What Did Elvis Know?

In Wednesday’s (8/24/2011) USA Today paper a writer proposed something interesting. She said,


Image by Melody Campbell via Flickr

The upcoming dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on Sunday — the 48th anniversary of King’s epochal “I Have a Dream” speech — provides us with a precious opportunity to consider how far we have moved toward that dream and how much we have left to accomplish. Our progress is substantial and undeniable, yet the distance to the goal can seem daunting at times. One step that we must take on this journey is to end the atavistic practice of identifying people by racial group.

I remember the precise moment when I decided that I would never check the race box again.

Her idea immediately appealed to me. Yes, why can’t we all be one big happy tribe, now that the Civil Rights era has achieved King’s dream? Sounds good. Then I did some research and some thinking, in that order, and I changed my mind. The following comments from a PBS discussion on the issue are, I submit, germane to understanding the issues. (Any emphasis is mine.)

The one statistic that best captures the state of racial inequality in America today is wealth, or net worth. Add up everything you own, subtract all your debts, and that’s your net worth. Today, the average white family has eight times the net worth of the average Black family. That difference has grown since the 1960s, and is not explained by other factors like education, earnings rates, and savings rates. It’s really the legacy of racial inequality from generations past. No other measure captures the cumulative disadvantage of race, or cumulative advantage of race for Whites, than net worth or wealth.
Economists have shown that 50 to 80 percent of our lifetime wealth accumulation is attributable, in one way or another, to past generations.  The house, the Lexus, the big bank account – these aren’t just the pot of gold at the end of game, they’re also the starting point for the next generation. Until we address the underlying inequalities and structures that advantage whites at the expense of other groups, we’re stuck with this paradoxical idea of a colorblind society that is totally unequal by color.

Why are there such different understandings of the “difference that race makes?” It is partly due to the fact that many Americans – especially white Americans – are deeply invested in the idea that individuals (or groups of individuals) are solely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus they attribute success or failure solely to a person’s “effort,” “culture,” or “values.” Perhaps if all Americans were to engage in a more concrete, historically informed discussion about “opportunity” and “achievement” in the U.S., including the role that institutions have played (and continue to play) in shaping people’s lives, we might have a very different understanding of “race” and its implications.

Perhaps opponents of racial equality embrace colorblindness because eliminating race consciousness conveniently eliminates accountability for white supremacy. Witness the latest Ward Connerly incarnation in California: the so-called “Racial Privacy Initiative” that would eliminate collection of statistics that use racial categories. This “colorblind” initiative would relieve the state of any accountability for racial disadvantage.

Other people have thought deeply about the racial colorblindness issue as well. In fact, I found a Wikipedia page devoted to it. Embedded in it was this statement:

Insistence on no reference to race, critics argue, means black people can no longer point out the racism they face.

I see two principal truths in the material here. One is that people don’t start out even in life. Just as Isaac Newton acknowledged that he benefitted greatly from learned people who had gone before him, the accumulation of inheritable wealth confers significant advantage to members of specific families and classes of people. Some, because of wealth or relative wealth, have more stable upbringings, better nutrition, better habits and better education. The other is that ignoring prejudice not only won’t eliminate it, it would probably make the problem worse.

I believe that racism is natural to human beings because we evolved socially in small tribes. Tribalism is, or at least was, a positive evolutionary survival factor – there is comfort and safety in having help in shared knowledge and food-gathering, hunting and in mutual defense. Seems self-evident to me.

Certainly, the Civil Rights movement has brought progress and I see much evidence in life and in the press of racial mixing all over the world. Even in Finland, I note in a recent Smithsonian article on Finnish education that children of all races, including Somali, are being successfully integrated into their society. I even see mixed couples in Joplin where such would have been an outrage when I was a boy. Worth noting too is the success of the U.S. Armed forces in providing a job structure of equality, regardless of race. For my own part, as a boy from a blue collar family I might never have had a college education but for the Navy.

But prejudice will not go away easily. I am prompted to recall an incident involving my wife. We were living in a suburb of Boston during my last duty tour in the Navy and she had decided to look for some part time office work. She was interviewed by an M.D. for an office assistant position. He took one look at her resume’ and said he would not be hiring her. “Why not?”, she asked. “Well, I see that you are from Virginia. People from the South are slow.” And that was that. This is a true story.

