Minority employees and “making it” in America

Mr. Bookworm works for a very large corporation.  While we were in the car with the kids, the conversation turned to the exquisite sensitivity the corporation has to show when it’s faced with firing a minority employee. The process is arduous, requiring huge HR involvement, dozens of staff interviews and a lengthy paper trail.  

The reason for this labor intensive firing is the unfortunate fact that minorities tend to be less satisfactory employees. As Mr. Bookworm was at great pains to point out to the children (and correctly so), this is a group trend and has nothing to do with the merits of any individual minority employee. It’s just that, if you look at a bell curve of minority employees versus a bell curve of white employees, you’ll find more white employees than minority employees in the segment denoting “good worker.” No modern corporation, however, wants a reputation as a “firer of minorities.”

The above are facts. What fascinated me was the different spin Mr. Bookworm and I put on those facts. Mr. Bookworm sent twenty minutes explaining to the children that, to the extent blacks were poorer employees, it was because their culture made them incapable of working. (This was not meant as an insult. He was talking, of course, about the culture of poverty.). 

Mr. Bookworm painted a picture of a black child living in a ghetto, with a single mother who gave birth to him when she was 14, with several siblings from different fathers, with a terrible school, surrounded by illiterates, hungry all the time, etc.  No wonder, he said, that this child doesn’t bring to a corporation the same work ethic as a middle class white kid.

This creates big problems for corporations.  A modern corporation truly wants to hire minorities.  Once it’s hired them, though, according to my liberal husband, it ends up with workers who are incapable of functioning in a white collar, corporate environment. The corporation therefore finds itself forced to fire it’s minority hires more frequently than white or Asian employees, with the result that it’s accused of racism. Its response to that accusation is to proceed with excessive caution and extreme due diligence whenever a black employee fails at the job. 

I suggested to the children that something different than downtrodden black culture might be going on. Past generations of immigrants in America labored under the same handicap as the current generation of blacks (and, I guess, Hispanics).  Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians, Poles — no matter the label, you could spell out for them the same sorry tale Mr. Bookworm told about the hypothetical black kid, a story of poverty, parental illiteracy, poor schools, hunger, etc.

The difference, I told the kids, was that, back in the day, neither laws nor popular culture affirmatively protected these people. They were barred from the universities, banks, and law firms. Their response was to be better and work harder.  They carved out new industries (e.g., Hollywood.)  They made themselves more American than all the other Americans put together. They made their entrance into the mainstream a fait accompli.  

At this point, I interrupted myself to ask the kids a question:  You’re taking a class that you don’t really like, but you want to get an “A”.  Do you work as hard as you possibly can, or do you do the bare minimum to get by?  I got a resounding “Duh!” from both kids. “Of course you do the bare minimum.”

“Okay, then. Why don’t we give blacks credit for being smart, not helpless. Since they know that, once they’re through the door, it’s virtually impossible to fire them, why should they do more work than they have to?  Just as you wouldn’t work any harder for an ‘A’ than you need to in a class you don’t particularly like, why should they work any harder for job security in a job they don’t particularly like?  That’s not helpless thinking; that’s smart-allocation-of-personal-resources thinking.” 

And no, that doesn’t mean that all blacks are bad employees. There are a gazillion blacks out there who work hard because they want to, because they like to, or because it’s the right thing to do — which is precisely why whites work hard.  But there are clearly also a lot of blacks out there who neither like nor want to work hard, and they’ve figured out that a toxic combination of white guilt and fear of liability for workplace discrimination creates an out for them.  This doesn’t make blacks helpless and stupid. It makes them savvy marketplace consumers. 

The above discussion revealed another interesting difference in the way Mr. Bookworm and I look at the world. When I gave my Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italian, etc., example, Mr. Bookworm said that I was describing incrementalism, which has no validity today. 

