More Evidence Demolishing the Oppression Narrative

by James A. Bacon

Hamilton Lombard has posted some fascinating data on the University of Virginia Demographic Research blog, Stat Chat, that illuminates the income gap between whites and blacks. For Lombard’s spin on the data he presents, I suggest that you read his commentary here. It’s different from my take. I wouldn’t say that his interpretation and mine are in conflict, but I don’t want to imply that he would necessarily agree what I’m writing here.

The black-white income gap. The first point worth noting is that between 1950 and 1970 (inside the magenta circle in the chart above), when blacks’ economic opportunities were curtailed by segregated institutions, the gap between black and white incomes narrowed significantly. In the 50 years since then, the income gap between blacks and non-blacks has not budged.

“The fact that the income gap for Black Virginians has not changed considerably since 1970 is particularly notable,” writes Lombard, “because the intention of the Civil Rights Era reforms and the Great Society programs that have existed since the late 1960s are in large part to help close the income gap.”

There is a world of difference between intentions and outcomes. The architects of the Great Society programs did not predict the outcome that Lombard alluded to. They expected their policies would reduce the gap. However, they did not anticipate the impact that their policies — along with other cultural trends — would have on the black family structure, black resilience and black agency. The dominant Narrative today is that blacks are helpless victims of systemic white racism and institutional racism and that political action (mediated by liberal whites) is the only way to improve their lot in life. I cannot imagine a narrative more calculated to sap black striving and initiative.

The  Asian-everyone else gap. Take a look at the red line, representing median income for Asian families. As recently as 1985, Asian and white household incomes were roughly equal. Asian incomes have taken off since then. That is the big income-gap story of not only Virginia but the United States. The question we all should be asking is this: Why have Asians done so much better than everyone else over the past 35 years? Even white people should be asking how they can emulate Asians’ success.

The politically driven fixation by media, academia and political establishment on the black-white gap has totally obscured the Asian-everyone else gap. There’s a reason for that. Acknowledging the Asian-everyone else gap would undermine the narrative that inequity in American society derives from “white privilege.” Re-focusing the issue on the Asian-everyone else gap would highlight the idiocy of the Oppression Narrative because (a) Asians are supposedly “persons of color,” (b) they have far less political clout than blacks and Hispanics, and (c) no one advances a serious claim that they enjoy institutional privilege of any kind.

But if Asians don’t enjoy institutional privilege, to what do we attribute their ability to generate higher incomes than whites and other racial/ethnic groups in Virginia? Could it be social and cultural factors, such as the strength of Asian families, future orientation, emphasis on academic achievement, lower proclivity for criminal behavior, and a willingness to defer gratification? A focus on the factors driving Asian achievement would obliterate the construct of the Oppression Narrative, hence must be ignored at all costs.

The black immigrant/native gap. In the chart above, Lombard compares the differences in family income between natives and immigrants for the four major racial/ethnic groups. Asian immigrants make less money on average than native-born Americans of Asian ancestry. The same applies to white immigrants and Hispanic immigrants, but not black immigrants. Lombard attributes the income gap between natives and immigrants for whites, Asians and Hispanics to the fact that natives generally enjoy higher levels of education than immigrants. For blacks, the situation is the reverse. Black immigrants in Virginia tend to have higher levels of educational attainment than native-born blacks.

Proponents of the Oppression Narrative can fall back upon the argument that black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean never suffered the horrors of slavery and racial segregation that shaped the native African-American experience. Such an argument fails to take into account the inequities resulting from colonialism in African and the combination of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean. More importantly, the black immigrant-native gap gut-punches the argument that skin color is an important determinant of an individual’s income in the U.S.

The real gap: educational attainment. The income gap is largely an education achievement gap. When comparing median household incomes of Virginians holding a B.A. degree, blacks earn 90% of what other Virginians do.  The income gap for blacks with masters or doctoral degrees, as seen in the chart above, almost disappears. Lombard has an explanation for the differences that do exist:

While there is no single reason why Black Virginians with a bachelor’s degree still earn less than other Virginians with a bachelor’s degree, one reason may be that less preparation for college causes Black college students to be underrepresented in the more competitive college majors that typically lead to higher paying jobs. In context, Asian Americans are over-represented in higher paying fields, particularly STEM, which in turn causes them to earn more on average than other Americans with the same educational attainment.

Bacon’s bottom line: The racial income gap does not reflect broad, systemic racism, it reflects the educational achievement gap. To create a society in which blacks enjoy equal opportunity, we need to address the failures of our educational system. According to the Oppression Narrative, Virginia’s educational system is infected with structural racism. I have endeavored to refute that proposition on many occasions. Whether one agrees with my analysis or not, that’s the dialogue we need to be having.

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22 responses to “More Evidence Demolishing the Oppression Narrative

  1. re: ” Bacon’s bottom line: The racial income gap does not reflect broad, systemic racism, it reflects the educational achievement gap.

