Malcolm Gladwell Blinks At Racial Realities

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
the latest bestseller from New Yorker writer

Malcolm Gladwell
, author of the 2000 hit

The Tipping Point

Gladwell describes Blink as
"A book about rapid cognition, about the kind of
thinking that happens in a blink of an eye."

Because both Gladwell and I write
about what the

human sciences
have to say about daily life, and
because we have fairly similar example-laden prose
styles, I was looking forward to his book.

Especially after I learned that he

per year just from public speaking (25
appearances annually at $40,000 each, mostly in front of

Maybe I could pick up a few
pointers from Gladwell!

So, from Gladwell`s book, here`s
what I learned about what the corporate audience wants a
nonfiction writer to do:

  • Find or concoct marketable

    for concepts with which readers are
    already familiar. For example, Gladwell uses the term

    to put a positive new spin on
    the old practice of judging a book by its


  • Don`t even try to make sense.
    Logic and consistency just annoy most readers.

Blink`s individual anecdotes
are interesting and well-written. But taken as a whole,
the book is a mish-mash of contradictions. Gladwell
strongly encourages you to rely upon your snap judgments
… except when you shouldn`t.

  • For example, Gladwell cites a
    study showing that college students can tell how good
    a class is just by

    watching two seconds of videotape
    of the professor
    lecturing … with the sound off!

  • On the other hand, Gladwell
    endorses another study showing that experienced
    emergency room physicians should not use their
    intuition when deciding whether patients complaining
    of chest pains are suffering a heart attack. Instead,
    they should follow a rigid algorithm that had been
    laboriously worked out by statistical analysis of
    thousands of cases.

  • On the other other hand, the

    Museum in LA should not have relied
    on the painstaking scientific analyses that supported
    the authenticity of an

    ancient-looking statue
    for which the museum paid
    $9 million. No, they should have relied instead on the
    instant snap judgment of various art critics who
    thought it looked phony—as, indeed, it turned out to

  • On the other other other hand
    … well, I could go on all day quoting contradictory
    anecdotes from Blink.

Now, it would be tremendously
useful if Gladwell had figured out some general rules of
thumb for when to rely on your instantaneous hunches and
when not to.

But as far as I can tell, his book reduces to two messages:

  • Go with your gut reactions, but
    only when they are right.

Gladwell does make a
genuinely useful point about how when people try to put
their ideas into words, they often distort them into
meaninglessness or falsehood.

Ironically, this happens to
Gladwell every time he writes about race.

Because there were already plenty
of books on the market advising

corporate workers
in tiresome detail how to look
before they leap, the sales potential of a book telling
them, "Wotthehell, just go ahead and leap," was

Unfortunately for Gladwell, the
best-known examples of

thinking without thinking
are racial and gender
prejudices. But, then, you`ve forgotten Rule #2—Readers
despise logic and consistency. So Gladwell just assumes
that his otherwise beloved "rapid cognition" is
100% wrong whenever it`s based on race or gender


(And that`s why he makes a $1
million annually and I don`t.)

The most intriguing aspect of
Gladwell`s book is that its hopeless confusion and
mind-melting political correctness stem from the
author`s own racial background. Although mostly white,
Gladwell is partly of African descent (his

was black, Scottish, and Jewish). But he
doesn`t look noticeably black in

of his


The origin of Blink, he
writes on his

, came when, "on a whim," he let his
hair grow long into a loose but large Afro.

As you can see in this picture of

Gladwell with his Afro
, he wound up with more of a

Napoleon Dynamite Mormon `fro
than the
genuine kinky kind that

ABA basketball players
espoused back in the 1970s.
Still, it does finally make him look marginally black.

As soon as Gladwell grew his Afro,
he claims, he started getting hassled by The Man:
highway patrolmen wrote him

speeding tickets,
airport security gave him the evil
eye, and the

questioned him for 20 minutes because they were

looking for a rapist
with an Afro.

"That episode on the street got
me thinking about the weird power of first impressions,"

he says. "And that thinking led to Blink."

Obviously, Gladwell is not being
wholly honest about why he chose to grow an Afro, which
is an extremely high-maintenance hairstyle.

(I know, because I looked just like

Napoleon Dynamite myself
back in 1978. If you are
thinking about growing an Afro yourself, trust me when I
tell you that anytime you lean your head against a wall
or the back of your chair, you will dent your `fro.)

People pick a hairstyle to project
an image, and Gladwell presumably wanted to shed his
nerdy son-of-a-math-professor look and start making
first impressions that reeked of that dangerous, sexy,
black rebel glamour associated with famous Afro-wearers
like Black Panther

Eldridge Cleaver
and blaxploitation movie hero


"Who`s the cat that won`t cop out
When there`s danger all about?

Right On!"

Now the inevitable downside of
trying to look dangerous to impress girls and
interviewers is that you look dangerous to cops.