What is “incrementalism”?  It’s the notion that success in Americ may be the work of several generations. This was the old pattern:  You, the immigrant, arrive at Ellis Island, illiterate, unable to speak English,  and a foreigner to the culture.  Unsurprisingly, you end up in a ghetto. Your children go to school.  They do not become CEOs, but they move into the working class — something that could never have happened in your own class-stratified, antisemitic or anti-Catholic or anti-Irish or anti-whatever home country. Your grandchildren thrn move into the lower middle class, or even the middle- or upper-middle class. In two or three, or maybe four, generations, your family has made it in America. 

Mr. Bookworm’s view is that this slow, upward trajectory is wrong. In today’s world, welfare, social policies and PC hiring practices should ensure that, not only is there a chicken in every pot, but every family should have a high level white collar worker just one generation out from poverty. I happen to believe that, while there will always be young people with drive and initiative who can make this leap, expecting it from the big part of the bell curve is ridiculous and impossible. Wrapping our educational, economic and social policies around this goal is a recipe for wasted money, ungainly government programs, personal failures, and class disappointment. In other words, it’s how we ended up with OWS. 

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  • Mosonny

    My grandparents came here with nothing and made a good living, by working and investing, in the early 1900’s.  Jewish immigrants from Russia/Poland.  My dad came with nothing after the Holocaust, had lost everything…worked 2-3 jobs to put himself through school and became an eminent microbiologist.  Korean immigrants have worked hard and made entrepreneurial successes of themselves in one generation.  African and Caribbean blacks come here and become successes.  Indian families work together and ended up owning a huge percentage of the mid-level motel/hotels in America.  It’s ALL about culture and incentive.  Welfare kills incentive for the reasons you noted.  My grandparents had no one to rely on, but I don’t think they ever thought about NOT working hard.  It was what one did!  
    I am TIRED of the bilge of folks like Mr. Book who would treat blacks in a racist manner, and YES, it is racism.  If one says they have a culture of poverty…what is it about the other groups that they were able to vault over these barriers?  Why didn’t the immigrants come here and just stay indigent?  THERE IS NO EXCUSE, unless one posits that blacks are racially inferior.  I don’t believe they are, but when given the crappy incentives of welfare and then are “taught” by their leadership that this is only fair, that they deserve to get welfare from the rest of us, that it’s just payback or some other bullshit…UGH.  My dad refused reparation money from the German government, and he was literally a slave in Dora-Nordhausen.  None of my relatives owned slaves, as none came here before 1904.  But that’s another story. 
    Oh, and if someone wants to think I’m the racist..so here’s why I know this “culture of poverty” thing is crap.  I live next door to a woman who is black, works hard, has a gorgeous house, keeps it nicer than ours, and her son is employed and does well.  I grew up next to a black family;  husband was a physician, his wife a college grad, and their kids, all employed.  I worked with a black nurse who told me she would never take a handout but would wash dishes, do laundry, dig ditches or whatever it took to have a job…and she had gone to nursing school, at a time when most blacks didn’t go to college, and was a hard worker.  Lastly, we had a woman who cleaned at our house once a week…yeah, very stereotypical…but this woman saved and scrimped and taught her children to strive for more…and all her children graduated college, and all were gainfully employed.  What were these folks’ excuse?  I guarantee they did not come from privileged backgrounds.  The doctor and his wife…they had slaves in their family tree.  The nurse..I don’t remember her family background, but she hated the culture of “kids sitting on their asses and causin’ trouble” as she used to tell me.  And the cleaning lady?  Well, she pulled her kids up OUT of poverty. 
    These are old stories already.  These people grew up during times of real racism and Jim Crow laws and persecution.  The young people today have NO excuses, none.  They have been given every bad incentive by the asinine liberals and are rewarded for their poor choices, as you point out, Book.  They are responding to incentives. But they are also responding to the stupid ideas of the liberals and the race pimps, and it’s enough.  The bubble is bursting as we run out of money, but I still hear that if we only cut back on the military, or tax all the rich folks, that would take care of the problems.  Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

  • Charles Martel

    Mosonny is right: Mr. Bookworm is a racist. So are most Democrats I know. They see blacks as “colorful”—and helpless. That looking down the nose at them is a legacy of a Democrat disdain for blacks that goes back to the pre-Civil War era. The poor dears need to be cosseted with a simple guarantee of food and a hovel (McDonald’s and Popeye Chicken, and crap high-rise tenements). Give them three squares and warm place, and what more can you really expect from them?

