Saturday, August 30, 2008

What does it mean to be black in America? (You're going to hear derivations of that question for years, so start getting used to it)

++Addition++A reader did a better job finding this video via Steve Sailer that more clearly demonstrates how Obama can mix it up depending on the composition of his audience.

Also, as Dragon Horse points out, the lady who cheered Barack for marrying a black woman isn't incoherent, but she is phrasing her praise in a way that is technically self-defeating if taken literally. I was being a wise guy. Black men tend to favor women with European facial features and ligther skin over darker women with more prominent sub-Saharan African features. That in addition to black men being nearly three times as likely to marry and five times as likely to cohabitate with white women as white men are to marry/cohabitate with black women shows why her frustrations are understandable.


Ahead of the DNC in Denver last weekend, the WSJ ran an article about how Obama's candidacy "has sparked a debate about identity" in the black community. The thrust of the article revolves around what Steve Sailer has identified as Obama's quest to prove he is black enough. This underscores the assertion that Obama owned the black vote in the Democratic primaries because he was blacker than the other white candidates. Had Al Sharpton run again, Obama wouldn't have received the nomination on Thursday. The article also illustrates some generally accepted fallacious "conventional wisdom" that is worth pointing out, which is why I excerpt so liberally:
Sen. Obama embodies contradictions in the community that are starting to bubble to the surface -- largely out of the earshot of whites. He is the biracial son of an African father and a white mother in a community where most people are descended from slavery or whose ancestors had direct experience with segregation. He is the married father of two in a community in which more than 60% of children grow up in a single-parent household. He's a politician who isn't steeped in the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s and didn't grow up in the inner city or in a black neighborhood.
He is also half-Kenyan by descent. Other than pigmentation, he doesn't look like most American blacks, who are of West African descent. Both of his children were born in wedlock, something fewer than one-in-three American blacks enjoy. He went to a mostly white prep school in the blackless state of Hawaii. Not exactly the optimal profile of one who wants to show he is down with the struggle.

The article gives the impression that American blacks are undergoing the same transformation that other immigrant groups did upon arriving in the US (huh?):

Sen. Obama has "taken the discussion out of that box that America tends to put people in and given some additional light on us as a people," says Curtis Watkins, 52, who runs a social-service agency in Washington, D.C. "I don't think it was his intention, but it is what it is and he can't lessen that."

This dialogue isn't that different from discussions that other groups -- Jews, Italians, Asians, Irish -- have had as they have risen in America.
Those groups began rising in a generation or two. Blacks have been in the US longer than any other non-native, non-European group has, and they comprised a significant portion of the population for centuries before Jews came to represent one in 100 Americans. At the end of the Civil War, Jews comprised less than .5% of the US population.

Nevermind that, Obama is lighting the way just as Lierberman showed that at the turn of the century, the US had finally come to accept Jews in positions of power:
The 2000 vice-presidential nomination of Sen. Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew, provoked initial unease among some Jews but eventually was widely seen as proof of the widespread acceptance of Jews in America.
Because up until 2000, Jewish success in the US was so rare! In science, medicine, politics, and punditry (where, still struggling today, they make up less than half--only 27%, actually--of the top media talking heads), it took Lieberman's ascension to prod other Jews into finally having an impact on America!

Though Obama may have a tough time brandishing his street credentials, he shouldn't be rejected out-of-hand just because he didn't enjoy the luxuries growing up that 50 Cent did:
In his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," Sen. Obama wrote that in college, "I didn't have the luxury, I suppose, the certainty of the tribe.... I hadn't grown up in Compton or Watts. I had nothing to escape from except my own inner doubts."

Imagine if a white preppie (and Obama is closer to that than he is to 50) said the same. Yeah, I suffered from my two parent middle class home, soccer games on Saturday afternoons and church on Sunday mornings, barely ever able to escape the plushness and enjoy a good run on 13th and MLK boulevard!

Continuing on the curiously absurd theme of blacks as new arrivals to the US, the authors point to the success of black immigrants:
Immigrant blacks fare better for many of the same reasons as other immigrants:
They're often a self-selected, highly motivated group.
No, most other immigrants fare worse than their native counterparts do. Black immigrants are an exception to the general trend, not an example of it. Hispanics immigrants, representing nearly 50% of the foreign-born population, mostly fare worse than native Hispanics do.

