The PC cousin of the “The Bell Curve”?

HGTV on the TV and this three-part book review from the Brookings Institution on my laptop. Also known as giving myself house envy and angina.

Richard Reevesgood, bad and ugly review on Gregory Clark’s “The Son Also Rises” book offering explanations for social mobility. I admit I read the ugly first, but I did go back and read the good and bad. (I didn’t read Clark’s book because if I had time for leisurely reading, I’d re-read Junot Diaz‘ “This Is How You Lose Her.”)

author the bell curve-esque "Son Also Rises."

Walk with me through Reeves’ review, will you? The first part that caught my eye:

Clark suggests that while mobility is very low, the world is “a much fairer place than we intuit.” How can this be? Well, because the elite only stay elite because they have inherited “social competence.”

Are we still doing this? Are folks really still equating wealth/power/privilege with some inherent goodness/brilliance/inherited smarts? Whenever I see an assertion that the world is “much fairer” and the words “low” and “mobility” in the same ZIP code, someone is lying.

Clark addresses a range of possible explanations for this inheritance—cultural traits, family economic resources, and social networks—and concludes that these cannot explain the low economic mobility seen in the data. The inheritance must be more direct: through genes. A good proportion of the superiority of the elite, then, is hard-wired into their DNA.

Oh, Clark.

Where Clark goes seriously awry is in the application of his argument to racial gaps. As The Economist’s review puts it: “[It] may not be a racist book, but it certainly traffics in genetic determinism.”

Dear sir. May I suggest you cease and desist? No? You insist on persisting down a path that leads nowhere good?

Clark highlights African Americans and Latinos as two groups forming part of the “underclass” (his word, not ours), and points out that they are regressing towards the mean (with regards to income and occupation) more slowly than they ought, given society-wide estimates of mobility.

If that’s true, why? Clark suggests it may be because “the underlying social competence of the Jewish and Asian communities is higher than that of black and Latino populations” (p. 125, our emphasis added).

Sigh. So we blackies and brownies really should be doing better, all things considered? EXCEPT YOU AIN’T CONSIDERED A GOTDAMN THING, NOW HAVE YOU???

Ahem. Pardon me. Reeves tries to right this listing vessel of foolishness.

One reason black Americans are so far behind whites today is the United States’ history of slavery, oppression, and discrimination. Clark agrees, but suggests that discrimination is no longer playing any significant role. Future gaps will result, instead, from the differences in “underlying social competence.”

Clark is badly wrong here. We cannot dismiss the persistent effects of racism, and the hard facts of institutional, financial, and education gaps between ethnic groups in the United States as explanations for current inequalities and ongoing mobility gaps. Indeed, given his insistence that it takes centuries to remove inequalities, it is startling that Clark appears to think the effects of America’s racist history have effectively disappeared, just a century and a half after the end of slavery, and a few decades after the Civil Rights era.

Clark is white. May I suggest that he is perhaps not well positioned to ascertain whether discrimination plays any significant role in the status of people of color?

Whenever I read of such stunningly tone-deaf tomes published in this the 21st century by a white man, I always want to know: Where are his black friends? Like who is he in relationship with who could have pulled his coat tails and been like: Bruh. Lemme holla at ya. About this ding-a-dinging you’re doing on the bell curve? Yeah, no. Let me drop off about fifty-leben studies to document why what you’re hinting at is so patently false. Like this in hiring patterns, this on racial bias in health care,this in higher ed, this on racial disparities in entrepreneurs and this on wealth.

If the mobility patterns described by Clark continue, black Americans will reach equality with white Americans. They will just have to wait awhile. In medicine, for example, one area analyzed by Clark, black-white equality will remain elusive two centuries from now—if mobility continues at the same slow rate, in the year 2240 blacks will be represented in the medical profession at half the rate of the general population. And if he is right, there is not much to be done to accelerate that process.

2240? I’m hearing all sorts of negro spirituals in my head. Ain’t gone let nobody turn me around/Swing low, sweet charrrr-ri-ooot/I’m gone stay on the battlefield, I’m gone stay on the battlefield, I’m gone stay on the battlefield ’til I DIEEEEE (and the next eight generations after me die too because DAMN – we gotta wait another 226 years for equity?)

It seems unlikely that black Americans will be willing to patiently wait hundreds of years for race equality. Surely no American will be comfortable with that timeline. Who could be?

Let me pick up your light work, Reeves, and get that last question for you. What American would be comfortable with that timeline? My guess is Gregory Clark.


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