This column actually just made me realize that CRT is on to something important, and that systemic racism is a perfectly good term, that goes a long way toward explaining the disparate outcomes between Black and White Americans.

In the American system, as McWhorter points out, many Black children today (and probably even many of their parents) believe that academic achievement is a "white thing". They grew up in a system in which it is common to believe that academic achievement is not for Black people like me. It's not cool. And the results of this attitude are devastating for Black Americans, where academic success is a prerequisite for economic success. That seems to be an excellent example of how our system is creating deep disparities between Black and White household wealth. This attitude developed over generations because it wasn't common to see Black teachers, professors, engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, etc.

And as further evidence that this is part of the American system, Black children from immigrant households don't have this attitude toward academic achievement. They don't see it as a "white thing". Immigrant parents would find such thinking absurd. They find it absurd BECAUSE they didn't grow up in the American system. They don't have generations of history in the American system.

And this is why it's helpful to see disparate outcomes as being the result of systemic racism. Now we know the problem. And knowing the problem, maybe we can do something concrete to solve it. We can start working hard to change this part of our system. We can dispel this destructive idea among Black students that academic achievement is "a white thing".

Where am I wrong?

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Excellent piece of work and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I think it will be important to continue to highlight more granular evidence of factors that contribute to the disparities that are observed. One of the greatest challenges is that of human psychological factors. People tend to gravitate toward easier explanations and that is well documented. We must also contend with other factors such as confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and fundamental attribution errors which are common but often of less interest to people in general.

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The casualties of the "rhetorical bludgeon" are nuance, context, and intention, and that's a big problem for teachers. The idea that a word is always hurtful, therefore taboo (or a topic. Or a writer who is also a criminal) is destructive. The loss of the sense that a word can be an epithet in one context and a weapon dismantling racism in another is tragic.

I could go on for many paragraphs, and the more I do, the more people stare in horror. The classroom used to be and should be a safe space, where students can read and learn about the past without a Victorian fainting couch. Experiencing Harriet Jacobs' or Maya Angelou's lives vicariously is what we should be doing, not apologizing for language or acts that may trigger the sensitive. I have lately been writing about the songs of my youth--Sly and the Family Stone, for instance, with their delightful, but alas now unprintable, lyrics. In the late sixties, legal battles were fought over the sexual language in the musical Hair. What's anybody doing with "Black Boys/White Boys" now? How about Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar," which he wrote, I assume, when he was high, and which I persist in experiencing as his teenage sex fantasy, not some unconscious racist diatribe? His youthful mind was peppered with the colonialist past of his imperialist forbears but listen to the music. It's rollicking rock. The mood is parody. Play. If he'd written that song yesterday, I'd have a different opinion, because he'd be ignoring the horrors of the last two years. In 2019, the Chicago Tribune characterized the song as “a tune glorifying slavery, rape, torture and pedophilia.” I would bet my home and bank account that this is the very last thing Jagger intended. Intention does matter.

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Casteel’s hypothesis, research and conclusions correspond with my experience (I’m not suggesting a case study of one White woman is particularly scientifically relevant, but I’ll share it nonetheless...)

I graduated from high school in 1983 and was completed disengaged. I had a relatively comfortable life in middle class Ohio, a lot of friends, a lot of parties, and a lot of politics. I was horrified by our funding of the contras, Reagan’s campaign to make “liberal” a dirty word and to dumb us all down into fearful and reactionary widgets. My way of fighting back was to eschew and mock the education provided to me. The night before I took the ACT (or SAT - can’t remember), I was out until 5:00 a.m. and thus mostly used Phil Collins’ song as my guide to answering.

I took some time off between high school and college to explore America and who I was (I’ve realized over time that who I am is not a question worth pursuing as much as what can I do to bring more logic into play in myself), arguably a much better education than enrolling in whatever college would have taken me.

My parents were loving and detached in that 70s way. I was raised with benign neglect that unwittingly put a premium on self-reliance and independence, consequently I had no interest in pleasing my parents and few teachers inspired me. I think I graduated with barely a 2.0 average. My high school was integrated (Catholic and LeBron’s future alma mater) and my Black cohorts were much better students than I was.

I’m pretty sure it was because their parents were much more engaged in their education than mine were. Of course, my experience may have been different because I was White but I suspect the same factors were in play that Casteel hypothesized affected Black students.

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The Elite has a troublesome way with words.

The phenomena of black folk being burdened by the detriments of racism is referred to as "White Privilege". The language focuses on the relative advantage resulting to whites from the concrete phenomena of black people being mistreated or underserved, rather than what is probably more directly referred to as "POC Detriment". The language as used implies some magical boon to white people any time black folk suffer, a mystical zero sum game. We don't want anyone to suffer the detriments of racism. Further most people in America don't suffer these, being white. A state everyone deserves by default without having to satisfy any preliminary criteria and that most people enjoy is called a "privilege" only by utilizing the anchoring bias.