When I drill down to basics in the current rhubarb between the Democrats and the Republicans, I see class warfare, of which race is but one component. At the risk of generalizing, Republicans generally wish to retain and enhance the advantages that their wealth has accumulated for them over the generations. Democrats crave what the Republicans already have, and they want as many obstacles removed from their path as possible. There is much demagogic rhetoric on both sides, and there is abuse of conduct on both sides, but it boils down to class warfare – so far mostly nonviolent, thanks to the like of MLK. He deserves his statue, in my opinion. And by the way, I am going to continue to check the race block. Maybe someday we will all be one tribe, but we’ve got a long way to go.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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34 Responses to What Did Elvis Know?

  1. John Erickson says:

    I definitely agree with you on the Elvis front. It’s as much about negative lessons learned in childhood as it is economic starting point. The ghetto child “learns how to steal and fight” because that’s what he sees others do. The suburban child learns to go to college because that’s what he sees others do. College attendance is very low in this little corner of Ohio. It’s not that the people are stupid or poor – the gent across the street is blue-collar through and through, works for the railroad, and never went to college – yet he has new vehicles for both the wife and he, lives in a nice house, and fiddles with a ’66 Mustang that he has poured tens of thousands of dollars into making a race car, which he then drives for about 15 minutes two weekends per month.
    I don’t know what the cure is – I was the first of my family, including my older sister, to go to college, so I “broke the mold”. Short of socialised education, I don’t know how to put that same “mold-breaking” into a usable package for delivery to the ghetto, especially as the successful tend to flee, leaving behind only negative reinforcement.
    “The following comments from a PBS discussion on the issue are, I submit, GERMANE to understanding the issues.” I thought we were trying to take race out of the discussion – what do the Germans have to do with anything? 😀 (Boo, hiss! I know, WEAK!)


    • John Erickson says:

      Er… my point about my neighbor is he is both well-off enough financially and intelligent enough to have offspring capable of college, yet none of the kids from either of his marriages have gone, though there is one more chance.
      See, kids? This is what happens when you do drugs. A couple Vicodin for a miserable headache, and I completely forget about …. forget about … what was I saying? D’oh! 😀


  2. ansonburlingame says:


    A difficult subject for sure. But just look at what you did. You wrote a racial blog. Essentially with your 8/1 statistic related to net worth, you made a racial comparison, did you not? So any thoughts about your blog will contain racial comments. Such is unavoidable to respond to such a blog, is it not?

    But while being “racial” in this comment I “drill down” a little lower.

    A newspaper reports a murder and says the suspect fled somewhere. Today it rarely notes the color of the skin of the suspect. Why not? Does not skin color help the public to identify the suspect?

    Next I observe in your own “drilling down” you come to the startling conclusion that the divide between Dems and Reps today is class warfare. To me it takes a very short drill bit to make that observation. I would call it almost a self evident truth in today’s political America.

    Now for your classifications. I wonder what is meant in your 8/1 statistic by the term “white”? Frankly I am not sure what “white” means anymore. Is a “white” American one whose ancestors “came over on the Mayflower” or at least were of English descent? Are Italians or Irish “white” today? I also wonder how the net worth of Blacks to Hispanics compares today?

    I wonder how Union Workers net worth compares to non-union workers, but JUST the “white” union workers to start with?

    We all know the net worth difference between “poor” and “rich” and the numbers of “poor” are now and have always been a huge disparity, just in the numbers alone. I wonder how many Blacks constitute the “poor” as opposed to the Hispanic, white, Italian, Irish, etc. I am sure those numbers would tell us “something” but I am not sure exactly what the information will mean.

    Now I can really “light your fire” with this personal observation (along with HLG). Obviously, I have been a member of AA for about 12 years now as revealed in other comments in your blogs. I consider it a very good and beneficial program to help alcoholics. Those that seek the program and stick to it do much better in treating that disease than real alcoholics that pay no attention to or outright reject AA.

    But in my experince I would guess that the ratio of “white” AA members to black ones is somewhere in the range of 100/1. And I have been to AA meetings all over the country. Maybe I just go to “white” meetings in AA but they for sure are not advertised as such and there are zero racial barriers or economic barriers or any other barriers related to attendance at such meetings ANYWHERE.

    Here is another one to think about. Pick say 1960 and determin e however possible to ratio “white” middle class people and Black middle class people. Then do the same thing for 2011. I wonder if the ratio has changed and what that may tell us if it has changed. I also wonder so what unless we “drill down” into yet another racial argument or discussion.

    I we keep us with this discussion we well go back to “Clem” and whoever your Civil War redneck was a few months ago.



