The myth of reverse causation

I stopped reading and writing much about race in the past year out of sheer exhaustion and disillusionment with Bermuda's inability to conduct a nuanced and intelligent discussion on the island (yes Big Con(versation) that's you) - and because race has become a proxy argument to achieve a political outcome not improve social outcomes.

However, I recently finished reading a book called Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century which I read as a result of a book review in The New Republic which seemed to provide an alternative view to the untouchable conventional wisdom on remedies (which is what interests me, not re-litigating the past).

The book raised ideas that keep resurfacing in my head, and this review really captures the core and compelling case of the book.

This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation--that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn't true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.

Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian's medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience--and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, "That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work."

The author goes on to highlight an inconvenient and in Bermuda I suspect unpopular statistical truth, and I would argue is where the solution really rests, not with ineffective Government programs and politically orchestrated conversations:

One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.

Read the complete review, and also the book (I had to special order it). It's a tough read at times because it really challenges in an uncompromising way well established conventional wisdom; the very same conventional wisdom that has been imported here and misused to advance a political agenda at the expense of advancing a historically disadvantaged segment of the population.

| More