Is the redefinition of "racism" as "prejudice plus power" a natural linguistic progression? There is a push among the Elite to restrict "racism" to what might be called "Institutional Racism". This eliminates the proper use of the word "racism" from describing, e.g. what hate a putative black man might have toward a white person based off only skin color. It quacks, walks, and swims like a duck, but you cant call it such because we say so.

Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, typically have less power than the native born. Often they can't vote. Some can't go to the cops to report crimes against them. They have less power than native born blacks and some believe black people to be inferior, even actively discouraging intermarriage. Even if they take violent action against black people because of their race, this isn't racism because white people are in charge.

So much of Elitism is just the language games of the Sophists all the way down.

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I think a pretty easy study to do on the academic achievement question would be to ask students, of various backgrounds, "what is the lowest grade you are permitted to bring home on your report card before getting in trouble with your parents?" I imagine you are going to find a very strong correlation between academic success and parental expectations.

I know that I greatly resented my parents expecting me to earn all As. I was allowed to bring home one B+ before getting in trouble. A straight B, without the plus, was not allowed. Neither were two B+. One B+ meant I was not in trouble, per se, but my parents were also not happy or proud. As a child, this was a source of constant frustration and resentment, as it struck me as profoundly unfair that all my friends were allowed to bring home Bs and Cs without getting in trouble. In fact, I remember writing a self-pitying, overwrought five page letter to my mother in 8th grade or so, setting forth my grievances about the excessive pressure placed upon me and how unfair it was and how none of my friends' parents were like that.

The thing is, my parents had those expectations because they understood, correctly, that I was in fact capable of getting straight As and that if I didn't, it was because of lack of effort.

In the long-run, it paid off. I'm in a successful long-term career and now make more money that probably anyone I went to high school with. But I honestly did not begin to appreciate my parents pushing me in school until I was in my 30s and the dividends began to actually pay out in the form of a high salary based on long years of schooling. And I know for a fact that I absolutely would NOT have achieved academically to the same level, nor achieved the same financial success as an adult, without my parents pushing and pressuring me from ages 8 through 25. While I had some inherent intellectual talent and always liked to read and was nerdy, I had absolutely no inherent inclination to apply myself in school or study subjects I considered boring. I would've been perfectly content to be a total slacker who spent all my time reading for fun and earning Cs. I did it solely to escape the wrath and disappointment of my parents.

And no, I'm not Asian. ;) Though many of my Asian friends relate similar experiences with their parents. I imagine that if parents of any race imposed such standards, and withheld privileges and pride as a punishment for mediocre grades, you would see more achievement. On the other hand, there may be other values in life, I'm not saying the Tiger Mom model is suitable for everyone. In my case, I am happy I put in the effort that I didn't want to as a child, because of being required to by my parents, because it has made my adult life much easier and more pleasant and comfortable.

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Tremendous opinion piece in today's NYP. Short but powerful.


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Is anti-racism the new Creationism?

McWhorter hews to the strong thesis that the Elect is a religion -- really a religion, not just metaphorically. I myself have misgivings about functional definitions of religion: viz., if it walks like a religion, and quacks like a religion, it is a religion. The danger is affirming the consequent: if something is a religion, it is a system of fervent belief; Marxism is a system of fervent belief; therefore Marxism is a religion. (Even if it disavows gods -- or lacks some other salient properties of a religion.) That is not to say there might not be other grounds on which to think Marxism religion-like (the veneration of Lenin’s relic, Mao’s cult of personality, the sectarian hair-splitting of Trotskyism, etc.)

On the other hand, it is clear enough that the Elect does share some of the worst salient properties of religious thought: dogmatism, essentialism, Manichaeism, intolerance, wishful thinking, ostracism, banishment, evasion of falsification by mere empirical concerns, an insistence on Articles of Faith. Not to mention simple meanness. That is a weaker thesis; but to the same point.

Currently the federal Department of Education is considering the promulgation of several priorities for public schools, drawn from Critical Race Theory: to wit, Kendi’s insistence that “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Also that “the New York Times' landmark ‘1619 Project’” should define the narrative of teaching US history. (Information is at https://www.fairforall.org/department-of-education-proposal/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=9c5070eb-5c6d-45b8-9df2-52606f9340f9&eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=9c5070eb-5c6d-45b8-9df2-52606f9340f9 )

These things are not settled science. Kendi’s “anti-racism” (which Jean-Paul Sartre in an earlier context dubbed “anti-racist racism”) has not perhaps gotten the push-back from social scientists and philosophers that it might have, but the 1619 project certainly has from American historians. And yet it is proposed that, by government action, these things become Articles of Faith.