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    My grandfather and his brother came to this country steerage from Denmark through Ellis Island and took the train to the Battle Creek Sanitarium where they had a job polishing the brass in the hydrotherapy department.  Neither spoke a word of English.  Within five years, Grandpa had apprenticed himself to the X-ray guy, ended up joining the Army because his boss had accepted a commission to create mobile X-ray wagons in France and demanded that Viktor be his head technical guy on the spot.  In 1920, Grandpa got a recommendation and came West, landing in San Francisco and finding a job at St. Francis Hospital.  He married my grandmother, a nurse, and they bought a house out in the new subdivisions among the sand dunes near Sutro’s mansion….solidly middle class in the first generation. I never knew him, as he died of a coronary at 58, a year or two before I was born.  From what I hear he was a difficult man in many ways – “very European” my mother would say….but he knew how to work, he was determined to make better life for himself, and he never quit.
    Your story illustrates the difference between conservatives and liberals, BW….the difference between people who look at the facts and deal with the reality as it exists, versus those who look at the facts, don’t like them, and construct a vision that they prefer, then deal with things according to their preferred vision.
    It’s pure poison.

  • Mosonny

    The commonality in these stories is that we’re talking about people who came from a “culture” where work was expected and applauded and accepted.  It was just what one did if one could.  It was shameful to be a bum.  When one spends one’s time taking handouts, or gaming the “system” and that becomes a career path, then you have trouble in River City. 
    One of the few decent things of FDR’s New Deal did, and forget whether these programs were economically smart or not, that is a separate argument:  It put men back to WORK, men who wanted to work, who were ashamed to be doing nothing, and found them jobs building schools and trails and other projects.  I went to high school in one of the PWA edifices and it still stands today.  The men who built it took pride in it, because they were again productive. 

    We’ve institutionalized the idea that it’s not only ok to not work, but it’s almost preferable in some quarters.  We were told, specifically, to lose the concept of “shame”, that the welfare recipients DESERVED the fruits of others’ labors, and they came to where they would look down their noses at US, the poor saps who had no choice but to pay for their lifestyles.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    “every family should have a high level white collar worker just one generation out from poverty”

    …part of the problem is the assumption that “white collar” is always better than “blue collar” irrespective of the content of the jobs. Is it really better to be a paper shuffler in Accounts Payable than a skilled carpenter or even a toolmaker? 

  • suek

    >>“every family should have a high level white collar worker just one generation out from poverty”>>

    vs. “incrementalism”. Does Mr.Book “believe” in evolution? Does he think it is “natural” for a change in a species to occur in one generation? And an “oh yeah”… I have one word for Mr. Book….Kennedy. (of course, his fortune was built on illegal bootlegging, but that’s beside the point. A white collar worker he was _not_.)

    >>Is it really better to be a paper shuffler in Accounts Payable than a skilled carpenter or even a toolmaker? >>

    Very good question for consideration. It’s true that most people would rather push paper or do otherwise not particularly physical work in an air conditioned office. It’s also true that there’s a heck of a lot of work that needs to be done that requires un-airconditioned outdoor physical hands on application of effort. (And the fact is that some men prefer working in those circumstances.) Anybody who scorns another man because he “just” does yard work, or plumbing, or even digging ditches ought to get out there and mow his own lawn and trim his own hedges for a year or two. Work is work. If it’s honest, it’s honorable. Sitting on your tush and collecting welfare which comes from the work efforts of others is _not_. It may be necessary for a time – but as a way of life? below acceptable – which is one of the reasons people look down on blacks today. We all know it. It’s not their color. It’s not their intelligence. It’s that there are so many that are simply grifters.