But you aren`t going to hear about
tradeoffs from Gladwell, nor about racial differences.
He makes a huge amount of money lecturing corporations,
and he prudently toes the EEOC-enforced party line about
how there`s no contradiction whatsoever between

"diversity" and profit

For example, Gladwell wields

Occam`s Butterknife
in his discussion of a
well-known 1995 study by law professor

Ian Ayres
of racial discrimination by Chicago car

Ayres sent matched testers into
auto show rooms where they found that car dealers gave
the lowest initial offers to white men, followed by
white women, black women, and finally black men. Even
after 40 minutes of negotiating, the black guy shoppers
were still being offered prices nearly $800 higher than
the initial offer made to the white guys.

(Although Gladwell doesn`t mention
this, the race or sex of the salesperson didn`t
matter—e.g., on average, black saleswomen quote higher
prices to black women than to white men.)

Ever the
loyal lackey of multiculti capitalism, Gladwell
theorizes that the car salespeople just didn`t realize
"how egregiously they were cheating women and
He seems to hold the novel opinion that
auto dealers are well-meaning but uninformed about

See, the
salesmen would have offered their female and
black shoppers lower prices if only they had
known (perhaps from reading Blink) that they
suffered from irrational prejudices that were keeping
them from making more money!

In a

scathing review
of Blink in the The New
, the celebrated

Judge Richard A. Posner

would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an
auto salesman`s discriminating on the basis of race or
sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition"
that he admires…
[I]t may be sensible to ascribe
the group`s average characteristics to each member of
the group, even though one knows that many members
deviate from the average. An individual`s
characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief
encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his
time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high
price to every black shopper even though he knows that
some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car
shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists
use the term `statistical discrimination` to describe
this behavior."

actually going on in showrooms is this:

  • Women
    dislike hurting other people`s feelings more
    than men do, and

    car salesmen
    are very good at acting emotionally
    hurt when

    you try to lowball them.
    When I`ve gone car
    shopping with my wife, I`ve seen her flinch in
    empathetic pain when I scoff at a dealer`s highball
    offer. But, after I`ve bought our new car for a

    $1,000 less
    than she would have settled for, she
    forgives me.

  • Black men,
    for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being

    seen as big spenders.
    And car salesmen are all too
    willing to help them spend big.

These ethnic
differences in how hard groups will bargain extend far
beyond basic black and white. For example, a friend of
mine who is a small businessman in Los Angeles can
rattle off a ranked list of how difficult it is to
bargain with the myriad ethnic groups he deals with.

The most
ferocious negotiators he runs into are the Armenians,
Koreans, and Israelis. The most aristocratically
insouciant about prices and terms are the

white South Americans.

discrimination is a troubling phenomenon, because it
chips away at the libertarian assumption that
competitive markets eliminate racial discrimination, as
they do away with most things that are irrationally
costly. (See my 1996 article "How
Jackie Robinson Desegregated America
for a
classic statement of this optimistic view of the free

But, despite
Gladwell`s multicultural liberalism, he isn`t going to
tell us anything interesting like that.

Amusingly, Gladwell is creeped out by an

online psychological experiment
called the

Implicit Association Test
(IAT), because it tells
him that he is unconsciously prejudiced against blacks.

The IAT is a test of how quickly you associate positive and
negative words with black and white faces. (You can

take it
for yourself


Gladwell has taken the IAT`s race test repeatedly and it
keeps reporting that he has a
"moderate automatic
preference for whites."

He`s one of those
"millions of Americans that link the words `Evil` and
`Criminal` with `African-American` on the Race IAT."

He`s not alone:

"It turns out that more
than 80 percent of all those who have ever taken the
test end up having pro-white associations, meaning that
it takes them measurably longer to complete answers when
they are required to put good words in the `Black`
category than when they are required to link bad things
with black people."

Interestingly, 48 percent of the 50,000 blacks who have
taken the IAT also register as associating black faces
more automatically than white faces with words like

For whatever it`s worth, when I
took the IAT, it concluded, "Your data suggest a
moderate automatic preference for Black relative to

This finding would allow me
to get on my moral high horse and condescend to
scientifically-proven racist bigots like Gladwell. But
I`ll instead defend his prejudice.

Occam`s Razor suggests a simple,
sensible reason why Gladwell tends to unconsciously link
black faces with negative words like "criminal"because
blacks are indeed vastly more likely than whites to be

Here`s the official word from the
federal government`s

Bureau of Justice Statistics
: "Blacks were 7
times more likely than whites to commit

in 2002."

And that
seven-to-one ratio is a bit of an understatement
because, although the government normally strives to
break ethnic Hispanics out from non-Hispanic whites in
most of its measures, its crime statistics

lump many Hispanics in with non-Hispanic
whites. Since

Hispanics have a higher crime rate
on average, this
artificially lowers the black-white crime ratio.

The most
strenuous effort to count Hispanics accurately came in a
2001 report by the liberal advocacy group

National Center on Institutions and Alternatives
. I
crunched their data on incarcerations in 1997 and found
that the

black imprisonment rate
was 9.1 times the white
rate. (The Hispanic rate was 3.7 times the white rate.
The Asian rate was not broken out, but I would guess it
was considerably lower than the white rate.)

So Gladwell`s association of blackness with
criminality on the IAT is a perfectly rational and fact-based example of
the "thin-slicing" that he otherwise endorses.

Not that you`ll ever hear that from
him. Too many $40,000 corporate speaking gigs at stake!

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
features his daily