There's a glaring contradiction here.

You're dismissive of calls to "try harder" or "ask wide swaths of Black America to imitate foreign cultures". The underlying idea is the fatalistic one that cultures can't change themselves and are eternally locked into past modes of behavior without outside forces coming in as saviors.

But then the entire article itself is one big plea that "we do something different" and "we be financially and culturally supportive of families". Who is "we" if not the broader population and culture?

So how can you expect the culture of society to change while simultaneously dismissing the possibility of changing the culture of the people who are actually suffering with illiteracy and poverty? My guess is it's less about the logic of what is possible and more about where you are comfortable assigning blame and agency.

That seems even more obvious when you so completely lay out the solution:

"...he was dedicated to ensure I could read so that I wouldn’t struggle as he did. As early as Kindergarten my father made me do ‘Hooked on Phonics’ sets at grades beyond my age level. He had me read books and I had siblings to read to me at night. Thus, I never once struggled with English..."

What if opinion writers, politicians, sports and music and media stars and activists made that paragraph their central message, instead of victimization narratives? What if the people who care about Black poverty in the Bay Area were doing everything in their power to motivate the children and parents there to do what Mr Owens father did?

"Moreover the idea that Black people don’t value education is absurd". Gimme a break. Are you telling me every single parent there values education as much as they should and it is ONLY economic hardships that keep them from pushing their children? Every Black parent there that can is getting their kids Hooked on Phonics? I'm not very familiar with Black families in SF, but many of the parents in the blue collar white neighborhood I grew up in didn't value education. Few were doing what your dad did (but a few were, we all did well). One of my friends from math / chess teams had a step-father who would throw his Math books away. If the kids in my neighborhood would've benefited from cultural leaders pushing education then surely a worse performing neighborhood in SF would benefit even more.

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There's two problems here:

1) As the next paragraph explains beyond my parental upbringings, not everyone has those resources and parents with foresight. The fact that i did well in school because of parenting decisions made outside of the classroom is an indictment on how effectively English is being taught or who is teaching it. The purpose of K-12 education is not to simply test your own willpower and abilities -- that's college -- the purpose is for people irrespective of backgrounds to have access to the basics in education.

2) The number 1 predictor of educational success is the # of parents at home. As the Census shows: most Black children do not have two of them. Nor do most Native children. What do these two demographics have in common that other racial groups do not? The single-parent effect is even larger in SF where a large portion of the Black population is particularly poorer than the rest of the region. What good is a working, single mother buying hooked on phonics for her kids if she doesn't even have the time to ensure they're doing it?

"Who is "we" if not the broader population and culture?"

As I answered: " So, yes, when talking criminal justice and poverty, it is a cultural problem. But it’s an American cultural problem of centuries of imposed segregation and disinvestment against Blacks, that was explicitly legal until one and a half generations ago."

Like I said, you can wag your fingers and say 'hey 1968 civil rights bill, you turn everything around now, we won't repair any of the issues imposed 400 years beforehand' but it wont work. There's no contradiction. I'm asking for a national cultural change, not a 'cultural change' that only concerns Blacks. And this is something you should agree with particularly if you believe that Black families don't value education. What argument is there to not have educated Black people who come from these backgrounds to teach these young Black kids if its indeed a cultural problem?

"Are you telling me every single parent there values education as much as they should and it is ONLY economic hardships that keep them from pushing their children?"

No because when controlling for incomes, Black children still perform worse than White children. Because discrimination wasn't solely economic, it was primarily racial. Moreover my Dad got lucky. He didn't have an ecosystem of black educators telling him the way to get a leg up. He incidentally picked a good thing. So yes, build an ecosystem of tutoring programs, Black-run schools and departments, and financial assistance to compensate for lack of dual-parent households to solve the problem.

Again we've already done the wagging your finger thing. We've long complained since the 1800s that Black people should just value education more. How many years of that not working is it going to take to acknowledge that simply making rappers sing about mathematics isn't going to keep Black kids in school?

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The mantra here seems to be "No, we can't" and I don't get it. Maybe your Dad got lucky...but why can't you share what he discovered so that it's no longer luck, and it instead becomes a tradition? As a Black writer who's clearly on a successful path I'd think you'd be perfectly positioned to inspire and motivate young Black kids and parents.

