One of the recurrent rituals of American life is the public humiliation
of prominent older folks who just can`t keep bottled up
what they really think about race. (My wife calls this
increasing inability to not say exactly what`s on your
"Elderly Tourette Syndrome".)
Aging white sportsmen are frequently subject to these public
eviscerations. Notre Dame football announcer
Paul Hornung and Air Force Academy football coach
Fisher DeBerry both recently got into
all sorts of trouble for suggesting that their
exclusive colleges should lower admissions standards to
recruit more fast black players. Sportswriters claimed
to be aghast that anyone could possibly believe the
stereotype that blacks tended to be
faster runners on the field…or
lower scorers on the SAT.
Paradoxically, minorities can get away with more frankness. For
example, the black Chicago Cubs manager
Dusty Baker easily survived the
brouhaha following his assertion that black and
Latin ballplayers tend to do better than white players
on humid days.
Last week, though, a famous old civil rights icon resigned his cushy
job promoting Wal-Mart to
black politicians because he was caught saying what
he—and lots of other blacks—actually believe about
The giant retailing company has often been frustrated obtaining permits
to build stores in the inner city—for example, Chicago
city councilmen blocked a proposed Wal-Mart on the
South Side. So Wal-Mart hired 74-year-old Andrew Young,
once worked for Martin Luther King Jr., to lobby
local governments for them. Young is the former Atlanta
helped capture the 1996 Olympics and made sure that
blacks got a sizable hunk of the lucrative
contracts—thereby much exacerbating the
notorious incompetence of the Atlanta Games.
Asked by an interviewer from a black newspaper, the LA Sentinel,
if Wal-Mart displaced mom-and-pop retailers, Young
"Well, I think
they should; they ran the `mom-and-pop` stores out of my
neighborhood… But you see those are the people who have
been overcharging us— selling us stale bread, and bad
meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved
to Florida. I think they`ve ripped off our communities
enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now
it`s Arabs, very few black people own these stores."
Ironically, the TV show The Simpsons has similarly satirized its
Apu, manager of the Kwik-E-Mart, for 16 years:
places a tiny bottle of aspirin over the counter]
aspirin is $24.95
Apu: I lowered
the price because an escaped mental patient tampered
with the bottle.
Yet, despite protests from Indian-Americans, the show has never backed
down from its caricature of a money-grubbing
That`s because there is a major disjunction in American public
discourse between the relatively wide latitude you are
allowed if you claim to be engaged in
"observational comedy" and the much more limited
set of facts you are permitted to use when seriously
analyzing how the world works. That`s a big reason
America has better
But then, most "serious" political discourse doesn`t exist to
tell the truth. Instead, its purpose is to show off
Needless to say, the fact that mom-and-pop stores in black
seldom owned by blacks has more to do with black
entrepreneurial failings than with the moral failings of
middle-man minority shopkeepers. And the stores` high
prices and poor selection more reflect the risk of
crime-ridden neighborhoods and the inherent
inefficiencies of small shops than any nefarious plot
If blacks owned those stores, the bread would presumably be even staler
and the prices even higher.
Conservatives are always advising African-Americans to be
entrepreneurial. But ambitious blacks
seldom have the
extended family structures that would allow them to
compete with immigrants. If you are the patriarch of a
Greek immigrant family, for example, you are culturally
browbeat your children and grandchildren into
working in the family business. In contrast, poorer
African-American males seldom have strong familial
relationships with anyone other than their mothers.
Still, public-spirited black ministers have argued, quite plausibly,
that having fewer and less efficient liquor stores in
the ghetto would be good for local blacks, because they
would then drink less.
After WWII, most of the
liquor stores in Los Angeles`s black ghetto were
owned by aging Jews. Then, following the
1965 Watts Riots, the Jews mostly sold out to black
businessmen. When liquor prices were deregulated in the
late 1970s, reducing profit margins, the blacks sold out
to the harder-working Koreans. The efficient but brusque
and disdainful Koreans came to be hated by their black
customers, especially after a Korean lady shot a
teenage black girl in the back of the head in 1991.
1992 South Central riots were in sizable part a
pogrom against Korean merchants.
Nonetheless, even for food and dry goods, Young is right that
African-Americans would have perfectly rational reasons
for preferring a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood to
"vibrant" immigrant-run corner shops.
