Category Archives: Race and race relations

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

by James A. Bacon

Henrico County Public Schools are in an uproar again, this time over the showing of a video entitled, “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race,” during assemblies on American history and a racial discourse for Black History Month.

After widespread complaints by parents, administrators across the district have been instructed not to use the video, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “In our community, while we do encourage open and frank discussions, perpetuating a racial divide, stereotypes or exclusion of an kind is not acceptable,” said School Board Chairwoman Michelle F. Ogburn. “The Henrico School Board and administration consider this to be a matter of grave concern. … It is our goal to prevent the recurrence of this type of event.”

The four-minute video, displayed at Glen Allen High School, depicts a race between a white male, white female, black male and black female. The two black runners encounter all manner of obstacles, while the white male coasts across the finish line on a people-mover track. Blacks, according to the video, are held back by a laundry list of grievances: wealth disparities, discrimination, poor schools, underemployment, standardized tests, the school-to-prison pipeline, housing segregation, racial profiling, shortened lifespans, connections, privilege and old boy networks.

These are the standard grievances emanating from the left end of the ideological spectrum, and there is an element of truth to some of them. The conclusion the video draws from the state of affairs, however, is that “affirmative action helps level the playing field.” Even more disturbing, the video also feeds the narrative, seemingly omnipresent in a school district as politically conservative as Henrico County, of white privilege and white guilt. Many white kids, including my 17-year-old son, have internalized the message.

Now, I have no problem in the abstract with my kid being exposed to this narrative. I want him to be exposed to all points of view, not just those with which I am comfortable, and I want him to develop the critical thinking faculties to dissect the pros and cons of each and make up his own mind. What I don’t want is for my son and his peers, who probably influence my son’s thinking more than I do, to be propagandized with a single point of view.

And there most definitely is a different point of view. While there is no denying the horrendous impact of slavery and Jim Crow segregation on African-Americans, those evils were expunged more than 50 years ago. Civil rights laws have been on the books since the 1960s, and a host of programs costing trillions of dollars over the years have been put into place to alleviate the plight of the poor, to repair inner cities and to compensate blacks specifically for past injustices. While a large number of blacks have risen to the middle class and some have become wealthy, a large segment remains mired in poverty. The welfare state has ameliorated their material condition but has bred social dysfunction so that the lives of many blacks (along with a growing number of whites) are degraded by teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, substance abuse, child neglect, academic underachievement and a host of other interlocking ills that prevent them from rising out of poverty.

Compounding the corrosive effect of the welfare state and family breakdown have been catastrophic failures of other efforts endorsed by liberals and progressives to improve the condition of poor people generally and blacks in particular. We could start the list with the urban renewal projects of the 1960s that disrupted the fabric of black neighborhoods, and the public housing projects that perpetuated housing segregation and created crime-ridden hell-holes. We could move on to the grotesque mismanagement of inner-city schools and progressives’ opposition to charters, vouchers and other measures that would give poor black families the freedom to find schooling alternatives. More recently, we could stress the ill-fated initiative to increase black home ownership by lowering lending standards, which culminated with the crash of the housing bubble, massive foreclosures and the obliteration of black homeowner equity. Then we could focus on the current mania that every kid deserves a shot at college, and the government will lend him the money to attend regardless of his academic preparation and chances of success, with the result that hundreds of thousands of blacks are racking up debilitating debt while failing to earn the academic credentials that would enable them to get a job and pay off that debt.

I realize that these ideas are controversial to some. And my point isn’t to insist that I’m right and that others are wrong. The point is that there are competing ways to look at the state of race in America today. My fear is that only one perspective is being taught in our schools — the liberal-progressive view — and that a generation of kids is being indoctrinated with it.

The Times-Dispatch article tells us little about the context in which the video was shown at Glen Allen High School. If the video reflected only one of several diverse viewpoints designed to encourage a meaningful exchange of ideas, then the parents and the school administration should chill out and get over it. If it represented a one-sided effort to guilt-trip kids about their “white privilege,” then it is no more than divisive, leftist agitprop. And it’s not just white kids I’m worried about. What kind of message does it send to black kids that the odds are so stacked against them. What’s the point in even trying?