Previously, I created an index to rank immigrant performance in the US by country using six factors including the percentage using one or more welfare programs, who are self-employed, without health insurance, have less than a high school education, have a bachelor's degree or greater, and who are in poverty. Immigrants from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and most significantly Mexico (which, comprising two-thirds of the total foreign-born Hispanic population in the US ranked dead last among 25 countries*) do more poorly than native Hispanics (or native blacks, for that matter) do. In contrast, immigrants from the two majority black countries of Haiti and Jamaica outperform native blacks.

Notice I write "native blacks", not "native African-Americans" (wouldn't that be a contradiction in terms?). Whiter readers might have thought that indicative of my backward boorishness. Turns out I'm actually ahead of the curve:
The growing prominence of black immigrants is prompting some to favor the term "black" as more accurate, and inclusive, than "African-American."
When I was in high school, I played against the Barry Sanders-like Darren Sproles. As a D-end, I was told to wait for him to come back if he headed outside opposite. I don't think it did much good then, but in this case applying the advice worked out.

Moving on, the article offers some irony:
[Pat, a teacher from Nairobi who is visiting Vermont] turns to Prudence Carter, a Stanford sociologist and an African-American. "You talk about race all the time," she says. "I don't understand that."

Ms. Carter, 38, shakes her head sadly. "On the one hand it's beautiful we are diverse," she says. "But can we become so fragmented that we don't share anything?"
Diversity is celebrated when it means a reduction in the size of the white population and/or its cultural influence. That is the right kind of diversity. Other forms of diversity, especially those that reduce solidarity among NAMs, are the wrong kinds of diversity and so should be resisted.

Think electing Obama will be a cathartic experience that'll put an end to black community's resentment over the perceived restraining force of the white power structure like John McWhorter does**? Maybe not:
Yet even as they bask in the senator's success, some middle-class blacks remain uneasy about their own choices and wonder whether they have distanced themselves too much from poor blacks. They worry that Mr. Obama's success -- what many call being a "good black" -- could feed negative stereotypes among whites about blacks who don't succeed or who act in a more confrontational manner.
If a black guy becomes President, white society will expect us all to become Presidents. It'll turn the bigotry of low expectations on its head! And they'll expect us to play the game, too:
"Part of me has my fist clenched under the table," says Dawn Jefferson, a 31-year-old who teaches at a predominantly white private school outside Washington, D.C. "There is this feeling that black confrontational behavior won't be so acceptable. We have to all play the game now."

Welcome to the professional world. We all have to play the game.

... Oh, he meant that game:

Michael Patterson, 34, who owns a car-related business in Jena called Classic Shine and Detail, says he isn't sure if Sen. Obama has endured the "black experience." He describes this as being stopped by police and being afraid of what might happen even "when you know you've done nothing wrong," and "coming home from school and finding out the lights have been cut off."
To reassure people that he's seen policemen doing their jobs, Obama employs the thug hug, plays basketball, adopts a black inflection in his voice when speaking in front of black audiences (notice how every couple of sentences ends just short of a yell, and also how words ending in "y" roll of his tongue), attended Trinity and considered Wright a spiritual mentor, and married a black woman with West African, not European, features.

Michelle might wear the pants, but if most black women think gaining the upper hand is something just over the horizon, they are going to be waiting for it until they're blue in the face:

In conversations, many wonder why there aren't more men like Sen. Obama in their lives.

"You should see the emails I get from my girlfriends," says Makeba Lloyd, a real-estate agent in Harlem and campaign volunteer, who is 34 and single. "We all want someone who lifts us up and praises us. Obama is raising the bar for black men."

From 1950 to 2000, the percentage of black women and girls 15 and over who are married declined to about 36% from 62%, according to census data. Among white females, the decline was far less, to about 57% from 66%. Over the same 50 years, the percentage of black women who had never been married doubled, to about 42% from 21%.
Black men are thirteen times more likely to be imprisoned than black women are (p34). They are nearly three times more likely to marry white women than black women are likely to marry white men (and the non-married cohabitation ratio is even more skewed, with black male-white female couples occuring five times as often as white male-black female couples occur). Despite 5% of the black male population behind bars at any given time, black men are still more likely to be married than black women are. There are 106 married black men for every 100 married black women.

