Whites, usually but not always liberals, tell blacks brazen lies. This is not conventional deceit in which liars try to profit from cleverly hoodwinking listeners. Nor are whites cloaking harsh reality with kind euphemisms. Rather, the mendacity is so bold and so unconcealed that the usual deterrent to lying–being exposed and punished as a fabricator–does not deter. All this open spewing of falsehoods is all the more remarkable because it occurs in a culture that, at least in principle, cherishes truth.
Consider the following examples:
In a well-publicized 2007 conference called to address lagging black academic achievement, Jack O’Connell, California’s chief of public schools, announced the gap’s true cause: Black youngsters attend churches that encourage the congregation to clap, speak loudly, and be a bit raucous–behavior deemed inappropriate in schools. According to Mr. O’Connell, if teachers take more sensitivity training to “appreciate” this learning style, African-American scores will improve. He offered no evidence linking church attendance to school performance nor, for that matter, did he have any information on how whites who attend similarly boisterous churches perform academically.
In an April 2007 National Public Radio discussion with Melinda Gates, an interviewer mentioned a Gates website statement claiming that all American youngsters possess college-relevant skills and could earn a high school diploma, and that all could then attend college. When Mrs. Gates was asked if this were really possible, she emphatically said “yes.” To emphasize the point, she told the interviewer she had recently visited a largely black and Hispanic Chicago school, and asserted that with the right teachers and expectations, 95 percent to 98 percent of the students would be going to college.
In a 2007 speech before the National Urban League, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the then-presidential candidates for offering empty platitudes about fixing the white/black achievement gap. He then offered his own solution for improving black schools: more Advanced Placement courses and programs for intellectually gifted students.
That same year, at a conference on the low academic achievement of blacks attended by many black educators, George Bush’s Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling, blithely announced that black students who were years behind in reading and math simply need more AP courses in order to catch up with whites.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, the former “education governor” of Florida, was honored in a gilded hall in an exclusive Park Avenue club, where he told an appreciative audience that Florida’s education would improve if all high school graduates attended college. That many of those already enrolled cannot do college work, except by taking dumbed-down courses or after extensive remedial work, was irrelevant. Nor did he mention that when huge numbers of black students failed Florida’s high school exit exam, “civil rights” leaders threatened to boycott the state’s lottery and its citrus industry unless standards were substantially lowered.
In 2006, when Michigan voters approved Proposition 2 banning racial preferences in higher education, the University of Michigan’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, warned that the ban would undermine the university’s intellectual excellence. She insisted that diversity makes the university a world-class institution, that affirmative action made the university fair and equal, and that abolishing preferences for blacks would lead Michigan down the path of mediocrity. In fact, the public record showed that blacks admitted under racial preferences rarely met minimal academic standards.
Less visible than public speech-making are falsehoods offered by academics or think tank scholars. Though they initially target smaller audiences, in the long run they are probably more dangerous because they put the academy’s authoritative stamp on what passes for “truth.” Even worse, these lies frequently find their way into college textbooks and thus may influence generations of impressionable college students. Professorial misrepresentation is also important, as courts increasingly rely on expert testimony when adjudicating lawsuits claiming racial discrimination in employment and education. Recall how the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education struck down school segregation by using fraudulent “research” about children’s preferences for black and white dolls.
Examples of such mendacity abound, but only a few must suffice. Michael Holzman, in a Schott Foundation-sponsored study of African-American students in Chicago, blamed insufficient access to tough high-school courses to explain a 63 percent dropout rate. According to the report, black students were unable to achieve proficiency in math because they were denied access to advanced algebra and other AP math subjects, so naturally they left school prematurely. It never seemed to occur to Mr. Holzman that if students who were struggling with arithmetic were required to take advanced algebra, let alone AP algebra, the dropout rate might be even higher.
Linking black academic failure to inadequate educational resources has evolved into a bogus yet almost universally embraced Scientific Truth. If there were a Mendacity Hall of Fame, this “how can they learn when the toilets are broken” argument would have its own wing. Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, “everybody knows” that blacks do poorly on standardized tests, fail to graduate, and must take remedial courses if they get into college only because wealthy white suburban schools outspend inner city schools. This assertion is easily disproven with readily available statistics, and it has been repeatedly shown that dramatically increased spending has virtually no effect on test scores. None of this has undermined this counterfeit Scientific Truth. In fact, in a bizarre twisting of logic, it is sometimes argued that no matter how much money is spent on blacks, they will perform inadequately if some whites somewhere get more. According to this thinking, if white schools are defunded black scores will soar.