You're aware that immigrants of all colors are finding success despite starting out with not much more than an education. So clearly the culture of learning is the key piece and not historical financial resources. And that culture is well within the power of the Black community to instill, unless its leaders, like yourself, don't believe it's possible.

On #1 and #2 above - a little time pushing your children is not so far impossible as you seem to be making it. Most single parent households still have help - often grandma(s), aunts, uncles, older siblings, or a boyfriend or the actual father himself who is still involved. If you could motivate any of those people to be more involved in advancing the child's education that's a huge win. And I'd guess for the majority of single-parent households there is someone who loves the kid enough to spare the time and effort to instill basic literacy. Especially if it's true that the alternative is a lifetime of prison and poverty.

And if you say there's not, then that's huge cultural problem. But I don't believe that's the case. I believe the issue is ignorance and traditions. Many low-income people don't fully realize how much potential their children have or how to get them to that potential. But you do! And you could use that for good, instead of continuing to bombard them with "No, we can't, until other people fix our problems for us". It's not finger-wagging, at least not at "Black people". It's finger-wagging at you and Black leaders who are letting the whole ethnicity by encouraging passivity.

Anyways - I'm not at all against tutoring programs, financial assistance or other programs designed to uplift people. Anything that helps get people out of poverty, illiteracy and criminality is good and I support investing in it. But you can argue for those things without suggesting that it's impossible to succeed without them. And you can invest in those things AND ALSO demand more of people culturally. There's no reason not to do both.

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I agree that it's cultural, not biological, as the African immigrant statistics show.

But the uncomfortable question is: where did this culture that Black Americans have come from? If Black Americans with 10 generations or more of ancestry in this country have never at any point done well as a whole, educationally, how much of this culture is a byproduct of rap music or personal responsibility versus something else?

We have the redlining maps online, we know why Black communities exist where they do. We have decades upon decades of legal and informal discrimination against Black Americans in hiring practices. We have the federal legislation barring Black Americans from the GI Bill which propelled the white middle class out of the Depression.

Where does this "anti-education" culture in Black America come from? Is it really Ice Cube and Tupac from the 1990s? Or were they singing about the products of those aforementioned polices just like the Blues singers before them? You can't just stick your head in the sand and pretend like 91% of the duration of Black American's time in the United States doesn't matter because of a law from 1968 barring explicit segregation and little else.

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Mar 21, 2023Liked by Darrell Owens

Also, immigrants most benefit from self selection bias. The average immigrants from Asia is more educated than the average person in his/her country.

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Mar 21, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023

Well first, thanks for continuing to engage with me. It's productive and useful for me even if I haven't had my mind particularly changed. I am interested in reading about proposed solutions, funding-based or otherwise, f you ever get the chance to write about them. Part of the reason I'm a fan of YIMBY-ism is because I think it can make everyone's life better, but especially for people towards the bottom of the SES ladder.

So I don't think I've brought up rap stars except glancingly. The problem is the force of the entire cultural / political left has directed itself towards a victimization mindset wrt Black Americans. The mindset of empowerment is only given a kind of lip-service that reminds me of the GW Bush Republican years when he cut $300 to nearly all Americans at the peak of the financial bubble.

From where I sit, the beating heart of that force is something more like yourself than the Tupacs of the world. I tend to think that big cultural ideas take root in Academia and places like the NYT's opinion pages and then trickle down to pop culture. If those places started holding Black parents up to higher standards maybe the literacy gap would close.

You're probably right that just pushing or "wagging fingers" is not enough, but imagine a movement that brought a message like "we're tired of being at the bottom of the economic ladder. We're launching an all-out, full court press on literacy. We could use some help ($'s, tutoring centers, whatever) to get there faster, but we're coming one way or the other because we believe in our kids" Or something like that. To me that sells. What doesn't sell is the message: "some people's ancestors did bad stuff to some of our ancestors 400 years ago so cut us some checks and somehow some extra cash will magically make our kids ace tests"

I don't have any simple answers on why cultures turn out how they do. But I don't think it's as simple as discrimination always creating social ills. Sometimes in history the opposite happens. For example the Jews in Europe, Christians in the Middle East and the Chinese in SE Asia have all faced centuries or 1000's of years of discrimination, pogroms and even genocide, but are all high-SES groups in those regions.