This reminds me of Creationism. Creationists claim to have a scientific theory, an alternative to Darwinism; but they do not slug it out in the relevant academic disciplines. (And they never have.) Rather, in the 1980’s, they attempted to worm it into science teaching by legislative fiat -- as if it were settled science. (The courts, eventually, struck down this strategy.)

Isn’t the current proposal before the Department of Education very like Creationism -- in respect of using government action to bypass the production of knowledge by academic disciplines?

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I think this piece gives an unfair characterization of what a believer in "systemic racism" would point to as a solution. If present inequalities are a product of past POLICIES (whether fuelled by explicit bigotry or not) then at least part of the solution is to use POLICY as a tool to undo those effects in the present. E.g. change the laws that fund public schools from local property taxes. Part of what McWorther argues here is that changing POLICY might not be enough, if cultural norms (like "school is white") are also part of what what explains inequalities. But a believer in systemic racism need not disagree with him on this point.

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the worst thing about systematic racism and white fragility and being anti-racist is that it is incredibly self-involved in terms of focusing on a person's status (do you identify as anti-racist?), how they present themselves, and how they are perceived and whether they say or confess the right things, and has damn little to do with whether people are actually taking intelligent actions to do anything about any situation that could stand to be improved.

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John, there is one problem with your reasoning - segregated schools were confined to the Southern and a handful of Midwestern states (namely, Kansas.) Exposure to "racist" teachers would have been confined to those regions, but that's not where today's problems lie. They lie in predominantly black neighborhoods in Northern cities from St. Louis northward. That should lead to the conclusion that the problems are actually cultural, with young blacks being taught through the media and peer pressure that "the man" is bad and they shouldn't try to conform to "white society." The reality is that blacks have done far better in integrated situations. This is born out by the experiences of colored units in the armed forces in World War II. The so-called "Tuskegee Airmen," the 99th Fighter Squadron, performed better when they were attached to "white" units and fought alongside their white peers. Incidentally, the Armed Forces have been integrated since 1947 when the Air Force was the first to integrate and young blacks have been trained in highly technical fields. (Granted, there was/is a predominence of blacks in less-technical fields.) A good example is actor Morgan Freeman who, even though he was from the poorest state in the union, excelled as an Air Force radar technician and even achieved the grade of E-4 at a time when few first-termers advanced beyond E-3. If you want to see an end to "racism", blacks as a whole need to advance beyond the barbershop and basketball court mentality.

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Being in a foul mood, I wanted something meaner. But I got caught up in the piece and have to say I found it very convincing. I'm curious what objections a person could have.

BTW, I listen to everything I can find with you and/or Glenn, and I wanted to say your recent appearance on Megyn Kelly was especially interesting.

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Sadly, I think "systemic racism" is going to be the most pernicious self-fulfilling prophesy of all time. Anyone who thinks that every idea, principal, or discipline dreamed up by Europeans is either wrong or invalid and should be eschewed is putting some fairly egregious limits on themselves both culturally and intellectually. They're also being fantastically racist.

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The term "going haole" conveys the same attitude, except it is used by Hawaiian students against their fellows that excel in school. Whether the previous circumstances in Hawaii half-century ago are similar to what McWhorter describes in black schools, I cannot say. It's just an interesting phenomena to observe.

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As an immigrant kid who spent part of my education at boarding school and the other half in public school I find the study on attitudes towards school and for whom does the student do the work to be quite fascinating, because my first impulse would lean towards "for my parents", but in hindsight that doesn't necessarily feel quite right, because at boarding school my parents certainly weren't anywhere near to put any actual pressure beyond the whole shame-based culture thing that worked less and less as one got older, and at public school - and I really have no idea what the stereotype for immigrant families even look like from non-immigrants - in practice me and almost all my (mostly Asian, frequently immigrant as well) friends came from fragmented backgrounds, largely in single parent but middle class households, some with one or both parents literally across the ocean, so while the whole 'tiger mom' concept is certainly well-known, the actual pressure was more paper tiger than real. The one thing almost everyone in high school did was getting sent to cram school after school to cram for standardized tests, but more often than not by Freshman or Sophomore year one would either have done well enough to get a decent score and never have to deal with it ever again, or have found some underhanded way to delegate that to someone else for a small amount of cash or even sometimes swapping places if you both had deficiencies in a particular SAT II subject, for example. But at the same time it's pretty unimaginable to sincerely consider doing any schoolwork for the teacher's sake, even though we had our favorites, as we had no illusions that their job actually depended on which college we got into or even how many kids passed the class. Infamously we even had an AP course where at a school where nearly all students taking AP courses passed the test, exactly 0 passed this one, with little actual consequence for anyone involved. With the glass ceiling firmly in place for most of us when it comes to elite private universities and a rapidly rising one for elite public universities I opted for a liberal arts education, which was the outlier amongst my social circles, where I actually learned to strive for my own sake, but prior to that there was a pretty distinct gap between expectation and reality in terms of 'achievement', whatever that word really meant. We did usual teenage things like throw parties that occasionally attracted noise complaints, skipped some classes but not others and got senioritis, awkwardly dated and some relationships even lasted, but for the most part our only frame of reference in terms of what we were supposed to do is both nebulous and felt utterly immutable, and there really was a sense of inevitability to things that nobody could really articulate when it comes to expectations.

