In “Hate Takes the Bus” Mr. Blow says so what if they were millennials, and college students to boot? This kind of racism envelops us like a fog. In “When Liberals Blew It” Mr. Kristof has a question. He says fifty years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued presciently that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable. Have we learned anything since? Well, Nick, we’ve certainly gotten better at shaming poor people (see David Brooks for countless examples). Ms. Collins says “Hillary Clinton Comes Back” and also has a question: Is the email crisis a bad start to a 2016 campaign or a preview of the next 20 months? Gail, it’s completely irrelevant to me. This life-long Democrat would rather stick bamboo slivers under her fingernails than vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s Mr. Blow:
This week, when video was posted showing members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gleefully engaged in a racist chant on a bus, some people were shocked. Others, like me, were not.
This was just video confirmation of a racism that envelops us like a fog, often just as evanescent and immeasurable.
Some people seemed surprised because these were millennials, and college students to boot. Both because of generational easing and educational enlightenment, weren’t these sorts of things supposed to be vestiges of the past?
After all, as the Pew Research Center put it last year, “Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history,” with “some 43 percent of millennial adults” being nonwhite.
A 2010 Pew report found that “almost all millennials accept interracial dating and marriage.” An MTV poll of millennials found that “84 percent say their family taught them that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what their race,” and that 89 percent “do believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter their race.”
But these numbers can be deceiving. They don’t herald an age of egalitarianism as we might think.
As New York magazine pointed out in a January article on its Science of Us site, the problem that obscures some disturbing persistence of racism is that these polls lump all millennials together and don’t separate white millennials from the rest.
The magazine reported the findings of Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University who found that “younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans.”
Furthermore, the magazine printed this exchange:
“ ‘White millennials appear to be no less prejudiced than the rest of the white population,’ Piston told Science of Us in an email, ‘at least using this dataset and this measure of prejudice.’ ”
In the same vein, as data from the Race Implicit Association Test published in the January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine showed, pro-white biases were also strongest among people 65 years old and older, although people 18 to 24 ranked second among the age groups.
It is in this environment of dualities that today’s young people exist, dealing with the growing pains of increasing diversification grinding against unyielding racial attitudes.
And we must acknowledge that the most deleterious effect of racism they face isn’t about hurt feelings or exercises of poor, outdated social graces, but rather about the actual material effects of racism as it suffuses society and becomes embedded in our systems.
Real psychophysical injuries can result from confrontations with overt or even subtle racism. There is a real and worthy conversation taking place in this country now, particularly among young people, around the idea of microaggressions — slight, often unintended discriminatory comments or behaviors.
The idea of racial battle fatigue — that “chronic exposure to racial discrimination is analogous to the constant pressure soldiers face on the battlefield,” as Psych Central put it — is also gaining currency and exposure.
Indeed, as The Atlantic pointed out in 2013:
“A growing literature shows discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and physical problems. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and mortality. Recently, two journals — The American Journal of Public Healthand The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — dedicated entire issues to the subject. These collections push us to consider how discrimination becomes what the social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger, one of the field’s leaders, terms ‘embodied inequality.’ ”
This says nothing of the bias that can — consciously or unconsciously — influence our policies and procedures in all areas of our lives, including education, policing, the criminal justice system and employment.
Here is where it’s important to recognize how much of an influence the fraternity systems have in these areas.
As a major examination of the United States fraternity system published by The Atlantic last year pointed out:
“Fraternity men make up 85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices since 1910, 63 percent of all U.S. presidential cabinet members since 1900 and, historically, 76 percent of U.S. senators [and] 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives.”
If this trend continues — and there is no indication that it won’t — the boys on that bus and others like them will be tomorrow’s leaders, and the attitudes they carry with them out of school and into the wider world will have a real impact on real people’s lives.
(In full disclosure, I pledged a fraternity in college and wrote about that experience in my memoir, including how the noble missions of national organizations can be utterly overshadowed by the destructive, renegade rituals of local chapters.)
