Black Culture Is Not the Problem

To the editors:

Brian J. Bolduc’s article (“The Crack in the Glass Ceiling,” Op-ed, April 16) typifies the defective logic and unnerving excitement of those who disregard the existence of racism, sexism, and inequality in the United States. I describe Bolduc’s tone as one of excitement, for he (and others who claim racism no longer hampers minorities’ life chances) writes as if it is truly exciting that his “evidence” proves there is something defective about minorities, and especially blacks, that cannot be tied to mainstream racism. Bolduc chooses to term that social-darwinist defect “culture,” while others have gone as far as to term it “biology.” This underlying excitement, while disturbing, is not the main problem with Bolduc’s article. Rather, the problem is his evidence, which is taken out of context and ignores the historical legacy from which it purports to draw.

For example, in an attempt to prove that “racism doesn’t always prevent minorities from prospering,” he claims that before the Civil Rights Movement blacks had a higher labor force participation rate than whites, but after the movement, they had a lower participation rate. First, this participation rate does not equal prosperity. If participation in the labor force were the definition of prosperity, then black tenant farmers would have been defined as more prosperous than their white landlords. Second, though a greater proportion of blacks may have been in the labor force before the movement, the majority of their jobs were low paying. However, as explicit racism ebbed (allowing for more prosperity or wage equality), fewer blacks had to participate in the labor force to make the same adjusted income. Third, the decrease in labor participation most likely has been a result of the unwillingness of whites to relinquish the best jobs to blacks no longer willing to work in low-paying jobs.

Further, Bolduc cites other ethnic minority groups, such as Japanese Americans, who have done better economically than blacks despite racism. He argues that their success proves there is something within black “culture” that hampers blacks’ economic achievement. This argument also has its flaws. First, the historical racism towards blacks in this country has been longer and more ingrained than that of recent minority immigrants. Second, perceptions of blacks, regardless of talent, are worse than other minority groups and whites. Studies have shown that the exact same resume results in an interview more often if the name across the top is stereotypically white and less often if the name is stereotypically black. Third, African immigrants, who attain college and advanced degrees at a greater proportion than any other ethnic or racial group, still fair worse than other groups with regard to income, suggesting that anti-black racism affects their income no matter how well-educated and qualified.

Is it black culture that has caused the dissolution of the black family, or is it the emasculation of black men during slavery and the continued false incrimination of black mothers and fathers? Is it black culture that has contributed to the lack of emphasis on educational attainment, or is it the lack of resources afforded to black schools and the historical legacy of separate and unequal education? Black culture is not the problem, historical and continued racism is.

Throwing around random percentages and numbers absent their social context is misleading scholarship and can have detrimental effects on social policy and societal well-being. Luckily, the average Harvard student will understand the inconsistencies in Bolduc’s article. Sadly, the average American may not.

Cambridge, Mass.
April 17, 2008