The supply of black women exceeds the demand by an estimated 8%^. On average, black women need to lower--not raise--their standards to snag a husband. A 34 year-old woman who cannot find a man and now thinks that demanding even more in a man than before will land her a husband is setting herself up for more disappointment.

Barack's choice of a spouse probably helped him in the primaries. Without competition from another black candidate, he had black men in the bag. But a sliver of black women might've gone the feminist route if he'd married a white woman:
Angering many black women is the perceived tendency of some successful black men to marry white women or lighter-skinned blacks. "Obama could have easily chosen a white woman," says Adrienne Dixon, an education professor at Ohio State University in Columbus and 40-year-old mother of two teenagers. "The fact that he didn't says a lot. It's important for my boys to see a love relationship that doesn't depend on skin types. They see they don't have to be with a light-skinned black woman to be successful."
As interracial unions consitute just under 4% of total marriages according to the 2006 Census estimates, Dixon's point doesn't make sense. Black men are still more likely to marry black women than they are to marry white women, so Obama having married a white woman would've done a better job showing her sons that love doesn't depend on skin types (assuming Obama is seen as a black man rather than a halfrican). But blacks tend to look at these things through a different prism than whites do (see the preceeding remark about diversity).

Anyway, it's good that black men are already in the bag, because this sort of thing definitely does not impress black guys who are keeping it real:

"I wouldn't give a damn about him if it wasn't for Michelle," she says. "He has enough fortitude and courage to let Michelle be Michelle."


"Does he rub his wife's back? Does he take out the garbage?"
Black guys I know have another word for that.

It doesn't really matter what blacks think of Obama's authenticity. They're going to vote for him. Obama's actual challenge will be to show that he is white enough without causing people to think he is a whiterperson in disguise.

If Obama wins in November, we get to look forward to an uptick in these sorts of articles for at least the next four years. That's 1,461 days. Yikes.

* Data on former Soviet countries were amalgamated into a single "country".

** To be fair to McWhorter, he also thinks the hazy conception of a 'racist America' will also be lifted among whites if Obama is elected, especially among younger generations. McWhorter has understandably taken a lot of flak for his apology of the Obama's Trinity Church membership, but from my experience he gets the middle class black attitude right in saying that many who immerse themselves in the Reverend Wright atmosphere are doing it for ritualistic value and cultural solidarity, not because their beliefs are actually that extreme. It's kind of like professional blacks who go to black comedy clubs to yuck it up even though they don't live the life the comedian is portraying, the life that many lower class blacks actually do live.

^ Assuming that the black prison population is entirely off the market (which isn't exactly the case) and that marriage disparities proxy reliably for relationship disparities.


Anonymous said...

"adopts a black inflection in his voice"

Really? In the video you linked, he sounds as he usually does, at least to me.

This video is a much better example, I think. "Where's he at?" Obama shouts out when looking for the Rev. Wright in the audience.

Hat tip: Steve Sailer.

Dragon Horse said...

The black female professor said:

"Angering many black women is the perceived tendency of some successful black men to marry white women or lighter-skinned blacks."

You said:

"Dixon's point doesn't make sense. Black men are still more likely to marry black women than they are to marry white women, so Obama having married a white woman would've done a better job showing her sons that love doesn't depend on skin types (assuming Obama is seen as a black man rather than a halfrican). But blacks tend to look at these things through a different prism than whites do (see the preceeding remark about diversity)."

The point she was making was two fold. The issue was not what she said but your "cultural comprehension" of her remarks.

1) Successful black men tend to marry, as we say, "light, bright, and damn near white" women. There is colorism in the black community and it is mostly an issue for black women (not so much males) because successful black men of any shade tend to marry black women with more European or Native American ancestry.

This is true at HBCU or with black professionals in NYC or D.C.

2) Black men who are educated and successful tend to marry out more (as shown a long time ago on Gene Expression). The wealthier a black person is (especially a man) the more likely he is to marry out, which makes sense, because black "successful" men (depending on how you define successful) are likely to live and work in areas that are predominately white. More contact with whites, when class status is roughly equal, correlates to more out-marriage.

This is what the woman was speaking of in her comments.