I tell my son, if he wants to feel guilty about his privilege because he was born to parents who work hard, pay a disproportionate share of taxes, give to charity, maintain an intact nuclear family, and care about him enough to rag his ass every day to get out of bed, eat healthy food, drive safely and be respectful to police officers, never lie, never steal, never resort to physical violence (except in self-defense), treat others (regardless of race) as he would have them treat him, and get off the damn computer so he can get good grades, go to college, and become a productive citizen, then so be it. Just understand where his privilege comes from — it has nothing to do with being white.

Social “Justice” and Wealth Destruction

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

by James A. Bacon

It is well documented that African-Americans and Hispanics lost a higher percentage of their net worth since the Great Recession of 2007 than did whites and Asians. The pressing question is why?

The dominant explanation is that racism and discrimination — or at least the after-effects of overt racism and discrimination reflected in practices embedded in major U.S. institutions such as schools, universities, banks, real estate markets and the like — is to blame. But there is a hardy dissenting viewpoint that, while private U.S. institutions may fall short of the ideal, the greatest threat to minority well being is activist government: In the effort to fix inequality, social justice advocates exercising the levers of government power unwittingly do more harm than good. The effects of the real estate crash and ensuing recession are a perfect illustration of that principle.

William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth don’t frame the issue that way in a paper published last year, “Why Didn’t Higher Education Protect Hispanic and Black Wealth?” The two economists, working for the Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis, were preoccupied with the question of why collegeeducated Hispanics and blacks fared so poorly during and after the recession. Given that higher education is associated strongly with higher income and greater household wealth, it seemed anomalous that college-educated blacks and Hispanics saw much greater plunges in net worth than whites and Asians. But the data the authors provide is entirely consistent with the idea that social-justice activism combined with blundering government efforts to right past wrongs is a recipe for minority disaster.

Look at the chart atop the post. The thing that will stand out to social-justice warriors, always alert for any sign of inequality, is that the percentage loss in net worth between 2007 and 2013 was far greater for college-educated blacks and Hispanics than for college-educated whites and Asians — the very points that caught the attention of Emmons and Noeth. But at least two things will stand out to those who don’t embrace the presumption of racism.

First, the percentage loss in net worth for less-educated whites is in the same ballpark as that for less-educated blacks and Hispanics. If racism/ discrimination were a decisive factor, why did non-college-educated whites fare nearly as badly?

Second, educated Asians actually gained wealth during the time period, the only group to do so, while their less-educated peers suffered more disastrous losses (expressed as a percentage of net worth) than any other ethnic racial group. How does the racism explanation fit here? Do the forces of institutional racism disproportionately favor educated Asians and punish less-educated Asians?

As it turns out, Emmons and Noeth provide data that account for much of the disparity. The key variable was indebtedness, or more precisely, the median debt-to-income ratio in 2007. Some racial-ethnic groups had piled up more debt, much of it mortgage debt, than others. Consequently, when the real estate market tanked, the economy crashed, and people started losing their jobs, some were more vulnerable to the downturn than others.

Let’s take a closer look.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

It turns out that not only did college-educated Americans in 2007 take on more debt in absolute terms than did their less-educated peers, they took on more debt in comparison to their incomes. College-educated blacks and Hispanics took on the highest debt levels of all — up to 164.7% in the case of blacks. When real estate markets crashed, they were the most exposed, and they suffered the greatest losses. It is not coincidence that the group taking on the least debt, educated Asians, was the one group that saw an increase in net worth.

Conversely, less-educated Asians were the most highly leveraged of their racial-ethnic peers. Not surprisingly, they saw the greatest percentage losses in net worth.

Why did educated Hispanics suffer even greater net-worth losses than educated blacks? Is America’s real estate-financial system more rigged against Hispanics than blacks? No. A better explanation for the disparity between Hispanics and blacks is that Hispanics predominated in California, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and other real estate markets that suffered the worst crashes.

Social justice and government activism, a deadly combination

So, the real question is how blacks and Hispanics came to be so highly leveraged? Was it a rapacious capitalist system that preyed upon the poor and ignorant by loading them up with debt? No. Poor blacks and Hispanics took on the least debt (as a ratio of their income) of any group. It was the educated blacks and Hispanics who loaded up on debt and got clobbered the worst by the recession.

