Are Mexicans a “race”? (And is Mark Halperin a “journalist”?)

If you think too hard about the fact that the Republican Party is about to nominate for President a man who calls a judge born in Indiana, both of whose parents were citizens, “a Mexican,” and says that the judge’s ethnic pride makes him unfit to handle a case involving that nominee, it will just make you sad and angry, which doesn’t do anyone much good, though it might cheer you up that no even reasonably prominent Republican has been willing to defend Trump on this. (Alberto Gonzales doesn’t count.)

So instead of the outrage to common decency, the rule of law, and the fundamental principle of American patriotism that descent doesn’t define citizenship, let’s concentrate instead on the side-show provided by the ever-willing Mark Halperin.

When his colleague John Heilemann called Trump’s latest ravings “pure racial politics,” Halperin replied “No, it’s not racial … Mexico isn’t a race.” Some commenters are willing to treat Halperin’s point as technically correct, though irrelevant to the larger issue involved. That’s too generous to Halperin.

Yes, Twentieth-Century anthropologists defined “race” in terms of a handful of groups sharing biological ancestry, and that’s the current use of the term in popular discourse: “Caucasian” is a “race,” while “Italian” is not. (Scientific discourse is a more complicated matter.)

But “race” in English and its cognates in the Romance languages derive from the Latin radix (=”root”), and through at least the Nineteenth Century the primary meaning of “race” was simply “descent group.” The distinction between biological and linguistic relationships wasn’t clearly made, and the differences between, e.g., the “Anglo-Saxon” English and the “Celtic” Scots or Irish were understood as “racial” differences.

Nazi ideology was based on this older concept of “race.” A definition of “racism” that leaves out Nazi hostility toward Jews (and Slavs and Roma), and their belief in a Nordic “master race,” leaves out a lot. And of course the Nazis were not alone in regarding Jews as a “race.” When Australia largely rejected Jewish refugees from Hitler, one official said, “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”

The differences between European-descended people in the U.S. and most Mexicans is in fact “racial” (in the restrictive contemporary sense of the term) as well as national and linguistic; most Mexicans trace the majority of their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the Americas and not to Europe.

So it would be charitable, but wrong, to treat Halperin’s remark as heartless and pedantic but technically correct. It was merely his usual derp.

Footnote Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel isn’t the only case where he’s not getting much backing even from those Republicans who have verbally endorsed him; he was also pretty much alone when Hillary Clinton shredded him on foreign policy. The wheel of karma still turns, and time wounds all heels.

Glenn Loury speaking on race at Stanford CASBS

How does racial inequality manifest itself in today’s America? What does this mean for the future of American democracy?

On Tuesday, January 26, Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences hosted its second symposium of the academic year – “Racial Inequality in 21st Century America: Where do we go from Here?”  Distinguished economist–and new RBC member–Glenn Loury is spending the year at CASBS. He gave an extended presentation on such matters, with a particular focus on disparities in incarceration.

The GOP’s political incompetence in Selma

I share Mark’s admiration for the president’s speech for the ages in Selma. It was written for the history books commemorating what happened fifty years ago, and for the history books yet to be written about President Obama himself. We will soon miss his eloquence, not to mention his no-drama integrity.

The contrast yesterday in Selma between the president’s largeness of spirit and Republicans’ small response was fairly astonishing. Two presidents Bush attended, to their credit. Some senior Republican lawmakers scrambled to attend once their pending absence became embarrassing news. But where was John Boehner? Where was Mitch McConnell? Where was Paul Ryan? Where were the main Republican 2016 presidential candidates? Where was Mitt Romney, whose father did so much to advance civil rights?

This was horrid optics bordering on the politically incompetent. A party trying to reassure moderates that it’s more than a party of cranky old conservative white people might have used this occasion to mark its own civil rights heroes who helped pass landmark civil rights legislation. The Republican Party of 1960 actively competed for black votes. Its civil rights wing included liberals who would later become Democrats. This wing also included more traditional conservatives on other matters.

That was a long time ago. There is now the tawdry effort to reverse-engineer and hinder the Obama ’08 campaign’s success in turning out African-American and Latino voters. In battleground states where the GOP controls the statehouse, Republicans seem conspicuously more interested in hindering early minority voting practices than in actively engaging minority communities. Ninety percent of poor adults being denied ACA’s Medicaid benefits live in Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and a few other southern states.

Republicans’ awkward handling of an event sacred to African-Americans sent an unavoidable message: These are not our people. It strains credulity to imagine Republicans would have offered up same bumbling and belated response if African-American voters were key constituents in Republican primaries or in Republican fundraising. More Republican candidates participated in Sheldon Adelson’s various personal primaries than chose to make their appearance yesterday in Selma.

Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and others damaged the soul of the Republican Party to court race-conservative whites.  There’s no denying that the southern strategy and its successors helped win big elections. Such discomfort with a widening circle of “others” still works for many in the congressional GOP, especially in non-presidential years. On a national level, it is increasingly out of step with a changing society.

How 401(k) accounts widen race/ethnic wealth disparities

My latest Wonkblog column is based on a recent NBER working paper that examined 401(k) contributions and withdrawals among continuously-employed workers at a single firm between 2003 and 2010.