When she talked about "relationships depending on skin color" she was talking about a subset of black men overtly discriminating against a large majority of black women due to skin color.

John S. Bolton said...

Our lockstep major media have given us our first overwhelmingly racial election for the presidency. Insincerely and in perfectly bad faith, they insisted that Obama was a bridge, a uniter and a transcender. In complete confidence that no one will call them on it, who has any large public voice, they now trumpet their favoriteas a world-historical racial change agent.
Since such insincerity cannot be idealistic in any way, doesn't it have to be cynical manipulation? Race means whatever we say it means, whenever and wherever it suits our power-seeking convenience, would seem to be the operating attitude. Their sources in academia are even more inconsistent. To them race is socially constructed, except when its real enough to make out a legal case of racial fraud.

agnostic said...

"What does it mean to...?" Oh god, it means whatever we say it does!

Fucking arts / humanities discussion sessions drove me nuts. You just want to turn to the smartass and ask, "I dunno, what does it mean to bust a load in your face?"

Audacious Epigone said...


It's not until about 10 minutes in that it starts becoming noticeable. Thank you for the link though, that one is the one I'd wanted and demonstrates it much better. I'd remembered Steve posting on it awhile back but couldn't find it for this post.


I should've said that tautologically Barack's choice of a wife doesn't evince bucking the black male trend--he's doing the same thing that most black men do. I was kind of being a smartass. But yes, you are spot on regarding what she was getting at--black men tend to favor European facial features and ligther skin over darker women with more prominent sub-Saharan African features. That in addition to black men being nearly three times as likely to marry and five times as likely to cohabitate with white women as white men are to marry/cohabitate with black women.


Yes, amazing how race can be both a baseless social construct and yet at the same time in a more favorable context signal something groundbreakingly historic (as if every US Presidential election was something other than historic).


Hehe, I wish you'd have been in my 'practical' philosophy class.

al fin said...

It is looking more and more that the next two months will be too long for Obama's campaign to hold the motley crew together.

Obama is clearly mentally unbalanced in his need for adoration and acclaim. His campaign can protect him from the world for a while, but not indefinitely.

It is easy to see Obama and Putin alone in a room. Putin tells Obama to bend over and drop his pants. Obama then asks Putin if he wants him to also squeal like a pig. And so on.

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the Civil War, Jews comprised less than .5% of the US population."

Ah, for the gold ol' days.

rob said...

AP, this is off topic, but 'New Anon' at half sigma suggested a great eugenics marketing plan. Find Bible quotes that are pro-eugenics and sell evangelicals on it. Of whites, they're the ones who have babies already. Secular progressives and conservatives(like me) are a lost cause for reproduction anyway. We should go fishin' where the fishes is.

Audacious Epigone said...


Interesting idea I suppose. I'm reading the thing now and annotating crazily as per usual. Are you aware of a list of such biblical 'arguments' in favor of eugenics? I'll see if I've noted any.

Howard J. Harrison said...

On average, black women need to lower--not raise--their standards to snag a husband.

If any husband would do, then you would be right, but you are a better statistician than to think like that.

Are we looking at the problem from the individual's perspective or in the aggregate? The individual's perspective is unsurprising and probably does not need exploration here. In the aggregate, however, can black women not improve the quality of the pool of available black men by denying them sex before marriage? By demanding of them responsible behavior and a steady income before marriage? You write as though the quality of the pool of available black men were immutable.

Anonymous said...

Being a boyishly handsome black Canadian
lad,55,I prefer a buxom blonde,24-34,but
also almost ANY(DEFINITELY INCLUDING BLACK)voluptuous lass.However,too many
black women are fat,b***hy and rather
unfeminine in behaviour.

Anonymous said...

"Black inflection in my voice?"I speak with a braying accentfor which other blacks have criticized me for "sounding

Audacious Epigone said...


In the aggregate. But even on the individual level, it's an uphill battle. White men generally aren't attracted to black women, so black men are more or less the pool of potential mates black women have to look to. Well, a slice of the black male pool is going to white women, anoter slice is in jail, so there aren't enough black men to meet the demand of black women. As a 'hot commodity', black men thus aren't pressured to behave more nobly. It would take a collective black female effort to incentivize that, but black female 'cheaters' stand to gain a mate by refusing to hold black men to a high standard.