Wal-Mart provides a much wider selection at much lower prices. As Matt
Fellowes of the
Brookings Institute has noted in an op-ed entitled
The High Price of Being Poor [Los Angeles
Times, July 23, 2006], in black and Hispanic
large, modern grocery stores, there are more than 200
tiny bodegas, which generally charge higher prices."
So it`s a good thing that major retail chains have been expanding to
black neighborhoods in recent years as the crime
rate has come down.
Another reason: local blacks have a much better chance to rise up the
employment ladder at Wal-Mart than in a Korean or
Immigrant shopkeepers provide few jobs to local
blacks because they prefer to hire co-ethnics,
especially for management positions.
Why? I can think of five factors:
“family reunification” immigration policy
provides them with lots of relatives who need jobs
(including, for example, new spouses
imported from the Old Country, i.e. families that
were never “united” in the first place).
2. Immigrant businesses operate more smoothly when the
employees all speak the same language as the
immigrants come from what Francis Fukuyama calls
"low-trust" cultures like Latin America, the
Philippines, China, and the Middle East. In those
countries, you can`t count upon the legal system for
justice, so you must depend on your relatives. They
bring this clannish mindset with them.
(Thus my wife once was a waitress at a
Golden Nugget restaurant in Chicago. This small
chain was beating Denny`s in the local market, so
outside investors went to the Greek family that owned it
and offered to fund their regional expansion. But the
clan turned this opportunity down—because they didn`t
have enough cousins to manage new restaurants…and
promoting non-Greeks to important jobs was just
4. They often come
from patriarchal cultures where the oldest male is
expected to force younger relatives to do his bidding
through threats of ostracism. This management tool
doesn`t work terribly well upon native-born employees.
entrepreneurs are not infected by political correctness.
They feel no guilt over holding caustic stereotypes of
Americans, especially African-Americans. However
unfairly, they tend to see blacks as shiftless, ignorant
pilferers, and thus won`t give black job applicants the
time of day. In contrast, infinitely more visible
Wal-Mart is under constant government pressure to "celebrate
diversity" in hiring and promotion (i.e.,
impose racial quotas on itself).
My personal feelings about Wal-Mart are mixed. I used to fly down to
Wal-Mart`s corporate headquarters in Bentonville,
Arkansas on sales missions. Despite the geniality of
Wal-Mart`s store employees, its corporate staffers were
the coldest, most ruthless sons-of-guns I ever did
The normal geniality of American business life comes at the cost of a
certain level of corruption—you take your clients`
decision makers out to
golf courses, and
NFL games in the hopes of
developing a relationship that will cloud their
judgment of what they owe their stockholders. But
Wal-Mart utterly banned attempts to make friends with
their headquarters employees. All meetings between
visiting salesmen and Wal-Mart staff took place in
windowless cells that wouldn`t look out of place in Abu
Ghraib. Their negotiating techniques stopped just short
Since you couldn`t take Wal-Mart staff out to lunch, there were no
expense account restaurants in Bentonville. Every
lunchtime, the Ponderosa across the street from
Wal-Mart`s headquarters was full of lone men in
thousand-dollar suits, ace salesmen all, big wheels who
routinely took clients to lunch at
The Four Seasons and
Charlie Trotter`s, each morosely munching his $4.95
chicken-fried steak after a horrible morning of
being battered into offering Wal-Mart absurdly low
prices, each wondering
where in this godforsaken dry county could he get
the drink he desperately needed.
I couldn`t stand the Wal-Mart people. But I also respected them.
Fred Reed has argued that Wal-Mart is bad for the
once independent souls of
small town Americans. It ruins both their sense of
community, by wrecking their traditional shopping
districts, and their individual orneriness, by driving
local independent merchants out of business and
turning them into low-level managers,
dependent on their corporate bosses.
This may well be. But for inner city blacks, it`s irrelevant. They
don`t have much of a sense of community or many
independent-minded legitimate businessmen in the first
A job at Wal-Mart provides them with some of the same valuable things
U.S. Army offers blacks: jobs, order, and structure.
That the advancement of African-Americans, who are our
fellow citizens, would diminish
immigrants` profits is just one of those
uncomfortable truths that you aren`t supposed to
mention—even if you are a civil rights icon.
It`s not a comedy—and it means bad public policy.
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and