I had very little real conceptual understanding, however, of 'the system', so to speak, in a present-day sense, until about a decade later, when I got my first externship at the county public defender's office (a liberal arts education can be a wild ride but as a student of history with a focus on Subaltern Studies in the SE Asian colonial resistance context I more or less graduated with a degree in Agrarian Anarchist Theory, and it felt like the only fitting place to start a resistance movement against the state). What really became apparent was that even though through textbook case studies and field work I had a notion of what an immutable, high modernist, and oppressive institutional state may look like, in reality the sort of obstacles being thrown, almost always with a great degree of arbitrariness and frequently in plainly kafkaesque and capricious ways, represent less an active sort of focused oppression but more the simple fact that out of no fault of one's own there could suddenly be entirely pointless displays of state power being targeted at you but with the hallmark of it being how many hoops you have to jump through out of the blue with consequences that are entirely unreasonably severe and at the same time, nearly impossible to adequately explain and contextualize without experiencing it first hand. In some sense the concept of 'scared straight' actually works, but in almost every case the system lacked the flexibility to allow for that particular lesson to actually take hold before the Rube Goldberg machine of coercive plea bargaining and the carceral industrial complex more or less delivered those unfortunate enough to be caught up in it to what is also a sort of inevitability, except with almost unimaginably severe collateral consequences that the younger the client, the less they are able to contextualize. I went to law school in an area where the actual minority population was truly small - hovering around 10% for the county in terms of non-white population, so that sort of systemic threat was not always one that existed in clear racial terms, but it existed nonetheless in real terms, and in terms that I, and my friends and cohorts, were effectively never exposed to. That really became how I understood the 'systemic' nature any sort of oppressive and officially sanctioned institutional coercion, a sort of Sword of Damocles that hung over the heads of really whoever happened to be on the lowest rung of the local totem pole, and I also realized that if I had to in some way consider the possibility of this ever-present but unknown spectre of arbitrary state power being used on me for frequently the sort of every day transgressions kids get into and sometimes entirely made-up rationales, I probably would have become jaded far earlier in life and had far fewer reasons to even jump through the expectational hoops that felt inevitable. The racism in 'systemic racism' represented a proxy that the American legal system have resorted to in a sort of shorthand to direct this arbitrary coercive power on, but really it's a systemic sort of oppression that, with state power and acting under the color of law, is arbitrary, coercive, and serves no actual legitimate purpose when it comes to the ends it purports to serve. Crime, after all, are constructed legal fictions that frequently have little relationship to what the words in common parlance actually mean. Burglary in my jurisdiction meant 'any felony' + 'any trespass', for example, with no element of theft or even an actual break-in required, although the police tended to focus on victimless crimes anyway as they were simply more convenient to get through the process, and to this day I still see virtually no point of except as a proxy for a job program that happens to also punish some randomly chosen member of society that hopefully few would shed a tear over.

And of course this is beyond the educational context that you are writing about here, but I've since understood the notion in terms that emphasize on the 'systemic' element of it, particularly as to how without active participation the system as it exists is already suitable to only create disincentives to engage and participate in a society that, in the 'mainstream', seems to be entirely focused on putting up appearances regardless of who gets harmed, and tons of people are harmed, and a disproportionate number of them are racial or ethnic minorities , and in many cases the defendants skew young. Not having to be exposed to this whole frankly ludicrous arrangement our society have found ourselves in, that's the real advantage, I think.

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But there is a current, ongoing, active "systemic racism" problem with schools: the "system" is the monopoly that teacher's unions hold over public education combined with the legality of restricting attendance by residence and the "racism" can be found in the near 100% certainty that the low-performing, dysfunctional schools controlled by teacher's unions to which black students are legally restricted would have long ago been shut down if those restrictions didn't allow white students to entirely avoid them.

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