  • Oldflyer

    Book, your discussion with Mr Book simply highlights what thinking people know.  When you establish a culture that supports low achievement, and actually rewards it even minimally, it is going to produce low achievement.  I just read an interesting article on the Sports pages of the Washington Post this morning.  It seems that a few decades ago, a Professor at Cal Berkley started a program that would encourage and reward academic achievement among athletes, as a counter to the existing “do enough to stay eligible in the easiest possible courses” mentality . It was pretty successful.  The current Superintendent of Schools in Oakland–an offensive tackle who earned a PHD in education– is reportedly a product.
    Sorry to say, but the primary lesson I learned–or re-learned–from your post was that it is unproductive to debate Statist-liberals with facts and logic.  They enter the discussion armed with arrogant ignorance and are convinced that superior  smugness will win the day.  Therefore, they will simply repeat their meaningless mantra until you throw up your hands in frustration and bolt.  Of course you could resort to the one tactic that might win the moment–speak louder and more insultingly than they.  That they understand.  But, what do you gain in the long run?  There was a saying in the airline business that went roughly like this:  “(sic)  Never argue with an FAA Inspector,  because he will drag you into the mud hole of ignorance where he is King”   Actually, I confess that isn’t really close, but I forget exactly how it went, and that captures the meaning.  I usurped Liberal license.
    Your husband must hate it when you bring him into the discussion on your blog.  He does not come off well at all.  You must be one long suffering spouse.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    @Mosonny – No question that the WPA (plus PWA and others) gave MANY men work to do and paid them in exchange.  I’m sure that at first it allowed them to look at themselves as productive and useful citizens once again.  A good thing.
    However, since they were doing “government work”, they soon learned that extra effort produced nothing good for them (beyond their own feelings about themselves) – and many times they reaped the hatred of those of their fellows who weren’t interested in working that hard and who knew that “the pay’s the same”, even if you stand around as much as possible. 
    A generation of men were schooled in the culture of unionism and “public service” — do as little as possible and agitate for as many benefits and as high a salary as you can wring out of those who are paying you.
    I think this forms part of the root of what we are suffering now….the lesson that it’s OK to live off of what the government takes from the productive members of society and do as little as possible for it.