    ” While there is no single reason why Black Virginians with a bachelor’s degree still earn less than other Virginians with a bachelor’s degree, one reason may be that less preparation for college causes Black college students to be underrepresented in the more competitive college majors that typically lead to higher paying jobs. In context, Asian Americans are over-represented in higher paying fields, particularly STEM, which in turn causes them to earn more on average than other Americans with the same educational attainment.”

    so what we’re really saying is that the way we represent “attainment” is done on a racial basis?

    I am not a Bell Curve/ Charles Murray guy who says stuff like this:

    “The professional consensus is that the United States has experienced dysgenic pressures throughout either most of the century (the optimists) or all of the century (the pessimists). Women of all races and ethnic groups follow this pattern in similar fashion. There is some evidence that blacks and Latinos are experiencing even more severe dysgenic pressures than whites, which could lead to further divergence between whites and other groups in future generations.”
    —The Bell Curve, 1994

    But I am inclined to believe that academic standards for the College Bound have gradually changed and we give higher grades (grade escalation) for work that is not worthy.

    Also – a lot of people – except the Asians – run like hell away from the hard sciences.

    A lot of folks go to College not to attain higher levels of knowledge but to get that sheepskin…and then use it in the job market to their advantage.

    Are we going to say that if grade escalation applies to everyone, not just blacks, that STILL the “quality” of the Black degree is lower than the average White Degree – and it’s really a racial “attainment” thing?

  2. Take a course in Mandarin.

  3. I’m sure Hamilton Lombard meant well, but his Great Society/Civil Rights conclusion is what you get when your number cruncher isn’t a political scientist by trade. That the income gap narrowed the most during the time the Warren Court and then the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were serious about addressing racial inequality and had frequently pliant Congresses to work with is not shocking. That those gains stalled in the face of conservative backlash during which Nixon and Ford were gutting the Office of Economic Opportunity is the least surprising thing ever. It’s so mundane that silly contrarianism looks exciting next to it instead of just silly.

    Here’s how white people can emulate Asian success in America…

    1) Identify a country white Americans can immigrate to that has ridiculously simplistic racial definitions so that four distinct subgroups can make it seem like the category as a whole overachieves compared to the dominant native population (

    2) That country should have it’s immigration system set up in such a way that it highly favors the upper class of American whites so they’re able to tilt the appearance of success as a cultural rather than a class trait even more (

    3) Discrimination against those white immigrants should be ignored because as a group they make above the national wage average(

    4) Then we should ignore that children are more likely to go into the same category and class of their parents than the general population so that the class component of their future employment opportunities look like cultural choices instead(

    And there you go, emulation!

    “The racial income gap does not reflect broad, systemic racism, it reflects the educational achievement gap.”

    The educational achievement gap IS systemic racism. The results of generational oppression are cumulative – to say an entire group of people whose ancestors were slaves for 240 years before laboring under Jim Crow for another 100 before being barred entry to the segregation academies and suburbs their white counterparts fled to aren’t still impacted by all those things is absurd. And the Black and white cultures are different claim has repeatedly been shown to be nonsense. The only difference is that Black Americans as a group started the race with chains around their ankles and so they are poorer as a group than their white brothers and sisters. That’s it! They esteem college more than white Americans but come from homes less likely to have a college graduate because until about 60 years ago they couldn’t GO to college. White and Black Americans use drugs at roughly the same rates but Black Americans are more likely to suffer legal consequences because cops are in their neighborhoods looking for them.

    • “They esteem college more than white Americans but come from homes less likely to have a college graduate because until about 60 years ago they couldn’t GO to college. ”

      Interesting claim, especially when one considers that there were about 120 predominantly black colleges founded in this country between 1870 and 1960 – 1960. Are you saying there were no students at these institutions?

      • Yes. That is what I said, that is what I meant, and that was a good faith interpretation of those claims.

      • Eric the Half a Troll

        And who was most successful, on average, in the workforce? A graduate of any color from Lincoln University or a graduate of any color from Stanford (or even UVA)?

    • Furthermore, if anything, it appears that all those grand things that happened “during the time the Warren Court and then the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were serious about addressing racial inequality” did not so much help blacks, whose incomes were already increasing in the 1950s and continued increasing at the same rate during the 1960s, as it did hurt whites, whose incomes went from steadily increasing throughout the 1950s to steadily decreasing between 1960 ans 1970.

      There are many ways to interpret data.

      • Poverty is more like highway congestion or crime. You don’t “fix” it per se.

        But you can make it better and it has been by programs like SNAP and other programs but education has been harder.

        We knew that it was about neighborhood schools but we rejected busing and so we are still stuck with how lower incomes concentrate in some neighborhoods and those with higher income gravitate to higher dollar neighborhoods and the schools in theor neighborhoods tend to reflect the education wants and needs of those who live in those neighborhoods.

