Author Q: "When was the last time you heard about a comparison between immigrants from France, Germany, or Eastern Europe and white-identified persons from the deep South, Appalachia, or the Midwest in terms of wealth, educational attainment, or rates of marriage or violent crime in our everyday discourse? Such comparisons are rarely included in reports on group disparities, even though there’s no obvious reason why they are less relevant than those commonly made between different populations of “black” Americans".
A: Thomas Sowell's
'Ethnic America' - I read it in a college economics class about 40 years ago. It was very memorable....points remembered?!...(1) ethnic groups that learned English quickly did economically better & assimilated into the culture faster (2) Ethnic groups that clustered together is ghettos like the Italians, Chinese, etc took longer to attain economic success...it's still worth a read today...
Ethnic comparison's today don't focus on European populations because they don't comprise most of today's migration...
An interesting piece.
One of the more interesting things to come out of last year's UK Commission on Race and Equality was the comparison between the UK's racial attainment gap in education and the US's. The US's is 8 times wider than the UK's (-0.89 v -0.1). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-report-of-the-commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities/education-and-training
In the UK, the report confirmed that the groups with the lowest attainment are both white --Irish Travellers and white boys from a disadvantaged background.
One part Sowell in his essay on Black Rednecks got wrong was his assertion that the English/Scottish borders culture had somehow vanished in the border region of England/Scotland (or indeed Northern Ireland), it hasn't and the low education attainment etc is indeed cause for concern for the UK government.
The Department of Education in England (this is a devolved matter) has had some recent success in improving overall literacy and numeracy levels through the use of phonetics and math hubs. The over all basic literacy rate of the UK is 99% but functional illiteracy continues to limit life chances. The UK does have severe problems with social deprivation.
To contrast the basic literacy rate of California is 77% (on par with Rwanda 73 and significantly below Barbados at 88% -- As an aside Rwanda's basic literacy rate is on the increase and California's is sliding). New Hampshire which is the top state for basic literacy stands 94%. Basic literacy and numeracy enables people (and societies) to progress. Rather than being on par with other Western countries such as Norway (100%) or Canada 99%, the US basic literacy rate appears to be decreasing.
One does not need to know the precise cause to know that there is a systematic incompetence of state funded education in the US. And the big question is why is the US so profligate with democracy's most precious resource namely its home grown human capital?
As Ellen Wilkinson, the UK politician who overhauled the UK's education system in the 1940's, a sound education affects several generations and the converse is also true.
The US Supreme Court decision of Hirabayashi v United States namely "Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. " should hold true for basic literacy and numeracy. There should be no reason why the various state education departments should not be able to get the basic literacy rate of 15 year olds to 99% regardless of their skin tone. Other countries do.
This is an incisive and thought-provoking piece. I would love to share it with the other psychologists in a professional listserv I'm on, but I'm too afraid of potential backlash, despite the very cogent, rational arguments of the article. Irrational emotionalism is still too high among my (race based) social justice-driven colleagues at this moment.
Racialized discourse is inevitably superficial, dominated by and addressed to people who have little experience with the communities. “What do you think is good about Black American culture?” might be a question that stumps most white conservatives. But I suspect it would also stump most white liberals.
Thank you Greg. I ponder these issues a lot and this article helps me better frame some of my thoughts and analysis. To me, this comes down to attitude in the first instance. I am not a scientist . I tend to view attitude more about nurture than nature , and thus environmental, social and community factors are , in my opinion, critical as a child develops. I tend to believe that good ( or bad) attitude that has been instilled in a child is a powerful life force that often ( though not always) is hard to reverse given the environment etc. Finally, education can be the great equalizer because it can and has affected ( positively) attitude in countless children. Sowell et al should be read by all. Unfortunately , because their facts and conclusions do not fit the preferred narrative they are instead either ignored or worse denigrated ( especially and shamefully by many white progressives who have never even read any of Professor Sowell's many many books and articles). Thanks again.
Great piece with a number of useful insights that could help us have better conversations on this topic (and others). I have a thought on why we don’t see/hear much comparison between immigrant whites and native-born ones, and why this may not be purely based on a double-standard. People often compare black Americans to immigrant blacks in response to those who say blacks in this country are oppressed and unable to achieve as much as other racial groups as a result of this oppression. This leads some to suggest that black immigrants have achieved a certain level of success that seems to run counter to that narrative. I’m not here to make that argument as I think all of it is much more complex. But I do understand why the argument is made in that context. On the other hand, you rarely hear someone claim that whites can’t get ahead in this country. So people rarely have a reason to compare white immigrants to native born whites as a way of rebutting that claim. Ultimately, I think people are mostly well intentioned when they try to make their points on this subject. Our country’s history of racism, specifically racism against black people, makes this topic filled with emotion—guilt, anger, sadness, confusion, frustration—and we desperately want answers to make those emotions hold less power over us. I imagine it won’t be quite so easy. But I agree with your overall perspective that changing our framing of these discussions is an important part of the solution. I hope we get there sooner than later.