by James A. Bacon
The reason for the academic under-performance of African-American students in K-12 and college is a matter of contentious debate in the United States. The dominant narrative holds that African-Americans are held back by racism either overt or unconscious. Conversely, some hew to the view that genetic factors such as IQ are to blame. But to Willfred Reilly, a political science professor at Kentucky State University, the answer is neither: It’s the culture.
A single observation disproves both the racism and genetic theories, he says: Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean Islands in the United States are prospering. Says he: “All of these brothers from Africa and the islands do as well as whites do.”
The culture of Africans and islanders differs from that of many African-Americans. “One of the biggest predictors [in educational outcomes] is how much you study. That’s 70 to 80 percent of it. The other is having a dad at home. If you adjust for hours studied and dads at home, there’s virtually no difference between the races.”
To Reilly’s way of thinking, the genetic view is pernicious. But it’s not terribly influential. By contrast, the view that blames all the problems of African-Americans on white racism — what he calls the Continuing Oppression Narrative (CON) — is far more entrenched and, at this point in time, more dangerous. Policies based on that narrative have unintended consequences that do considerable harm.
I became a fan of Reilly’s last year when I read his book, “Hate Crime Hoax,” in which he argued that a large percentage of U.S. hate crimes are hoaxes. I thoroughly enjoyed his style of writing, which is clear, heavily grounded in data, and sensitive to complexity and nuance. Like his hero Thomas Sowell, Reilly appeals to reason and avoids hyperbole. When his new book, “Taboo,” came out I made a point of reading it as well. In that work, he expands upon arguments in his previous book, deemed taboo in our politically correct era, regarding ethnicity and race. He addresses the police “war” on blacks, racial differences in academic performance, white privilege, cultural appropriation, and related topics of the day. I highly recommend it to Bacon’s Rebellion readers.
Reilly was generous enough to submit to an interview, and we discussed a cluster of topics frequently addressed on this blog: race, racism, culture, and education.
The starting point of the conversation was that African-Americans perform poorly on standardized tests, from Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams to SAT scores. The average SAT was around 940 for blacks, 950 for Hispanics, and 1100 for whites (or numbers close to those), he recalls from memory. “Asians kick everyone’s ass at 1180.” Of course those are averages, and averages conceal a lot — such as the fact that children of Jamaican and Nigerian immigrants do as well as whites, and among whites, Southern whites perform worse than whites from, say, the upper Midwest.
The Continuing Oppression Narrative does African-Americans a dis-service by blaming the gap on structural racism, discrimination, and white privilege. In other words, he says, “no matter what you do, the white man is responsible.” If that’s the message pounded into black kids, why should they devote themselves to arduous academic study?
The problem continues at the level of colleges and universities, especially elite institutions, where administrators try to compensate for the disappointing number of African-Americans coming through the K-12 pipeline by practicing affirmative action. The 30 or so top-rated schools will take almost all the African-American students with test scores that remotely qualify them to attend an elite institution, Reilly says. On average, their SAT scores are considerably lower than those of their Asian and white counterparts. Then the next tier of higher-ed institutions has to dig deeper into the SAT pool, and the same thing happens.
“That goes on every level down,” says Reilly. “If Yale is taking in the brothers qualified to go to [the University of] Illinois, Illinois is taking the brothers qualified to go to Western Kentucky, and Western Kentucky is taking the brothers qualified to go to community college.”
As a consequence, African-Americans at all levels find themselves competing against Asians and whites who are better prepared academically than they are. They don’t perform as well in class. They get frustrated. They get resentful. They retreat into their racial cocoons. Most deleterious of all, they drop out at higher rates — usually after racking up thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in student debt.
“The best thing,” Reilly suggests, “is for all kids to go to the schools they naturally would have gotten into.” Even more heretical, he questions whether so many people, especially African-Americans, should be going to residential four-year colleges at all. “There are a ton of options. If you do a four-year hitch in the Marines or a good union trade school, you’ll be more hirable than graduating from Southwest Alaska State with a degree in English.”
Reilly identified an interesting trend that I, as much as I have written about hire ed, had not noticed. Colleges have dramatically expanded the number of vocational degrees they offer. Things that people once learned how to do on the job — hospitality management, for instance — they can now spend years studying and paying thousands of dollars to learn. The spread of credentialism helps companies by reducing their training costs, and it helps higher-ed institutions by creating a new educational product they can peddle to tuition-paying students. Students are the losers.
Insofar as the students entering vocational occupations are more likely to be minorities, the educational-industrial complex has created a major barrier to upward social mobility. This is Bacon speaking, not Reilly (although I suspect he would agree): Once you’ve stripped away the lofty rhetoric, higher-ed institutions are organized to extract maximum revenue from students, including minorities, while easing the guilty consciences of the white liberal professors and administrators who benefit most from the extraction of wealth.
The private sector could save a lot of trouble and expense by administering IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) tests to ascertain applicants’ aptitudes. “You don’t need all those credentials,” he says. “I’m not sure you’re getting better people by requiring these degrees.”
Reilly, who teaches at an HBCU (historically black college or university), describes himself as a “moderate conservative.” It’s probably easier for him to maintain his controversial “taboo” views there than at an Ivy League institution. “Historically black colleges don’t tend to be that ‘woke,'” he says. Judging by such cultural markers as military service or church attendance, American blacks are more one of the most conservative groups in the country. Why, then, do they vote so overwhelmingly Democratic?
“Eighty-three percent of black people think that Donald Trump is a racist,” says Reilly. “I really do think that the Democratic Party has a lot invested in that idea being true. If 20 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the Hispanic vote went to the GOP, that would end the Democratic Party stranglehold.”
In that case, Reilly could be progressives’ worst nightmare. If young African-Americans begin heeding his message, American politics would take on a very different complexion.There are currently no comments highlighted.