This summer I read "Albion's Seed" which argued very convincingly that the relative amounts of education and propensity to violence between American regions was established early in the history of the colonies, with Puritan Massachusetts and Quaker Pennsylvania the polar opposites of Cavalier Virginia and Redneck Appalachia. And the Northeast is still much better educated and lower violence than the South and Appalachia. So I guess cultural effects can last a long time.

On the other hand gay and interracial marriage were both unpopular just 2 or 3 generations ago, so sometimes change happens quickly, also.

In any case, why does it matter? The routes Native Americans and Black Americans took to get to today are very different. As different as the cultural journeys Korean immigrants and Vietnamese refugees took to arrive here. But does that mean the routes to closing literacy gaps are different for those groups? The answer would seem to be "parents should take an active role in ensuring there kid learns to read from an early age" whether the kid is Black or Native American or Korean. The bigger factor would be whether they have 1 or 2 parents, not the ethnicity.

Also - side thing here, but I don't find the 400 years or 91% time facts persuasive whatsoever. Once it goes beyond a single person's lifetime it really doesn't matter if it's 400 years or 4,000 years. If it did we'd expect to see descendants of slaves better off in countries where slavery lasted for a shorter time, but that's not the case.

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Mar 22, 2023·edited Mar 22, 2023Author

Well firstly the educational and economic mobility of Northeast Asians is actually significantly different than Southeast Asians which is part of the problem of the category. Self-selecting immigration systems (NE) versus refugee systems (SE) clearly results in divergent experiences which is why indeed it does matter how you got here.

For example you mention the SES of Chinese Americans but Chinese Americans is a selection bias via immigration. Prior to the WTO accepting China only 30 years ago, Chinese was synonymous with poor and "coolie." One out of every 4 people in China today are impoverished, and if I were to go to China and start lecturing them about how they have a cultural problem, and they just need to change their culture to stop being poor -- I'd be ridiculed and rightly so.

We live in a world of consequence. And while you may not find the history of the United States to be compelling as an argument, race is clearly the biggest issue in domestic politics in the USA. Forget slavery, the reason why we no longer have the urban white ghettos like we have Black ones is because of the GI bill which Black veterans were exempt from elevating wide swaths of Americans into the middle class. The reason we have ghettos is because of redlining which effected Blacks and Asians but unlike Blacks, over 95% of Asians came to the U.S. shortly after redlining or long after redlining was abolished, obscuring the Asians who were affected. If we were to pump up the African immigration numbers, Black Americans would seem similar upwards mobility in statistics but it wouldnt solve the underlying issue for those affected by these policies.

The difficulties of systemic racism is that it doesn't take bad people to enforce, it just takes good people to not dismantle. If you think that 400 years of legal segregation and apartheid on Black people that shaped Black American culture stopping 1.5 generations ago should solve inequality, it's just painfully naive. Nowhere on earth does the intersection of culture and economics work that way.

I understand that a lot of Americans do not care about American history. This is an individualistic country, built off settlers who didn't care what the people already there thought. Its our tradition to not care, just as the Irish immigrants, the Italian immigrants, the Jewish immigrants who were endlessly in newspapers and literature throughout the 1900s held up as model minorities for Black people and so on. And though contemporary anthropologists noted these comparisons never made any sense, most people never felt any responsibility to solve problems they had nothing to do with. As a result the same issues we have today such as racial strife, race riots, inequality and hatred persists.

Because of the same ol' lazy line since the Emancipation Proclamation of: "its not my problem."

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Mar 22, 2023·edited Mar 22, 2023

I'm not disagreeing that history explain things about our present. I'm disagreeing about what that means right now. In what way does having an ancestor that was a slave or a parent that was a refugee prevent a child from reading? All parents should do their best to help their kids read at grade level - do you disagree with that? Should you be exempted from expectations of good parenting because of skin color? This seems to be what you're arguing.

But let me ask you to be more sure - what are you arguing? Given we can't change the past, what can be done, right now, to improve the future? What solutions can improve the reading level of Black students in SF, and why is "encourage good parenting" off-limits as one of them if it worked for you personally? What can Black San Franciscans do? What should non-Black San Franciscans do? I really hope you can take the time to clarify these because I've really lost the plot in terms of understanding your answers to these central questions.

