Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Acting White: Come On, People.

I have followed Bill Cosby’s efforts to, in his words, ‘shake-up’ black people, most recently in his book, “Come On, People” and I have listened to his detractors to understand their disagreements with him, his content and/or his approach. In all of the conversations, the point that comes home for me is the emotional magnitude of the problem and the desperation of everyone to light the match of change, including the efforts of veteran wise men turned author duo of Cosby and Alvin Poussaint M.D., noted Harvard Professor of Psychiatry.

Indeed the magnitude is great, but for many, Cosby’s dramatic presentation is too easily minimized and derided, in the same way people are admonished for seeing a glass as half empty, rather than half full. For my own perspective, I have tried to quantify the magnitude of current black plight in America. Using the National Urban League’s equality index (.73) as the starting point, the tally for black disparity-of-result in all measures of living, including housing, education, employment, and wealth, is enormous. Using census data, the bill that matches black disparity comes to over $440 billion dollars per year - or more than the total yearly gross domestic product (GDP) of all of Sub-Sahara Africa.

I appreciate Dr. Cosby‘s willingness to use Poussaint’s expertise to back-up his words, be it as the creator of “America’s Favorite Dad”, Cliff Huxtable, or as black America’s straight-talking “Daddy-Moses”, attempting to lead his people from the depths. With Poussaint’s help, Cosby has challenged many misconceptions of blackness, but no amount of artistry can, nor should it ever try to, hide the pain quantified in a $1.2 billion per day loss of participation of African-Americans. That’s $30 per day loss GDP for every black man, woman, and child!

The monetary cost are mind-boggling, but of course it really is not about the money but rather the human toll. On one side you have blacks suffering all the negative emotional and physical affects of not achieving that which seems so achievable, as shown by the top quartile of the group. On the opposite side there is a growing feeling that enough accommodation has been ceded. Two angles, each with its own validity.

So when Cosby shows frustration, or indignation at people who refuse to see, hear, or acknowledge the problems they face, he is representing an entire community. Specifically he reflects wise, frustrated, aged black men, regardless of the protestations of those who are uncomfortable with the 'airing'. The unfortunate truth is that team Cosby, or others for that matter, cannot solve this problem alone. The whole country must dig deep to be part of the solution, and the first thing we must swallow is our embarrassment and resentment over the living, breathing proof of complicity. And while we work hard to accept those disparities before us as ultimately our own, perhaps we can also work as hard to avoid the tendency to want to shoot the much-needed messenger.

James C. Collier


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Acting White: Dr. Watson and the PC Police

I’ll say again that I can recognize DNA discoverer James Watson’s contribution as a scientist while disagreeing with things he says. His words of a few days ago regarding black intelligence relative to whites, however incorrect and misguided in part they might be, do not erase the immense benefit that people, including blacks, have received from his achievements.

My greater concern here is that the vehement reaction to his comments, while effectively silencing this old loose cannon, does a greater detriment to the required discussion of genetics, intelligence and the public policy that naturally follows. The closets that geneticist, along with the people who need to understand them, are further driven into just became a little deeper.

From the discussions I have participated in on the subject, Watson’s comments reflect the unspoken beliefs of many in the scientific and professional community – but all I hear is public denial, which is utter BS. It is the rare scientist who can stand up and say these beliefs, for fear of losing their appointment. So how then are we to have a proper debate? How do we identify the point when good science spins off into racism? Instead the discussion happens behind closed doors, often one-sided, only to become whispering at cocktail parties, and ultimately half-baked ‘unspoken’ policy.

Furthermore, I have learned to holster my automatic race card against the mere mention of genetics and IQ disparities. Instead, I attempt to identify what science does and does not really know about the subjects and to gage when discussions have jumped into ‘wishful’ thinking, lacking a proven base. At these deviations, I use knowledge and debate skills versus accusations and threats, in an attempt to return to firm ground. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.

While I do not agree with Dr. Watson in many areas, I want him and others to be able to say what they think with only the fear of scientific correctness in their eyes. This is miles better that the emotion, real and/or faked, of people who are either fearfully ignorant of the state of the science, or worse, pretending to believe and support one position, while harboring and pursuing something totally the opposite.

James C. Collier


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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Scientist's Remarks on Blacks Cause Furor

Scientist's Remarks on Blacks Cause Furor - WP

Furor indeed! I’m incensed. Well, maybe not that mad, but I’m still pretty po’d. How could one of my boyhood heroes say such a stupid thing. After all, the discovery of DNA, the instruction set to the human body, was revolutionary to human science and defined my ninth grade experience, 36 years ago.