Just as popular is the totally false assertion that there is a zero connection between race and cognitive ability. Forget about hundreds of studies demonstrating lower average black IQ. The Bell Curve and similar carefully documented books never existed. Just like children who conflate “ought” with “is,” it is alleged that since a difference in mental capacity is bad, it cannot exist. Mary Frasier, an expert in “gifted” education is blunt: “There is no logical reason to expect that the number of minority students would not be proportional to their representation in the general population.” Our friend, California schools chief Jack O’Connell, is even blunter. The race gap in performance, he says, is “absolutely, positively not genetic.”
Elsewhere, lies about equal intelligence are covered with iffy, convoluted explanations that convince only true believers. Stanley Pogrow, a well-published professor of educational leadership (yes, that is the name of his discipline) tells us that “at-risk students [i.e., blacks and Hispanics] have tremendous levels of intellectual and academic potential,” and that “disadvantaged students are as capable of abstract thought as anyone.” What holds them back is that “the adults in their lives simply do not model thinking processes for them.” The culprit is child-rearing styles. White parents have discussions with their children and use lots of words, while blacks just issue orders and use few words. Black children therefore arrive at school at an intellectual disadvantage.
Professor Pogrow ignores the fact that poor whites often have higher IQs than black children from professional families where, we might assume, parents use a richer vocabulary. The professor similarly seems oblivious to the possibility that limited vocabulary just reflects low IQ, and that attempts to expand vocabulary are therefore doomed. Nor does he seem worried by the evidence that blacks do especially poorly on IQ test items that require abstract reasoning. And why do Head Start and Sesame Street vocabulary-building programs fail to uplift blacks?
To be fair, Professor Pogrow should not be singled out. He is just part of an industry whose purpose is to concoct spurious, often ad hoc explanations for black/white academic differences, all swathed in academic jargon. Favorite excuses include poor diet and nutrition, exposure to lead paint and car exhaust, inadequate health care, culturally incompetent white teachers, overcrowded classrooms, racially discriminatory school discipline, black disdain for fellow blacks who “act white,” Eurocentric textbooks, low teacher expectations, parental indifference, insufficient pre-school, an anti-intellectual culture, family instability, the absence of black role models, too many inexperienced teachers and, of course, the pervasive white racism that mysteriously debilitates young blacks well before kindergarten. None of these has withstood scientific scrutiny but all survive as if they were Scientific Laws.
One of the most devious (and seldom recognized) academically instigated lies is based on a purposely misleading research design “to demonstrate” that with proper schooling blacks can perform at the white level. Here’s how the charade works. First, a largely black school is showered with resources: a longer school day, exceptionally dedicated teachers, incentives such as trips to theme parks, a “white” curriculum stressing basics, along with other advantages not found in typical minority schools.
The KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools are the favorite example. They typically run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with instruction every other Saturday and classes in the summer, with the result that KIPP students spend about 60 percent more time in class than other students. They are subject to strict classroom discipline, and KIPP requires a formal commitment from families. When test scores approach white levels, it’s Eureka: “See, if we just try hard enough the achievement gaps disappears.”
This claim is false over and above the well-known problems of self-selection and retention bias (students who sign up for the rigors of KIPP are not typical minorities from typical minority families, and the ones that make it through are even less typical). Nor, given the huge pressures to raise black and Hispanic performance, can one entirely rule out the possibility of inflated grading or outright cheating.
The technically correct approach to a comparison of this kind would be to give a white school identical resources and then compare outcomes, while doing nothing extra for typical black and white schools that would serve as controls. It is entirely possible that after 60 percent more instruction the racial test scores gaps at the two experimental schools would be even greater than at the controls. However, one thing is certain: Unless a white school gets the same treatment, the bump in performance among black students says nothing about closing the racial gap. Any decently trained researcher will recognize the methodological flaws here, but America’s yearning to close gaps encourages blindness.
There is another variation on this lie-by-faulty-design. It is to take small gains among blacks and statistically project them into the future so as to “predict” the eventual disappearance of the race-related gap in learning.
Why all the lying?
What can possibly explain this parade of deliberate falsehoods, deceits that crumble upon even cursory inspection? I am not a psychic but let me broach some possibilities.
First, by contradicting plain-to-see reality, the liar publicly embraces a black political agenda that overflows with self-esteem-boosting misinformation. Indeed, the bolder the racial untruth uttered by a white, the higher the moral ground he gains. When Melinda Gates insisted that 98 percent of all blacks should attend college, she achieved instant civil-rights sainthood. This honor would not be forthcoming if she had been more reasonable and said that every intellectually talented African American–perhaps the smartest 25 percent–should give college a try.
