Skip to comments.Idle black men, tragically, aren't just a stereotype
Posted on 04/15/2006 2:42:14 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
The black men I know best are all hard-working, accomplished professionals. They include my brother, a physician, and my buddies lawyers, college professors, political consultants, journalists. I live in an insular world of middle-class affluence, rarely stumbling into the troubled universe of marginalized underachievers.
Until recently. After a contractor walked off the job, I was assigned the task of helping my mother find laborers to help complete her new house in my hometown, Monroeville, Ala., a small place with a declining textiles industry. The assignment led me into an alternative universe of black men without jobs or prospects or enthusiasm for hard labor.
My younger sister, an architect, appointed her Mexican-born father-in-law, an experienced carpenter (and American citizen), the new general contractor. I was to find men willing to help him paint, lift, scrape, fill, dig. The pay was hardly exorbitant $6 an hour. But it seemed reasonable for unskilled labor. So I looked among unemployed high school classmates, members of my mother's church and men standing on nearby street corners.
The experience brought me face to face with every unappealing behavior that I'd heard attributed to idle black men but dismissed as stereotype. One man worked a couple of days and never came back. One young man worked 30 minutes before he deserted. Others promised to come to work but never did.
This story is hardly an academic overview. The evidence is anecdotal. But it jibes with the treatises I've read that portray a permanent underclass of black men with criminal records and low educational attainment, with multiple children and little cash.
These are men who can no longer count the military as an option because it doesn't want them. The armed forces seek high school graduates with decent reading and math skills to operate high-tech gizmos. By some estimates, the unemployment rate among black male high school dropouts in their 20s is 72 percent, while the comparable rate among young, uneducated white men is 34 percent, and among Latinos, 19 percent.
How did this happen? I cannot remember seeing such large numbers of idle black men when I was growing up. (Indeed, the unemployment rate in my hometown is higher than it used to be.) Is this the consequence of a dying manufacturing base that has stranded men who otherwise would have had jobs with decent wages and good benefits? And does the wave of illegal immigrants further marginalize uneducated black men?
Go to any construction site and count the black men among the menial laborers. You won't see many. Dig a little deeper and you'll find a web of stereotypes knotted up with some thorny truths. Among other things, employers in the building trades frequently brush aside black men in favor of Latinos believing that immigrant labor is more reliable and certainly more docile. And every time a black man fails a drug test or disappears after a few days of work, he reinforces the stereotype, making it less likely that the employer will hire other black men. They are not judged as individuals. (I've heard the "I prefer Mexicans" excuse from black contractors as well as white ones.)
Some economists say that native-born laborers black, white and brown are simply discouraged by the low wages that so many employers can get away with paying to illegal workers. George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University estimate that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration. Of course, 8 percent of not much is still not much.
What if my mother had been offering $20 an hour? Would she have found more willing workers? Probably. But globalization has taught us that the less complex the task, the lower the wage it will attract in a global marketplace. That's especially true if labor is willing to move around. Besides, in my mother's case, the work simply would not have been available. She wouldn't have paid $20 an hour; she couldn't afford it.
My mother's house is finally finished, and she's planning a house-warming party. My sister's father-in-law worked from dawn to dusk, and he found enough willing workers to get the job done. So that part of the tale has a happy ending.
But I'm stuck with a sense of deep unease and frustration over the prospects of so many young black men who are being pushed further and further out to the margins so far from the mainstream that they no longer identify with the rest of us. That story simply cannot end well.
Make excellence a 'black thing'
Atlanta Journal-Constitution ^ | November 2, 2003
If I were a high school student with lackluster SATs, I'd take no comfort from those who defend my mediocre academic work accomplishment as an unfortunate characteristic of my race.
I'd be offended by the fact that the HOPE scholarship controversy has become another forum for repeating the ancient wisdom that black students simply don't perform well on standardized tests.
I'd be embarrassed by black lawmakers who threaten to go to court to protect my right to receive HOPE, even though my scores don't measure up to those of most white students.
