More readers add their perspective to the thread:
Even those born and raised here do not always readily grasp the “racial resonances” you write of. I’m a 40-year black man who was born and raised in the suburbs, to parents who came here from Jamaica. That upbringing shaped my view of the United States into one that may share many characteristics with other immigrants to this country. I was raised to see this country as a place where you could accomplish whatever you wanted if you worked hard, studied hard, and did well in school. I had that luxury because of the environment my parents created, despite the fact that they didn’t have much money.
That’s where the problem with using a term like “culture of poverty” comes in. Such a term assumes that a group of people thinks and behaves in the same way because they are poor. Not very far under the surface of that assumption is the older, uglier one that those who are poor are somehow less industrious, moral and virtuous than those who are not. There is an intellectual laziness in the use of that term. It’s an attempt to shift responsibility from government institutions who have done very little to prevent the continued shrinkage of the middle class in general (and blacks in particular).
Whether you call it pessimism or gloom, I would not be so quick to brand it as out of place. Growing income inequality is a quantifiable reality, as is the increasing lack of economic mobility. It is difficult to believe that decades of government policy that tax investment at significantly lower rates than wages (under presidents of both parties) don’t play some role in that. For all the real progress this country has made, whether we have a black president or not, the United States is still a country where one political party actively strives to make it harder for citizens of color to exercise their right to vote. It is also still a country where someone at a hotel can assume I’m a valet (instead of a guest) or ask me if I’m a chauffeur when they see me parking my wife’s luxury car. My hope for a better future is paired with an awareness that only concrete actions will bring that better future about – and that my actions alone are not sufficient. The majority of society needs to see the advancement of minorities as somehow in their interest in order for lasting and sustainable change to occur.
A different emphasis from a bi-racial reader:
It seems like the Dish posts on school suspensions and the argument between Coates and Chait regarding are linked. Let me share an example.
My kids go to a small Catholic school in the south suburbs of Chicago. I personally chose the school because it provided a solid Catholic education and it is diverse. Many of the schools in this area are all white or all black. I didn’t like either of those options for my kids. I grew up in a very diverse area and want my kids to experience the same thing.
Unfortunately, discipline problems had progressively been on the rise before the principal resigned last summer. Also unfortunately, many of the kids who have been involved in these discipline problems are African American. They range from calling a teacher a bitch to bringing a knife to school to assaulting a much younger (and white) child in a bathroom.
I’m bi-racial, so I have a kinda distinctive view of the dynamics within the community of the school, which unfortunately is often self segregating. I remember a school function where most white parents sat on one side of the gym while most black parents sat on the other. Since I hadn’t grown up around here and wasn’t used to such a thing, it was very jarring for me. I walk with comfort on both sides of the spectrum, but I would say most here don’t, for whatever reason. It has sometimes been very difficult to get black and white parents together for social events, such as fundraisers.
The parents of students who live in the neighborhood of the school – which is upper-middle class to downright rich and mostly white – have been very disturbed by the recent discipline issues. There has been a call to be much harsher with punishment, and some want to make the school exclusively Catholic. But that really isn’t workable, because the school has suffered through enrollment declines in recent years due to the economy, and shutting some kids out would probably mean shutting down the school. Catholic schools all over the nation are shutting down in alarming numbers.
Here’s the problem if you are a non-African American parent: how do you voice your concern with these issues without being viewed as a racist by some (though not all) black parents at the school? Is there an underlying cultural issue that makes it more likely that kids who are non-Catholic and who come to the school from outside the neighborhood will end up having discipline problems? I don’t know the answer, but it is worth thinking about. There are parents here who are racist, who revel in bringing up such issues behind closed doors at parties and such. But I’m not one of them. How do I demand safety for my kids without being tarred with the ugly “racist” label? It really is a tight rope walk.
This is why I welcome the president making these speeches. He has a credibility that people like me can’t possibly have, despite the fact that I’m very active at the school with both ends of the spectrum. At some point, people like me who are not racist should be able to point out issues like discipline problems at school or poor service at business establishments on the merits without having to worry about the race issue hanging over our heads. I don’t see that happening in the near future. Maybe Barack Obama can help. He’s surely trying, which I appreciate. I voted for the man twice on issues that have nothing to do with this one, but I do like his personal responsibility stance on this.
I’ve always been a fan of TNC and his writing, especially his historical perspectives. But it seems to me lately that he has fallen to the Jackson/Sharpton point of view, which I find disappointing. Racism is definitely everywhere. I’ve seen it personally, having a father who was DARK brown. I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood from people who I’m friendly with (and from BOTH races). Still, it would seem like blaming the plight of African Americans today solely on white supremacy would be like blaming WWI on one cause. There can be more than one cause.
TNC grew up in a tough neighborhood. Barack Obama spent a lot of time in a tough neighborhood on the South Side as an adult, so he is hardly insulated from the issues. Maybe Obama’s perspective is worth exploring rather than just derisively shoving it aside because it isn’t wrapped in the cloak of the white supremacy cause. Maybe it’s time to actually judge someone not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, while still taking into account our nation’s tainted history.