  3. Jim Wheeler says:

    Indeed, Anson, race is the topic, and as we saw on the EC’s REL post, it is arguably the most controversial topic we have discussed among our little group – at least in the time I have participated. I did pause to reflect before writing it, wondering whether I really wanted to stir things up by doing so. But, I decided to go ahead because of the MLK statue’s unveiling next Sunday and because my own reaction to the USA Today article’s suggestion interested me. As I said in the post, the notion of a colorblind society is at first very appealing, but then I realized that it was appealing because as a white person, racial prejudice has not been a direct factor in my personal life. Life would be less upsetting, in other words, if it weren’t complicated by people arguing and even rioting over the matter.

    You said,

    A newspaper reports a murder and says the suspect fled somewhere. Today it rarely notes the color of the skin of the suspect. Why not? Does not skin color help the public to identify the suspect?

    I have wondered about that too. Perhaps Carol or somebody else can answer because I am only able to speculate, but my guess is that the media are sensitive to the possibility of inflaming societal prejudice. As a white person I wouldn’t object to a criminal being characterized by color, but if I were black and had thus been subject to overt prejudicial treatment, I think I would be resentful to be categorized with a criminal because of my color. Also, racial lynchings without benefit of formal trial are still within the memory of many of us, are they not?

    You ask, what is meant by “white”? In doing some of my research I came across some material about the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th century and found that many went so far as to define what that meant. The Wikipedia entry on Race in the U.S. had this interesting note:

    During and after Reconstruction, after the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War, in the effort to restore white supremacy in the South, conservative whites began to classify anyone with “one drop” of “black blood”, or known African ancestry, to be black. Such a legal definition was not put into law until the 20th century in most southern states, but many established racial segregation of facilities during the Jim Crow era, after white Democrats regained control of state legislatures in the South.

    There were also these:

    In 1958 Robert Stuckert produced a statistical analysis using historical census data and immigration statistics. He concluded that the growth in the White population could not be attributed to births in the White population and immigration from Europe alone, but also from a significant contribution from the American Black population as well. He concluded that at the time, 21 percent of white Americans had some recent African (or African-American) ancestors. He also concluded that the majority of Americans of African descent were partly white and not entirely black.


    The Race, Ethnicity, and Genetics Working Group of the National Genome Research Institute notes that “although genetic analyses of large numbers of loci can produce estimates of the percentage of a person’s ancestors coming from various continental populations, these estimates may assume a false distinctiveness of the parental populations, since human groups have exchanged mates from local to continental scales throughout history.”

    Now, how does the above material about what “white” means apply to your question about the 1:8 ratio of net worth between blacks and whites? I submit that if you look white and classify yourself as white, it matters very little. But if you don’t look white, then you are likely going to experience some societal judgements on that basis. The evidence is in your own comments, such as when you muse about the connection between rich and poor relative to race, or about crime or union membership. It is simply part of human social consciousness to link behavior with race or other tribal characteristics (such as drunkenness in Native Americans, a factor of dubious reality based on my correspondence with Jennifer L).

    I appreciate your civil comments, Anson, because I know from the REL string that the subject is of emotional import to you. I would just like to add these further thoughts. The striking disparity of net worth as discussed in the post does beg the question, what should be done about it? Now the idea of Affirmative Action and the like may arise. Let me be clear, the notion of quotas in hiring is abhorrent to me. People should succeed or fail based on merit. People who commit crimes must do the time, regardless of race (and they do, except for OJ). And above all, I would like to see a society characterized by mutual respect between the races. Movies like Driving Miss Daisy and Mississippi Burning embody my feelings about the matter better than any paragraphs I could write.

    I believe that society should do all that it can to achieve a level playing field so that MLK’s dream of equal opportunity has a chance. Racial prejudice will not vanish in our lifetime and it can be strong while still unspoken. That is why we still need to “check the block”, because honestly-collected statistics will tell the truth about what is happening. Unless of course, one believes in racial inferiority. In that case a colorblind society would be much more comfortable.



  4. I grew up in a town in the West that had very few blacks. But  because of bias, they were normally not gainfully employed, and their dwellings were generally run-down.

    We had a white picket fence around our backyard, and one day a black man came by and asked if he could paint our fence.  My Dad agreed, but the man needed money to buy the paint.  My dad gave him some money for the paint, and we never saw the man again.

    Later in High School, while a Junior, my English teacher mentioned that his room mate was black, and unfairly treated by the public. He pointed out that the signs in restaurants, etc, “Management Reserves the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone” were for discriminating against blacks.  This was new to me as a young naive individual.   This got me to thinking about racial relations.

    My 1955 High School graduating class had only two black girls.  Upon arriving at Annapolis, Maryland a fews weeks after graduation, I noticed signs on the city water fountains “For Whites Only”. Wow!!! This was new to me.

