What do we talk about when we don't talk about race?
March 25, 2015

The title of this blog entry is a slight variation of the title of an article in the March 22, 2015 Detroit Free Press by Brian Dickerson. The Dickerson article is about Starbucks' #RaceTogether initiative. It's on page 14A.

The answer to my question is on page 15A in the opinion piece Income inequality cuts off opportunity by Marina v.N. Whitman, a "business administration and public policy professor at the University of Michigan." It is one of the most idiotic articles I have ever read. It's all about race, but race is not mentioned at all.

Let me first give a hint to any conventionally liberal or progressive readers. If you want to convince me of anything, avoid the phrase "income inequality." It is a bullshit phrase. If I make $100,000 in a year and you make 99,999, then that is income inequality. If that one dollar difference sticks in your craw, well, not my problem. If you think, as I do, that the ultra-rich are getting way too much money and that they have way too much power, then write about that. If you think too many poor people are living hopeless, miserable lives, then write about that. The fact that the guy who pushed my car out of the snow without even being asked does not make as much as George Soros is not a problem. The problems are: he was too poor, Soros is too rich. If Soros gave the guy $10,000 so he could start getting his life together, I'd say, "God bless you, George!" and I'd really mean it.

Whitman writes:

Some insist social policy must check or reverse a trend whereby the best-off 10% of Americans, who received about 10% of total national income in 1950-1980, now gets some 23%.
LOL! Really, I am. If the top 10% got 10% of the income, then America in the 1950s must of been an egalitarian paradise. But look at us now. Oh, how unlike the place from whence we fell!! (Apologies to Milton, and I don't mean Milton Berle.)

There is deception in that text as well as stupidity. If you speak of the "top 10%," you include the top 1% and the top 0.01% as well. College professors make good money and some of them deserve it. But mix that in with what Soros and company make and the results are meaningless. If the top 10% less the top 1% were getting 40% of the income, I would regard that as a problem. When a business administration professor writes about the "top 10%," my guess is that she is deliberately shielding the top 0.01% from scrutiny.

There is ugliness in the text. After all the sentences are parsed and all the numbers are processed, Whitman is essentially advocating taking more money from successful middle-class and upper-middle-class white people for the sake of black and Hispanic people. If this were the first such effort in American history I would suggest that Prof. Whitman do a better job of stating her case. But these racial wealth transfers have been going on for decades. No matter what we do, it is never enough. Obamacare is such a wealth transfer. I would happily tax incomes over $10,000,000 at a marginal rate of 95%, but I feel that persons with modest levels of prosperity and wealth are already paying enough.

Whitman writes:

Recent research suggests that, the more unequal incomes become, the lower the likelihood that the children of poor parents will be able to move up to middle-class or affluent status. When they traced the earning power of more than 40 million U.S. children into adulthood, researchers found that poor children who live in "better" areas have higher math test scores, are more likely to attend college and have fewer teenage pregnancies than equally poor children who spend all or part of their childhoods in less desirable places. What does "less desirable" mean in this context? Wider inequality of incomes, along with greater segregation by age and income, less stable family structures, less social cohesion and poor school quality.
She is illustrating the opposite of what she thinks she is illustrating. If you live in a poor black neighborhood, then just about everyone around you is poor and black. If I allowed myself to speak so clumsily, I would say, "That is a very low level of inequality. All are equally poor!" I happen to be poor and white. I think everyone on my street makes more money than I do. Most people in my town are prosperous. So, from my perspective, there is lots and lots of "inequality." But I love it here! We have a beautiful library, a recreational trail winding through pretty woods by a lake, summer concerts in the park.

When Whitman asks what "less desirable" means, the correct answer is poor, black. That is why her whole article is such a crock. She writes about racial differences without mentioning race. If there were a Golden Dog Whistle award, no one else would have a chance. Statistically, poor white people living in mostly white communities are A LOT better off than poor black people surrounded by large numbers of other poor black people.

I've given a sample of Whitman's stilted drivel and horrifyingly bad logic. The rest of her opinion piece is more of the same. It raises the question, how can a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan write so stupidly about public policy? I attended a lecture given in the amphitheater of the Rackham building on the U of M campus some years ago. It was given in celebration of the 40th or 50th (If I remember right) anniversary of the Institute for Social Research. The speaker ended his talk, as if giving a call to arms, with French words that are generally translated, "Stupefy the bourgeoisie!" I guess the social research types and public policy types all ended up stupefying themselves. If you "believe in diversity" and you associate only with other people who "believe in diversity," that is what happens. Political correctness rots the intellect. I have evidence right in front of me.

We also have the answer to our question. Instead of writing about race, Professor Whitman wrote about "income inequality" without mentioning race. The Dickerson piece, in contrast, was a joy to read. I could happily sit down with Howard Shultz and talk about race for hours. We have serious differences of opinion and perspective, so we could use an African "talking stick" to keep the conversation orderly. (Only the person with the stick talks. When you want to talk, you gesture, I guess, and the current speaker hands you the stick, then you talk. I have no knowledge of protocality beyond that.)


My advice to any professors reading this: Do NOT try to write propaganda unless you've been trained and you know what you are doing. I write good propaganda. Leonard Pitts, Jr. writes good propaganda. The Whitman piece stinks as reasoned argumentation, it stinks as propaganda too.

Most college professors are paid from public funds. Quite properly, the academic life has its privileges, but it comes with an implicit duty to seek the truth and to profess what one finds. When a professor writes arrant baloney for a newspaper, she has betrayed her calling. She is a traitor in the house of intellect.

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