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Diversity vs. Freedom (contd.): More Phelps In Our Future
Thanks to a public outcry in which my last week's VDARE.COM article ("The Case of the Truth-Telling [But Racially Incorrect] Teacher") played a small role, Pasadena science teacher Scott Phelps, who had been suspended for pointing out that black students tended to behave worse in class and score worse on tests than other students—has been reinstated. Phelps didn't even have to make one of those Darkness at Noon show-trial insensitivity confessions that are the usual outcome of such brouhahas. In fact, school and district officials, while of course not apologizing to Phelps, have admitted ("School to work with students, teachers," by Marie Leech, Pasadena Star-News, October 31, 2002) that some of what he had said was correct and that they needed to look into the problem.
A small triumph for truth and justice. But it's important to understand why the natural reaction of people in power in modern America is to censor the honest. It's because diversity and freedom of speech are always in tension.
As diversity grows, so, inevitably, will the demand for censorship.
Individuals have very good reasons for wanting to stifle discussion of their group's shortcomings.
For example, Maria Leech reported in the Pasadena Star-News (October 22) that
"Ashley Bradford, who is among the group of students that Phelps singled out, said he needs to 'watch what he says. His comments were very derogatory because I'm part of the class of 2004 and I'm not unruly,' the 11th grader said. 'I think he needs to make an apology,' she said. 'But if he has no remorse, then he should be fired because that means he's a teacher that doesn't support us.' …
"Jerome Smith, an African American whose 17-year-old daughter attends Muir, said Phelps should be teaching at an all-white school, not one as diverse as Muir. 'If those teachers believe that all African Americans misbehave, then they don't need to be there,' he said. 'Muir is a multicultural school. They need to be teaching at an all Anglo-Saxon school.'"
In fact, of course, teacher Phelps had made clear that he wasn't speaking about "all" black students. But African-Americans tend to hear "many" as "all" because of a very real fear – that they will be tarred as individuals by statistically-correct generalizations about their race.
Almost everybody in America today protests that they aren't prejudiced, that they judge each individual solely on his or her merits. But is that true? Is it wise? Or even feasible?
For example, did you completely believe student Bradford's protestation of innocence, quoted above? If you did, why?
All you know about her is that
- She says she's not unruly; but
- Most observers now publicly admit that the group she belongs to (black 11th graders at Muir H.S.) is full of troublemakers.
Neither you nor I know for sure whether Miss Bradford is a problem child herself. But we definitely have reason to be more suspicious of her than of somebody else who belongs to a better-behaved group.
Not surprisingly, though, Miss Bradford resents this probabilistic inference.
Or, consider a more sympathetic character in the controversy: Aundre Mathews. This recent graduate of Muir was one of Phelps' strongest defenders ("'What [Phelps] is saying is the truth, it's just that nobody wants to hear it"). As you've no doubt guessed from the creative spelling of his first name, he is black.
Aundre Mathews sounds like fine young man. Still, it's worth reflecting on why you wouldn't give your baby boy a name spelled "Aundre."
It's because you wouldn't want your son to go through life with other people assuming, sight unseen, that he was black. You wouldn't want your son to suffer from the presumptions that young men with strangely-spelled first names are more likely to score poorly on their tests and to shout out to their friends instead of listening to the teacher. You'd feel that way because you know those prejudices are statistically quite valid.
It is not irrational to use prejudices to make decisions. In fact, there is an entire school of mathematics called Bayesian analysis demonstrating that you make worse decisions in individual cases on average if you exclude from consideration your prior learning about the general category.
In essence, the mathematicians are saying that knowledge is better than intentional ignorance.
The black economist Thomas Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions is the classic work in this field. It explains that because knowledge about individuals is expensive to acquire, it's inefficient to discard knowledge about general categories—including race. Sowell wrote:
"There is a fatal charm about the idea of 'judging each person as an individual.' … Most objections to sorting and labeling in general—and particularly to the sorting and labeling of people—are based on ignoring the costs of knowledge… Even objections on purely moral grounds to 'discrimination' against various groups often turn out to involve ignoring knowledge costs."
But assume your son is black. Of course, being your son, none of these stereotypes apply to him. He's a true Lake Wobegon child, above average in all regards. But, until others can get a chance to know him well, they will make assumptions about him informed by their (quite accurate) knowledge of what black youths are like in general. Shopkeeper and cops watch him with a hawk's eye. So does Jesse Jackson when he's walking home at night, as he once famously admitted. Other kids assume your son's more into sports than studies, and so on.
Perhaps you'd be as much of a philosopher about this as Tom Sowell. More likely, though, being a loving parent, you'd view your son as unfairly held back by these prejudices about blacks—no matter how correct they are overall.
You would no doubt like to improve the image of blacks in general. But getting 35 million African-Americans to behave better is a daunting task. It's much easier to demand ethnic cheerleading in the schools and the media—and insist the authorities stomp on anybody who dares to mention the unmentionable.
Personally, I think these spin campaigns are hopeless. You can censor the words, but people still have eyes in their heads. I've long argued that honesty is the best policy for all concerned, no matter what their race, since people of goodwill can make better decisions if they possess more knowledge. (Here are major articles I wrote on this theme in 1995 and 1996.)
But let me be the first to admit that that's easy for me to say. My sons aren't black.
I still think the arguments in favor of truth are better than the arguments in favor of lies. But I no longer expect to persuade everybody of this. I believe it's unavoidable that the existence of substantial diversity in the U.S. will provoke powerful efforts to suppress freedom of speech and inquiry. Diversity and liberty will always be at each other's throats.
The existence of the behavioral gap between American whites and blacks is unfortunate. A multicultural society works a lot better when the groups are quite similar in earning power and the like: compare Switzerland to Zimbabwe.
But that's the way it is in the U.S. Black-white diversity is simply a fundamental part of who we are as Americans, ever since 1619. It's just something we will all have to deal with forevermore.
On the other hand, we don't have to manufacture more inequality within America by keeping the pedal to the metal on mass immigration of the unskilled.
The political Establishment has deluded itself that, because Hispanics on average tend to outperform blacks on a number of measures, they are in effect the New Improved Poor People.
For example, Hispanics are imprisoned only 3.7 times as often as non-Hispanic whites, compared to a ratio of 9.1 to 1 for African-Americans.
American-born Hispanics' illegitimacy rates are only about halfway between those of whites and blacks.
Hispanics' workforce participation is quite high, but American-born Hispanics' high school graduation rates are actually considerably worse than blacks' rates, which slows their advancement considerably. Hispanics' IQ test scores do tend to be above blacks', but well below whites'.
Hispanics' school achievement test scores lag far behind those of whites and Asians. Here are California's statewide average scores on the SAT-9 (which, confusingly, has nothing to do with the college admission SAT), expressed in terms of percent of students scoring at or above the national 50th percentile
The Hispanic glass is, at best, half full. Which means it's at least half empty.
Mass immigration is increasing America's level of inequality. That will inevitably increase the demand for censorship—not just in English, but in Spanish.
November 03, 2002