Mike Kueber's Blog

August 28, 2014

The New York Times on white privilege and whether we are all racists

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wondered if everyone was a little bit racist. Prompted by the Ferguson incident, Kristof started his column, titled “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?,” by admitting that we really don’t what happened in Ferguson, but he went on to assert that we do know the following:

  • But here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves. Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.

If Kristof’s train of thinking confuses you, join the club. Although he begins by asserting “widespread racism and stereotyping,” he quickly walks that back to “unconscious attitudes.” And then, when he describes the various studies that provide evidence of the unconscious attitudes, he fails to explain why these unconscious attitudes exist, such as there are a plethora of psychological studies showing that people are inherently suspicious of people different from them.

Kristof seems to think that if everyone tries to be more sensitive to the issue, it can be willed away. He concludes his column as follows:

  • Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

The problem with Kristof’s prescription is that it ignores the scientific fact and common-sense understanding that people behave based on their life experience. It is also a fact that young black males, especially those who present themselves like gangsters, are more likely to commit crimes and violence that almost any other distinguishable group. What sentient human being would not consider that fact?

When Kristof advises people to behave in a politically correct fashion, he reminds me of the Marx Brothers’ line – “Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”


Shortly after Kristof’s column, the Times published a similarly-themed column by Charles Blow titled, “Bill O’Reilly and White Privilege.”  In the column, Blow takes O’Reilly to task for arguing that the problem in the black community is internal (black behavior), not external (white privilege). O’Reilly’s argument:

  • Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.

O’Reilly also pointed out that Asian-Americans have achieved success despite their obstacles, which included a different language, but he also noted that the black experience was unique:

  • One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

Blow explained away the Asians as “model immigrants” based on immigration policy, which he said resulted in high-achieving people being selected for immigration. [What an novel idea!]

Then for a solution, O’Reilly makes two points, according to Blow:

  1. In arguing that it isn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying: “American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”
  2. Then he falls back on the crux of his argument: “Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

Blow then turns the table on O’Reilly and seems to compare him to Al Sharpton:

  • No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones. This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle. But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments. Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

Finally, something we can agree on. There is a cycle between anti-black bias and the black personal behavior. O’Reilly’s solution is for cultural change in the black community while Blow seems content to merely vent against O’Reilly. At least Kristof has a plan, albeit a Pollyannaish one for non-blacks to will away their unconscious bias.

April 17, 2011

African-Americans and the Civil War

In a previous blog, I mentioned a recent survey that found white Americans thought the principal cause of the Civil War was slavery whereas black Americans believed the principal cause was states’ rights.   The survey surprised me, and I was surprised again yesterday when an article in USA Today reported that African-Americans aren’t very interested in celebrating the Civil War.   

I wonder why African-Americans don’t celebrate the Civil War.  Perhaps it could it be that most of the fighting was done by white Americans.  Perhaps it could be that the Union states were so complicit in the institution of slavery that their eventual “seeing the light” was too late to deserve any credit.

From a different perspective, I wonder why non-Southerners don’t celebrate the courage and honor of all of the Union soldiers.  The NY Times recently had an article about the thousands of Union volunteers who, shortly after the firing on Ft. Sumter, clamored to get in on the action.  Although the South won a lot of battles, obviously the Union won its share, too.  Why don’t Americans feel like celebrating those victories?

I’m the wrong guy to ask because I have an emotional attachment to the South.  Although I grew up in the north (North Dakota) and feel that the antebellum South had few redeeming virtues, I believe in States’ Rights and invariably root for the underdog.  If Utah had insisted on leaving the Union because of its belief in polygamy, I would have said, “See ya.”  If California wants to go because it believes in legalized marijuanca, I would say, “Have a good life.”

January 20, 2011

Legal development in affirmative action at UT

On January 18, 2011, a three-judge panel of the federal Fifth Circuit held in Fisher v. Texas that UT’s race-conscious admissions program was consistent with the race-conscious program approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger.   

The Fisher decision from Fifth Circuit panel focused on a variety of arguments regarding the “critical mass” necessary to achieve diversity.  The panel relied heavily on the Justice O’Connor’s description in the Grutter decision of educational benefits derived from diversity:

  1. Increased perspectives.  Justice O’Connor observed that including diverse perspectives improves the quality of the educational process because “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting when the students have the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.
  2. Professionalism.  The majority pointed to “numerous studies” showing that “student body diversity . . . better prepares [students] as professionals.”  The Court has “repeatedly acknowledged the overriding importance of preparing students for work and citizenship.”
  3. Civic Engagement. The Court recognized that “[e]ffective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation is essential if the dream of one Nation, indivisible, is to be realized.”

One of the arguments made by the plaintiffs, and rejected by the panel, was that UT’s Top Ten Percent Law had achieved a critical mass of Hispanics and African-Americans that rendered race-conscious admissions unnecessary.  Interestingly, the Top Ten Percent Law, which was admittedly enacted to increase minority enrollment, passes constitutional muster; whereas, race-conscious admissions would not be constitutionally permissible if its objective was to increase minority enrollment.  Rather, such an admissions program is permissible only if its objective is to achieve a state’s compelling interest in diversity.

In reviewing the Grutter decision, the Fifth Circuit panel quoted from Justice O’Connor – “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”  And the panel concluded the decision by warning:

  • “In this dynamic environment, our conclusions should not be take to mean that UT is immune from its obligation to recalibrate its dual system of admissions as needed, and we cannot bless the university’s race-conscious admissions program in perpetuity.”

Next step – the plaintiffs will probably appeal the panel decision to the entire Fifth Circuit  or go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Personally, the legal arguments in favor of diversity seem disingenuous.  I strongly suspect that diversity is a significant educational objective only because quotas and racial balancing cannot be.