This is why the vileness displayed on that bus matters: It was a reflection of the distance that must still be covered, and the rigidity of racism and the casualness of hate. It can wear a smile and be set to a tune.
We have to understand what that hate is. Hate is never about the object of the hate but about what is happening in the mind of the hater. It is in the darkness of that space that fear and ignorance merge and morph. It comes out in an impulse to mark and name, to deny and diminish, to exclude and threaten, to elevate the self by putting down the other.
What happened on that bus was bigger than just that bus; it was a reflection of where we are.
Next up we have Mr. Kristof:
Fifty years ago this month, Democrats made a historic mistake.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time a federal official, wrote a famous report in March 1965 on family breakdown among African-Americans. He argued presciently and powerfully that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable.
“The fundamental problem,” Moynihan wrote, is family breakdown. In a follow-up, he explained: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families … never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”
Liberals brutally denounced Moynihan as a racist. He himself had grown up in a single-mother household and worked as a shoeshine boy at the corner of Broadway and 43rd Street in Manhattan, yet he was accused of being aloof and patronizing, and of “blaming the victim.”
“My major criticism of the report is that it assumes that middle-class American values are the correct values for everyone in America,” protested Floyd McKissick, then a prominent African-American civil rights leader.
The liberal denunciations of Moynihan were terribly unfair. In fact, Moynihan emphasized that slavery, discrimination and “three centuries of injustice” had devastated the black family. He favored job and education programs to help buttress the family.
But the scathing commentary led President Lyndon Johnson to distance himself from the Moynihan report. Scholars, fearful of being accused of racism, mostly avoided studying family structure and poverty.
In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the breach by emphasizing the role of the family in addressing poverty, including a brief reference to Murphy Brown, a television character who was a single mom. Liberals rushed to ridicule Quayle for sexism and outdated moralism, causing politicians to tread this ground ever more carefully.
The taboo on careful research on family structure and poverty was broken by William Julius Wilson, an eminent black sociologist. He has praised Moynihan’s report as “a prophetic document,” for evidence is now overwhelming that family structure matters a great deal for low-income children of any color.
In 2013, 71 percent of black children in America were born to an unwed mother, as were 53 percent of Hispanic children and 36 percent of white children.
Indeed, a single parent is the new norm. At some point before they turn 18, a majority of all American children will likely live with a single mom and no dad.
My point isn’t to cast judgment on nontraditional families, for single parents can be as loving as any. In fact, when one parent is abusive, the child may be better off raised by the other parent alone. And well-off kids often get plenty of support whether from one parent or two.
One kind of nontraditional household does particularly well. One study found that children raised by same-sex couples excelled by some measures, apparently because the parents doted on their children — most gay couples don’t have unwanted children whom they neglect.
Yet Moynihan was absolutely right to emphasize the consequences for low-income children of changing family structure. Partly because there is often only one income coming into a single-parent household, children of unmarried moms are roughly five times as likely to live in poverty as children of married couples.
Causation is difficult to tease from correlation. But efforts to do that suggest that growing up with just one biological parent reduces the chance that a child will graduate from high school by 40 percent, according to an essay by Sara McLanahan of Princeton and Christopher Jencks of Harvard. They point to the likely mechanism: “A father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule-breaking, delinquency and illegal drug use.” These effects are greater on boys than on girls.
Conservatives shouldn’t chortle at the evidence that liberals blew it, for they did as well. Conservatives say all the right things about honoring families, but they led the disastrous American experiment in mass incarceration; incarceration rates have quintupled since the 1970s. That devastated families, leading countless boys to grow up without dads.
What can be done?
In line with Moynihan’s thinking, we can support programs to boost the economic prospects for poorer families. We can help girls and young women avoid pregnancy (30 percent of American girls become pregnant by age 19). If they delay childbearing, they’ll be more likely to marry and form stable families, notes Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution.
