Education, Race

In his recent post on education Calpundit finds himself reluctantly” siding with some very harmful views:

In the Washington Post, William Raspberry suggests — reluctantly — that conservative critics may have a point when they say that black underachievement is largely due not to racism, but to black cultural attitudes toward education itself. I’m reluctant myself to provide aid and comfort to people who spend so much energy pretending that racism is a figment of our collective imaginations, but he may have a point.

First of all, lets make it clear that the Raspberry article is based on a book written by fellows at the Manhattan Institute. The Manhattan Institute has a history of using questionable data to support a conservative agenda.

During the past 10 years, the Manhattan Institute has raised a great deal of money from right-wing sources for designated book projects, with the Bradley Foundation alone contributing more than $1 million. Abigail Thernstrom has been one of the grateful beneficiaries. The Thernstroms wrote their book with a $100,000 advance paid by the Institute,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported (10/13/97). Similar fellowships are given to other authors who espouse views that support the Institute’s agenda.” The resulting book co-written with Stephan Thernstrom, America and Black in White: One Nation, Indivisible”, has borne gratifying media fruit for its backers.

But what about the central claims of the Thernstroms’ book? According to Raspberry, it is that racism today has less effect than ever on what black people can achieve.” So while there may still be racism, it doesn’t really explain differences in Black performance — because that racism is inconsequential for their future prospects. Kevin (aka Calpundit) seems to reluctantly” agree.

But can such a statement hold water? I don’t think so, and fortunately there are a series of excellent articles by Sally Lehrman over at Alternet which make the claim that racism is not inconsequential. In Colorblind Racism, she explicitly attacks the Thernstroms claims. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of past racism upon the present:

The racial hierarchy established over the middle of the 20th century has largely held fast because one generation builds on the accomplishments of the last, Duster explains. Like interest on a bank deposit, children collect economic potential for themselves from the property and social status of their parents. Just as directly, he argues, disadvantages such as barriers to well-paying jobs, segregation in housing and discrimination in lending reverberate from parent to child. The past becomes relevant to the present as personal wealth and assets are reproduced from generation to generation,” agrees Barlow. His new book on globalization makes a similar argument about the historical underpinnings of U.S. racial stratification. Furthermore, privileges in housing, jobs, education and other arenas reinforce and augment one another, he says.

… Barlow, Duster and colleagues emphasize that whites may have no awareness of their privileged status even as they protect their interests. When parents successfully fight to protect funding for suburban high schools, for example, they enable those facilities to offer advanced placement classes and leadership opportunities that in turn help students win a spot in the best colleges. Urban educators rarely have such advocates, and thus are unable to offer the same level of academic advantages. But both parents and graduates of top-tier schools – most often white or Asian American – are likely to consider their achievements solely the result of the young peoples’ own hard work.

While whites will acknowledge that disparities in education or other realms exist, Barlow says, they are more likely to attribute these to a lack of ambition and effort on the part of minorities than to structural favoritism toward whites built into U.S. institutions for generations.

This is something I’ve written about before, and I think what I said then is still relevant.