I think I'd want to prove them wrong. I think I'd give up TV and take as many advanced placement classes and spend as many hours with a math tutor as necessary to raise my SATs. That's what I'd do.
Will black children around the state respond that way? Or will they merely sink back into a fatalism that will guarantee the outcome -- poor test scores -- that has been forecast for them?
It has been nearly 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed the concept of separate but equal schools. Five decades should have been enough time to erase the effects of outdated textbooks, poorly trained teachers and even low expectations on the academic achievements of black children. Unfortunately, black scholarship -- at least as measured by SATs and ACTs, the two most popular tests for college entrance -- still lags behind that of whites.
The HOPE scholarship debate has brought that unfortunate reality front and center once again. Faced with soaring demand, Georgia officials predict that HOPE funds will start to run short by 2005. To save money, Gov. Sonny Perdue and others have recommended that HOPE eligibility be tied to SATs, rather than grades, which are affected by teachers' subjectivity (and inability to resist parental pressure). Perdue wants to award HOPE scholarships to students who score at least 1000.
But that recommendation has run smack into the achievement gap. Sixty-seven percent of the state's black HOPE scholars score below 1000, while only 32 percent of white HOPE scholars do that poorly.
(Overall, nearly 40 percent the state's HOPE scholars score below 1000 on the SATs -- which is, as much as anything, a stunning indictment of the state's educational system. The perfect score is 1600; most of the nation's competitive colleges and universities require at least 1200. How can students have B averages and score less than 1000?)
Academic researchers used to believe that poverty condemned students to mediocre test scores. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between family income and test scores: the higher the family income, the higher the student is likely to score, generally. But researchers have also found that a white student from a family earning $75,000 a year will still score higher than a black student from a family earning $75,000 a year. What creates that gap?
The late John Ogbu, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, did groundbreaking research that yielded a fascinating, if controversial, conclusion. Studying black students in Shaker Heights, Ohio, long acclaimed for its outstanding public schools, Ogbu concluded, "Black students did not generally work hard. In fact, most appeared to be characterized by low-effort syndrome. . . . The amount of time and effort they invested in academic pursuit was neither adequate nor impressive. . . . The [black] students themselves knew and admitted this."
Georgia has an obligation to improve its pathetic school system, which has suffered from low expectations for generations. In rural school systems, few white students score above 1000 on the SATs, as Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor has noted. It would be quite unfair for the state to suddenly change the rules for HOPE when it has not spent the money nor instituted the standards to teach Georgia's students what they need to know.
But it is black parents who are responsible for insisting that their own children hit the books and take school seriously. Too many black children dismiss scholarship as "a white thing." That has to end. Surely it is more embarrassing to be considered dumb than to be considered "white."
Cynthia Tucker is the editorial page editor. Her column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.
And from the associate editor Jim Wooten also with the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Fix families, then schools
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ^ | Feburary 22, 2004 |
A conscientious federal judge, examining whether a rural Georgia school district discriminates racially because racial imbalances are observable, closed the books with a pained commentary.
The Thomasville school district does not discriminate on the basis of race, despite the imbalance of black children in special education or gifted programs, ruled U.S. District Court Judge Clay D. Land of Columbus. What he found, however, is that poor children "are still waiting on the promise" of equal education opportunity.
In agonized social commentary on public education, Land lamented that the promise has not been fulfilled "for many children who find themselves trapped in an educational system that cannot meet their needs. . . . We can communicate with someone on the other side of the globe with the click of a finger. Yet, we have trouble teaching a poor child to read or do arithmetic.
"No matter how tempted the court may be to intervene and attempt to 'fix the system,' a court is ill-equipped for such a task. Moreover, it does not have the authority to act as a super-school board or social scientist, even if it was arrogant enough to believe that it possessed the ability."
There's no constitutional guarantee, nor accepted principle of federal law, mandating high-quality education for the poor, he noted. Elected officials decide the extent of education opportunity available.
"Those who have no political voice must depend on those who do. While it is truly regrettable that this voice is too often muffled in the political process, its silence cannot authorize intervention by the federal courts absent a violation of federal law."