Some tangents:

Studies that look at the impact of the GI Bill certainly give a more modest interpretation of its benefits. Less than half of WW2 even took advantage of any part of the GI Bill. Neither of my grandfathers used it.



And speaking of redlining...both of my grandfathers lived in red-lined neighborhoods. Interestingly, my father lived his whole childhood in a Wire-esque row-house in Reading, PA (today, 90% Hispanic). But my mom moved from a "red-lined" area to a "yellow-lined" area mid-childhood. Today that red-lined area is a gentrified, desirable housing zone while the yellow-lined area is predominantly Black and full of section 8 housing. So the world changes in varying ways and "we know why people live where they live" is not nearly as simple as you are choosing to believe.

Also, back to the GI Bill - does your historical calculation factor in the combat experiences of white vs black vets? 420,000 white americans were killed in WW2 and some multiple of that suffered grievous physical and mental wounds. The total number of Black combat fatalities was 708. I don't know how to balance out excess deaths in combat vs discrimination in educational opportunities, and that's one of the reasons i think historical racial grievance tallying is counter-productive. But if that's what you're into it seems like you should take that into account.

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My grandad came back from WW2, had a college degree, and couldn’t even get a job in the local factory because of racism. You know as well as I do no one had a college degree then, particularly in the rural southern town my granddad was from. Didn’t help him at all. He ended up going back to school, getting a masters of theology, becoming a minister and running a convenience store. We know what happens to our white peer families with college educations post WW2.

Racism is a huge blocker and still is.

When I moved to the south I went to a pretty integrated district that was mostly white. (65/35 white/black). The neighboring county - literally around the corner from my school was more like 60/40 black / white and had fewer resources.

So much so that the richer white families that lived near the county line petitioned that their country club neighborhood get annexed to our district. The (mostly white) trailer park across the street didn’t get that same option. Though the district was fine allowing any kids who were good at sports or dance or any of the programs when my school was a regular state champion.

It’s wild to me how much race still plays into educational attainment with few exceptions. And has since the founding of our country. And it is not a simple solution at all. I was lucky going to high school in the south actually meant we had black teachers too. That doesn’t happen much here in the Bay. Not to mention the extra stress from income inequality that wasn’t a big issue in my southern school district. Teaching was one of the best paying jobs in the area. And our schools had programs to encourage good students to enter the profession via training in high school. And while there were still racial gaps, they were not as bad as it is here. And my assumption is mostly because that there wasn’t as much income inequality. Lots of racism of course. But other things were a bit more equal. Here we have a triple whammy of income inequality, white flight, and immigrants that are “model minorities.” That adds lots of layers of dynamics impacting how Black kids are treated and perceived at school - and where Black families land in our class hierarchy here.

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To add here, I'm also seeing a refusal to admit to cultural faults at play. It's extremely difficult for many of the Black community to respond to critiques, without feeling offended. Improvement cannot happen without being able to discuss your own shortcomings. If absolutely everything is not your fault, that someone else is to blame, that you're owed something, then by no means will you accept your own issues as something that needs changing. And no, pointing this out is not racist.

I'm seeing the reparations fiasco as being a watershed moment, because the rest of the country will flat-out not accept the premise of this in general, let alone being done without any sort of reflection or debate. All hell breaks loose as soon as one questions the need or the rationale for them, and less and less of the public will tolerate being told what they cannot say or think.

Of course, the sheer absurdity of the demands do not help. When the SF Human Rights Commission makes an absolutely comical farce of a scene, while saying nothing of the fact that crimes against Asians spiked 267% last year largely committed by Blacks, or days before Black teenagers rampage through Stonestown, reparations becomes even less likely.

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Mar 22, 2023·edited Mar 22, 2023Author

Quite contrary, I think there's plenty willingness to examine cultural faults. It's been lobbied against Black people for years. Its been lobbied at Frederick Douglass during slavery and it was lobbied at MLK during the civil rights movement. The same line you're saying now with different immigrant groups but its always the same answer: where did that culture come from?

Culture is not a behavioral set as its often used in arguments like yours. Culture is physical and tangible. The majority of Black San Franciscans living in former army ammunition dumps and radioactive depos stunting childhood development because the city government and real estate industry up until only the 1970s explicitly pushed Black people there is cultural.

"less and less of the public will tolerate being told what they cannot say or think."