But wait a minute, the emeritus Watson is 79 and prone to say stupid things for quite some time. Now I can recall that my Dad said some pretty crazy things prior to and certainly once he got into his seventies. In fact, once I know a person is beyond seventy, I expect them to say crazy things. Additionally, if that person is front-loaded with a Nobel, I know that I am likely to hear some serious contradiction.

At his age, Watson can easily confuse the world he started in and the one that is about to consume him. He can do this daily, weekly, or monthly, until he takes his last breath, and particularly when someone sticks a microphone in his face or quotes him for publication. I think the people who care for and depend on him should have better judgment in what circumstances he is placed.

It makes sense that Watson is not claiming to be misquoted, but rather simply cannot understand, with refection, how he could say the things attributed to him. It is called senility people. Get ready; it is coming for all of us.

To be clear, Watson’s statement on black v. white intelligence was better left for a proper debate on testing validity. He is revisionist on his assumed equality in ‘white’ social policies of the past or present. Leading countries have continually sought and exploited disparities of less advanced groups at every turn.

But let’s save our energy for leading science, and properly ignore this old man who has contributed much. Hopefully his caretakers will begin to do a better job. I felt the same way when Andrew Young derailed on Korean store owners in Atlanta a while back. We will all eventually get to a place where we say stupid things. We can only hope that we have something of equal or greater value to offset the inevitable symptoms of the ravages of time.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Acting White: NPR News & Notes II

NPR’s News and Notes invited me to appear on their bloggers roundtable for the second time this past week. The link to the show is here. We discussed track Olympian Marion Jones and her troubles with the authorities related to her admission to the use of performance enhancing drugs. We also talked about the issues around using the term Hispanic versus Latino to described people of recent Central and South American origin. There was also a topic we did not get to, wherein a poll revealed that white kids are significantly happier than minority kids in their young lives.

Like my earlier blog, I came out recognizing that prohibiting drugs that authorities do not know exist is nonsensical. Going further, there are some who believe that inasmuch as the competitive arenas encourage athletes to place their bodies under extraordinary stress, they should not be denied enhancement. This is analogous to taking caffeine when your boss requests a double-shift.

The Hispanic versus Latino debate is more complex. Both terms are of European origin and preference is really dependent on age, socio-economic status, country of origin, and current locale. The reality is that the central and southern Americas were populated by people from around the globe who then intermixed, and there is no practical one-size-fits-all name that works. Oh well.

The topic we missed was, perhaps, the most interesting in that the very nature of a happiness disparity invites conclusions of wrongdoing, but I remain skeptical. Curiously the happiness disparity lines up with high school graduation disparities, test disparities, skills disparities, wage disparities, and health and longevity disparities. Sure, racism is a factor, but my research consistently reveals other factors as driving these disparities, largely pertaining to behaviors reaching back thousands of years to individual and group locations of ethnic origin (LEO). But this is a topic for a book.

James C. Collier


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Friday, October 05, 2007

Acting White: Justice Clarence Thomas

I watched a replay of the 60 Minutes interview of Clarence Thomas yesterday, on YouTube , and continue to find the man as perplexing as ever. When I hear him repeat that senior Bush selected him to succeed Thurgood Marshall because he was the most qualified candidate, I nearly fall out of my chair - again. He continues to ignore the bevy of Black jurists that had more than barely one year under their robes as judges, as well as legal experience and pedigree’s far surpassing his own.

Anyway, what is really worth talking about here is, as WP columnist Eugene Robinson said, not about how little the public thinks of Thomas, but rather how little he thinks of himself. It is very sad that he cannot reconcile the many twists and turns of his own life in getting where he is today, and how this should inform his role as a judge.

The idea that affirmative action (AA) needs to be overhauled so that more of the historically disadvantaged, including blacks, are benefited does not erase efforts of those, like Thomas (and me included) who more selectively benefited from the program, worts and all. He forgets that just a short time before he was helped by AA, blacks more qualified than he were denied education, purely on the basis of race.

I submit that his difficulty getting a job out of law school likely had more to do with him, personally, than with bigotry. He may have believed his Yale degree would get him the red-carpet treatment, but that was his miscalculation of society, not a failing of AA. Did AA take his exams? Did it sit for the bar in his place? Did it make his Yale classmates or professors go easy on him? Perhaps, but this was not my graduate school experience. The truth is there are too many AA dropouts wandering about for anyone to think that the program did more than push people, some ready some not, through a door previously closed. AA was a band-aid to the boiling-point problems of the 1960's, and is long overdue for replacement with more thoughtful programs.