Now let’s take a little journey back through time. Does anyone remember the political climate of 2006? Everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike, was supporting programs to promote home ownership. And no one was targeted for this feel-good initiative more than blacks and Hispanics — minorities who were deemed to be the victims of past discrimination, thus denied the wealth-creating opportunities of home ownership. No one was more aggressive than the social justice warriors who agitated endlessly to remove the “barriers” to home ownership — in other words, to lower lending standards. Private-sector “greed” did not lower lending standards. Social justice advocates dismantled the lending standards that “greedy, uncaring banks” supposedly had erected to unfairly limit access minorities to mortgage markets. (I refer you to Gretchen Morgenson’s book, “Reckless Endangerment,” for the details of the sordid story.)

As a consequence of this disastrous policy, millions of Americans of all races and ethnicities were suckered into taking out mortgages in the most over-heated real estate market in U.S. history. The devastating loss of wealth experienced by blacks and Hispanics was the direct result of misguided social activism and government meddling in mortgage markets during a time when sane people (like me) were warning that consumer debt generally, and real estate prices particularly, were unsustainable.

But being a social-justice warrior is never having to say you’re sorry. Just cloak yourself in moral superiority, wave the bloody flag of racism and move on to the next fiasco.

The Forgotten Victims of the Crack Addict

crackby James A. Bacon

Carl V. Hughes IV, a 28-year-old Chesterfield County man, had a serious addiction to crack cocaine. Living with his sister and elderly parents, he frequently stole from them to support his habit. According to testimony from a recent trial, he’d stolen a video game system and games from his sister, a laptop computer and car from his mother, and a video game system and cell phone from his former girlfriend and mother of his child.

On Sept. 22, high on crack and resentful of ridicule for his out-of-control drug use, he felt like he had “no other alternative” than to “erase” his family. He proceeded to stab his father and mother to death in their sleep, and then his sister as she watched television. After the killings, he met a woman in a hotel on Jefferson Davis Highway, purchased more crack and smoked it with her. Later, he pawned his mother’s wedding ring and two other rings to buy more drugs.

The next day, police found him at the railing of the Lee Bridge, where he was threatening to commit suicide. He was distraught at what he’d done, telling police “he could not believed he killed his sister” because she “was the only one who loved” him. The Times-Dispatch has the details of the story here.

It’s a tragic story all the way around. It’s also a powerful reminder of (a) the power of crack cocaine to destroy peoples’ lives, not just the lives of users but the people around them, and (b) why there are laws on the books that dish out harsher penalties for crack than powdered cocaine, a disparity than many have decried as racist because crack users are disproportionately African-American.

The story also occurs against a growing sense of white guilt at the “mass incarceration” of African-American men and concern about the impact that incarceration has on the black family — it’s difficult for a man to be a good husband and father while he’s stewing in jail — when one-third of African-American males wind up in jail or prison at some point in their lives, often for seemingly victimless crimes like drug possession.

I have no doubt that there are injustices in the criminal justice system, and I’m open to the idea that there are better ways to handle the epidemic of substance abuse (which is just as prevalent among whites as it is among blacks, incidentally) than throwing every offender in jail. I also share the belief that drug addicts have a problem that cannot be solved by incarceration; they need help dealing with their substance abuse. However, amidst the rush to portray drug users as victims of institutional racism, I have seen little acknowledgement as the debate has unfolded that drug addicts often prey on the people around them — stealing their money, pawning their possessions, assaulting them, dumping familial responsibilities others, and, in extreme cases like Hughes’, killing them.

Family members of substance abusers are the silent victims. Hughes’s family came to the notice of the public only because a triple homicide is such an extreme case. But before the murders, no one knew about or cared about Hughes’ endless predation upon family members in a series of petty crimes that most likely were never reported. How many thousands of other families in Virginia are suffering silently from a substance abuser close to them? How many of them feel oppressed by their presence, and how many, at some level, feel liberated when their oppressor is put in jail?