        Neighborhoods that have College-educated parents tend to have schools that reflect that and neighborhoods that have non-College educated parents tend to hew that way.

        If you have parents that are not college-educated and you live in a neighborhood where the majority of parents of not college-educated, you’re not going to have the same educational opportunities to advance.

        Your Zip code largely determines your destiny.

        If we feel that past efforts have failed – what do we do?

        1. – we say we can’t fix it and it’s probably a “culture” thing – walk away

        2. – keep working it until we find what we need to do

      • The median Black family income doubled during that time, for your assertion that post-War liberal programs did not so much help Black Virginians as hurt white Virginians one of two positions would have to be true:

        1) The white income fell at least proportionately to the rise in Black income, or

        2) The racist assumption that any increase in Black wages comes at the expense of white wages – that is if Black wages are rising and white wages are not the only explanation is that white workers are being artificially held down to give their Black peers a leg up.

        The answer you come to can be kept between you and your God.

        • Your reading comprehension skills, not to mention your statistical analysis skills, are simply atrocious.

          And any claims you make of harboring good faith are simply false.

        • One of those two positions absolutely does NOT have to be true, and you are absolutely not engaging in good faith interpretations.

          Have a nice life.

  4. Structural racism: the good guys always wear white while evil always dresses in black. We all learned this in our childhood.

  5. So we have basically two schools of thought, with variations that we cycle through here in BR…

    1. – disparate outcomes are due to how institutions structure access to opportunity and attainment.

    2. – disparate outcomes are due to differences in culture and race –

    Am I wrong?

  6. So if you are a black person and you do believe there is structural racism
    and if you are a white person and you totally reject what the black folks believe…

    what next?

  7. A few days ago (08/04), there was a post on BR entitled “Systemic Racism? What’s that?” — by Peter Galuszka. He wrote about the arrest, by armed Secret Service agents, of two black mothers with young children in the act of parking by the Mall in order to take their kids to the WWII Memorial wading pool. Dick Hall-Sizemore wrote a comment there that has stuck with me, quoting from an interview with a black economist named Glenn Loury, that has made me ponder just what we mean by “systemic racism.” I grew up on Patrick Moynihan and other critics of simply throwing money at the problem of poverty, but there’s no question that poverty — economic status — has something to do with it. And that income inequality has increased broadly across our society, even if, proportionately, blacks and whites have been affected similarly. And that, as Prof. Loury makes clear, racism undeniably exists, but it has an historical context and it is deeply rooted in human behavior; it requires a public policy cure, but with a black self-help dimension inextricably involved. In other words, there is no simple solution. Go back and read it.

  8. Without going into the data, that first chart indicates a lack of data between 1950 and 2000, just evident from long straight lines, decade long. It tells me the data points are at 1950, 1960, 1970, etc., or that we had a very weird, highly improbable payscale.

    Now, for those with short memories, or none at all, 1968 was a particularly hard year for what is euphemistically called STEM trained persons, i.e., Ph.Ds mowing grass for a living. This caused a lot of college students to change from engineering to, oh say, business and journalism. A lot of high-paying, mostly white, jobs were lost. Enough to show stagnation or a small drop? Don’t know. But it was a big deal at the time.

  9. As someone said, you can show a lot of things with data and graphs but what does not make sense to me is the idea that in 1950, blacks had a better education, more college grads, etc, than now and hence in theory a link to income potential.

    And then the idea that whatever blacks gain – whites lose… geeze

    A good number of the charts look like this:

  10. Eric the Half a Troll

    “However, they did not anticipate the impact that their policies — along with other cultural trends — would have on the black family structure, black resilience and black agency.”

    What they did not anticipate (although they should have) was that slavery and then Jim Crow would be replaced by the so-called “War on Drugs”.

  11. Another fine article, Jim. You are on a roll.

    The larger narrative is that it’s easy and tempting to blame any bad result on a Oppression Narrative when that bad result is caused of the complainants own failed policies, activities, and ideologies that for generations leave in the wake folks who:

    1/ have not gotten married,
    2/ didn’t go to school to learn, so didn’t learn,
    3/ have fathered several children he hardly knows or not at all, or have birthed several or many children who live alone with her, and who were fathered by several different men long gone,
    4/ have a constant stream of lovers who abuse her and her children,
    5/ never go to church with their children or otherwise,
    6/ live alone and isolated in a crime and drug infested communities,
    7/ are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol,
    9/ are unemployable, refuse to work, or can’t keep a job, and
    10/ who themselves grew up in a broken community of failed relationships and toxic culture quite similar to the broken place they live in now.

    Such folks surely grew up as the children of an Oppressive Narrative. The question is who are the people who chronic refuse to fix that toxic culture that oppresses and destroys its own people and their children?

