Saturday, April 24, 2010

Some Reasons Why Blacks Fail

I was part of a panel speaking to an audience of inner-city residents, overwhelmingly African-American.

I told my father's story--with embedded lessons about the worthiness of all work (He sewed shirts in a factory in Harlem for near minimum wage), the freedom to live life as you want by adopting a non-materialistic lifestyle, and a refusal to play victim, even though he was wrested from his home as a teenager by the Nazis, was in a concentration camp while all his family members were killed--he escaped with 11 men), came to the U.S. without a penny, without education, a word of English, nor family, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. Yet he didn't take a penny of government assistance except that he attended night school to learn English. And when I asked him, when I was 13, why he rarely talked about the Holocaust, he said, "Martin, the Nazis took five years from my life. I'm not going to give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward."

The most interesting statement made by my co-panelists was by Wilson Riles, Jr. (pictured above,) former Oakland City Councilman and son of California Schools Superintendent Wilson Riles Sr. He said, "Young people are going to do drugs, destroy property, and such. They need unconditional love if they're going to have self-esteem."

I countered that that is precisely the opposite of what parent of successful, productive children provide. Love should not be unconditional. Self-esteem should not be the goal. Most successful people have fairly low self-esteem, not so low they're curled up in bed all day with a bottle of vodka, but low enough that they're always concerned, "Am I good enough? How can I get better?" They have parents who don't for a moment, tolerate that their kids are going to do drugs, destroy property, etc. When I had a gambling habit, my mother kicked my gambling crony out of my house: "You do not dare come here again. And Martin, if you gamble again, I am kicking you out of the house." I got the message. I didn't need unconditional love; I needed conditional love.

Riles responded by saying that I was being simplistic and that kids at Stanford exhibit the same sort of behavior--they do drugs, destroy their dorms, etc., and they turn out fine. We just need to give kids a safe place to do their teenage exploratory behavior."

I felt it was inappropriate to dominate the discussion (there were two other panelists) so I shut up rather than list the many fallacies of his counterargument. (e.g., severity, prevalence, and authority-response to the behavior at Stanford, plus the far-greater-than-average intellectual reserves that Stanford students have that will enable them to be productive members of society despite modest adolescent excesses.)

At the end, when the event's convener thanked the panelists, we got a standing ovation--but nearly all the smiling eyes were directed at him, not at me, nor the other panelists, who were noncontroversial.

During the luncheon that followed, attendees came up to me and said "I respect your right to say what you believe but..." whereupon they launched into statements about the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism, and the need for yet more decades of government programs and nonprofit activism to radicalize "the community."

The only real supporter of my views was one of the few white attendees (the caterer of the luncheon). She said, "You opened my eyes to the wrongness of unconditional love both for the child and for the parent who often has to sacrifice their quality of life to deal with a miscreant child."

Maybe I'm just some white guy out of touch with the African-American experience (even though I grew up in the diverse Bronx and Flushing, Queens, taught in inner-city schools in New York City and Richmond, CA and visited many of my students' homes and took students home for the weekend), but I deeply believe that African-Americans' low achievement, as well as that of all people, would be far more improved by an end to the excuse-making and a start to a truly honest discussion of why, despite 60 years of mammoth spending on compensatory programs, media bombardment us with relentless messages about the greatness of African Americans and denigration of whites, the racial achievement and crime gaps remain as wide as ever.

I walked out of there depressed.


Anonymous said...

Marty, fifty to seventy thousand years of divergent evolution separate blacks and whites. The core issue, I believe, is that blacks and whites differ on average in certain psychological traits and that when considering the groups in the aggregate these differing psychological profiles become awfully important. I'm from Somalia and I spend a lot of time thinking about why it is a messed up a country and the best answer is, simply, the way the people are.

Europeans and Asians had thousands of years of government, literacy, the rule of law, etc. It's possible that they self-domesticated themselves to these things on the genetic level(at least somewhat) compared to groups who haven't historically developed/lived under those things.

So there could be a mismatch between this society's economic system (which was fundamentally shaped by the white psyche) and the sort of society blacks are used to. Looking at it another way, it's a good and great thing that most blacks are employed and are not criminals. The problem is the insistence on parity between all groups.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the audience didn't flat out call you "racist." Perhaps they thought you meant well and decided to try and enlighten you.