So let’s learn from 50 years of mistakes. A starting point is to acknowledge the role of families in fighting poverty. That’s not about being a moralistic scold, but about helping American kids.
Oh, I guess he’s been reading Bobo — “not about being a moralistic scold…” I wonder if Bobo reads him? Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Right now you’re probably asking yourself: What am I supposed to do with all this Hillary Clinton stuff? True, I am a concerned citizen, but I have a big deadline at work and a lot of social activities scheduled for the weekend.
We feel your pain, concerned citizen. It’s exhausting. The nation has been obsessed with the Hillary email crisis for more than a week now, but, still, so many unanswered questions.
One of which is: Clinton says she sent and received about 62,000 emails while she was secretary of state. By my extremely rough calculations, that comes down to about 42 messages in and out per day. How is this possible? Wouldn’t the Chelsea wedding alone have used up more than that quota? Don’t her friends mail her funny videos? Doesn’t anybody ever write to ask her to connect on LinkedIn?
Another question is about how a diligent voter is supposed to respond to this whole uproar. Test your political pulse. Would you say that the Hillary press conference on Tuesday was:
A) Maybe not her finest moment.
B) Better than the book tour.
C) Terrible! Awful! She’s going to lose! The campaign will just be one big mess after another! Maybe the Democrats should be looking for a new face!
If your answer is C, then, wow, I can see why you’re upset. However, forget about looking for a new face. New faces are wonderful except that when they start to get old, they can turn into John Edwards or Herman Cain.
Or Scott Walker. The governor of Wisconsin is the new face in the Republican presidential race this year. He became famous with a rousing speech about how he stood up to his state’s public employees. So far, that’s pretty much the end of his persona. When he compared international terrorism to protesting union members, it may be because that’s the only crisis he knows about.
Even Democrats who are comfortable with the lack of newness in the Clinton candidacy have been dismayed about the email matter. The way she handled her communications was the exact opposite of transparency in public service. Particularly the part where she let some unidentified lawyers decide which messages belonged to the government and which ones were private conversations that ought to be expunged from history.
Then Clinton waited too long to respond to the ensuing political crisis. Finally, she held a chaotic press conference at the United Nations next to a big tapestry version of Picasso’s “Guernica,” which has to be the worst possible imagery you want to be associated with when you’re trying to tell the nation that everything’s hunky-dory.
Is this just a bad start or a preview of the next 20 months? Hillary supporters say everything’s fine: Her problems just stem from the fact that she’s a presidential candidate without a presidential campaign. Once she gets a staff in place and makes the announcement — an event that could come any time between Palm Sunday and Mother’s Day — she’ll be organized, focused and happily digging away at the Republicans who sent that snotty letter to the leaders of Iran.
Well, maybe. Sort of. If Hillary had been supported by a campaign staff this week, she definitely would have been doing her press conference alongside a better picture. But nobody’s going to make her into a different candidate in time for the presidential race. It’s like telling your older sister that you’d appreciate it if she’d develop a new personality before the family reunion.
Clinton is both the best and worst retail politician on the national stage. She’s not a gifted orator, and unless she’s coming back from some disaster, her speeches can be a snooze. But she makes terrific contact with average voters when she’s talking with them about boring, important issues. I have a fond memory of an event in New Hampshire early in the 2008 race in which she went on slowly and explicitly about why she wanted to get rid of a Wall Street tax break for financiers known as “carried interest.” It was an eat-your-vegetables kind of moment, but the audience was agog. (When the Clinton campaign launches, watch for the return of this particular crusade against Wall Street. If it doesn’t show up, feel free to throw in the towel. Really, there are limits.)
There won’t be a new Hillary. What voters can hope for is the best possible version of her flawed self. That while there will be messes, she will force herself to be open during the cleanup. That while she might not be a transformative speaker, she will be able to explain how she can take the issues she’s been pursuing for decades and turn them into a plan for serious change.
Also, she should keep building on her talent for holding firm during crises. But it’d be nice to have a little peace in between.
Still, bamboo slivers under the fingernails…