The story ran as the front page lead in the New York Times more than a week ago, and was promptly ignored as the more pressing matter of criticism Donald Trump’s erudition in condemning the violence in Charlottesville obsessed the media:
“The long-term trend is shockingly clear,” said William R. Emmons, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and one of the authors of the report. “White and Asian college grads do much better than their counterparts without college, while college-grad Hispanics and blacks do much worse proportionately.”
A college degree has long been recognized as a great equalizer, a path for minorities to help bridge the economic chasm that separates them from whites. But the report, scheduled to be released on Monday, raises troubling questions about the ability of a college education to narrow the racial and ethnic wealth gap.
“Higher education alone cannot level the playing field,” the report concludes.
Great. What will level the playing field, and if the only solutions are ethically flawed, can the nation ethically accept that the playing field cannot be leveled? Is it necessary that all races achieve identical levels of success? Does the fact that a race, or an ethnic group, either exceeds or falls short of statistical parity signal that draconian measures must be undertaken by the government? Are we really committed to results based policies, or opportunity-based policies?
In the Times print version, there was a chart that labelled, among other things, Asian families as “over-represented” among wealthyl households headed by a college grad. “Over-represented” is a provocative word, suggesting that something is wrong with Asian American achieving beyond what pure statistical analysis would predict. Is it so unimaginable that the group itself may have something to do with its success—that its culture and values may allow it to be “over-represented”?
No, it isn’t unimaginable, but it is inconvenient and politically explosive. If culture and values can explain over-achievement, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that culture and values also play a part in under-achievement as well. The Times report (I haven’t read the whole study) doesn’t hint at such a conclusion, while citing many other potential causes:
Researchers have repeatedly found discrimination in the job market. When two nearly identical résumés are sent out, for example, it has been documented that the candidate with a white-sounding name receives more callbacks than the applicant with a black-sounding name.
Discrimination like this and other factors contribute to the persistent and substantial pay gap between whites and minorities. Blacks, for instance, hold a disproportionate share of government jobs — a sector that has shrunk in recent years and provides fewer opportunities for big wage gains. Blacks have fewer advanced degrees, and the ones who do are more often in lower-paying fields or graduates of colleges with lesser reputations.
“Blacks and Latinos at all education levels, including college and advanced degrees, earn less than their white counterparts, which means lower lifetime earnings” and less ability to save, said John Schmitt, research director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who reviewed an advance copy of the report.
Blacks and Hispanics are also less likely than whites to inherit money or receive help from their parents to cover a tuition bill or a down payment on a house.
William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, points out that a family headed by a black college graduate has less wealth on average than a family headed by a white high school dropout.
That last fact is especially discouraging.
The relative disinterest of the news media in the implications of the report is troubling, or perhaps I should say its disinterest in pursuing an open and honest discussion of what the implications are, and what new policies should be considered. The status quo, with historically oppressed and disadvantaged groups perpetually lagging behind and perpetually blaming white society for their persistent plight, is a recipe for chaos, generating shrill and divisive prescriptions like this one, from Chanelle Helm, a Black Lives Matters leader in Louisville:
Some things I’m thinking about that should change (in that Southern, black grandmama voice):
1. White people, if you don’t have any descendants, will your property to a black or brown family. Preferably one that lives in generational poverty.
2. White people, if you’re inheriting property you intend to sell upon acceptance, give it to a black or brown family. You’re bound to make that money in some other white privileged way.
3. If you are a developer or realty owner of multi-family housing, build a sustainable complex in a black or brown blighted neighborhood and let black and brown people live in it for free.
4. White people, if you can afford to downsize, give up the home you own to a black or brown family. Preferably a family from generational poverty.
5. White people, if any of the people you intend to leave your property to are racists assholes, change the will, and will your property to a black or brown family. Preferably a family from generational poverty.
6. White people, re-budget your monthly so you can donate to black funds for land purchasing.
7. White people, especially white women (because this is yaw specialty — Nosey Jenny and Meddling Kathy), get a racist fired. Yaw know what the fuck they be saying. You are complicit when you ignore them. Get your boss fired cause they racist too.
8. Backing up No. 7, this should be easy but all those sheetless Klan, Nazi’s and Other lil’ dick-white men will all be returning to work. Get they ass fired. Call the police even: they look suspicious.
9. OK, backing up No. 8, if any white person at your work, or as you enter in spaces and you overhear a white person praising the actions from yesterday, first, get a pic. Get their name and more info. Hell, find out where they work — Get Them Fired. But certainly address them, and, if you need to, you got hands: use them.
10. Commit to two things: Fighting white supremacy where and how you can (this doesn’t mean taking up knitting, unless you’re making scarves for black and brown kids in need), and funding black and brown people and their work.
I read this, and find myself wondering if one of the reasons for that discouraging study’s results is the increasing influence of voices like Chanelle Helm’s.