subsidizes failure, do we get more of it?

Vic Nicholls lives in Chesapeake. For more on the topic, she recommends viewing Walter Williams’ speech, “How much can discrimination explain?” on the video above.

More Data to Inform the UVa Seminar on Race

Earlier this week I asked, “Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?” The University of Virginia is organizing a seminar to instruct faculty members about the history of race locally and nationally and current issues relating to health, educational and economic disparities. On the assumption that seminar participants will examine UVa’s role in race relations, I humbly suggested a few data points that should be considered.

I lacked hard data on several topics that I thought worth examining. But I have since been directed by a friendly source to two data sets. The first tells us the net price paid to attend the University of Virginia, broken down by income range. Net price takes the list price and deducts all sources of federal aid (Pell grants primarily), state assistance, and institutional assistance. The table above, taken from the College Navigator database maintained by the National Center for Educational Statistics, provides that information for UVa.

Entering full-time students from poor families (making less than $30,000 per year) paid an average net price of $9,463 in the 2015-16 school year to attend UVa. Students from affluent families (making more than $110,101) paid almost three times as much — $27,814. UVa kids from poor families pay considerably less than poor kids at, say, Norfolk State University, where the net tuition works out to $13,952.

How is that relevant to a discussion of race? Insofar as black students are statistically more likely than whites and Asians to come from poor families, they benefit disproportionately from UVa’s financial aid system. If we’re talking about the persistence of institutional racism at UVa, then a highly relevant data point is how much members of different racial/ethnic groups actually pay to attend. (College Navigator does not break down financial aid by race, but UVa undoubtedly has that information.)

A second data set tells us how likely African-Americans are to graduate from UVa within six years. I had speculated on the basis of incomplete information that the differential was about 6 or 7 percentage points. In fact, the disparity is only 4 percentage points.

Percentage of Full-time, First-time Students Who Began Their Studies in Fall 2010 and Received a Degree or Award Within 150% of “Normal Time” to Completion for Their Program

We can look at this data in two ways. If we adopted the approach of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s research on mortgage loan discrimination (See “Racism, Racism, Everywhere You Look“), we would emphasize that African-Americans are almost twice as likely as whites (9% compared to 5%) to drop out. Sounds like institutional racism to me! On the other hand, we could emphasize that African-Americans are only 4.4% less likely to graduate than whites. Sounds like African-Americans thrive at UVa!

One could dig even deeper, comparing the graduation rates of whites, Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans within the same income ranges. That would filter out the effects of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage.

To my mind, these data help provide a starting point for an honest, open discussion about race at UVa. We could broaden the conversation by developing comparable data for all public institutions of higher education in Virginia and by comparing UVa’s performance to that of other colleges and universities.

Will these data become part of the dialogue, or do the organizers of the seminar have some other approach in mind? I have no idea. But I would love to be a fly on the wall to find out.

Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?

UVa president’s house. Will UVa’s new president open up the data needed for a honest and open dialogue about race and racism at the university?

As I blogged last week, the University of Virginia is organizing a seminar with the goal of equipping faculty to teach their disciplines “in relation to the history and present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.” Sessions will “connect historical events and struggles with contemporary concerns such as health, educational, and economic disparities, as well as white supremacist discourse and actions and present efforts toward justice and equity.”

It was unfair of me in that post to suggest that the exercise might be dominated by a politically correct, social-justice-warrior perspective that will illuminate the views of white supremacists but give short shrift to mainstream conservative and libertarian thinking. UVa has assured me that the seminar will “encourage open dialogue among the seminar participants.”

I also have every confidence that the university will take an honest look at its own practices regarding race, not just in the past but in the present. In the spirit of open dialogue, I offer a few data points to consider.

A good place to start is the demographic breakdown of Virginia’s population (2010 census):

White — 68.6%
Black — 19.4%
Asian — 5.5%
Other — 3.7%
Multiracial — 2.9%

(Hispanics, a cultural group apportioned between the aforementioned racial groups, comprise 7.9% of the population.)

Now, here is a breakdown of UVa’s undergraduate student population, based on data from its Diversity Dashboard:

By percentage, that works out to:

White — 58.9%
Black — 6.5%
Asian — 14.0%
Hispanic — 6.5%
Multiracial — 4.3%
Other (foreign, unknown, other) — 10.6%

Even accounting for the differing ways of categorizing by race and culture, it’s clear that blacks are severely under-represented at UVa, Asians are over-represented, and whites are represented in rough proportion to their percentage of the overall population. Examine the charts on the UVa website for graduate students, staff, and faculty as well. While there are some differences (foreign students push up the “other” grouping among graduate students), comparable racial disparities exist across the board.