It’s good to have a conversation about the mass incarceration of young African-American men. We should be investing more resources in programs that help substance abusers kick their habit and ease their transition from jail and prison back into society. But we also need to be cognizant of their silent victims, who also happen to be African-American and whose interests may not be served by handing out get-out-of-jail free cards to the people who rob and abuse them. Those people have rights, too. Their rights just aren’t politically fashionable right now.

Why T.J. Deserves a Place in Our Pantheon of Heroes

TJ-statueby James A. Bacon

Students at the College of William & Mary have carried on a long tradition of festooning the campus statue of Thomas Jefferson with accouterments ranging from woolen scarfs to party hats. The latest fad is to append the effigy with sticky notes denouncing the founding father as a slave holder, a racist and a rapist. The activity imitates a similar movement on the University of Missouri campus, which has been coupled with a petition to remove a Jefferson statue on the grounds that it was offensive to idealize someone who owned and raped slaves. I don’t know if the anti-Jefferson movement will gain the same momentum at William & Mary, a public university in a state where Jefferson is revered like no other historical figure. But, given the tenor of the times, some kind of debate is inevitable.

TJI find the negative sentiments expressed in the sticky notes to be indisputably true at one level and profoundly misinformed at another. True, by today’s standards, Jefferson’s views and behaviors were reprehensible. He did own slaves. He did sell slaves and break up slave families. He most likely (though not indisputably) did keep a slave woman as a concubine. He did believe blacks to be inferior to whites. It is not unreasonable to ask why, for all his brilliance as an author of the Declaration of Independence, a United States president, an architect, the founder of the University of Virginia, and all-around polymath, we should continue to hold him in such high esteem (or, for that matter, why we should esteem any member of Virginia’s slave-holding aristocracy).

The case I would make for Jefferson (along with James Madison, George Washington, Patrick Henry and George Mason) is not that they reflected 21st-century sensibilities, which they clearly did not, but that they articulated values and principles for the first time in history that laid the foundation for the values we hold today. We could not have gotten to where we are today had Jefferson & Company not laid the groundwork.

Colonial America imported its institutions and mental constructs from a Europe that was emerging from the Middle Ages. Collective entities such as towns, cities, guilds, social classes and ethnicities — not individuals — were imbued with rights. When Nathaniel Bacon led a revolt against the autocratic Governor Berkeley of Virginia in 1676, leading a rag-tag band of impoverished farmers and freed slaves, he called for a restoration of the “rights of Englishmen.” Virginians were entitled to rights and privileges, embodied in the Magna Carta and common law that their ancestors had fought for and won. But those rights were not regarded as universal; they were peculiar to Englishmen and derived from English institutions. Jefferson’s great contribution was to draw from Enlightenment-era principles to argue that all men were endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Essentially, he reinterpreted the rights of Englishmen as rights applied universally to everyone. In Jefferson’s formulation, rights did not belong to collective entities; they belonged to individuals, and they were intrinsic to a person’s existence as a human being — the core principle of 21st-century political thought.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Jefferson is that he articulated principles in direct conflict with his own material self interest as a slave holder. While Jefferson indisputably failed to live up to his own principles, it is intellectually facile and lazy to end the discussion there. It is a truism (and one of Karl Marx’s few useful insights) that economic and social classes, both the rulers and the oppressed, create ideologies that support their material self interest. One must ask: How many ruling elites in the history of mankind have ever developed a governing philosophy that undercut their material self interest? How many ruling elites in history have wrestled with the dichotomy between those principles and the way they actually lived their lives, as Jefferson, Madison, Washington and others did? The answer: precious few. Indeed, I cannot off-hand think of any other ruling elite in the history of mankind that has done such a thing.

Jefferson articulated principles that most Americans, including the people who now despise him, hold dear today. We should revere him for making the leap from rights rooted in collective entities to rights applying to all. We should respect him for making that leap in contravention of his own material self interest, and appreciate the fact that the contradiction haunted him until his dying day, even if he failed to free all his slaves and impoverish himself in the process. The journey to equal rights for all Americans certainly did not end with Jefferson, but it started with him, and he rightly deserves a place in our pantheon of heroes.