Land's "final thoughts," as he labeled them, invite reflection. These observations are mine, not his:
Public education has become so burdened with mandates, litigation, politics and social problems dropped at its doorstep that it is in major distress. This is not the system we would invent now.
We'd build one around choice, like-minded parents and educators who agree on what children need and how they are to be taught, one school at a time.
We'd allow parents to buy education services just as they do medical services, from any able provider they choose. That's part of the fix.
The other is marriage and the family. Only three of 10 black children are born to intact families. New research data reported by University of Chicago economics professor James J. Heckman and University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy L. Wax on racial disparities in education make the connection.
"Young black children lag significantly in school readiness before traditional school programs and expectations of discrimination could have much effect. Black underachievement, especially among males, is present even in the best schools and is only weakly correlated with indicators of school quality, such as per-student expenditures, class size or racial composition."
The explanation is probably not poor schools, poverty, low teacher expectations, excessive school discipline, nor anticipated discrimination, they write.
What, then, explains the gap? "The most important influences on young children's development are family, home and immediate social circle." Young black children watch more TV, read fewer books and converse and go on educational outings with families less often. And "they are more likely to be raised in homes without fathers, family mealtimes or fixed routines."
By the time children get to school, it's almost too late. To fix the schools, we have to fix the families -- starting six years and nine months before the children get there.
In the meantime, we do have to give the poor the financial means to break the cycle, to get their children into the education environments they need. Reward parents for caring and being responsible. Give them choice.
Jim Wooten is the associate editorial page editor. His column appears Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays.
I have a hard time believing that Cynthia has never seen all the black men on corners, on porches, walking down the street with a 40 oz in a bag....
She must not get out much.
Phony! Stinking, rotten phony! She's all about raising the minimum wage in her April piece criticizing Cynthia McKinney:
If you're going to call a press conference and muster such prominent supporters as Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, you ought to be sure the issue is important enough to command national attention. You should save that sort of clarion call for the most serious matters -- renewing the Voting Rights Act or raising the minimum wage so that more black men can support their children.
and this from November of last year in which she blasted Republicans:
The GOP, of course, has done nothing of the sort. As lackeys of the big-business, wealthy-investor class (or charter members of it), congressional Republicans have done everything in their power to make the lives of working folks worse. They've resisted an increase in the minimum wage; they've squeezed Medicaid; they've championed tax cuts for the richest Americans and a plan to make Social Security checks less reliable.
But when the money is coming out of her pocket, suddenly $6 is more than enough. Despite column after column on how America is racist, the $6 is more than enough for her downtrodden brothers. Why? Because she's paying the freight.
P-H-O-N-Y! Bleeping PHONY!
To admit that "even the military has passed them by because the military wants high-school graduates with decent reading and math skills to operate high tech gizmos" pretty much sums it up.
Try offering $6.00 for labor in Bend Oregon and see what happens. (Of course minimum wage here is +7.25 an hour)
Excellent point. Thank you for the references in her other article.
My past experience with Cynthia is that she "gets it" on about one op-ed out of ten. Then she reverts to knee-jerk Lefty form.
You take what you can get, I suppose.
Uh Cynthia baby see what you wrote above.
The armed forces seek high school graduates with decent reading and math skills to operate high-tech gizmos.
So do manufacturers. So do most every other person who is seeking to hire for any job including janitor. Part of the reason the manufacturing base is struggling is that finding workers who can read enough to tell the difference between sodium chloride and sodium carbonate becoming more difficult.
If you can't read you are not going to get a good paying job. If you can not be counted on to show up then you aren't going to get the low paying ones either.
If you can't read you can't be hired for those jobs.
Stereotypes are usually there for a reason.
Nicely done. Good rant.
More illegals is not the answer to this problem. Our total job market and economy are being eroded by the illegal problem, and anyone who says otherwise doesn't know what they are talking about.
"Stereotypes are usually there for a reason."
There are no sterotypes without prototypes
" Despite column after column on how America is racist, the $6 is more than enough for her downtrodden brothers. Why? Because she's paying the freight."
Why? Because it is off the books.
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