Jeb Bush’s promise to get every black into college is tantamount to saying to them: “Trust me. I will, by hook or crook, bestow college diplomas on those who can barely crawl onto a college campus.” Mr. Bush’s tactic is actually rational. After all, what does it take to follow a fast-changing, often befuddled racial party line? Who can best sniff out the zigs and zags of ever-shifting politically correct realities? A pathological liar, obviously. Perhaps next year Mr. Bush will announce a program to guarantee every black a high-paying executive job.
This strategy works equally well whether the aim is to please black voters or to elect the next president of the American Sociology Association. The habitual truth-teller is the uncontrollable Wild Man in today’s racial politics. When a choice must be made, always elect the cravenly dishonest; he is always the most dutiful ally in today’s politically correct times.
There is even a Darwinian benefit to open lying; it promotes group solidarity. If 2 + 2 = 5 is the official orthodoxy, then standing before a crowd and enthusiastically proclaiming 2 + 2 = 5 is the rite de passage to separate the faithful from non-believers.
Self-debasement is probably a mechanism hard-wired into human evolution as a way to submit to the group. In outlaw motorcycle gangs, for example, some initiation rituals require prospective members to lie on the floor in full regalia while members urinate on them. In some gangbanger initiations the members surround new recruits and beat them bloody. In politics, candidates for public office seeking black votes must solemnly tell civil rights groups that closing the racial gap is not just possible; it is America’s highest educational priority. With a few dishonest utterances, the candidate “joins the program,” and if he repeats them often enough, he may actually come to believe them.
Deliberate lying is also useful for softening unwelcome news–armor for the bad news messenger, so to speak. It is impossible to dwell honestly on current black realities in today’s intellectual climate, so falsehoods can sugarcoat bitter pills. This is hardly new. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s infamous 1965 report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” about soaring illegitimacy among blacks, gratuitously claimed that “there is absolutely no question of any genetic differential: intelligence potential is distributed among Negro infants in the same proportion and pattern as among Icelanders or Chinese or any other group.” He provided no evidence for this false claim, which he no doubt hoped would be his “Get Out of Jail Free” card to keep him from being pilloried for mentioning black pathology.
A cynic might add that flagrant, flattering lies help manage black unruliness; they are just one more item in the keep-them-mollified package of public jobs, affirmative action, set asides, gerrymandered minority-majority election districts, and school textbooks portraying Timbuktu as a center of great scholarship. When Mayor Bloomberg announces that struggling African Americans trailing their white classmates in arithmetic could excel if only their schools offered AP math, he is assuring blacks that they are smart enough to master calculus. The same is true for the endlessly repeated dishonest calls to pour yet more science-education money into schools with large black enrollments because America’s future depends on mobilizing every ounce of our scientific talent, especially African Americans. In other words, blacks are potential rocket scientists but just lack the opportunity to display this talent.
Outrageous fabrications could even be socially acceptable expressions of contempt. Imagine a candidate for office who privately believes blacks are stupid but is nevertheless required to grovel before the NAACP. Angry at being forced into this demeaning act, he offers up one barefaced lie after another. In effect, he insults the group’s intelligence by telling them that “everyone knows” tests like the SAT are culturally biased and that redneck cops love to arrest innocent blacks. The more the audience laps this up, the better the speaker feels. Later that night he can tell his wife that blacks are so stupid they actually believed all the nonsense he told them! What appears to be self-debasement is transformed into an ego-saving expression of contempt via mountains of dishonest baloney. Conning the audience sustains the speaker’s self-respect.
Finally, lying about blacks can be a cheap ticket to media attention, given the mainstream’s hunger for “good news” on race–or even just repackaged statements of orthodoxy. Academics hankering for their 15 minutes of fame may be particularly vulnerable. Years ago, one reasonably accomplished but still obscure Ivy League professor of my acquaintance suddenly embraced the “white racism is the mother of all evil” doctrine and, voilà, he rose from obscurity.
I personally know a distinguished historian long famous for her “conservative” views on education. She recently did a total about-face, asserting, among other dubious claims, that racial differences in academic achievement were entirely the result of poverty. This new-found “liberal” view brought immense favorable media attention and countless speaking engagements.
You may recall Richard Nisbett’s book, Intelligence and How to Get It. In an instant, a once unheard-of University of Michigan psychology professor became the darling of the New York Times and its op-ed columnists by boldly asserting that “genes account for none of the difference in IQ between blacks and whites.” Not only is this statement empirically false (and Prof. Nisbett probably knows it) but the Times refused to print a detailed rejoinder from Philippe Ruston and Arthur Jensen, two of the world’s most eminent experts on genes and IQ.