The same people will be saying the same things when, in the next decade or so, the situation has not improved in their community.

The two young men that were the subject of your previous post needed a lot more than just, as your co-panelist put it, "unconditional love" and "a safe place to do their teenage exploratory behavior." I'm guessing that basic discipline might have prevented that tragedy and others like it from happening.

For your co-panelist to condone reckless behavior and for the audience to give it a pass because of past actions is appalling. Not all black people condone or engage in such behaviors, nor do all of them "turn out fine" when they do. And if government assistance was the answer, the panel you spoke on would not have been necessary in the first place.

I grew up around people like this. Most of those who engaged in destructive behavior did not "turn out fine." Most of the ones who are still alive are in bad shape and have passed on the same behaviors & beliefs to their children, ensuring that the behavior will continue and the same results will happen to the next generation. In my opinion, they will not "turn out fine."

Anonymous said...

wow, I'm interested to hear that folks from Africa are learning - whether there or here, I don't know - that there has been 50,000 year isolation between Africa and Europe and Asia.

The best science I know of on this indicates that humans have continued migrating and intermarrying in all directions throughout history.

Land routes to Africa have been open continuously, and sea routes as well for tens of thousands of years.

Israel admits Ethiopian Jews as immigrants under the Law of Return, as I understand it - there are at least two places in Africa where Jewish traditions are recognizably followed, and there is an Ethiopian claim to hold the Ark of the Covenant, brought to the land after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Moving to the science, in a nutshell, additive genetic variance between regional groups of humans is less than additive genetic variance within regional groups. In biology, what this means is that there is continuous mixing from immigration.

Lately, there have been a series of studies on skull morphology and genetic varance. This is likely in part because skulls tend to be available intact enough to be measured in primate remains even when many other bones are lost.

One very interesting conclusion from these studies appears to be that most regional variation in skull shape is driven by neutral change, rather than natural selection. (One important determining factor in skull shape is diet in childhood: as teeth and jaws are used differently, the bone supporting them remodels. Dietary staples tend to be common to everyone in a region, regardless of where they are from.) Another conclusion, if I understand the author correctly, is that there is a Siberian group which seems to show change typical of natural selection rather than of neutral variation. The study looks at a large (>2400) sample of skull measurements and also looks at genetics. The Siberian group is the only one the author sees evidence for selection in (and this seems to imply also that that group has been relatively more isolated than most to immigration.)

Another interesting paper was a survey paper looking at skull shape in Neanderthal versus modern humans. That paper argues that the differences in skull shape between those two groups looks as if it were driven more by neutral forces than by selection for particular skull charactistics.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and apologies: I was completely sidetracked by the comment about tens of thousands of years of divergence.

I agree with the core point I hear you making: that parents should have high expectations of their kids, and express their disappointment when their kids screw up.

I think there is a way to be unconditionally loving of a person without being unconditionally accepting of their behavior; "I love you, and I know you so profoundly that I am sure you can do so much better" seems like a start.

Anonymous said...

I didn't learn in Africa about these things but in current books about the origin of humans. Nicholas Wade, in his book "Before the Dawn" says the humans who populated Asia/Europe/America was, initially, a small band of about 200 people and they left Africa 50,000 years ago. They know these things because Asians/Amerindians/Whites share certain genetic similarities that aren't found in sub-saharan blacks. Look, it isn't a pleasant thing to talk about, but the facts of black underachievement could be merely a fact of the world, a result of biology. 50% of American whites have IQs below a 100, whereas it's 84% of American blacks who have IQs lower than a 100. There's also the problem of low-future time orientation, low work ethic, higher impulsiveness, etc. These things become important when people insist on comparing group outcomes and they are the main problem, IMO.

When it comes to African immigrants (who tend to do well) there's a selection effect going on. America selects smart Africans who've already demonstrated their skills. This confounds people into thinking that the problem with African-Americans is all "cultural" since most African immigrants are doing alright.

Anonymous said...

Did Riles just make up that statement about Stanford students? In six years on campus, I never saw any dorms destroyed. Some students do drugs but I would put it in the minority. Kids who ever destroyed any property would never make it into Stanford in the first place.