    Here lies the real base reasons why American society, its culture, and increasingly most of its communities, today are falling apart.

    Race has nothing to do with this massive failure, although the disadvantaged (no matter their ethic makeup) were hit first and hardest and now what hit them earlier is spreading to all but the affluent within our society, say the top 10%.

    Identity politics is the scapegoat, the weapon, those seeking to take advantage of this massive failure of leadership grab now. The politicians, academics, crony capitalists, top 1o% hide behind.

    In short form, I want to tie in Steve’s and Jim’s above comments with my own above comments, try to show how the all these comments mesh and work together.

    One should never count on the kindness of strangers.

    Similarly, one should never count on the competence and caring of strangers. Indeed, in all matters large and small, one should be wary of strangers. There is a sensible balance here, but its most always best with strangers to go short on trust and long on verify, until trust is verified.

    We all know these rules instinctively. So, living one’s life amid strangers is inherently stressful, harmful and dangerous. Hence now, more and more, we are able to see why our culture, our communities and our health is falling apart for ever more Americans as they increasingly become atomized individuals, strangers in the own land.

    The internet feeds these trends, as do many other false realities that are now flooding our post modern world. Thus there is a growing need of ever more American to reconnect with their real world, rebuild their lost networks and relationships with real living people in their homes, communities, and at work. Only by actively meeting and engaging with real people, building trust among as many people and factions and institutions, can we as human beings learn, grow, thrive.

    This more recent commentary above recalls Jim’s article found at:

    See there how the Washington Post put inordinate blame for recent drop and lag in black home ownership on guess who and what: Donald Trump, White racism, and GOP.

    In fact the primary culprit behind this perennial problem has long been the financial and social collapse of large segments of black community after LBJ Great Society programs initiated in 1960s. And how those long gestating and festering problems were most recently were compounded by the sub-prime mortgage debacle created originally during the early Clinton Administration then later turbo charged by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977. This irresponsible policy and directive was driven by Rep. Barney Frank and allies that, in practical affect, after thoroughly corrupting the Fannie Mae mortgage loan underwriting process, then pushed on those toxic loans on unsuspecting and financially disadvantaged borrowers in urban cities like addictive drugs.

    This 10 years later blew up the US economy into the Great Recession. The event triggered foreclosures and bankruptcies on black owners that stripped record amounts of wealth and savings out of the black communities across the nation, from which they have yet to recover.

    Given today’s obsession with race and the oppression narrative, I recently came across a 2018 Pew research study that provides some clarity on many claims and myths within the oppression narrative drumbeat. It touches many subjects discussed earlier.

    As of 2016:

    Asians within the top 10% of income distribution earned 10.7 times as much income as Asians within the lower 10% of income distribution, going from going from 6.1 times in 2007 to 10.7 times in 2016.

    Blacks within the top 10% of income distribution earned 9.8 times as much income as Blacks within the lower 10% of income distribution, going from 9.1 times in 1970 to 9.8 in 2016.

    Whites within the top 10% of income distribution earned 7.8 times as much income as Whites within the lower 10% of income distribution, going from 6.3 times in 1970 to 7.8 times in 2016.

    So between 1970 and 2016 income inequality between richest and poorest Asian’s nearly doubled. Thus Asians displaced blacks as most economically divided race in America, while the economic gap between all Americans over this period increased on average 27%. The richest 10% had 6.9 times more income that the lowest 10% in 1970. By 2016, that gap had widened to 8.7 times more income.

    But the income of the lowest income Asians stagnated at 11% between 1970 and 2017, while the higher income Asians nearly doubled their income, and middle income Asians rose by 54%. Meanwhile white income in top 10% rose 80%, top tier black income rose 79%, and Hispanic to tier income rose 36%. Meawhile, lower income whites, blacks, and Hispanics kept pace with middle income peers, but all slipped relative to higher income Americans of all races.

    Importantly, lower and middle income blacks narrowed the income gap with their white cohorts during this period, gaining more income increases percentage wise than whites within same income group. Hispanics saw lower increases than both whites and blacks within these cohorts.

    When all groups are combined the top 10% of Americans are up 73%, the median income wage earners are up 44%, the lowest 10% up 36%.

    But for the top 10% of Blacks income is up 79%, Black median income is up 66%, and for lowest 10% income of black it is up 67%. This compares to 80%, 52%, and 45% for white cohorts. So blacks are seeing gains.

    Income growth slowed for all races between the year 2000 and 2016, but more so for blacks, likely for the reasons mentioned in my comment above. In any case, there is a great deal to ponder and learn from in this report.

    This is only a brief sampling. It is found at:

    Above commentary found at:

  12. One thing that could be interesting and that is start with all economically-disadvantaged then compare outcomes…across the demographics….

  13. 1968? “So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks.” Gee, wonder who said this?

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