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The End Of Racism?
February/March 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 1
Not true. Look at the Army Alpha test during World War I: It’s much bigger than fifteen points, and today it continues to drop. As you say in the book, the SAT is a proxy IQ test, and while the black-white SAT gap is considerable, it has dropped steadily over the years.
The evidence is not quite as you state, because there are a number of tests. You can’t look at a single test.
The Army Alpha came up with a two-standard-deviation difference, and now it’s down to one deviation.
But there were tests that showed one standard deviation then, and there’s some evidence that tests today show more than one standard deviation. I don’t claim to be an expert on this part of The Bell Curve by any means. But the authors actually argued that there’s a dysgenic effect, that over time what’s happening is that the black-white IQ gap may be getting bigger. This is not my main concern. I’m not arguing the minutiae of the issue. What I’m arguing is that there’s a large gap. White kids who come from families earning less than twenty thousand dollars a year score better on the SAT than black kids who come from families earning more than sixty thousand dollars a year. It is very difficult for me to see how either racism or poverty could explain these gaps. That’s why culture is what I turn to.
Do you think discrimination accounts for any of the black-white difference today? Do you see discrimination as any kind of present danger? There’s a chilling scene in the book where you go to a racist group’s convention and they say all sorts of scary things. Is that something that we shouldn’t be worried about today?
As people like David Duke, Mark Fuhrman, and Jared Taylor show, racism continues to be a problem, and it’s something that we should be worried about. Even though groups like the Klan are a pale image of their former self, a few fanatics can do a lot of damage, as the Oklahoma City bombing showed. Moreover, there is rational discrimination, discrimination that makes sense: the cabdriver who is reluctant to pick up young black males. This kind of discrimination will persist in a free society. I’m unhappy about it, and it’s not clear what one can do about it, but it is a problem, and it does exist. I’m most concerned about the law-abiding black who is trying to play by the rules, who’s trying to be a productive member of society, but who is nevertheless treated as if he were not—not because whites are raving bigots but because he belongs to a group whose statistical pattern makes that kind of judgment rational. It’s a terrible paradox. On the one hand, the judgment is rational. On the other hand, the young black male has the right to feel that he’s being treated unjustly and immorally.
If you were running the country, what would you do now?
What we need now is a color-blind public policy combined with a serious effort at cultural restoration. What we need to do is focus on strengthening people’s skills, strengthening families. The government can play only a limited role in this kind of civilizational project, but it can play some role.
You say in the book that although the black middle class grew dramatically in the last generation, it is economically dependent on government employment and affirmativeaction programs. If so, where do all those middle-class blacks go after the economic infrastructure that supports their being middleclass is taken away?
I’ll give you an example, and then I’ll try to zoom in on this point. The British in India set up their headquarters in Bengal. That’s where the civil service jobs were. So many of the smart Bengalis went into the civil service. They became intellectuals. The other groups—the Parsees, the Gujaratis—were not favored by the British, and they went into small business. They set up little shops.
Here’s my point. When the British went home, where did the Bengalis go? The answer is they had to fend for themselves. They had to scramble. They had a problem. True. One of the reasons that the Bengalis didn’t go into small business is that they had the superstructure of the colonial system providing ready-made jobs. In America the combined effect of rapid desegregation and affirmative action was to undermine the fragile institution of black entrepreneurship. Too many black businesses today are dependent on government. So I think we’re in a difficult transition. The transition from government dependence to self-reliance will take probably twenty to thirty years.
Why would it take that short a time? Don’t cultural patterns persist for much longer than that? Could you bootstrap an entrepreneurial tradition in black America in twenty years?
Black America did have an entrepreneurial tradition. It was repressed and circumscribed under segregation, but it did exist. In fact it was arguably more vital under segregation than subsequently.
But even under segregation the smart kid was encouraged to become a preacher or a teacher, not an entrepreneur. That was one reason for the phenomenon of the Jewish merchant in the ghetto, who has now been succeeded by the Korean.