Thursday, January 04, 2007

If You So Smart, Why You So Racist?

That, more or less, is the question posed by a study co-conducted by Rice University sociologist Michael Emerson that recently came to our attention via blogger Steve Sailer (who’s the film critic for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, if that matters, and if it does you should leave this site immediately and go here, especially if you’re having a slow day).

As summarized in the fall 2006 Sallyport, the Rice U magazine, research by Emerson and co-author David Sikkmik shows ...
that increased education of whites, in particular, may not only have little effect on eliminating prejudice, but it also may be one reason behind the rise of racial segregation in U.S. schools. Furthermore, higher-educated whites, regardless of their income, are more likely than less-educated whites to judge a school’s quality and base their school choice on its racial composition.*
Even after controlling for income and “other factors,” Emerson and Sikkmik found education has the “unintended effect” of whites placing a “greater emphasis” on race when choosing schools for their children while “higher-educated African Americans do not consider race,” according to Sallyport.
“I do believe that white people are being sincere when they claim that racial inequality is not a good thing and that they’d like to see it eliminated,” says Emerson. “However, they are caught in a social system in which their liberal attitudes about race aren’t reflected in their behavior.”
Based on this summary, we’re tempted to seize on Emerson’s work as an excuse to whip-up on one of our frequent (and admittedly easy) targets---hypocritical liberals of academia and the media who yammer on about diversity and multiculturalism but almost invariably toil at overwhelmingly white workplaces, send their kids to overwhelmingly white schools and usually don’t live within 5 miles of a black person who isn’t a fellow member of the professional class (although this truism doesn’t always hold in no-zoning Houston, where mostly black or mostly Hispanic low-income apartments are butt-up against mostly white suburban subdivisions).

But we’ll restrain our self, for the time being, so that we might quibble with Emerson's explanations, which reflect the reductive tendencies of white liberals when it comes to discussing diversity and race (we may, of course, be doing the professor a disservice, not having read his actual study).

Although we haven’t conducted a study, years of close observation suggest to us that the somewhat nebulous variable of class has more to do with phenomenon Emerson is trying to explain than the somewhat less nebulous factor of education, with which it is somewhat nebulously entwined. Black (and Hispanic) middle-class parents seek the same “status markers” for their children that Emerson suggests drives educated white parents to shun schools with large black populations, and they’ll work like hell to get them into magnets, private schools or charters, when and where that opportunity avails itself. Often, but not always, these schools have a majority or plurality of white students, a configuration that at least marginally contributes to the school’s image as place that is not just safe but provides an atmosphere conducive to learning (and signals such to attentive black and Hispanic parents).

When a kid---black, brown or white---tells you he goes to a “ghetto school,” he’s summoning a whole constellation of associations, none of them good, which parents of all colors instinctively understand. To break it down further, parents with any wherewithal---financial, mental, or that ineffable quality of drive---don’t want their kindergartners in the same class with other 5 year olds who learned to say “motherf—ker” from their parents’ rap CDs. That’s a desire that cuts across race.

One unfortunate result of this racial (or class) segregation is that the opinionating classes have little understanding of the enormity of the problems faced by schools that serve lower income students, which of course doesn’t deter them from issuing directives regarding diversity for others or making broad facile judgments, such as the media’s generally hostile stance toward vouchers, which in Texas seems to grow out of the fact that they’re being pushed by a rich right-wing bible thumper (being such doesn’t mean he’s wrong).

Emerson seems to be doing interesting work, but he loses us when he shifts from the observational to the prescriptive. As he is quoted by Sallyport:
“Our study arrived at a very sad and profound conclusion … More formal education is not the answer to racial segregation in this country. Without a structure of laws requiring desegregation, it appears that segregation will continue to breed segregation.”
Indeed, more formal education is not the answer to racial segregation. It’s the answer to how you become an educated person, or how you prepare yourself to get a decent job (or was the answer, past tense).

*Emerson speaks of “segregation” in a strict black/white sense, an outdated paradigm, at least in the Houston area, where many schools are highly desegregated by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Africans and 57 other varieties of people. And don't forget the Meshketian Turks.

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