Tokyo Meets Disparate Outcomes

One of my favorite writers is David French, more so for his exceptional prose than his insight much of the time. Some people just write really well, and I, for one, envy their skill. So when French took on the burden of explaining why “structural racism” isn’t wokeness, or to be more direct, the religious right case against systemic racism, it seems that maybe, just maybe, I would finally find some answers to my question, “what the hell are they talking about.”

Enforcing the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and passing the Civil Rights Act was (and is) necessary to end overt, legal discrimination, but it was hardly sufficient to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. These effects are so embedded in our system that powerful people often perpetuate those structures even when they lack any racist intent at all.

While it’s good that he raised the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act, even if he left a few other very important ameliorative laws off the list, to say their only purpose was to “end overt, legal discrimination” misses their point. The purpose was to not merely to end discrimination, but to expose people to each other, to allow them to meet, to see, to befriend, to interact and to engage with each other so that we recognize our shared humanity.

But from there, French went down the rabbit hole of the “effects of slavery and Jim Crow.” He throws out the words “system” and “structures” as if they’re a given that need no definition, no meaning, none of the hard work of thinking necessary to explain what it is he’s talking about or why these laws weren’t sufficient “to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow” and what those effects are.

This isn’t to say that racism doesn’t exist or happen anymore. I see it and I believe it does, but I can tell you where and why I think it happens. I don’t hide behind vagaries like systemic and structural, but prefer to take the cold, hard look at what we do and why we do it, and what needs to be changed to face it and fix it. I would like to believe that my realism perspective is because I don’t want to talk about it, hug about it or cry about it, but I want to fix it and save actual human lives from suffering it.

Rather than make any further effort to give meaning to these pop vagaries, French turns to examples.

To illustrate this reality, I’ll turn to perhaps the most commonly cited example (because it’s so significant) of how racism can be truly “structural” or “systemic” and thus linger for years even when the surrounding society over time loses much of its malign intent.

Residential segregation, through redlining and other means—especially when combined with profound employment discrimination and educational disparities—resulted in the creation of large communities of dramatically disadvantaged Americans. Because of centuries of systematic, de jure (by law) oppression, they possessed fewer resources and less education than those who didn’t suffer equivalent discrimination.

He’s obviously not wrong about how black people were segregated, that we’ve since passed laws to ensure they can live wherever they choose, and yet these racial enclaves (we used to call them ghettos, but no longer do because it’s pejorative even as we demean these enclaves as communities of “dramatically disadvantaged Americans” because the more words, the less offensive) persist. Why? There are schools, yet there are educational disparities. Why? There are jobs, yet there are “profound” employment disparities. Why?

French tries to connect the dots by using housing as an example.

While the passing of the Civil Rights Act meant that black Americans had the right to live elsewhere, they often lacked the resources to purchase homes or rent apartments in wealthier neighborhoods with better schools. Indeed, to this day, the median net worth of a black family ($17,150) is roughly one-tenth the median net worth of a white family ($171,000). That means less money for down payments, less money for security deposits, and overall fewer resources that enable social mobility.

Median income and worth may be all the data we have available, but they tell us little. Contrary to what some kind-hearted folks want to belief, there are black people who have gained material success, moved on up to the east side or the suburbs. There are white people who have not. Within the group of white people are the offspring of WASPs whose ancestors stepped on Plymouth Rock as well as the Jews fleeing the Nazi with nothing but a change of clothing,  They may share a similar skin color, but they hardly share the same legacy.

One of the solutions to this problem is permitting more multi-family housing in wealthier communities. But that’s exactly when NIMBYism rears its head. Even if every member of a local zoning and planning commission isn’t racist, there are multiple non-racist reasons for them to resist greater population density. There’s traffic congestion. There’s school overcrowding. There’s the potential consequence to property values. There are environmental objections. There are a host of related infrastructure concerns.

While conceding that each of these positions is sound, reasonable and unrelated to race, these are the “structures” of which French apparently speaks. They apply with equal force to anyone who can’t afford a single family house regardless of race. They benefit homeowners of all races equally. They reflect a lifestyle that provides the incentive to work harder, to sacrifice, to save, to achieve, regardless of race.

Time and again, there are non-racist reasons for wanting to maintain the structures racists created.

We can, and must, remove the impediments, the burdens racism puts on black people to keep them from moving out to the country, but we can’t make them move to the country. We can build schools, but can’t make students learn. We can offer jobs, but can’t make people take advantage of them. That providing opportunity has not produced the outcomes the woke would expect doesn’t show the problem is “systemic,” but that there are reasons beyond burdens, and at some point, we have to cut the woke gibberish and face that disparate outcomes happen and racism isn’t necessarily the reason.

There was a terrible history of de jure racism in America, and laws have been enacted to address that and attitudes have changed for many. Still, racism is far from over in America and where it continues to fester, demands solutions. But outcomes don’t answer the critical question “why?”, and wrapping them up in vagaries like “systemic” or “structural” tell us nothing about the problems or what needs to be fixed to make it better. Does French really think that when black people move into single-family houses, they don’t want to enjoy the suburban lifestyle and would rather turn it back into the place they just worked so hard to leave? Does French not know any actual black people?

The more we hide behind woke vagaries, the less we do anything useful to fix real problems. But there will still be disparate outcomes, just like in the Olympics, because ultimately people who have the ability to win must decide for themselves if it’s worth it to do what it takes to run faster than the other guy. And that, not woke rhetoric, is reality. We can, and must, remove the burdens that slow people down, but we can’t make them run fast enough to win.

