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. 

Affirmative action and PC ideology smite the military

I remain absolutely convinced that Obama, the boy genius of the left, is a product of affirmative action who is hiding his academic record because it is dismal.  If it weren’t dismal, he’d be showing it off.  Frankly, though, after thirty years of affirmative action, we expected nothing more from our academic institutions.  That’s a shame, too, because it means that, for most Americans, a Harvard degree in the hands of a black or hispanic person is written off as a gift from a beneficent liberal bureaucracy, while a Harvard degree in the hands of a white or asian person means that person is damn smart.   The presumption is that a minority couldn’t have made it on his (or her) own.  Affirmative action, rather than removing hurdles, created an insuperable one, which is the virtually immovable assumption that all minorities are below average, and obtained their degrees with help.

For a long time, it seemed as if the military was the last bastion of quality in America:  a place in which race, color, creed, religion or place of origin were irrelevant.  What mattered in the military, we were told, was ability and commitment.  It was the most successfully integrated institution in America because it was color blind.  Turns out that is a lie.

The whole Hasan debacle revealed the PC horror of the military to a shocked America.  Here was a ticking jihadist time bomb within the heart of our military, and no one did anything for fear of offending PC sensibilities.  Then, in the wake of his massacre, the powers that be in the Obama administration and the military itself rushed out speeches, not to assure Americans that they were keeping us safe from jihadists, but to ensure jihadists that they were going to be kept safe from us.

That is a big, bloody story, but the PC corruption of a formerly egalitarian institution turns out to exist at all levels in the military.  CDR Salamander let the cat out of the bag when he blogged about the way in which the Navy Color Guard put together for the World Series was jiggered and rejiggered so that it would look “good” (read, victim identity appropriate) for television.  I was under the impression that Color Guard status was an assigned position based upon skills.  It turns out, however, that what matters is that the Guard’s appearance appeals to identity politic sensibilities.  I urge you to read Phibian’s original post (linked above), as well as his follow-up to that post.

Academic corruption is bad.  It means that, in the marketplace, I’m going to place substantially less value on a black or hispanic person, than I will on a white person.  If I were lawyer shopping, I’d pick the white Baylor grad over the black Harvard grad.  At least with the former, I actually know what product I’m buying.  With the military, though, because this is all about chain of command without any market freedom, the consequences are much worse than the devaluation of any specific diploma.  Instead, troops in the military stand to die (as they did in Fort Hood), and we Americans stand to lose our freedoms as our military becomes ever less efficient and increasingly in thrall to the destructive forces of Political Correctness.

I’d like to add here that I am not racist, in that I do not believe that any specific race is inherently better or worse than any other race.  Instead, I’m a smart shopper.  If I know that a factory is cheating to turn out a product, I won’t buy from that factor.  And it’s a damn shame that it’s minorities in America who are the ones being cheated.

Reaching new demographics

One of the things that this election most vividly illustrated is that the lockstep political beliefs Democrats envision don’t really exist within their own party:  Blacks and Hispanics turned out in droves to help power Obama into the White House, but they were the same demographic that, in California, helped Proposition 8 (the anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment) win.  In other words, while they loved the idea of a minority president, Blacks and Hispanics proved that they are still social conservatives.

We know that’s true in one other major area, too.  Blacks and Hispanics do not have the love affair with abortion that white liberals do.  Again, they are more conservative.

Blacks and Hispanics are also the ones who should be most interested in a fluid capitalist system.  America’s history shows that, absent specific discriminatory laws, American-style capitalism has consistently allowed new immigrants to ascend to the working and middle class within one or two generations — and that was true despite strong social discrimination.  (“No Irish need apply.”  “Jews not welcome.”)  In a fluid system, Irish and Jews and all other immigrant groups simply made their own success and then had the other groups eventually begging to join in.

Likewise, we know from the miserably failed Great Society experiment that a welfare state destroys blacks, as well as other minority and immigrant groups that buy into it.  It’s a true opiate, keeping them in a poverty stricken haze supported by small checks.  It saps ambition and initiative.  It’s like cocaine — a cheap high with the first hit/check, followed by dependence and degradation.

The problem for conservatives isn’t that we don’t have a good message for Hispanics and Blacks.  It’s that they won’t listen to us. Everything conservatives say is deflected, twisted and denied.  Point out that blacks make greater strides in the Bush administration than they did in the Clinton administration, and you’re told that those blacks weren’t real blacks, they were just Uncle Toms.  Point out that blacks made economic gains after welfare reform, and you’re told that systemic racism is still destroying them.  Point out that black on black crime, or Hispanic on Hispanic crime, is a scourge, and can best be dealt with by a strong police presence in ailing communities, and you’re told that you’re racist for trying to sic the cops on minorities.

We have so many good messages to give to minorities, but they refuse to hear them.

Funnily enough, C.S. Lewis best described the frustration conservatives feel when trying to communicate to minorities the benefits the conservative political system has for them. As you may know, The Last Battle, which is the last book in the Narnia series, envisions a Narnian Armageddon.  During the eponymous last battle, which pitches the forces of good and evil against each other, the dwarfs peel off and form their own coalition:  “The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

For many Narnians during this last battle, death comes to them when they are pitched through the door of a dark, dank stable.  When the good characters are pitched through that door, they find themselves in a rich, beautiful pastoral environment.  The dwarfs, however, when pitched through that door find, not the fires of hell, but simply a dark, dank stable — and nothing anyone does can convince them otherwise:

They [the Dwarfs] had a very odd look.  They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest.  They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another.  They never looked round or took anynotice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them.  Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn’t see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.

“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice.  “Mind whwere you’re going.  Don’t walk into our faces!”

“All right!”  said Eustace indignantly.  “We’re not blind.  We’ve got eyes in our heads.”

“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.

“In where?” asked Edmund.

“Why you bone-head, in here fo course,” said Diggle.  “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

“Are you all blind?” said Tirian.

“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.

“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy.  “Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers?  Can’t you see me?”

“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there?  Andhow can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?”

“But I can see you,” said Lucy.  “I’ll prove I can see you.  You’ve got a pipe in your mouth.”

“Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,” said Diggle.

“Oh the poor things!  This is dreadful,” said Lucy.  Then she had an idea.  She stopped and picked some wild violets.  “Listen, Dwarf,” she said.  “Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right:  can you smell that?”  She leaned acorss and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle’s ugly nose.  But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.

“None of that!” he shouted.  “How dare you!  What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face?  There was a thistle in it too.  It’s like your sauce!  And who are you, anyway?”

And so it goes as the good characters try desperately to make the Dwarfs realize that they are surrounded by beauty and plenty, while the Dwarfs can see only darkness and despair.  That scene so strongly reminds me of the way in which communications between the two groups are stymied by preconceived notions and prejudice, not about race, but about ideas.

The big challenge in the next few years is to shape conservative communications so that they break through these barriers, and show Blacks and Hispanics that they’re not living in a dank, poverty-stricken Marxist stable, but in a large, bountiful America, in which middle Americans share their conservative social values, and want them to share the nation’s capitalist bounty.