  • Gringo

    I suggested to the children that something different than downtrodden black culture might be going on. Past generations of immigrants in America labored under the same handicap as the current generation of blacks (and, I guess, Hispanics).  Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians, Poles — no matter the label, you could spell out for them the same sorry tale Mr. Bookworm told about the hypothetical black kid, a story of poverty, parental illiteracy, poor schools, hunger, etc.
    There is an additional handicap that blacks have: the feeling that because of racism, it is a waste of time to try to excel. This feeling is very deeply ingrained. From  Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, page 104 (PDF version)
    And I liked her son, Kyle Jr. He had just turned fourteen, and in all of his awkwardness-one moment frisky and bumping into me while we shot baskets together in the neighborhood  park, the next instant bored and sullen-I could see all the contours of my own youthful struggles. Sometimes Ruby would question me about him, exasperated with a mediocre report card or a cut on his chin, baffled by a young man’s unruly mind. 
    “Last week he said he was going to be a rap artist,” she would report. “Today he tells me he’s going to the Air Force Academy to be a fighter pilot. When I ask him why, he just says ‘So I can fly.’
    Obama later narrated  a conversation he had with Kyle when he was sixteen. (page 138, PDF)
    I asked him if he was still thinking about the air force, and he shook his head;  he’d stay in Chicago, he said, find a job and get his own place. I asked him what had changed his mind. He said that the air force would never let a black man fly a plane.
     I looked at him crossly. “Who told you that mess?” 
    Kyle shrugged. “Don’t need somebody to tell me that. Just is, that’s all.” 
    “Man, that’s the wrong attitude. You can do whatever you want if you’re willing to work for it.”  Kyle smirked and turned his head toward the window, his breath misting the glass.
    “Yeah, well…how many black pilots do you know?(p 138, PDF)
    This conversation from Dreams From My Father  took place circa 1987-88. Ivy League graduate Barack Obama knew  so little about his country that he couldn’t reply to Kyle that  blacks had been Air Force pilots for over 40 years.
    The adolescent Kyle perceived barriers that didn’t exist. The Tuskegee airmen piloted airplanes in World War 2, over four decades before this conversation that Obama had with Kyle. Moreover, the Air Force at the time of this conversation was one of the least racist organizations in existence, along with other units of our Armed Forces. I have known several retired Air Force officers who were also black, who raved about their experience in the Air Force, as a well-run organization that recognized ability. One is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which is a  pretty good indication of how he felt about the Air Force.
    Regarding what to do about this self-imposed barrier that many blacks have, I don’t know what the answer is.  I once had a similar attitude.  During my freshman year in college, I remarked to a friend, “No matter how much I study, it doesn’t matter- I won’t do well.” My friend replied, “That’s a neurotic attitude.” Which it was. That neurotic attitude of mine came from my experience in an AP class in high school.  The teacher worked us hard- appropriate for an AP class- but it was obvious that he was slacking. The AP course was outside his particular expertise in history, and he didn’t want to make the effort to fill in the gaps for his class preparation. I did not have the maturity to deal with a slacker who demanded you do your job when he didn’t do his own job.  I turned it around, but it took years. I learned the hard way that success in college meant working your ass off. If you worked your ass off, there was a reasonable expectation of success. But only if you worked your ass off.
    I, who have had the advantage of  parents with graduate degrees and a grandfather with a graduate degree, created a self-imposed barrier regarding my effort. So, I have some understanding of how others who didn’t have the advantages I had could fall into a similar trap. But the only solution is to work your ass off.
    BTW, in Colombia, the phrase “trabajar como un negro” – work like a black- is intended as a compliment. It means you are working very hard.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    People should look at “blacks” from Africa. They don’t have the African American “attitude” and even if their life is difficult and sucks, they don’t complain. They don’t talk about the “Man” fing em up. Or none of that other Crack either. They work. They support their families, either here or back home. They get Ph.D.s They shut the hell up and try to improve themselves, irregardless of what form that takes. 

    That’s the “African” blackness the “black African Americans” say they emulate. But really don’t. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The adolescent Kyle perceived barriers that didn’t exist.

    That is how it should be. The best way to keep slaves in their place is to have the slaves do their own jailing and shackling. Mental shackles are more powerful on slaves than any physical restraints. You know. 

  • Charles Martel

    When the Wayan brothers came out with “In Living Color” in 1991, one of their best recurring skits was about a Jamaican family whose members were constantly trying to one-up one another by bragging about how many jobs they had. The sister would come home and let out an exaggerated sigh about how she had just come off her third job and taking a break before going to her fourth. She’d chide the brother for being at home and ask him why he was there, and he’d reply that he was taking a few minutes to fill out the forms for Job. No. 7.
    The Wayans obviously stepped off the plantation with those skits. But not to worry, the implications went right over the heads of the Kyles of the world and their house-slave masters like Cornel West and Maxine Waters.

  • jj

    A modern corporation truly wants to hire minorities.  Yeah, we did.  We tried to find people with functioning brains.  Talk about a minority – an endangered minority at that.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    It is useful at times to destroy illusion by seeking and utilizing truth.


    Those who have lived too long under Leftist propaganda, need a reality check of what real evil, suppression, and totalitarian instincts are like before they can understand whether the “Man” is really keeping em “down”. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    A lot of Americans don’t realize that while bringing peace and freedom to the Middle East is a good thing, when are they going to bring peace and freedom to the enslaved blacks living right in their own country, toiling under Demoncrat control?