19 thoughts on “Tokyo Meets Disparate Outcomes

  1. Kirk A Taylor

    It might just be me but I’m not sure what you are saying about black people wanting to turn suburbs back into places they just left. It sounds like you are saying they do, but I think you mean they don’t? Not sure if it doesn’t say what you wanted or I am just not awake.

    1. SHG Post author

      I specifically attribute that to French’s argument, not to black people. But should it be unclear, my point is just the opposite and what French is suggesting is that we should Harrison Bergeron the suburbs so no one can enjoy the life for which they worked so hard.

  2. Ron

    Many people of many races and cultures have come here and, starting from “humble” circumstances, fought against bias to make good. From Italians, Irish and Jews to Chinese, Salvadoreans, Indians and Nigerians, the goal was to get an education, get a good job or start a profitable business and achieve that better lifestyle that French would have us ruin for the sake of excuses.

    They would be the first and strongest voices fighting against these excuses that would make America pointless. They want to win and they will fight to do so. Nobody succeeds by making the best excuses.

    1. SHG Post author

      I learned a lesson from a landlord I represented when I was a baby lawyer. He was charged with building code violations in his uptown tenements because there was a report that there was defecation in the hallway of his building. I asked him about it, and he explained that he doesn’t go uptown and take a dump in the hallways of his buildings. He told me it happened all the time, and he would have it cleaned up, but it would be back again the next day. Over and over.

      So yes, there was shit in the hallway. But it wasn’t the landlord who did it, and there was nothing more he could do than clean it up every day. Was it his fault someone did this? His building was fouled, but who fouled it? At some point, people need to accept the reality that if you don’t want shit in your hallway, don’t shit in your hallway and don’t let anyone else shit in your hallway either.

      1. Ron

        When someone like French becomes part of the excuse machinery, it makes ending racism and its “legacy” harder. Every problem isn’t someone else’s or “systems” fault and at some point you have to decide whether making excuses and blaming others or the system is worth living with some dude taking a shit in the hallway.

        But why fight when you have all the decent white folks making excuses for you?

        1. SHG Post author

          To the woke, the options binary, either it’s the fault of “systemic racism” or you blame the victims. Racism exists, but that doesn’t mean people have no responsibility to do work harder and do better as well.

        2. Lee King

          As Malcom X said, “The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have.”

          Personally, I think a major part of the problem with American-born blacks no succeeding is the black redneck culture prevalent in “urban” areas. For a number of reasons, many African Americans seem culturally stuck in this paradigm and if they try to escape, they are labeled Uncle Toms and told they are “acting white.” This has to change before there will be real change in the African American community.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      “Systemic Racism” is “the dog ate my homework” of social policy, allowing the policy makers to evade blame for their own failures, while providing endless employment to those claiming to be breaking down the system. Plus sometimes it is the culture. An ethnic group that values education does well in school, while a group that disdains learning will not.

  3. Drew Conlin

    Because I’m in Michigan and know about it I give Southfield a suburban city bordering Detroit as an example of people ( mostly black) that have chosen a more suburban lifestyle. It seems to be working out well too!
    And it boasts Byron Krieger as a native.!

    1. SHG Post author

      There is a huge black middle and upper middle class of well-educated, hard working, wonderful people. They’re caught in the middle, as they don’t want to be “race traitors” by telling the woke to kiss their ass, but they surely don’t want their efforts blown up by this lunacy.

      1. Hunting Guy

        Then those folks need to make a decision. They either get on with their lives and ignore the woke or go down with the ship.

        Their choice – you can’t have it both ways or you end up like this guy.


  4. Curtis

    My reading of French is that he thinks that we have a moral obligation to help people in need especially if our ancestors are part of the cause. We need to ‘recognize that the obligation to “act justly” is intergenerational. If there is injustice that predates our personal power, it is still our obligation to do what we can to set it right.’ This is the meat of the essay and I agree.

    The parts about structural racism and CRT detract for the core ideas but I think that is because the meaning of CRT is so muddled that has for each speaker that “it means just what they choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” He seems to think it means we should atone for our past mistakes which is not the common meaning from either progressives or conservatives.

    I think his morals and his logic are sound. He just needs an editor who keeps the core of his argument while removing CRT stuff.

    1. SHG Post author

      I stayed away from his theological argument. It’s not my religion and I have no authority to speak to it one way or another, even though I found his religious argument unconvincing. Then again, I don’t take biblical admonitions very seriously, even when it comes to stoning people who eat bacon.

      But when he went from the duty of people today to right the wrongs of their ancestors into what those wrong are, he opened himself to criticism.

      1. Dave Landers

        Thank God! you do not take those admonitions concerning bacon seriously. I would lose one of my favorite writers.

  5. cthulhu

    Were I to meet the esteemed Mr. French, I would open the conversation with the Harlan Ellison gambit: “Fuck off.”

  6. Patrick Henry, the 2nd

    You really gave my mental model an answer about why discussions of “systematic” and “structures” in regard to racism makes me uncomfortable. Its handwavy about the real problems and hence unable to properly answer about real solutions.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some claim it’s just some taxological shortcut to cover the array of things that serve to further disparate outcomes. Others use it as a subterfuge to avoid blaming anyone or anything in particular as racist, thereby not impugning other people while being able to claim that racism permeates everything in society. Both are nonsense. There is racism, but everything is not racism. The only purpose these meaningless vagaries serve is to provide a meaningless rallying cry that faults everything. If everything is racism, it can never be fixed and will never end.

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