Quite contrary, this is nothing new. The benefit of knowing American history, the land we live in, is that this has all happened before, in San Francisco too. The racial feuds between Black people and the city's whites and newest immigrant group is a re-run told every generation, every decade, every year. Nothing's changed between now and a century ago.

" reparations becomes even less likely."

Sure but this is all status-quo. There never was any reparations given to Black people (unlike other minorities) even while SF was bulldozing Black neighborhoods. The line you're saying of "just change your behavior" is as old as the U.S. itself. The longer time goes on, the more people dont know about American history and have zero inclination to fix it.

So like I said at the end of the article: if you like crimes against Asians, if you like race wars and racial strife, keep saying this old line. Because its the American way of saying: I'm not going to fix anything.

I dont like these race problems so I offer new solutions to actually fix them.

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Mar 21, 2023Liked by Darrell Owens

It’s not cultural, you can’t compare somebody who is the. best of the best from their country in terms education and work ethic to members of a general population. African Americans who migrate to other countries do well in those countries look at African Americans who moved to Europe. It’s no coincide that Native Americans and African Americans are the worse off, they were the most oppressed.

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I am about a decade older than Darrell and spent my elementary school years in the Bay, and the rest of my years pre-college in the south.

I had really involved parents and a stay at home mom. I did well in school. My parents went segregated schools, and also college.

I had some great teachers who treated me like i was full of potential. I also had teachers who assumed I would be a poor student and that my high test scores were forged. And treated me accordingly. Unfortunately in the Bay Area that is more of the norm these days than we care to admit.

Black kids get routed to remedial courses and punished more harshly starting in preschool. As mentioned above - what happens by 3rd grade sets up what the future holds. If you start school and your teachers have already predetermined you won’t do well and it isn’t worth the effort - you end up with kids who cannot read when they graduate high school.

There was a moment when public schooling was the great equalizer - but around the same time we stopped investing in infrastructure, we stopped bothering with making our schools effective for all students. Individualism personified. It’s pretty disappointing and disheartening. We all know an educated populace improved society at all levels. And we have continued to show time and time again that our country doesn’t find it worthwhile to invest in Black folks - we’ve got to figure it out ourselves. And be derided when the solutions can’t come fast enough and are hampered by systemic issues.

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I mean, this is entirely maintaining a victim mentality, where personal responsibility is not a factor at all. And it's based entirely on the idea that you're "owed". The fact is, we've spend an estimated $2 trillion on Great Society-focused social programs designed to lift Black students up since the 1960s. Massive amounts of scholarships, affirmative action placements, and thousands of programs have been implemented. The fact is, there are very severe social forces at work which are then totally ignored here but have been keys to success in every other ethnic group in the US.

Imbalanced incarceration rate? Sure- because Blacks commit crimes at an exponentially higher rate than anyone else. Lack of support at home? 78% of Black births are done out of wedlock. That's no one else's fault.

Rather than blaming others, there is next to zero examination of what other ethnic groups have done to lift themselves up. My white family was extremely poor two generations ago- they were Okies that were actively discriminated against. Education was/is considered a paramount value. Self sufficiency is taught like a religion. Hard work is idolized. The idea of committing any sort of crime is extremely frowned up. We're not rich or by any means. But we certainly never qualified for scholarships; we all have student debt.

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Mar 21, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023Author

Of course personal responsibility is a factor but it's there's very few sociological or anthropological researchers that would support your claim that a mass group of people having similar behaviors is just a personal choice. It doesn't make any sense. Firstly, $2 trillion dollars over a half century is not a lot money. It certainly doesn't make up from the prohibition of owning property in non-ghettos that informs where Black people live today. Nor the denial of employment allowed until a half-century ago. Nor the denial of the vast majority of New Deal programs and post-WWII programs that propelled whites into the middle class. No food stamps and weight scales on college admissions for a tiny minority doesn't reverse that. Secondly, it didn't all go to black people. Thirdly, programs like 'affirmative action' have been barred for decades, at least in public education in California and when it was in use, research has consistently shown it often benefited white people (usually white women).

You're saying the same exact mantra that's been repeated since Lincoln: Blacks and Natives just don't try hard enough. Look at [insert immigrant group w/o centuries of oppression] which had everything together. You can keep saying it but its lazy and it doesn't say anything. Your poor white family did well but they were not poor because they were white and when solving social problems that makes all the difference.