NOT Every Muslim Is a Terrorist


by James A. Bacon

Conservatives routinely call upon Muslim leaders in the United States to denounce Islamic-inspired terrorism — and overwhelming numbers of them have done so. Now it is time for conservatives to denounce bigotry against peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. I am ashamed that many have failed the test.

Yesterday I posted a piece belittling the whining of Muslim students at Virginia Commonwealth University about perceived slights and insults in classrooms. The answer to such indignities is not to enforce a regime of politically correct thought on campus. At the same time, all people of good will — and that includes me — should condemn bigotry when we see it.

I was appalled to view a living, breathing example of anti-Muslim xenophobia in the video clip, shown above, taken during a meeting yesterday to inform the community about plans by the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg to build an 8,000-square-foot mosque in Spotsylvania County. Many of the attendees at the meeting were concerned about the impact of the traffic generated by the facility on adjacent neighborhoods, not the religious identity of the petitioners for a special-use permit. But some were opposed to a mosque being built under any circumstances.

The bearded man in the video was especially inflammatory. “Nobody wants your evil cult in this county,” he said. I will do everything within my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. … because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists, I don’t care what you say. … You can say what you want, but every Muslim is a terrorist. Period. Shut your mouth. I don’t want to hear your mouth.”

While some people in the audience moaned at his remarks, he received scattered applause from others.

Perhaps the bearded man was an outlier, but similar sentiments run deep in the American electorate. We have been hearing some extraordinary comments from Republican politicians in recent days. In calling for expanded surveillance of American Muslims, presidential candidate Donald Trump declined to rule out tracking them in a national database or identifying their religion on ID cards. Another candidate, Ben Carson, has said that a Muslim candidate would have to reject the tenets of Islam in order to run for president.

News flash, people, the United States is not a “Christian nation.” The very idea is a profound contradiction of the principles of individual liberty that this country was founded upon and that people like Trump and Carson profess to hold dear. Yes, the population of the United States is predominantly Christian, and the founding fathers were overwhelmingly Christian (with the occasional theist, agnostic or atheist thrown in), but a core founding principle of this country is freedom of religion, and that freedom was never meant for Christians only. Even in colonial times, there was a population of Jews. Today the population of the United States includes not only Christians of infinite variety, and Jews, but Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, spiritualists, animists, Unitarians, Scientologists, Zoroastrians, a growing number of atheists and unaffiliated agnostics, and, yes, Muslims. They all enjoy the same rights under the law as Christians.

Given the reality of the war on terror and the prospect that ISIS is infiltrating terrorists into western nations with the flood of mostly Muslim refugees, we may need to take special precautions before letting these refugees into the country. That is a debate that reasonable people can have. But the Muslims in the Fredericksburg area are already here — many, no doubt, are American citizens. We should encourage them to integrate into American society and assimilate mainstream American values. Treating them as pariahs will do the opposite and feed the radical jihadist narrative.

Oh, and one more point. If Americans are concerned about random acts of terror being committed on U.S. soil, let’s keep things in perspective. The Mass Shooting Tracker has recorded more than 300 mass shooting incidents this year, killing more than 400 Americans and wounding nearly 1,200. Some are school shootings, some are suicide-by-cops, and some are tied to drug violence. I think I’m accurate in stating that only one incident — killing five and wounding two — could be construed as an example of domestic, Islamic-inspired terrorism. I don’t see anyone making sweeping denunciations of mentally unstable white adolescents who predominate among the school shooters, or the unemployed, middle-aged white males who predominate among the suicide-by-cop cases. There is no justification for singling out law-abiding Muslims for special scorn.

Neither is there any defending the bigotry on display in Spotsylvania. All Virginians — especially conservatives — should condemn it.

The Whiners and The Doers

Rob Brandenberg (left) D.J. Haley, and Marketing Director Jeremy Senseng. Haley credits VCU support network for helping them get this far.