The subject discussed in this article does not sound like unconditional love. Love does not mean tolerating any bad behavior. In fact, I would say that is the opposite. Along with this, disciplining a child to make him a better person is not conditional love. It is love.

Anonymous said...

I think what Wade is talking about is markers found in a small, early-exiting group - I don't think (I have not read the book, granted) that those markers imply there have not been continual wave of emigration from and immigration to Africa.

What I have read is that there's a great deal of continuous mixing of human populations - far more than in any other mammal that's widely dispersed, as people are.

As for what I wish had occurred to Marty to say to Riles:

The African-American community does an extremely good job of stigmatizing certain behaviors that are much less harmful than rage and criminal violence.

For instance, gay African-Americans have had a tremendously hard time being accepted, and are still very broadly rejected by the community.

I'm not saying that that is a good thing, but that it is the reverse of what it could, in a better world, be: violent criminal behavior and posturing could be rejected across the entire community, and being queer could be accepted, if perhaps only grudgingly or even with the level of reservation that Mr. Riles showed today.

Anonymous said...

Here's another possible reason.

From the article: "The University of California's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) has launched another salvo in its long-running war against the SAT, the test used by many colleges and universities to assess academic achievement among high school seniors. This is only the latest in a series of moves by BOARS against the SAT, but this one may be a stalking horse to eliminate standardized tests in general, especially if they conflict with the goal of promoting racial and ethnic diversity."

Look here for more info.

If racial diversity, how groups look from the outside, becomes more important than anything else to institutions, it could backfire on some of the diverse population, not only those who would not otherwise have qualified to be there, but also those who would have made it on their own merits and without any special circumstances.

abe said...

I'm the first commenter responding to anonymous.

Observe the sheer morphological differences between the races. Compare a member of the Dinka people to a Swede. It's a stark difference.

And then observe how dogs can be so physically different from each other while being the same species. Don't dogs also differ from each other in behavior? Indeed, aren't all dogs essentially just a variety of wolf anyway?

Here's a book arguing that civilization has accelerated human evolution:

What's truly a hypothesis is that human groups that have been isolated from each other for so long and differ from each other so much in physical characteristics have nonetheless retained average psychological profiles that are the same.

Shawn said...

It seems to me that the genetic explanation, lends itself not to a libertarian perspective on the Black situation but rather a liberal one.

If Blacks are the way they are primarily because of genetics, than who can fault them? To deny genetics allows mainstream conservatives to blame actions on Blacks' free will, rather than innate IQ, etc., despite the fact that these 'conservatives' secretly believe Blacks as a group are at a genetic disadvantage, as it relates to the intellect.

Marty Nemko said...

Interesting point, Shawn. If true, does that mean that such conservatives, deep down, believe low-income Blacks deserve support (because their problems are not the fault of their behavior) but personally feel their money would better be spent elsewhere?

Shawn said...

Marty, I believe that most conservatives really don't care so much what happens to Blacks, although, I don't think they actively want anything bad to happen to them. They think their money can be better spent elsewhere.

People tend to be more supportive of wealth redistribution when the recipients are people like themselves. I think there's a shared genes/Darwinistic explanation for this.

As to fee will and genetics, etc., earlier today I wrote this relevant comment on Half Sigma's blog:

If HBD is the explainer of so much then where does free will come in?

People make choices based off how they interpret data, an interpretation that has its lens rooted mostly in genetics, and secondarily in environment.How many of us would choose to be homosexual? How many of us would take a life in cold blood? How many of us would commit some other horrendous crime? Could we? Why can/do others?

Since HBD is an explainer for so much, where does personal responsibility come in to play? If guided by genetics more than environment can people be called "evil?" When HBD explaines <70 IQ we do not have capital punishment, but when HBD explains personality, mental data processing and decision-making, we turn our heads. Can people like Genrikh Yagoda, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, etc. be blamed for their actions under HBD? Or is their culpability just minimized?

Jeffrie said...

Here's another possible reason we seem to have a disproportionate number of people like this.

This video shows a single mother of 15 children, 12 of them under age 18. This story says that the mother is only 37, so she's been having kids since she was a teenager.