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Few workers at this firm set any land speed records for saving and investing. But the race/ethnic disparities in saving remained really striking. Ironically, minority workers contributed surprisingly similar amounts to their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Yet they were vastly more likely than their white counterparts to make withdrawals or to borrow against their 401(k) funds. Minority workers were also much more likely to invest their money in money market funds and other safe assets that bring really low rates of return.

Continue reading “How 401(k) accounts widen race/ethnic wealth disparities”

Since no one else noticed the Ferguson thing…

Glenn Loury and I talked about it on Bloggingheads.

We discussed the political economy of suburban poverty, rioting and the social contract, the necessity and the difficulty of achieving police legitimacy, the incredible social harm done through the looting of small businesses that accompany urban unrest, and order maintenance as a cooperative achievement of both the citizenry and the police.

The disparaging stranger: Kevin Williamson visits East Saint Louis

I came late to Kevin Williamson’s controversial blog-post in National Review online, “Where the sidewalk ends: Danger and despair in Pat Quinn’s Crumbling Illinois.”

From the top, here are the guts of it:

East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?” It’s not the last challenge like this I’ll get here where the sidewalk ends, or the most serious one.
I get yelled at by a racially aggrieved tyke with more carefully coiffed hair than your average Miss America contestant.

Jonathan Chait believes this is a racist rant. David Weigel has more doubts.

At a minimum, this piece is insouciantly tone-deaf to some basic proprieties….

Continue reading “The disparaging stranger: Kevin Williamson visits East Saint Louis”

On Blaming Black Leadership

This fine piece in In These Times  reminds us how instrumental Federal policies on homeownership and road construction were in killing Detroit, and gives the lie to those who want to blame the city’s bankruptcy on corrupt leadership–specifically, corrupt Black leadership.

Certainly there were, and are, Black leaders whose personal weaknesses interfere with the progress of the entities they seek to lead; but the pattern of blaming Black leaders comes from the same bag of racist tricks as the suggestion that the President isn’t really an American because he has black skin.

Detroit is not struggling because its leaders, or its people, are Black.  Its troubles lie at the door of white legislators who made abandoning cities a winning proposition for white families, and white regulators who contributed to the same flight, and white car company executives who decided they owed nothing back to the city of their birth.

To claim otherwise is simply to blame the victim.



I now drop the mic…

A thank you note from Chicago high school students.

Below is a section of the thank-you card I received from juniors at the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago. The card was a sweet surprise. I will treasure it.

Brooks is a selective enrollment public high school nestled on 40 acres near the Historic Pullman District on the far south side. It

IMG_2316made the news this spring when Chicago’s most famous selective high school—Payton–initially forfeited a baseball game. Apparently some Payton parents were nervous about driving their kids down to Brooks’ campus Mayor Emanuel made a point of visiting the rescheduled game, which I hope  shamed some people.

The forfeit was really stupid, since my most frightening experience at Brooks occurred when some angry geese hissed at me after I accidentally approached their young. Don’t laugh—these birds can really mess you up.*

I addressed an assembly of the junior class. We covered the whole gamut related to youth violence: gun safety legislation, drug legalization, efforts to help young people improve their self-regulation and social-cognitive skills. I then shared a long lunch with about twenty students. It was a great time with the students and staff. I hope to come back.

I was inspired by the visit, but a bit saddened, too–not by anything at Brooks, but by the contrast with other places. Continue reading “I now drop the mic…”

African-American Optimism

Building on the writings of Ellis Cose, Smartypants highlights evidence that most African-Americans are happy with their lives and optimistic about the future.

Smartypants comments:

This kind of information creates great cognitive dissonance for many people. Folks on the right want to use it to claim that racism is over and so there’s no need for policies like affirmative action. But it also butts right up against the efforts of those who embrace their liberal guilt and suggest that African Americans are victims in need of rescue.

If You’re So Smart, Maybe It’s Because You’re Rich

Richard Nisbett and colleagues have produced an erudite and accessible review of recent research on human intelligence (pdf here). The 300 references in the review put paid to the claims of Anneli Rufus and Andrew Sullivan that political correctness has killed off the study of intelligence. Researchers have been studying intelligence with vigor, including hot topics such as social class and racial differences in IQ.

The whole review is worth a careful read, but a particularly intriguing finding is that adopted children have significantly higher IQs than their non-adopted biological siblings. Most adoptions involve a child moving from a lower to a higher socioeconomic family environment. The effect of the environmental change is dramatic: 12 IQ points on average.

Family environment research offers plausible explanations for why adopted children have so much higher IQs than their genetically-similar siblings. Relative to children raised in poor or working class homes, children raised in middle and upper-income families hear several times as many words by the age of three, receive substantially more parental encouragement, have greater access to books and magazines, and are more likely to have parents who read to them.

It has long been known that the average IQ of poor children is lower than that of their wealthier counterparts. The optimistic implication of the “adoption effect” is that these differences are driven by environment rather than genetics. Public policies that facilitate the emergence of IQ-enhancing family environments throughout the population could therefore benefit a range of lower-income kids, rather than letting fate restrict the class-driven IQ bump to those kids who happen to get adopted by better off families.