Race and Culture

The NYTimes reports that in Queens the median income for blacks is above the median income for whites, the only large county in the nation for which that is true.  The median income for blacks in Queens, $51,836, is also well above the national median income ($46,000).

What makes the statistics especially interesting is that many of the blacks in Queens are recent immigrants from the West Indies.  Malcolm Gladwell, whose own genealogy traces to the West Indies, recognizes the implication:

The implication of West Indian success is that racism does not really
exist at all–at least, not in the form that we have assumed it does.
The implication is that the key factor in understanding racial
prejudice is not the behavior and attitudes of whites but the behavior
and attitudes of blacks–not white discrimination but black culture. It
implies that when the conservatives in Congress say the responsibility
for ending urban poverty lies not with collective action but with the
poor themselves they are right.

but ultimately he can’t accept the implication and offers instead a strained interpretation.  West Indian blacks are successful only because, according to Gladwell, they provide a convenient way for whites to distinguish "good" and "bad" blacks allowing themselves to pat themselves on the back for not being racist while at the same time continuing to practice racism against the majority black class.

Gladwell offers scant evidence for his hypothesis, the most interesting point being his claim that Jamaican blacks are perceived as bad citizens in Toronto where they are dominant but as good in New York where they can define themselves in opposition to American blacks.  Gladwell’s argument is weak, however, because West Indian blacks distinguish themselves not just in dress or accent but in just those behaviors that also increase income for whites and other successful minorities: they get married and stay married, pursue education, work hard and are entrepreneurial.  Gladwell himself notes:

When the first wave of Caribbean immigrants came to New York and
Boston, in the early nineteen-hundreds, other blacks dubbed them
Jewmaicans, in derisive reference to the emphasis they placed on hard
work and education.

The title of the post refers of course to Thomas Sowell’s classic.


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