Here’s the first question. Do the disparities reflect institutional racism at the University of Virginia? Or do disparities reflect the dismal realities of the labor market (there are fewer African-Americans possessing the educational credentials to teach at UVa) and the dismal realities of the educational pipeline (fewer African-Americans meeting the UVa entry requirements)?

Here’s a second question. How does one account for the massive over-representation of Asian students — 14% of the student body but only 5.5% of the student population? Does UVa discriminate in favor of Asian students? Or does it have a meritocratic admissions policy that favors Asians based on objective criteria such as SAT scores, high school class rankings, and other factors?

Once we have touched upon those issues, we can move to a related matter. UVa has stepped up its diversity efforts over the past decade. Perhaps the university could document its dedication to the task by providing an accounting of the manpower and budget devoted to diversity. Yet the number of African-American students actually has declined from 1,199 in 2009 to 1,049 today. Has institutional racism at the university gotten worse, or might there be a different explanation? (Interestingly, the decline has been the most marked among African-American women. Has UVa become more sexist as well as more racist during this period?)

One way we can answer these questions is to provide admissions data that the university administration has heretofore held close to its chest. What is the average SAT score broken down by racial/ethnic group? If average SAT scores of African-Americans are higher than those of other racial/ethnic groups, we could reasonably conclude that they are being discriminated against. Conversely, lower scores would suggest that UVa admissions criteria are designed to increase representation of blacks. So, which is it? It is within UVa’s power to answer this fundamental question. Will it?

Another way to approach the issue of institutional racism is to examine graduation rates by race and ethnic origin. UVa publishes graduation rates for all students. According to UVa’s data, almost 90% graduate within four years, and 94% within six years. The university even publishes graduation rates for athletes (75% within four years). But curiously, it does not publish a breakdown by race. The information is vital to an open and honest dialogue, however, so I feel confident that the UVa administration will make it available.

It’s also curious that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which maintains a voluminous database for all public colleges and universities, does not break down 4- or 6-year graduations by race. It does, however, break down graduation rates between “majority” students and “students of color.” The database does not define “students of color.” By common definition, however, the term refers to non-whites, thus it includes Asians as well as blacks, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.

According to SCHEV data, “majority” students graduate from UVa within four years at a rate of 86.3%. (I can’t explain the discrepancy between UVa data and SCHEV data.) “Students of color” graduate at rate of 83.5%. Given the proclivity of Asians to out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically, it is reasonable to assume that they graduate at a rate at least as high as the white rate of 86.3%. Remove them from the “students of color” category, and the average four-year graduation rate drops to 80% or so. That’s just a guess, of course, but if I’m off, UVa can provide authoritative data any time it wants.

What accounts for the 6% to 7% disparity in graduation rate? Is the graduation gap evidence that UVa creates an environment that is hostile to blacks? If the graduation rate is higher for black women and lower for black men (as I suspect it is), does that mean the university environment is more hostile to black men than to black women, and, if so, how does that comport with the pervasive academic theory that black women are victims of both pervasive racism and sexism? I hesitate to bring up yet another possibility, but the question must be asked: Is it possible that campus identity-based ideology based on grievance and victimhood contributes to blacks’ sense of alienation and affects their commitment to graduate?

Another area worth examining is disparities in what students of different ethnic/racial origins pay to attend UVa. The university, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the federal government dispense a significant amount of financial aid based upon the student’s family income. Whites on average come from more affluent families than blacks, so it goes without saying that they need, and receive, less financial aid. But any dialogue about “health, educational, and economic disparities” should take into account measures designed to reduce those disparities. Thus, it would be worthwhile to know how much whites pay for tuition on average versus how much blacks pay. If blacks benefit more than whites from financial aid, that discrepancy undercuts the idea of institutional racism. But we won’t know unless UVa publishes that data. Will it?

Any honest, open dialogue on race will encompass both perceptions and facts. The perceptions are real in the sense that people hold certain ideas about the world around them, but not all perceptions are equally grounded in the facts. It is important for UVa to provide the data so the discussion can proceed on the basis of both perceptions and facts.