Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Picking at Scabs to Achieve Parity," Ch. 27, BUT...AT WHAT COST

Since our nation’s inception, the underlying political values prescribing our American culture have been guaranteed individual freedoms and equality of opportunity. Our Constitution strictly limits the powers of the central government in order to protect personal and states’ rights. Under those guidelines, the United States rose to the top of the economic ladder and stayed there – largely, I think, because of our freedoms to speak our minds, chase our dreams, and experiment independently without excessive government intervention. There were obvious disparities in opportunity for some groups (slaves and women), but they were world-wide and representative of the times. 

Until the Emancipation Proclamation and, later, the 19th Amendment giving women voting rights, we, as a nation, fell short of our equal-rights goal, but eventually the good guys won, and parity in opportunities was almost achieved for blacks in the North. Bigotry was alive and well, but had declined drastically by 1960 before any further government regulations or entitlement programs were instituted. Most white people were “getting it,” merely by being exposed to the similarities between blacks and whites.

Martin Luther King’s influence was instrumental in persuading a dying breed of racists “to judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin.” How could any rational person deny such advice? It’s how we judge everyone within our groups – and how we should judge everyone outside our groups, too. Assimilation of disparate groups follows naturally when all do that. It takes time, but it happens -and it was happening until the mid-sixties.

Then, the rules changed. Gone was MLK’s (and nature’s) recipe for acceptance and equality, and in came all the PC dictates contrived, I guess, to eliminate all disparities in outcomes. It was a worthy mission, but ill-conceived… and, in my opinion, sure to have predictably disastrous results.

As crazy as it seems to anyone with a modicum of common sense, blacks were advised to be black and be proud. For some unknown reason, the advisors took a page from the white racists’ handbook and promoted racial identity. There was a concerted effort, especially in colleges, to make blacks proud of being black; they did it primarily by castigating whites. Black Studies Programs, black dorms, and black clubs multiplied.

Public service announcements (PSAs) warning everyone “not to teach your children to hate,” television shows on slavery and political diatribes about racism filled the airwaves. I will allow that much of the latter was a natural response to the news from the South in the sixties. However, the clearly separatist initiatives in schools are not as easy to explain – especially those diversity mantras that remain alive and well in academia today. I can only ask: In whose world does it make sense to assert differences to achieve parity?

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This principle applies almost as well to inference and cognition as it does to Newton’s Laws of Motion. A member of a minority group in America can hear a PSA for diversity and will likely infer a message quite different from that inferred by his white neighbor. Having different sensitivities and experiences will create different interpretations.

One day when I was waiting for the bus with my grandchildren Sam and Molly, they told me about a “make nice” seminar they’d attended the day before. Molly, seven at the time, said, “Boy, they must think we’re really stupid.” Sam agreed. I would say Sam and Molly learned nothing they hadn’t already figured out for themselves by being the naturally empathetic kids they are, and by a little reinforcement delivered by their parents and me, if they happened to stray. They seemed somewhat resentful of being subjected to unnecessary lessons.

I would suppose the minority kids perceived something else – that the message was intended for all those “bad” white kids who didn’t like them. At the same time, they were very probably hurt and/or embarrassed by the “you’re different” characterization. What kid wants to feel singled out as “different”? Not the fat kid. Not the kid with two Mommies. And not the Mexican kid or the black kid either.

These are automatic inferences. The message, itself, creates the perception of prejudice whether anyone has had a personal experience with it or not. It is logical for anyone to conclude the message wouldn’t be offered if there were no need for it, so the very creation of a “diversity” game or a “diversity” poster or a “diversity” seminar makes most of us infer there is a serious need for them -even though most of us don’t give a damn about what we see as minor differences.

Sam and Molly don’t care about differences in ethnicity, and the minority kids who grew up in America probably don’t either – unless or until some outside source makes it seem like an important issue… for other people!

There has been some very telling statistical research done in this area. You can look it up for yourselves, but the gist is: “I don’t care, but most other people do.” If you are a minority kid in a “make nice” class, the inference is: most white kids don’t like me. A minority kid can’t live in twenty-first-century America without figuring there’s a bigot behind every bush. Neither can a white kid. He’ll know he isn’t a bigot, but he’ll think most everyone else is.

Yes, bigots exist and always will, but most of us are reasonable people and form our biases rationally in response to circumstances. We don’t hold on to old biases without new cause. We don’t still hate the Japanese, do we? When circumstances change, our biases change.

So, doesn’t it make more sense to look at today’s prejudices through the lens of today’s influences? Our history matters as a point of reference, but it does not prescribe or describe today’s motivations. Each era has its own set of motivations.

Not long ago, I wrote a letter to the editor in response to an article written by a staff writer for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. He was questioning his own racial bias. My response follows:

The Genesis of a Bias

“I read Steve Israel’s opinion piece on ‘examining our prejudices’ and agree. We should examine our biases. However, I would have added some relevant facts that explain the genesis of a bias.

