So, we have shown that blacks, on average, are significantly less qualified for jobs requiring cognitive skills. We have shown that the difference is caused by environmental factors. We have explored one very key environmental factor: the educational system which is failing black students.
However, there is another environmental factor that deserves mention: black culture.
It is taboo in leftist circles to criticize anyone’s culture (except our own traditional culture). However, culture has consequences. We can easily see which cultural values lead to success, and which do not.
It is not pleasant to criticize black culture. Blacks have historically been through a uniquely harsh experience in this country, from slavery through Jim Crow. None of this history was their fault, yet they are the ones who have to deal with the fallout. So their historical situation is totally unfair.
Yet it does no one any favors, least of all blacks, to fail to examine every possible cause of black under-achievement. And it is well-known that culture exerts a powerful influence.
So how is black culture in America different from the mainstream, and is it helping them or hurting them?
An “International Student Guide to the United States of America” was written for foreign students to help them navigate American culture. According to this Student Guide, here is one of the mainstream American values that foreign students might not be accustomed to:
“Time: U.S. Americans take pride in making the best use of their time. In the business world, ‘time is money’. Being ‘on time’ for class, an appointment, or for dinner with your host family is important. U.S. Americans apologize if they are late. Some instructors give demerits to students who are late to class….”
An ethic of being on time is a boon for productivity. If there is a meeting scheduled, and half the time is spent waiting for everyone to show up, then less will be accomplished. If someone is chronically late for school, they will learn less than if they show up on time.
Likewise, making good use of time is obviously going to result in greater efficiency and productivity.
Here is another one from the same Student Guide:
“Achievement & Hard Work/Play: The foreign visitor is often impressed at how achievement oriented Americans are and how hard they both work and play. A competitive spirit is often the motivating factor to work harder. Americans often compete with themselves as well as others. They feel good when they ‘beat their own record’ in an athletic event or other types of competition. Americans seem to always be ‘on the go’, because sitting quietly doing nothing seems like a waste of time.”
So, mainstream American culture is achievement oriented and values hard work. Bingo. Placing a value on achievement causes more of it. Mainstream American students in school are striving to get good grades, acquire skills, and fulfill their potential.
Does it make sense that mainstream Americans, on average, accomplish a great deal, compared to those who do not value achievement?
Now, let’s look at the minority subcultures in America who are very successful. Oh, surprise, surprise, they embrace achievement, too.
The most successful American subcultures include the following:
|Ethnicity||Median Household Income|
|Chinese American (excluding Taiwanese)||$68.7k|
Whether our high-achieving minorities brought these values with them or whether they adopted these achievement-oriented values when they got here, sharing the mainstream American achievement values has helped many minorities succeed—in some cases, even outdoing the success of average white non-Hispanic Americans.
Indian Americans, for example, are attaining high levels of education. They are also participating in the American free enterprise system, accounting for 15% of high-tech Silicon Valley start-ups.
American Jews who arrived here mostly penniless in an immigration wave beginning in 1882 have made very rapid progress, due to a high value for academic success and hard work. Their culture encourages Jews to learn and to accomplish great things. They also participate in free market capitalism.
We could go through the whole list above, and in each case find that ethnic groups that succeed have earned their success, through hard work and academic achievement, often in spite of discrimination against them.
And what about black culture? First, there is more than one black culture. Many black middle-class families have values that support achievement.
However, the black underclass has some serious cultural issues that do not lead to success:
As Jason Riley points out, “Today blacks are about 13 percent of the population and continue to be responsible for an inordinate amount of crime. Between 1976 and 2005 blacks committed more than half of all murders in the United States. The black arrest rate for most offenses — including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes — is still typically two to three times their representation in the population. Blacks as a group are also overrepresented among persons arrested for so-called white-collar crimes such as counterfeiting, fraud and embezzlement.”
The black crime rate has been and continues to be disproportionately high, including in cities with black mayors and black police chiefs.
“…. The problem is primarily cultural — self-destructive behaviors and attitudes all too common among the black underclass.”
A high crime rate hurts student achievement. Students do well when they are disciplined, when they can follow rules, and delay gratification. None of this is compatible with a criminal mentality. Students who are trying their best to do well in school aren’t helped by the high stress of living in a neighborhood where there is real danger of being a victim of crime. And, of course, adults (mostly men) who are involved with crime are poor role models, and while incarcerated are absent from their families.
A prevalence of out-of-wedlock births
According to Walter Williams, “As early as the 1880s, three-quarters of black families were two-parent. In 1925 New York City, 85 percent of black families were two-parent. One study of 19th-century slave families found that in up to three-fourths of the families, all the children had the same mother and father.
“Today’s black illegitimacy rate of nearly 75 percent is also entirely new. In 1940, black illegitimacy stood at 14 percent….
The breakdown of the black family is a problem which has been willfully ignored for decades, despite the fact that single-parent households tend to be mired in poverty.
However, there is at least a glimmer of positive change: recently teen birthrates have been dropping, which is good news for the black community.
Many blacks view high-functioning, productive behavior as “acting white” and lacking “authenticity”
John McWhorter has meticulously documented a cultural phenomenon in black communities in which black students who like school are accused of “acting white”. In other words, it isn’t authentically “black” to like school, according to many blacks.
Where do these cultural issues come from?
Thomas Sowell has observed that black culture used to function more positively, and that these issues have been exacerbated following the expansion of the welfare state in the 1960’s. And Walter Williams also observes that “[m]uch of today’s pathology seen among many blacks is an outgrowth of the welfare state that has made self-destructive behavior less costly for the individual.”
Even though it is possible for a school to succeed in a black underclass neighborhood, realistically there will be more succeeding schools if and when black culture embraces the values that lead to academic success.
Of course, there are many black individuals who do embrace the values of success. And for sure, there are some black icons who are positive role models for blacks, while also contributing to society as a whole.
However, it is simply undeniable that as a culture, American blacks do not embrace these values to the extent that more successful minorities do.
Some people ascribe this to the fact that most American blacks’ ancestors came to this country against their will, and were subjected to enslavement and harsh discrimination until relatively recently. There may be at least some truth in this explanation (even though black cultural issues were less severe back in the 1950’s than they are today. If historical slavery and racism were the main causes of black cultural problems, one would expect these problems to decrease as slavery moves further and further into the past, and as racism dramatically lessens.)
However, the fact remains that if blacks want to be more successful, it behooves them to change their culture to be more committed to values of success. We can’t expect this to be easy—however, the chances of success are much greater when addressing the actual problems, rather than diverting attention and resources toward non-problems.
Next, in Part 4, we will examine in detail the case for white racism as a factor in preventing blacks from succeeding.