Rob Brandenberg (left) D.J. Haley, and Marketing Director Jeremy Senseng with Empower Card. Haley credits VCU’s support network for helping them get this far. Photo credit: Richmond BizSense.

by James A. Bacon

Two stories about Virginia Commonwealth University were in the news today. A front-page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlighted a forum in which African-American and Muslim students expressed how badly they are treated and how the university needs to make a greater commitment to “diversity.” The other, appearing in the email newsletter of Richmond BizSense, described how two members of VCU’s  2011 Final Four basketball team hope to launch a venture, Empower Card, that will allow purchasers to funnel a portion of their credit card purchases to worthy causes.

The contrast is highly illuminating.


VCU President Michael Rao and VCU student Angelique Scott. Photo credit: Times-Dispatch.

About 500 people packed the VCU forum hosted by President Michael Rao and gave voice to a succession of gripes and grievances. “VCU has failed black students on many levels,” said Angelique Scott, a junior representing a group called Black VCU Speaks. “We are tired of hearing about old initiatives that have never been set into action.”

Hiba Ahmad, a sophomore from Fairfax, said Muslim students have become fearful in the wake of terrorist attacks and “a growing rhetoric of Islamophobia.” Students “who display their faith very visually” through their dress are concerned for their safety, she said.

There was a lot of talk about fears and perceptions, but no mention of anything tangible. Have minority VCU students been assaulted? No such incidents were reported. Has anyone been physically bullied? Again, no mention. Ahmad took objection to classroom discussions in which “hurtful” and “disrespectful” comments about Muslims are made and the failure of professors to back up the Muslims. Another student spoke about feeling “marginalized” when he discovered he wasn’t invited to a cookout at a professor’s home.

Poor, delicate flowers.

We don’t know how representative the views of these 500 students are, but Rao legitimized them by saying the university is trying to create a more welcoming environment. “Let’s just face it, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “The urgency is more serious than I think some might grasp.”

It is important to note however, that the wallowing-in-self-pity movement does not represent the views of all minority VCU students — just the noisiest ones. We hear a very different story from fledgling entrepreneurs D.J. Haley and Rob Brandenberg, two recently graduated members of VCU’s most celebrated basketball squad. Their idea is to use credit and debit cards as vehicles for businesses and consumers to donate money to participating not-for-profit causes.

Working with a company called Linkable Networks to provide the technology, Haley and Brandenburg have launched a website and are lining up businesses and charities to take part. The idea is that participating businesses would build their brand and customer loyalty by funneling 5% of the credit-card charge to select charities.

For now, reports BizSense, the company is in the very early stages. Haley, who works for a marketing advisory and data intelligence firm in Northern Virginia, and Brandenberg, who works for CornerstoneRPO, a corporate recruiting company in Richmond, are working part-time on the enterprise. Among other hurdles, they figure they need about $50,000 to get the venture off the ground. “We’re betting on the intent to do good works,” said Haley.

How was their experience at VCU? Here’s what Haley said: “We were fortunate to be exposed to great people and great principles,. The other thing that we’re working with is how intertwined we are with the VCU community. We’re confident we have the support we need to make this thing happen.”

I am awaiting the day when Rao holds a forum for ambitious, striving and upwardly mobile students like Haley and Brandenburg. I am guessing that he would get very different feedback. VCU faces a critical choice: Which constituency does it choose to empower — the whiners or the doers? If VCU wants any kind of future, it should cast its lot with the doers.

Best Cities for Small Black Business


Source: Thumbtack annual small business friendliness survey.

I don’t know how valid these findings are, based as they are upon only 1,663 responses to a national small business survey, but they are encouraging. Nine of ten of the cities rated highly by African-American small businessmen (and women) are located in the South and two — Richmond and Virginia Beach — are located in Virginia.

The questions posed by the Thumbtack annual small business survey asked small business owners (1) How friendly is your city? (2) How easy was it to start a business? and (3) Would you encourage others to start a business in your city?

Small business is an important path of upward mobility for African-Americans in a lackluster economy. As Thumbtack notes:

Bacon’s bottom line: Conservatives should never give up appealing to the African-American electorate. While the political left in the United States cultivates grievance and outrage, the political right emphasizes economic opportunity and upward mobility. Leftist-progressive policies destroy economic opportunity and engender bitterness; conservative, market-oriented policies create opportunity and hope. Which one will win in the long run? The one that offers opportunity and hope.