"Somebody needs to pay for all my kids," says the mother in the video. By "somebody," I'm guessing she means the government or a benefactor, but she certainly does not mean herself. Nobody made her have more children than she could care for, and now she's saying somebody else needs to care for them.

This mother, who does not work and who has been described by an agency helping her and her family as "less than gracious," is passing on a mindset of entitlement to all 15 of her children. When you do that, if you think somebody owes you something for nothing, it's a set-up for failure.

By the way, the idea of entitlement is not limited to blacks or other minorities, nor to the United States.

As for the comment from Shawn: even if genetics is to blame, it does not mean blacks (or anybody) with lower IQs are completely incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, lacking in free will, or unable to succeed (depending on the chosen field).

Anonymous said...

Marty, Good for You! Too bad the audience did not remember the wisdom of your father!
As a geologist, part-time instructor of middle-school boys and someone who has been around teachers, I suggest that the other commentors direct their attention to the concepts of "generational poverty" and "hidden rules" to find a more useful understanding of behavior. My two favorite references are:
There is far less genetic difference between any of the human races (read 'varieties') than between a whippet and a St. Bernard. The Mayans/Aztecs/Incas built remarkably similar Empires and structures to the Egyptians on separate continents after migrating as hunting & gathering Paleolithic cultures.
It is not genetics, it is cultural environment, although the eco-environment may play a role. My teacher friends say that Ruby Payne has it correct. My international friends confirm the categorization of behaviors. Contrast 'Somalia' with 'Somaliland', the home of one of my friends.
Folks, we declared the 'War on Poverty' and lost! Although many are unwilling to recognize this fact of human nature - "You get more of what you subsidize!"
Keep at it Marty! thatgeol

Halona Y. Agouda said...

"Most successful people have fairly low self-esteem..."

I would love to see the research on that statement. Recognizing the need for continuous self improvement is not the same as having low self esteem. Your self esteem would have to be pretty high to begin with in order to feel confident in knowing that you are even capable of improvement at all. Having high self esteem does NOT mean you're such a perfect person that there is absolutely no need for improvement.

On to your point on (un)conditional love... I think your mother did show unconditional love. I can never speak for your mother, however I don't think she would stop loving you because you had a gambling problem -- she just refused to enable your behavior and she gave you a clear choice. Thankfully, you chose to not engage in the gambling anymore. But had you chosen to continue gambling, she probably would have been disappointed and hurt(again, I can never speak for her...), but that doesn't make a mother stop loving her child.

Regarding Riles comments... I was not there at the panel discussion, so I feel like I am missing some of the context of his comments. What was the overall panel discussion supposed to be about and how does that connect to your father's "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" story? How does it relate to the achievement of blacks, as your blog post title suggests it does? I am confused about what you are really trying to achieve. Are you proposing to cut affirmative action programs all together because everything is equal for everyone -- including white women (because that is whom has benefitted most from affirmative action...)? Are you implying that black people are not allowed to refer to themselves as a "great people" because of the many social problems they face? Do you think that because you have had experience interacting with black people that you now know ALL there is to know about black people and you are now an authority of what they need to thrive? Please explain because I am missing your point altogether.

Anonymous said...

What about self-hatred?

low achievement, high crime rates, high body counts of within group homicide/violence(all those black males dying every year is not because of white folks) this not symptomatic of self hatred? If a group has self hatred, then how do you think others outside the group will be treated. Black on white crime is disproportionate (when compared to white on black crime) but if you stack the black victims of black crime against the white victims it is not even close...look at the black on black homicide body count if that many white folks were dying a year by the hands of black folks you would definitely hear about it.

I am starting to realize this, why do you think the people who spoke to you afterward wanted more "help" is because they feel black people cannot make it on their own because they think black folks aren't capable without the help of others (aka...white paternalism..."The Blindside"). Self-hatred--> Not believing in your own groups' viability. Which a is mirror of internalized feelings of "inferiority" projected on the community as a whole.

Until that is fixed,(and it can't come from the must come from within, within the group and from within each individual of the group nothing will change.) Not now, not 10 years, or 1000 years from now. By the way white guilt is definitely not helping the situation.


Anonymous said...

And is there a reason you consistently target minorities, particularly black people, Marty?
I know you bristle when you are accused of racism, but sometimes...

Marty Nemko said...