Ambitious academics quickly grasp that lying about race is usually the best strategy for getting public and private research grants. Fundraising and the publications that result from it are greatly rewarded in academia, and the notorious liberal bias in grant awards is an open invitation to dishonesty. Race realism usually means pessimism and unkind words. This all too easily becomes “racism,” and few government agencies or private foundations would risk funding a “racist” project. A savvy professor interested in, say, early childhood intervention, is well advised to cherry pick past successes and minimize arguments that suggest hereditary factors in intelligence. No government bureaucrat wants to be interrogated by a Congressional Black Caucus member on why his agency approved a study showing that low black IQ limited academic performance. It is best to remain silent on racial unpleasantness, take the money, and run.
Illustrations and explanations can surely be multiplied but several things are clear. First, as far as I can tell, no white, particularly no prominent figure or distinguished academic, has ever been criticized publicly for race-related lies that flatter blacks. Liars of the correct ideological stripe enjoy diplomatic immunity. Moreover, I suspect that nearly all white voters understand this lying game and grudgingly accept it. I cannot recollect a single white office-seeker being defeated because he kowtowed to blacks by misrepresenting reality.
Jack O’Connell’s call for boosting test scores by requiring teachers to appreciate boisterous black church behavior probably drew endless private laughs, but nobody demanded a recall election on the grounds that his “analysis” demonstrated gross incompetence. No University of Michigan professor in his right mind would openly dispute Mary Sue Coleman’s ridiculous claim that black academic deficiencies were an institutional asset. Her falsehood no doubt solidified her campus position.
One also suspects that this lying by whites is consistent with a widespread, but almost never publicly acknowledged view that blacks are particularly gullible on the subject of race. We can imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s speech writers almost subconsciously gravitated to a pleasing fantasy: “These people will believe anything, so let’s pull out all the stops.” His speech writers would be far more careful if Mayor Bloomberg were to address a convention of largely white media executives. Can you imagine him extolling racial diversity as a way to boost corporate profits?
The idea that whites and blacks differ in their appreciation of truth may be so deeply ingrained in our culture that many whites believe that hoodwinking African Americans is a snap. Given the risks of speaking the truth, deception becomes an irresistible lure. Of course, blacks are not the only ones who are easily duped. Whitney Tilson, who is white, is a director of an influential pressure group within the Democratic Party called Democrats for Education Reform. He heaped praise on Mayor Bloomberg’s speech and said he hoped some Democrat would have “the guts–and the wisdom–to give a speech on education like this one!”
An interesting question is whether blacks believe the lies whites tell them. My guess is that that most blacks don’t, but they enjoy hearing them anyhow. Pleasing, white-supplied dissimulation is a form of cheap therapy. But if you judge blacks by their behavior–their preference for white lawyers and doctors in high-stakes situations, a steadfast belief in the benefits of racial integration, the black male penchant for marrying lighter-skinned black women–many blacks must have private doubts about current orthodoxy.
Even so, they doubtless enjoy the spectacle of whites, especially prominent whites, lying to please them. It’s a power trip. A black audience may know perfectly well that offering AP calculus will not reverse high drop-out rates, but it must bring great pleasure to witness the high and mighty Secretary of Education make this sham claim. At least at that moment, black power becomes a reality.
The bottom line is that the obstacles against frankness about race are nearly insurmountable. For whites, lying has no costs, and has the benefit of keeping blacks happy. Telling the truth offers no benefits but has great risks. The debate is also rigged–blatant falsehoods favorable to blacks go unchallenged while negative assessments almost always require impossible-to-satisfy scientific proof. The truth is supposed to set you free, but at least in this case, it sets you free from your job. Just ask Trent Lott, James Watson, and many others. Distinguished academics who care about the truth receive death threats, have their lectures disrupted, and are investigated for hate speech.
The real losers when whites lie are, of course, blacks who are shielded from an awkward reality. This is classic killing with kindness. Imagine if Mayor Bloomberg spoke honestly to the Urban League and implored black leaders to insist upon school discipline, tough standards, and inculcating a strong work ethic among black students instead of blaming failure on the lack of AP courses. This is sound advice and perhaps his listeners would privately recognize its wisdom, but such frankness would have been a PR catastrophe. Black listeners would feel obligated to denounce the mayor as a racist. Mr. Bloomberg may be a liar but he is not a fool.
In a nutshell, whites lie about race because it is rational, and craven rationality will nearly always trump idealistic truth seeking. It is a matter of incentives: liars are rewarded, truth-tellers punished. Both whites and blacks are equally guilty in this infatuation with mendacity, though for different reasons. When all is said and done, dishonesty makes perfect sense in a society where keeping the racial peace is paramount, and no one cares about really curing anybody’s pathologies or scoring points as a truth teller.
Diogenes of Sinope, the man who went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, was loathed by his fellow Greeks. He lived in poverty and was eventually captured by pirates and sold into slavery.