Why has African-Americans not Experienced More Progress?

Thanks for your feedback. Would have been nice if you gave me some hints on where you found spelling mistakes. English is not my first language, nor my second.

Why Lack of Progress?

The question is why more progress was not made, especially after slavery, segregation, and discrimination were made illegal.

Outright discrimination has basically not been legal after slavery. There has seldom been laws on the books which explicitly states that blacks must be treated worse.

But as I touched upon to some degree and which Gunnar Myrdal writes about extensively, discrimination is built into the system by default. As I mentioned the US is unique in having a lot of important positions being elected positions. This deprives the US bureaucracy from having competent impartial people in many important positions.

Instead you end up with a sort of mob rule, where many elected officials make sure they act according to the racist prejudice dominating among the citizens in the areas they serve. Because these people know they would get kicked out by voters if they acted against the majority interest. Thus ironically the US is replicating the very thing the US founding fathers was so afraid of when they voiced opposition towards Greek style direct democracy.

These things are internalized. You see the same thing with how US political candidates who spend on overage 70% of their time talking to rich donors, typically internalize the interest of the 1% rather than the interests of the common people.

I would say the lack of progress is down to many of these factors:

  1. The economic liberalization which began in the Ronald Reagan area and which drastically cut back on welfare programs.
  2. Lack of professionalism and prestige of the US public sector. Too much corruption and incompetent people, which means the effectiveness of the state is hampered. This is exacerbated strongly by all the elected positions.
  3. American rugged individualism. The US would have benefitted from a more social democratic approach where a more effective state is employed in reducing inequality. Social mobility is unusually low in the US. Meaning in general poor people have low probability of rising up in the US. Even lower than old class societies such as the UK.

Outcomes of Other Black Immigrant Groups

To explore the impact of systemic racial bias, you should examine why Blacks from Africa and Caribbean countries have immigrated to America.

They don’t bare the full legacy of slavery. They come to the US with a different set of memes circulating in their population. American slave culture was absolutely toxic in every way. Anyone who avoided being a descendant of anybody who was in that slave culture should price themselves lucky.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers does in fact cover why Caribbean blacks tend to do better. It is an interesting story. I cannot cover his whole book here. But one simple reason was that in the Caribbean there was traditionally too few whites. This meant more complex tasks had to be carried out by blacks as well. In the Southern Unites states only the simples most menial tasks was carried out by blacks.

If you look at history, any people with a history of carrying out more complex tasks tend to be better off later. Just look at Chinese rice famers. A very complex farming process compared to farming wheat or cotton e.g.

Caribbean blacks e.g. where involved in operating destilleries and many other complex operations.

Black Family Structure

The big rise in Black out-of- wedlock births not take place till the 1970’s. This does not square with your conjecture that modern breakdown in the nuclear family is a direct consequence of attacks on family structure during slavery.

The exact same thing happened in Norway and many other European countries at the same time. The rise of women’s liberation and fall of many conservative attitudes that locked women into marriage got pushed aside.

I would suspect similar process developed in the US as well. I don’t think there is a single reason for this process but multiple factors.

The way I see it both women’s liberation, the legacy of slavery as well as means tested welfare services rather than universal public goods contributed to the problem. And let us not forget the dramatic rise in incarceration driven by the Reagan Revolution and the “tough on crime” wave riding America at the time.

Drugs and the Black Community

What has been the impact of drugs, illegal immigration and various trade deals on the Black community in America?

Drugs if of course a problem for any poor community, even more so for African-Americans. We have conservative icon Ronald Reagan e.g. which sparked the Cocaine pandemic when he got the CIA to smuggle cocaine in from Nicaragua so he could fund the right-wing Contras terrorist organization. Reagan released the Cocaine in black neighborhoods because he knew the public would not care about blacks killing each other. Reagan was of course deeply racist and had no issue with blacks getting killed to further his virulent anti-socialist agenda.

