April 17, 2006

Cynthia Tucker notices real life

As opinion editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a syndicated columnist, Cynthia Tucker is one of the more important black women in the pundit business. Her 4/16/06 column is interesting because she actually notices that there is a connection between daily life and political issues, which is extraordinarily rare among the chattering classes. Of course, the question of how she could grow up to reach this position in life without having previously noticed the world around her is worth asking:

Idle black men, tragically, aren't just a stereotype

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. [More]

Every adult American thinks about real estate a lot. And real estate is intimately connected with issues like crime, race, immigration, education, IQ and so forth. Yet, it's quite unusual for a pundit to mention connection between his or her personal experience with real estate and social issues.

To reach a high position in American life, it doesn't pay to waste time associating with a wide range of your fellow human beings. You are much better off spending as much time as possible schmoozing other ambitious people who can help you out. It pays to adopt whatever conventions they exhibit in terms of what you are supposed to talk and write about. And, for highly verbal people like journalists, it's safest if you train yourself never even to think about anything you aren't supposed to express.

The amusing thing is that most people in the academic and media elites, in the rare moments when they notice the profound disconnect between how they live their lives and the ideas they profess in print, feel not guilt over their hypocrisy, but self-satisfaction over their high-mindedness. As I wrote in The American Conservative about the debate over illegal immigration:

"How do they keep winning? The articulate and affluent who profit from illegal immigration look down their noses at anyone who wants to reduce it. They don’t debate dissenters; they dismiss them. Their most effective ploy has been to insinuate that only shallow people think deeply about immigration. The more profound sort of intellect, the fashionable imply, displays an insouciant heedlessness about the long-term impact of immigration.

"Yet the well-educated and well-to-do aren’t expected to subject their own children to the realities of living among the diverse. They search out homes removed by distance or doormen from concentrations of illegal aliens—although not so far that the immigrants can’t come and clean their houses tax-free. As our Ascendancy of the Sensitive sees it, that their views are utterly contradicted by how they order their daily lives is proof not of their hypocrisy but of how elevated their thinking is."

Somewhat similarly, I once noticed when talking to a famous scientist who had decided to write academic articles about race that this person essentially never noticed anything about reality that didn't appear in a refereed academic journal (i.e., something that could be cited in one's own papers). This is an extremely efficient attitude for generating papers of one's own, but it seemed a tad limiting.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

No comments: