Sunday, July 21, 2019

Acting White

I love John McWhorter as a linguist, and I greatly admire his willingness to say what he believes he has evidence for and solid reasoning for, not what he is supposed to say as an educated black man. This article in the Atlantic about acting white is a good example.  He examines the claims and counterclaims quite reasonably. I think he still misses an important point, and it ends up hurting African-Americans.

I don't want to defend the black students who criticise others as acting white.  Yet I don't have the same level of condemnation that others do.  Is it my empathy or my racism that causes me to ask "What else have they got?" While there are black students who can compete at any academic level, the 1SD difference in testing means that many African-Americans are not going to do well at school.  Are they supposed to live vicariously through the better students? Are they supposed to take one for the team and assent to a status designation that leaves them behind?  I put myself in the head of a black teenager IQ 85 trying to find a place in this world. Well shoot, even though I'm good at some other things, let's have status be based on abstract reasoning and academic achievement. I will gladly sacrifice my self-worth, community status, and employment/friendship/mating prospects for the sake of those other black people like Obama. Screw my life, I lay it down for them.

This is what happens when we make education a god, when we make IQ a god, when we demean crafts and trades, when we count piety, honesty, determination, or resilience as of little value - and when we pretend that it must just be environment, or good schools, or the presence of dads, or turning off that damn rap music or whatever. We condemn many African-Americans to low status and call the very people who try to help them racist.

I don't think the military has it down perfectly, but they've got a good start on it.  The ASVAB and other recruitment requirements eliminates everyone regardless of race below a certain IQ, a certain level of fitness, a certain level of determination, a certain level of avoiding criminality and drug abuse.  That way, everyone knows that everyone else has met those minimums.  This then frees everyone to perform WRT other qualities which matter just as much, or more, and excel according to those standards. It doesn't do jack for those who don't make it in, but that's not what the military is designed to do anyway, and it works for them attaining their own excellence.


RichardJohnson said...

I taught for a year at a school that over ~6 years brought up the pass rate on the state exam from 18% to about 65%. As I recall, over a decade later - long after I had left- that was still about the pass rate. Part of the problem could have been that after a no-nonsense principal got promoted to a central office position, subsequent principals were less competent, and student behavior deteriorated. Could that have been the problem in test scores stagnating, or could it be that the 65% pass rate represented the overall limit of student capabilities for that school? Nature, nurture..

I suggest you take a look at Black American Students in An Affluent Suburb. Ogbu concluded that cultural factors had an influence on black student achievement in Shaker Heights, an affluent Cleveland suburb. It would be interesting to find out, two decades after Ogbu visited Shaker Heights, if the gap has narrowed. I wager it has not.

McWhorter has an interesting article on teaching his daughter to read. Phonics did it. Surprise, surprise. xxxHow I Taught My Kid to Read.Children can learn quickly by sounding out words, letter by letter—but somehow, the method is still controversial.

In 2001, students in the mostly black Richmond, Virginia, district were scoring abysmally in reading—just less than 40 percent of third-grade students passed the state reading test. Four years later, after the district switched to the direct-instruction method, 74 percent of third graders passed it. By contrast, in 2005 over in wealthy Fairfax County, where teachers scorned the phonics-based-reading instruction method (dismissing it as impersonal “drill and kill” is common), only 59 percent of the county’s black third graders taking that test passed it, despite plush school funding.

"Drill and kill" is an adult's perspective. Young children, having a much more limited knowledge base than adults, love repetition. How many times does your 4 or 5 year old want to hear the same story AGAIN AND AGAIN? Drill and kill? Not from the perspective of a young child.

sykes.1 said...

85 is the black mean IQ. Half of blacks test lower than that, and most of them are in the 70s. There is virtually nothing useful they can do other than brute physical labor, and the market for that is very small. Most blacks live on white charity. Even successful blacks like the Obamas got where they are and what they have by white charity.

With the celebrations of the Moon landing this weekend, we heard once again the poem "Whitey on the Moon." This is actually a very good and quite effective poem. But it sends a mixed message that its black author did not intend. Each couplet begins with a line that illustrates black failure and dependency. The second line, always "whitey on the moon," illustrates white achievement and excellence.

There is no solution to the problems of black people, because they are due to black genetics. Transfer back to Africa would help.

Christopher B said...

This is what happens when we make education a god, when we make IQ a god, when we demean crafts and trades, when we count piety, honesty, determination, or resilience as of little value...

I don't disagree with your main point but I think what we idolize is even narrower than this. We don't really admire raw intellectual horsepower. We wall that off into a section of curiosities, the nerds and the geeks and the whiz kids. Welcome when useful but not really sitting in the front row. You can get by with an awful lot less intelligence if you're lucky enough to focus it in the right way. We mostly prize a certain kind of verbal agility. The ability to be clever and witty at the expense of one's rhetorical opponents, to have a superficial grasp of a number of topics and expound on them with expert confidence, to speak cliches with a sincerity that makes them sound profound, to tell people what they want to hear in a way that makes the information sound like great truth. You can see the difference in the way people react to Bill Gates (and to an extent, Mark Zuckerberg) and how they reacted to Steve Jobs. Gates and Zuckerberg are certainly admired for the technological and business acumen but you don't see the idolization of either of them compared to Jobs. I don't think Jobs was any more intelligent, IQ speaking, than either Gates or Zuckerberg but he certainly had the verbal gifts. Both Gates and Zuckerberg have run into issues thinking that sheer business and technical brilliance will carry them forward.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"We mostly prize a certain kind of verbal agility" Yes, exactly, and I suppose it is fortunate that this is the portion of IQ where African-Americans are not so far behind, only about 2/3SD, not a full SD; 10 points instead of 15. The split in math and abstract reasoning is worse.

While 5 or even 10 points don't matter that much in individuals, because the other abilities take on greater importance, at the group level every point is gold.

dmoelling said...

It's not just blacks, but the less analytically skilled portion of any group. I work as a troubleshooter in the electric power industry so I get to do a wide range of high end work (legal/expert, analysis, metallurgy etc.) But I also work with a lot of crafts and helpers on plant sites worldwide. It always astonishes me how clever most people can be in their own domain. I enjoy talking to guys who simply carry stuff around to learn their tricks of the trade. It is satisfying and rewarding. I agree with AVI that education is highly overrated as a measure of the man. Unfortunately the deception robs many, especially American blacks of working in the construction business. Latin Americans, many without legal status, dominate the construction industry, while blacks are noticeably missing. A good business, accessible to anyone with basic skills and hustle. But getting in to a certain type of job relies on having an example like a father, uncle, cousin etc. It needs to start somewhere.

David Foster said...

"Latin Americans, many without legal status, dominate the construction industry, while blacks are noticeably missing."

One addition to the 'having an example' one you probably language. In the series The Wire, a black guy gets out of prison and wants to go straight. He joins a lawn-mowing crew and finds that he can't communicate with ANY of his fellow workers, because they speak only Spanish.

Don't know how common this is...I think some level of English is pretty common among the Hispanic immigrants, legal or otherwise...but I bet it does happen.

Sam L. said...

Richard Johnson wrote, "McWhorter has an interesting article on teaching his daughter to read. Phonics did it. Surprise, surprise. xxxHow I Taught My Kid to Read.Children can learn quickly by sounding out words, letter by letter—but somehow, the method is still controversial."
It's just TOO DAMNED SIMPLE, I'm guessing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Whole-word is based on the reasoning that the very best readers seem to see whole words very quickly, so why not teach all children that way? The best readers are able to skip a step. That doesn't mean the others can do so. It's one of those things that looks like a reasonable idea, but you have to be able to back off from it when it doesn't work.

There is also a group that does not internally hear what their lips are sounding out, sometimes not even when said aloud. Whole word works better for them as well. My wife is one of those.

I do believe that phonics is at minimum a good backup strategy for those two groups, while remaining a best first strategy for the majority.

RichardJohnson said...

When one is an accomplished reader, one can read by the whole language method. For example, an accomplished reader can read a text with several letters taken out of words. If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly Smrat.