I have written about African-Americans because they--indisputably--have the lowest achievement rates, highest drug abuse rates, crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, etc and insist their problems are largely the result of white and Asian racism.

Because my Berkeley Ph.D. is in educational program evaluation, with my dissertation on an attempt to improve African-American reading achievement, I was a teacher in heavily African-American schools in New York City and Richmond, CA, have visited many of their homes and had a half dozen students spend in the weekend in my home and that of my aide (during which one of them raped her) and African Americans have been the major focus on education and other social programs, which as a program evaluator, I was hired to evaluate, it's something I know a lot about.

Also, justice matters to me and it's unfair for African-Americans, their leaders, activists, and the media to heap the lion's share of the blame for low African-American achievement and high crime on whites and Asians.

Most importantly, I care about improving society. One way to do that is to focus on the group with the greatest deficit. That is African-Americans.

Anonymous (and it seems somehow unfair for you to call someone a racist and not even admit who you are)is a cheap way to get someone to shut down the honest conversation that is pre-requisite to society developing more effective at reducing the racial achievement gap.

If I can be allowed a moment of emotion: I feel you should be ashamed of yourself.

Jeffrie said...

Personally, I've had it with the way the word "racism" is so often carelessly used today. Somebody needs to write a story called "The Boy Who Cried Racism." Like with "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the word "racism" is used so much it's lost its true power to call it out where it really exists.

I acknowledge that racism was a daily part of the lives of my ancestors. I acknowledge that racism still exists today. I have experienced it before. So have my parents and grandparents, who went through far, far worse racist experiences than I have ever gone through, and if I ever told them something bad happened to me simply because I was black, it had better be a valid charge. Otherwise I'm wasting my time and theirs, not to mention potentially damaging a decent person's reputation.

I know Marty. I hired him as my career counselor years ago, and we have since become friends. I know that race relations is a subject that he has heavily studied, and he even wrote an unpublished book about it.

I asked Marty several times if I could read it, and he turned me down every time. When I finally asked why not, he told me "If you read it, you will hate me."

I have since learned of Marty's views on race relations, most of which he's shared on this blog. I don't hate him. In fact, because he has voiced his views, I like and respect him more. I do not believe he is racist. If I thought he was, I'd have told him so.

Jeffrie said...

And one more thing: I was not raised by wealthy, advantaged people, but I was raised to be independent and to take care of myself. If there's something that I want, I need to find a way to get it and then go for it. I don't always achieve my goals, but I do try. And successful people all over the world are the same way.

Many successful people experience discrimination and other obstacles. But they're still successful. They're not letting those obstacles keep them from going after their dreams, and neither will I.

Grace said...

To kick your young adult out of your house for breaking your clearly laid-out house rules is an expression of love. You do it in the hopes that he/she will understand and feel the negative consequences of the bad behavior and make a change. On the other hand, to continually enable someone in their bad choices is not a loving act - it is a selfish act that only mimics kindness.

I agree with Halona Y. Agouda with the self-esteem comment. You have to be very secure in your abilities and self-worth in order to carry out an honest self-evaluation, recognize areas that need improvement, and then make the change for positive growth.

Anonymous said...

Blacks seem stuck in some perpetual adolescence, where "but Johnny did it first" type thinking predominates. The exaggerated emotionality, lack of impulse control(especially when threatened or challenged), and exaggerated emphasis on status within groups, and near-constant rebellious mental state strike me as being exactly like one's teen years. The few public figure exceptions to this are often castigated in the black community.

While this certainly exists in other cultures/races, it seems nearly universal in American blacks. My guess is this is a blanket rejection of the cultural norms of a people they see as their former subjugators. They throw out the baby with the bathwater trying to be anything but white.

Ironically, they have the potential to be quasi-supermen. Far more dynamic, physically able, and strong than other races. They're just held down by mental shackles now.

Jeffrie said...

To Anonymous (May 10, 6:09 PM): I can't imagine how I and many of the non-public-figure blacks I know completely missed the broad brush you just painted us with.

If it were true that such behavior was "nearly universal in American blacks," it would be impossible for us as a group to lead independent lives. Hyper-emotional, out-of-control "supermen" rebels without a cause?

Take a closer look, if you dare. We are far more varied, and human, than you give us credit for.


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