Racism still needs to be fought and uprooted, but I think today’s generation is well on its way to that. Maybe as they get older, it will truly be time to say goodbye to all that.
Readers continue the aforementioned “Pre-K Prejudice?” thread:
The reader responses to black suspension rates actually brought tears to my eyes. As a black woman who is the proud mother of six-month-old black son and the proud wife of a black man whom I love dearly, it breaks my heart that people are so quick to blame the statistics on extreme misbehavior by black kids. Essentially, their argument is black kids may just be that bad. I understand that’s not the way it’s stated and it’s always cloaked with the caveat that this is likely because of socioeconomic factors and single mothers. etc, but it stings nonetheless.
The anecdote from the reader with the daughter at the suburban school was a perfect example. Even accounting for “cultural” differences, does it really make sense that every single black male at that school had serious behavior problems? 100 percent? How is that even possible and what must it have been like to be a black male at that school? It sounds to me much like the situation with black men and cabs in urban areas. It’s hard for black men to catch a cab anywhere, presumably because cab drivers assume they might get robbed. Now, granted, there are some black men who may have robbed cabbies. But the vast majority of black men are not thieves, and yet men like my husband get punished for the sins of the few. That’s the nature of racism; black people are not fully realized individuals, but instead just a part of a dysfunctional mass.
I have to wonder if that wasn’t the case at this school. I would bet that there were some black boys at that school that had serious behavior problems, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the other black boys were just engaging in routine misbehavior when they were lumped in with those with real social problems. And the bit about the black fathers who are “degreed professionals” actively encouraging their sons to be “black and stand their ground aggressively” doesn’t represent any reality I’ve been exposed to. Are we to believe that these black professionals, who did not get where they are by cursing out their superiors, would teach that to their sons. Why? It makes no sense, unless you just buy into the idea that black men are randomly angry.
A counterpoint from another reader:
Regarding your skeptical reader who wondered about whether racial disparities in student discipline are still different after accounting for student behavior, the answer would appear to be yes. For just a starter, here’s a 2011 article from School Psychology Review. It notes that the factors contributing to discipline disparities are numerous and complex, but that there is still a racial component to this. For example, in their literature review (citing multiple past studies), they note, “[R]ace continues to make a significant contribution to disproportionate disciplinary outcomes independent of SES [socioeconomic status],” and “Investigations of student behavior, race, and discipline have consistently failed, however, to find evidence of differences in either the frequency or intensity of African American students’ school behavior sufficient to account for differences in rates of school discipline.”
In their own analysis, based on a nationwide data sample, the authors find, “[A]cross an expansive national sample, significant disparities exist for African American and Latino students in school discipline. Patterns are complex and moderated by type of offense, race/ethnicity, and school level. Nevertheless, the overall pattern of results indicates that both initial referral to the office and administrative decisions made as a result of that referral significantly contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline.” This is much more rigorous than “unequal outcome = racism,” as your reader put it, though they are also correct in pointing out that the Department of Education’s argument was much less nuanced.
If you want another layer of complication, check out a different 2011 article from Economics of Education Review (published paywalled form here, earlier working version accessible for free here). Its author, looking specifically at a sample of schools in North Carolina, found that the black-white disparities come from differences between schools in how they responded to misbehavior. In other words, schools treated their own black and white students roughly equally for equal infractions. The statewide disparities are a result of African-American students being clustered in schools with stricter discipline systems. The author does not speculate in great detail about why this might be.
A separate, but related question, is whether conventional exclusionary punishments like out-of-school suspensions are the right approach to misbehavior in the first place. To many people, these look like a law enforcement approach emphasizing punishment and isolation, and they question whether we want to subject our students to that in school. An alternative practice, based on a response to racial disparities in the law enforcement, court, and prison systems, is to adopt a restorative justice framework for addressing misbehavior. I’d also add a call for more support professionals in schools who can help students work through issues before they manifest in disruptive misbehavior. Too many schools don’t have enough nurses, counselors, or school social workers for their students’ needs, and the result is loss of learning and safety for all.
Another counters with another study:
Many commenters on the pre-school discipline rates seemingly could not wait to say that disproportionate numbers do not mean that there is disproportionate treatment. They are logically correct. However, a major study of school discipline disparities published this month found no evidence that racial disparities in discipline are due to higher rates of misbehavior by Black students. And, if anything, those students are punished more severely for similar or less serious behaviors than their peers. Some quotes from the attached paper:
“Studies comparing the severity of behavior by race have found no evidence that students of color in the same schools or districts engage in more severe behavior that would warrant higher rates of suspension or expulsion.” It goes on to say, “even controlling for teachers’ own ratings of disruptive behavior, race remains an independent predictor of office referral and suspension. In short, the data are consistent: there is simply no good evidence that racial differences in discipline are due to differences in rates or types of misbehavior by students of different races.” The conclusion: “Research has failed to support the common perception that racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline stem from issues of poverty and increased misbehavior among students of color.”