“Most biases any of us develop are dictated by our exposures. They arise naturally and are responsive to circumstances. Right now, in this society, young people of color (many of whom wear baggy pants and have tattoos), commit a much higher percentage of crime than their relatively small numbers should… so why shouldn’t Steve have been a bit wary?

“His was a rational prejudice. It may not have been correct, but it was entirely rational, and so was his reaction. We are programmed to protect ourselves and our property, so he locked his car – and had a friendly chat with the kid, later.

“It’s very curious to me that Israel (or anyone) would pre-suppose some underlying racial prejudice on his part. I can almost guarantee a middle-aged black man in a suit would not have elicited the same response. I’m equally sure Steve and most people today fine-tune their stereotypes way beyond skin color, because it’s stupid not to. Don’t let the race merchants (and their phony presumptions) redefine what is a perfectly normal biological imperative (that is, stereotyping) as racist. It is not. It’s simply what all brains do to make quick and rational decisions.

“When the black youth crime rates go down, so will our naturally derived fear of black kids wearing baggy pants.”

I have changed a few words for clarification, but the meaning is the same as it was when I first wrote it. I believe most of what is perceived by many to be racial prejudice today, is not. We have been trained to believe it is.

Ashley and I had an experience similar to the one Steve Israel described. I know just how Steve felt and why he examined his motivations. A young black couple knocked on our door and asked to borrow a spare tire. (Our barn area looks like a good place to find anything one might need for a car, and people stop fairly frequently looking for help.) My very first reaction was suspicion – partly because they were young and black and partly because they were disheveled and looked nervous – which they probably were, but I had no way of knowing why. I called Ash and he found them a donut that would fit their wheel. As we talked I became less concerned; they were polite. After they Left, I asked myself why my initial response was fear and if I would have felt the same way had they been white.

My answer was revealing. I’m absolutely positive I would not have been afraid in 1960… for two reasons. They likely wouldn’t have been distrustful of us, so wouldn’t have acted in a way that to us appeared suspicious. Neither would I have been at all afraid of them, because the black youth crime rates then were not nearly as bad as they are now. My fear and distrust came later, much later when the crime rates in young blacks and Hispanics rose so drastically, particularly around Newburgh. Newburgh is currently the eighth most dangerous city in America, and has a population of only 20.4% white. The white population has fled in fear. Most folks know who is committing the majority of the violent crime in Orange County now, and they aren’t white. That’s just the way it is. So no, I probably wouldn’t have been afraid if they had been a young white couple… unless they were acting suspiciously. My response was logical under the circumstances, and while race was a component of my assessment of the situation, it was not a racist response any more than theirs was. They were hesitant to ask our help because we were white, and because they probably knew most white people are afraid of young black people. Anyone who claims not to be more suspicious of black youths than white youths is lying or in denial. Even Jesse Jackson admitted he is. We responded, to their appearance and hesitant demeanor. This is how strangers of all ethnicities and colors figure out who they can trust, and people shouldn’t be surprised or upset about it. It’s normal and necessary; and we’d all be much better off accepting it as such.

Picking scabs off old wounds in Black Studies Programs, PSAs, diversity posters, and political correctness mantras were (and are) in no way part of a normal acceptance process. They promote alienation, not acceptance. That young couple has been trained to expect racial animus where none exists -mostly by a media obsessed with race. Suspicion is not animus unless or until a meeting becomes overtly confrontational. I see more discomfort between the races and more taboo topics of discussion now (when I visit my daughter, for example), than I saw in 1959 when I was singing with my black friends in the auditorium, or when I met Andrew, my son-in-law, for the first time in 1989.

From my perspective, all that the “make nice” dictates seem to have accomplished is to make minorities more suspicious and young black people, in particular, develop huge chips on their shoulders. I was there; I watched it happen, and I think I know how and why it happened: the groups mentioned in the previous chapter (the charlatans, the media, academia, entertainers and the Democrat Party) have unwittingly or purposefully sponsored the growth of therapeutic alienation in blacks. (Thank you, John McWhorter for supplying the correct term.)

I was for affirmative action before I was against it. It seemed necessary to me, because statistically, there weren’t as many blacks in college as there would be if all things were equal. I and most people back then thought discrimination was the reason, but that’s sort of like saying there aren’t enough short men on basketball teams because they’re discriminated against. There is a good reason more tall people than short people make the team – and there was a good reason more whites than blacks made it to college. More whites were academically qualified. It hardly matters “why” this was true; it only matters that it was true. The problem was NOT discrimination; it was poor performance.

Imagine if we had done to unqualified short people what we did to unqualified black people. Do you think they’d play or sit the bench or quit? Many would quit – and that’s just what has happened with many of the black kids who couldn’t compete in college. Either that or they failed or they were at the bottom. Do you think that made them feel good?