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But the dollar amount debate helps illustrate the point; it will never be enough. $2, 4, 6 trillion. One thing that’s so discouraging is that even after all that we’ve spent, there’s a fixation of declaring that absurd amounts of money are still owed. Essentially, what was spent only served the purpose of getting us to a point where.....we need to cough up that much more. So in light of this, it’s important to take a step back and ask some questions, and have a conversation where some difficult observations are made.

A refrain that you’re hearing over and over again from school administrators and teachers is that they’re afraid to discipline Black students out of fear of being labeled as racist. Classes are free to be disrupted, bullies can bully, and violence is continuing. Because it’s so, so easy to scream victim. This coddling is not just harmful to the victims, but to the offenders. It does absolutely no good to tolerate lowered expectations. SFUSD in particular has a massive problem with this, and to what end? Low performance, migration of students from families with means out of the district, and lowered funding as a result.

My point is not to claim that anyone is lazy. My point is that there is a mantra of victimhood that is being promoted and perpetuated that is incredibly harmful. This is what other ethnic groups simply do not promote. Now, one may argue that Blacks may have had a rougher go. Maybe. But every ethnic group can claim to be oppressed at certain levels, some with more heft than others. And winning this argument does not help one get ahead.

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To be clear, there's never been any type of reparation made to Black Americans in the United States so we can't say "it'll never be enough" if its never been done before.

I personally doubt that teachers do not discipline Black students because they're afraid of being labeled racist. Every racist controversy in SFUSD that I'm aware of or made media news were instances of non-Black teachers saying or discussing about Black people wholesale. However, if this is indeed a fear, then the Reparation Taskforce's suggestion of Black educators for Black students would nullify that fear.

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Just like black cops are the cure for police brutality against black civilians?

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Mar 22, 2023·edited Mar 23, 2023

OK, but this actually leads to a larger, different, and extremely important point of discussion. You haven't heard that, because it's something that people are probably afraid to say in your presence.

If they were to even insinuate that in any sort of pseudo-public setting, they'd immediately be shot down and ridiculed. As a public school teacher I would fear for my job. But trust me, it's extremely real. Here's an example.

One of my friends is a principal in a Bay Area school. He's very progressive, an extremely talented and dedicated educator, and the school has thrived under him. The school is in a larger, less diverse Bay Area city. He's deeply committed to diversity.

But he's deflated right now. A Black student that was a severe discipline problem was disciplined. The student was violent, had stolen from other students, and lashed out at teachers. One day, they assaulted a female student. They were suspended repeatedly, and under standard district protocol, should be expelled.

But the family lawyered up. They're suing my friend, two teachers, and the school for racism. This has a chilling effect on so many thing; but it fundamentally means that Black students are not being disciplined.

Maybe you've never had white parents tell you that they're pulling their kids from public schools because of a reason like this. That's because they don't want to deal with the reaction that they're quite sure you'll have, not because it's not happening. Parents leave public schools for the suburbs all the time, and this is a prime reason.

This dovetails with you saying that "there's very few sociological or anthropological researchers that would support your claim that a mass group of people having similar behaviors is just a personal choice". I mean, could you imagine an academic even proposing this idea in a racial context? It would be suicide for one's career. But this is also rather ignorant of social history; social behaviors that are a personal choice change all the time. Drinking and driving was once a norm. So was smoking. So was hitting children as punishment. And a large amount of social behaviors.

Personally, I believe that a culture of playing the victim card can be changed in favor of positive attributes that are proven to contribute to economic advancement. A culture of fathers being present in childrens' lives. A culture where criminality is not tolerated. A culture where education is promoted. And all of these changes can be done without being dependent upon the largesse of others.

An interesting aspect of the Reparations conversation is that it's causing questions like this to bubble up and be dealt with. Americans as a whole have no problem with being charitable. But when someone demands absurd amounts of money from them for extremely questionable reasons that fall apart under basic questioning largely because their underlying assumptions have not been questioned before, they rightfully ask very sincere, less filtered questions. And that dialogue is healthy.

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Question-- if we consider only the bottom two quintiles by parental income (or similar lower-income set of people) then does the racial attainment gap in reading proficiency disappear?

I think this type of data might help to make clearer how much of the gap is due to relative poverty and how much is "something else"..

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