To add injury, Reagan pushed extra harsh punishment for abuse of the drugs he got into the country. Thus he fueled incarceration of blacks causing the US to become the country in the world incarcerating more citizens than any other state including violent police states and dictatorships around the world.

So in terms of, “why has there not been more progress,” we have to keep in mind that plenty of people have put in significant effort to push progress backwards and make matters worse. Ronald Reagan is of course not alone. Criminal reform by Bill Clinton e.g. was also likely an important driver. Although I think that was driven more by desire to live up to the popularity of “tough on crime.”

Progress Being Made

What about the progress being made? There is a large and growing Black Middle Class. There was a significant reduction in Black poverty and unemployment under Trump until the virus hit.

I would not attribute any of that to Donald Trump. Trump inherited an economic upturn that was going on all over the world. It was nothing unique and special about Trump. It was part of the recovery after 2008 crash, that all countries went through.

And usually in such a situation marginalized minorities tend to benefit. That happened in many countries. E.g. minorities in my native Norway has tended to do better than in Sweden. But not because we are less racist or more active in helping minorities. It is simply because our economy has been much better and we have had lower unemployment.

I think one should be careful with attributing this progress to any policies directly targeting black. Blacks are going to be much worse off in a downward cycle. That does not mean that whoever is president in that period would be racist.

The problem with a “Trump style” improvement for blacks is that it is easily fleeting. It only lasts until the next downturn. You still face the fundamental problem that social mobility is low in the US, that the skill level for blacks is low and that the jobs they tend to be able to get are paid very badly. You cannot really help this much along without improving salaries at the bottom. Improving education.

And you cannot improve education merely by pushing money into say failed ghetto schools. They will be failures even with more funding. Although probably less of a failure. Still the key problem is that you are not going to get skilled teachers who want to work in these schools. And you have too many problems outside of schools dragging people down.

These are not unique problems. We have many of these problems developing in Norway too. Ghettofication is a real problem. You need to mix people more. To raise people of low socio-economic status, you need for them to be around people with higher socio-economic status. More positive role models, ideas, memes, call it whatever you like. A better environment produce better people.

What is the Root Cause?

Final question: Your conclusion is that differences in outcomes are rooted in cultural memes, not current systemic racism, right?

I believe I have partly answered this in the paragraphs above but I can try to summarize here.

I believe difference in outcomes are caused by a multitude of factors. The key ones being:

  1. Institutionalized racism, as well as racism in the population at large.
  2. The legacy of slavery and segregation. The bad memes it has spread in the black population as well as the reduced human capital blacks have been able to pass on to future generations.

And I think it is important to understand that both of these factor feed off each other and nurture each other.

A bad African-American culture will amplify white-majority racism and encourage them to put up more roadblocks hindering black progress. This will cause further deterioration in African-American culture.

The Way Forward

But I think it is fair to accept that some time is required. I don’t see any value in woke white liberal self-flagellation is of any value.

Robin DiAngelo author of “White Fragility,” I believe has to most toxic and ineffectual way of advancing the condition of African-Americans. Getting whites to indulge in self-centered self hatred is pointless.

You got to focus on concrete policies. I believe the obvious way is adopting more social democratic policies. A more FDR like way in American terminology I guess. You need a system that deals with poverty in general because that will also help black people. It does not rely on self-introspection about racism, because reducing poverty among all poor people will also benefit African-Americans who are disproportionately poor. With fewer poor blacks, there will also be less social problems which serves to cut the link between racism and black poverty. White Americans I believe primarily fear poor blacks. If there are fewer poor blacks, they have less to fear, and less reason to be racist. That serves as a strong foundation to begin eradicating other forms of racism.

If I was a US politician I would have sold these policies, not as ways to help blacks but as ways to help poor Appalachian whites. Why? Because social democracy was essentially killed in America by racism. Whites could not bear the thought of blacks getting something for free and so they sabotaged it. Hence you cannot sell social democracy by appealing to its benefits to blacks. You need to sell it as a benefit to poor whites.

You may call it cynical realpolitik, but in the service of fights against racism, you use any dirty trick in the book ;-)

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Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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