Thomas takes out his personal bitterness, for not being likable, on his past. He does this in crude fashion that reveals an emotional ‘chip’ so large it disqualifies his position on the court. I contend that it further compromises his judgment, in addition to his contemptuous treatment of precedence set in case law. Staking out the most conservative position on the court is nothing more than creating a safe and formulaic place where he avoids the distinguishing challenge of his own and the country's internal conflicts, which any good jurists must learn to navigate while administering the law.

The only reason his law degree is worth $0.15 is that he needs this to be true to justify, in his mind, the Republican stripes he desperately donned in order to hop onto Senator J.Danforth's coattails, and ultimately onto the high court.

James C. Collier


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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Marion Jones Admits to Steroid Use

Marion Jones Admits to Steroid Use - WP

My quick take on Marion Jones’ admission to taking performance-enhancing drugs is this – the ability to detect the substance at stake, ‘the clear’, and therefore to plausibly attempt to keep it out of sports, was not possible until after it was in service and proven effective. So what is the point of prohibition?

The athletes at the top of their respective sports have the most resources and most to gain from research and usage, illicit or not, of new drugs. The medals that are won and records that are broken are the most likely outcomes influenced by these continuously-in-development drugs, not yet detectable by authorities. So again, I ask, what is the point of prohibition?

People have always risked injury, and even premature death, for the spot light and its rewards. Banning drugs after the fact only catches those who slack on the latest technology, or do not possess the judgment to exit their game on top.

For the record, I am against these drugs because they are untested and unsafe, and young people follow the behavior of these athletes. But the current prohibition does nothing to limit use or the encouragement that follows, and we should recognize this.

Catching people in lies, and punishing them after the fact, presumes some sort of honor system is in place, and this is simply not true, and never has been.

James C. Collier


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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Acting White: Rule of Law

I have been scratching my head over how utterly different are the viewpoints coming out of the Jena Six trial, depending on the skin-color leading the discussion. The majority of blacks, but not all, believe that the defendants should go free, while the majority of whites, again, not all, believe the defendants should be tried at least as juveniles, and potentially as adults. Like the prosecutor in the case, whites also discount the seriousness of the three nooses as the accelerant to the events.

In stepping back from the emotion of the situation, I believe we are in a modern-day confrontation, in part, from the social remains of a disparity in the development and assimilation of the rule of law, as practiced by black and white, dating back thousands of years to both Africa and Europe.

The rule of law can be simply described as the evolving set of rules, or laws, that a society utilizes to govern its citizens with the goal of enhancing social trust, a key ingredient in advancement and competitiveness. The current World Bank index for the rule-of-law closely correlates to a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), level of technology development, and overall industrial ranking and economic strength.

African-American attitudes predictably reflect the influence of evolutionary rule-of-law progress of their locations of ethnic origin (LEO), that being the region of West Africa. By the measurements of the World Bank, West African countries rank, with exception, at the trailing edge of countries advancing via the rule of law. So even as we include for racism as a factor, it still turns out that the greater influence for black progress is a propensity to simply view laws and their benefit differently, with greater influence from historical Africa.

By example, just days ago I was admonished by Eddie Griffin, a black blogger of note, as acting white, because I disagreed, pertaining to Jena, with Mychal Bell’s alleged use of lethal force as a reasonable response to the indignity of a noose hanging over a tree. I suggest that it is our different notions of the rule of law that give encouragement to Mr. Griffin and others to believe it is reasonable to knock someone unconscious over an indignity, and especially one of this magnitude. My assimilation of a majority-influenced implementation of the rule of law, in his mind, makes me more white than black, and a form of enemy. I now understand his perspective.

Griffin’s accusation, similar to Reverend Jackson's accusation to Senator Obama, makes my point most clearly. I am a minority in a country governed by a constitution largely of European ancestry. The standard of behavior, regardless of my preference, is influenced, but not set by me or my history, and any insistence over the democratic majority and their influence will reasonably meet resistance. On average, I believe the rule-of-law works to the benefit of black progress, as does first amendment protection of free speech, and we cannot carve out behavior as outside its jurisdiction when it suits us, even as we rightly press for its impartial application in cases such as Jena.

This is some part of what is going on here.

James C. Collier

Addendum: The Trouble with Jena’s Six


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