No, and worse, some colleges, primary schools, government jobs, and even private companies lowered the standards for everyone, in order to make black people feel better about themselves. But, it doesn’t make them feel better, does it? It wouldn’t make me feel better.

I don’t want to make a team if the team has to lower its standards for me to qualify. I want to earn my place, and to succeed on my own merits, not because of some arbitrary allowances made for old people. Something like that happened to me once. Amidst the catcalls of the opposing team, the referee explained he hadn’t called an infraction on me because, “Give her a break. She’s old enough to be your mother!” I was livid – not because he said I was old, but because he was making allowances for me. It’s inherently unfair to have different rules for different people in a competitive situation. A friendly game? Okay, but not when a game means something. The integrity of the game should never be compromised – especially when the “game” determines who goes to college or who gets the job. Besides being wholly dishonest, it can cause much more alienation between the taken and the takers than would have occurred without it.

Personally, I don’t know how people receiving special treatment live with themselves. I would be guilt-ridden. To me, cheating to get ahead isn’t winning, but I guess I’m in the minority on that now. More than half the people in this country seem to think institutionalized cheating, via affirmative action is okay. It is not only an accepted practice; it’s believed to be a necessary practice. But, is it? And what are the psychological and sociological consequences of minority groups’ believing it is necessary?

When the referee felt he had to take pity on this old woman, I knew it was time to quit. It wasn’t fair to lower the standards just for me. Likewise, as a woman, I know having to carry less weight than a man in a firefighter’s test isn’t fair. Most women are not as qualified in that area as most men are. If a woman can make it under the same guidelines as men, great; if not, oh well. Setting artificial, arbitrary standards intended to solve a problem irrelevant to firefighting seems wholly perverse to me – even more perverse if it’s my house that’s burning down.

So, we know. Women know, old people know, and black people know whether they measure up or not, but accepting special treatment tends to make people feel bad; it creates cognitive dissonance. No one can believe he is both deserving and undeserving at the same time. Therefore, many will invent an excuse for accepting what is known to be undeserved. This is a perfectly normal, but undesirable aspect of human nature. We make excuses to preserve our self-esteem. It’s called “therapeutic alienation.” If we can blame the boss, or the umpire, or the teacher, or society in general, for our not measuring up, then we don’t feel bad when we fail or receive special treatment.

Affirmative action, no matter how necessary it might have seemed, is inherently unfair… and necessarily creates more alienation between the races. It can make the white people who don’t get hired or accepted in college angry. It endorses the false perception in black people that racism is still rampant enough in America for them to require special treatment – which, in turn, heightens their suspicions and anger. Oh, and yes, it also causes white people to believe they need to lie and cheat in order to level the playing field for themselves. What a tangled web we’ve woven.

Just yesterday Eric Holder (yes, the head of Obama’s Department of Justice) announced a new program to ensure parity in outcomes – essentially by falsely manipulating the numbers. Rather than addressing the causes of disparity between racial groups in educational achievements, he demands teachers punish the trouble-makers according to the color of their skin. Whites should get punished and/or suspended in the same percentages as blacks, Hispanics, Asians. That way (I guess) parity in suspension rates will be achieved. In other words – to hell with the reality as long as it appears black kids don’t misbehave disproportionately to white kids (which he admits is the case).

Besides education’s being a local issue in which the Feds should not interfere, this program is inherently racist and detrimental to classroom management and has virtually no chance of changing anything for the better. Ostensibly, Mr. Holder’s advisement is meant to keep more black kids in school by not suspending them… which is a lot like keeping more criminals on the streets by not arresting them. What are we doing? This would only be a somewhat valid program if the uneven suspension rates were caused by discriminatory practices – which he admits they are not. It is the reality of the poor performance in blacks that needs addressing – not an unwanted (but accurate) perception of the reality.

The results of all programs to achieve parity I outcomes have failed… at least partly for the reasons I have outlined above. This latest attempt will be no different because it has accidentally, but effectively, been in place for decades with no positive results. Many white teachers have been hesitant to discipline black kids for years. Some are just plain afraid for their lives and others are afraid to be called “racists.” Those brave enough to treat the races equally are called on the carpet (or warned) all the time to be careful (lest they be sued).

Manipulating and posting false statistics may change the political perceptions in the uninformed (and create more alienation), but false perceptions won’t change the realities in the classroom. What’s next…ignoring passing and failing and just handing out diplomas?


We continue to serialize Judy Axtell's BUT...AT WHAT COST: A Skeptic's Memoir, published recently by Outskirts Press and available from OP and on-line booksellers like and It tells of her transformation over the decades from liberal to conservative. I am proud to have coached her and edited her book.

My writing-coaching-editing site is

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