But for beginning readers, phonics gives them a means of connecting sight to sound, letter by letter and then syllable by syllable. By learning the basic sight/sound letter combinations, a beginning reader is able to decipher what a written word sounds like. They don't need to memorize the sight of thousands of words, which is implicit in the whole language approach. Instead, phonics gives them the tools to decipher a word on the spot.

One more time: what works for adults doesn't necessarily work for children. Or: just because an adult doesn't like it doesn't mean a child doesn't like it. And vice versa. One would have hoped that the profs in our Ed Schools would have picked that up by now. But that insight- that adults and children are different- will apparently always be the NEXT BIG THING to be discovered at our Ed Schools, the insight just over the ever-receding horizon.

Liza said...

So is sykes.1’s casual racism being ignored as trolling?

AVI: this is why I think Trump should be taken at his word. You and McCarthy may think that “send her back” is not seriously felt by Trump supporters, or people in general, but it is.

Sykes.1 feels comfortable endorsing the idea, and I don’t see much pushback. A generous reading would be that you and other commenters are ignoring him/her.

I hope that is the case.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sometimes we argue, sometimes we don't. I have disagreed with some statements of sykes in the past, other times agreed, usually not commented. Your assumption seems to be that if you can find an example of something that you find racist, that must mean there is a lot of it. That is the type of reasoning I seek to avoid, not to find a single example of things I think are deeply wrong, but to see if they are representative or not. I could easily find stupid things said by, oh, Obama supporters, or AOC's supporters, or whatever. There are sites that make their living off single examples of "what those knuckleheads over there are saying." I suppose if one can find enough of them it must mean something, but as there are thousands of elected officials, thousands of teachers and professors, thousands of websites, thousands of Christians, etc, one would have to find many, many examples in a category to begin to draw conclusions. Though polls and surveys can also mislead, I try to keep an eye on what percentage of a group believes something, and to what degree.

Even though I am by nature a word person, I try to focus on what it is that people do, more than what they say. Not that what they say is meaningless, but it can hide as much as it reveals. Trump has engaged in very little action to send people back anywhere, less than Obama, actually. He has not taken any action against any members of Congress. To say that someone "should" be prosecuted, or sent back, or tarred and feathered, is different from doing it.

If you leap from this to the charge that hateful and violent rhetoric can lead to violence, I will somewhat agree. But I would be cautious about going there, because Obama's rhetoric was more violent, and the left is considerably more violent than the right in this country, and has been for years. I know that is not the common understanding, but the common understanding is wrong - it is a house of cards - and the hard evidence is considerable.

Liza said...

I ask this seriously: what are examples of Obama’s violent rhetoric?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"We have Wayne Lapierre in our crosshairs." “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said in Philadelphia last night. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.” "Get in people's faces." "Let me know whose ass to kick." "We have to punish our enemies," And he meant Republicans. Are those metaphorical? Of course they are. The standard argument when conservatives are accused of such things is that unbalanced minds can be affected by them. That maybe did just happen, as the Antifa bomber did quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes directly. Whether he would have been violent without her comment is unknown. I think probably yes. (It did not happen in the case of Jared Loughner, who was, if anything other than just insane, a liberal who never saw Sarah Palin's website. Nor did her website have Gabrielle Giffords in crosshairs. All of that was made up.)

Donna B. said...

Back to "acting white"...

This paragraph made me go... hmm... what?

"Deniers like to cite a study by Karolyn Tyson, William Darity Jr., and Domini Castellino, who found that the “acting white” charge mostly flares up in integrated schools “in which socioeconomic status differences between blacks and whites are stark and perceived as corresponding to patterns of placement and achievement.” But why dismiss something that happens only with kids in integrated schools? If anything, this study neatly confirms the “acting white” phenomenon. To wit, black nerds get called “white” when white kids are around to furnish a basis for the comparison; the problem arises amidst integration."

Let us just skim over that "socioeconomic status" observation and go straight for thinking the only thing that matters is integration? Did I read that wrong? What am I missing?

Were there studies done on small school districts where there ended up being one high school where before there had been two? Is "acting white" an urban phenomenon?