  • Danny Lemieux

    I do have to ask, Book…where does Mr. Book get those ideas? Are there any areas upon which you can agree?

    A few years back, I went to a local nursery and asked some of the Mexican workers where I could find somebody willing to help me plant some trees I had just bought. One man, “Rigo”, volunteered for a very reasonable fee. He showed up with some pals and they did a superb job. Rigo was a recent immigrant who could barely speak English. The next year, I showed up at the same place and asked for “Rigo”. “Rigo isn’t here right now,” said one of the workers, “but you can talk to his son over there!” And he pointed me to a massive pick-up with, stenciled on the side, “Rigo and Sons Landscaping Services”. The son was tall, successful, and very, very successful. Incrementalism. 

    I have a French nephew who is the fiancee of a delightful young half-French, half-American lady he met while studying in Texas. Her father is the son of a Mexican who emigrated over the border to California, began as a landscape laborer and ended as a Nursery Landscaping firm owner. His sons went to medical school. His one son became an opthamologist and studied abroad in France, where he met his French wife at the French university. He now owns a chain of optometry stores throughout the Southwest.

    That’s “incrementalism”. It still works, although the Democrats are doing their darnedest to make sure that the road to entrepreneurship remains closed by regulatory barriers. I see “incrementalism” every day in the immigrant communities within my neighborhood. Of course, when you fly so high and close to the sun in the rarified atmospheres within which Liberals dwell, you never see it.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Danny, I think Mr. B gets it from the news and the papers. As usual.

  • Michael Adams

    The story reminds me of a discovery that I recently made.  Liberals live in a very scary world.  Conservatives worry, and we get pretty angry, sometimes, but Liberals have to live in terror of things like   Oprah Winfrey sucking away the product of their honest toil.  (Well, she IS a billionaire, so, QED.) My patient’s home-bound teacher was fretting, in September, when Gov. Perry was up in the polls, that his “McCarthyism” was a threat to religious liberty. I tried to ask her what McCarthy ever had to do with religious liberty, or the infringement thereof, and this twice college graduate just began to babble incoherently.
    Some of that “TEA party is violent and racist” junk was disinformation, of course, but, ever since Oklahoma City, there is a chronically recurring theme in the Lefty media of “Right Wing Violence.”  They do not worry so much about crime, not even gun crime, since they know perfectly well that they don’t go into high crime areas, you know, where the Blacks live. They think we are silly to worry about crime to the extent that we see a need to be armed against it, since they have armed guards, just a burglar alarm switch away.  However, the possibility of armed insurrection is constantly in the backs of their minds. They know we are given to violence, and to intolerance, and are pretty stupid, easily led by violence prone demagogues like Sarah Palin.  When we recognize that all this is in the world view of such folk, we can see the fear that permeates their world. Frightened people do dangerous things.

  • excathedra

    One group that has gone from immigrant to mainstream success very fast is Asians, Chinese, Koreans and Indians especially. For all their differences, what they have in common is a ferocious drive, a no nonsense attitude, very strong family –with accompanying high expectations– and a focus on education in science and business.

    Asians, as a group, are more successful than Whites in America.
    Cultural capital, added to their natively higher IQ, is what makes this possible.

    Other groups with lower IQ averages AND cultural values that only pay lip service to family, education and hard work, will not do as well. One group in particular will, I think, never do well.

    Mr. Bookworm, btw, would drive me crazy.

  • excathedra

    Plus, they have no problem assimilating into white middle class behavior, in clothing and language, etc. Groups, like too many Blacks, who accentuate their own otherness (my “identity”) and then get mad when the mainstream holds them at arms length, could learn from the Asians.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Adams, scary world? Heh. If LibProgs ever got a view of my “world” so to speak, how long do you think it would take before they went insane?

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