"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bill Cosby, John McWhorter, and the New Black Racial Classism: Part 2

Even if we grant that everyone must assume a greater degree of responsibility for their lives and spend less time blaming others for their shortcomings, we can never, never, never simply leave it at that. But this is precisely what McWhorter's colleagues at the Manhattan Institute want to do. The New Black Racial Classism gets eaten up by the Manhattan Institute and others like it. If all we have to do is convince poor blacks to quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives, think of the billions that would be saved!!

It's understandable why conservatives eat McWhorter's stuff up. But it's also eaten up by "progressive" organizations like Teach for America, schools for inner-city kids like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), by Democratic politicians like NCLB co-sponsor and architect George Miller, by editorial staffs like The New York Times, and by educational activists like Susan Uchitelle (who helped fight segregation in St. Louis but who now serves on the board of an Edison-run charter school in inner-city St. Louis).

Miller, a staunch liberal and the ranking Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wrote an op-ed with Education Trust’s Russlyn Ali that read:

"Perhaps the most insidious myth being perpetuated is that California's demographics make it impossible to expect much of its kids. This sentiment is more than just collective apathy. It is bigotry. Schools all over the country, in every type of community, have shown that all students--minority and non-minority, rich and poor--can succeed if they are held to high standards and given the requisite resources. It is time to put this myth to rest for good.” (Miller, G. and Ali, R., "The fate of our schools." San Francisco Chronicle, 3/18/03, p. A25)

As evidence of the voracious appetite that white conservatives have for McWhorter's gilded truffles, consider the comments made by Stephan Thernstrom, a white Senior Fellow at Manhattan Institute and the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard. Thernstrom, along with his wife Abigail, is the author of No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. "The Thernstroms urge a daunting overhaul where every urban public school becomes a charter school; longer school days, weeks and years are common; and school vouchers are more broadly available to low-income, urban families." (source - The Seattle Times, 10/8/03; "Stop making excuses: Close the learning gap" by Matt Rosenberg) Here is what Stephan Thernstrom had to say when introducing McWhorter: (listen to it here)

(McWhorter's work) helps to explain a very troubling paradox. That is to say, the status of African-Americans in American society has been revolutionarily changed over the past half century or so. My wife Abigail and I published a book several years ago, America in Black and White, which has several dozen tables which indicates that by almost every measurable way enormous, phenomenal progress has been made towards equality on the part of African-Americans since the Civil Rights revolution. And if I were to update those tables today, almost all the trend lines continue upward. And the two areas that were very troubling in the mid-90's, the last data we had available then, have also turned around in a remarkable way. That is, the crime rate has declined precipitously and the disproportionate involvement of African-Americans in committing crimes. And, second, the black family structure, which had been deteriorating sharply since the 1960's when Senator Moynihan first warned of that tendency. In the last several years, that has been turning around a little. The rate of out-of-wedlock births for African-Americans is down two to three points. The percentage of African-American children living in two-parent households is up four or five points. So it isn't a remarkable shift, but it's a very impressive and positive one. So, progress almost unimaginable to people half a century ago. But you wouldn't know it if you listened to what the leadership of that community is saying and doing. Both the civil rights groups, whose mission is supposed to be to improve the welfare of the group, and certainly the political leadership -- the members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- are talking about a totally different world than the one I see. They are talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places. And it almost seems that the greater the progress, the more shrill and despairing the voices of that segment of the black community become. . . Katrina did display that tendency in very vivid terms. . . The question is, "What's going on? How could this have happened?" Some part of it reflects the simple fact that the African-American leadership is almost entirely, monolithically, part of the Democratic party's left wing. And the Democratic party left wing, for reasons I can't fully understand, seems to have been driven totally bonkers by the Bush administration. It has such an acute case of the "Hate Bush Syndrome" that they can't think clearly any more. . . . Another part of it, of course, is the old cliche the "revolution of rising expectations." Groups that are totally down-trodden can appreciate even a few extra crumbs and may feel grateful. Groups that have made the kind of progress blacks have made by the end of the 1960's were now impatient with waiting any longer for full equality. I can't say much more than that by way of explaining it, but I do think that John McWhorter's really interesting book tells us a lot to explain where we are today and what needs to happen for, in fact, the crisis in black America to be resolved.

In our society today, this is as far as a white man can go without being called a racist. In our society today, a white man can't say, "Poor blacks should quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives." But a black man can. In response to Cosby's speech, Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP president who was on stage with Cosby, said "The issue of personal responsibility is real. A lot of people didn't want him to say what he said because it was an open forum. But if the truth be told, he was on target."

So Thernstrom contends there has been phenomenal progress for blacks. He contends that critics of this notion "are talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places." But phenomenal progress for whom? It's clear that there has been phenomenal progress for blacks entering the middle and upper classes. But for blacks still trapped in poverty, all there is for them to do is pull themselves up by their own bootstraps or shut the hell up. No, there aren't actual signs any more that say "For Whites Only." But these signs still exist. They're just invisible today. Or, even worse, they are simply accepted as "the way things are."

Perhaps most shockingly of all, especially in light of Cosby's choice to vilify low-income blacks on the anniversary of Brown v. Board, public schools in America's largest cities have experienced re-segregation on an unprecedented level. As Jonathan Kozol recounts in The Shame of the Nation,

In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

Even these statistics, as stark as they are, cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, more than 90 percent of students (in most cases, more than 95 percent) are black or Hispanic. At John F. Kennedy High School in 2003, 93 percent of the enrollment of more than 4,000 students were black and Hispanic; only 3.5 percent of students at the school were white. At Harry S. Truman High School, black and Hispanic students represented 96 percent of the enrollment of 2,700 students; 2 percent were white. At Adlai Stevenson High School, which enrolls 3,400 students, blacks and Hispanics made up 97 percent of the student population; a mere eight tenths of one percent were white.

A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. "I've been at this school for eighteen years," she said. "This is the first white student I have ever taught."

So this is "phenomenal progress"? This is "talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places"? For conservatives like McWhorter and Thernstrom, the answer is "yes."

1 comment:

  1. Do you know whether McWhorter is still at Berkeley? I don't see him on their website. Is he exclusively at the Manhattan Institute now, or what?