    In 1971 we moved to Maryland and bought a new home in in Prince Georges County.  Our boys were in grammar school and were bused to various schools, depending on the integration mix.  At the same time, the developer of our housing project was sued for discriminating against blacks. Shortly thereafter, we had black neighbors, and this was the best education that we as a family could have had.  We were invited into their homes for birthday parties, etc. and because they had good jobs, they kept their homes and yards in very good condition.

    During the eight years that we lived in the neighborhood, I was elected PTA president, and worked with a black Principal. It was during this time that we experienced watergate, and civil rights legislation.
    This was also educational for our family.

    I do believe that we have come a long way in racial relations, and have elected a black President.  His election was possible because white Americans have always “cheered” for the underdog and have always been forgiving.  Just as for women, I think that wages for blacks will eventually catch up with whites.

    I did not recall the Elvis song relative to a Ghetto child being born.  It really tells the story!



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Thank you, Grant, for your candid reply. (For other readers, Grant is a USNA classmate of mine from the same Company, and had a distinguished career as an Engineering Duty Officer (Nuclear Power) in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a Captain (O-6).

      Incidentally, Grant, I also was raised in a community that had very few blacks. My high school had two out of 160! Come to think of it, our class at USNA, which graduated just over 800, had a mere handful, did it not? I didn’t know them. Now, not only are there more minorities, but about a quarter are, gulp, women! As Elvis says, “The World Turns.” Boy, does it ever.



  5. Jim,

    Thanks for writing this piece.

    Naturally, after all the arguments Anson and I have had over the last couple of years on this subject, you know that I am sympathetic with your position, although I would take it a bit farther, which you seem reluctant to do.

    You said,

    Now the idea of Affirmative Action and the like may arise. Let me be clear, the notion of quotas in hiring is abhorrent to me. People should succeed or fail based on merit.

    Yes, quotas may be abhorrent, but doesn’t Affirmative Action involve more than quotas in hiring? What about before hiring? What about education? Shouldn’t those who have historically not started out “even in life” (your expression) be given certain advantages in order to see that the score is somewhat evened?

    Things like slightly lower admissions requirements and on top of that remedial help to get them up to the standards of the particular school they have entered? Wouldn’t that be beneficial in the long run? Sort of like the GI bill for blacks, but with an extra kick?

    You see, as your quotes of the PBS discussion make very clear, there really is such a thing as “cumulative disadvantage” and it still persists. One day, hopefully, it will disappear, but for now it persists. We owe it to our country (not to mention black folks) to try as best we can to make it disappear, and for a time that will involve some remedial policies, most of which, naturally, aggravate the majority white population—if the cumulative disadvantage disappears, so does the cumulative advantage that many whites enjoy.

    No one is suggesting that the cumulative disadvantage will necessarily disappear through the remedial actions available to us in this democracy, but we must try to create social structures that at the very least are not making it worse.

    Unfortunately, Anson is not alone in his insistence that as far as he sees it, the mere suggestion you made in your piece entitled him to say, “you wrote a racial blog.”

    I don’t fault Anson, necessarily, for the cultural inheritance he carries with him from Kentucky and his boyhood. He has come a long way, as he likes to point out. But some of us like to point out that he, and others like him, still have a ways to go.

    They just can’t see it.

    I can only point you to the discussions he and I have had to see that the kind of attitudes he has toward this subject are still tinged with condescension toward black folks, which he sort of expressed in his comments above.

    Having said that, I want to make it clear that I don’t think Anson is a card-carrying racist at all, but I do think he, as I said, has a problem with seeing blacks and whites in the light of equality. I think he has settled in comfortably with the notion that everything between the races is just fine and dandy and we need not worry about any further actions to mitigate the historical wrongs that were done to African Americans.

    As your piece points out, that is not the case.



  6. ansonburlingame says:

    To both,

    For sure America has struggled with race issues since it’s beginnings. Historically it has been black and white issues. Now it is becoming black, brown and white, with a little “yellow” coming to the forefront as well.

    When I read of gang related issues in major metropolitan areas it also seems that black on brown is a growing concern as both “sides” seek dominance. I would suspect that the same psychology in such instances are the same regardless of which color is “on” another color of skin. And of course we all remember the Watts riots and think of them as black uprising against white aggression. But then I wonder why all those blacks rampaged against their Asian (predominantly Korean) shop owners during those riots?

    But oh those Koreans. In Japan today Koreans are thought of and treated as the N…. of Japan. I’m not sure about China but suspect the reaction against Koreans is similar therein.

    But as you pointed out, Jim, the armed forces have come a long way over our lifetimes in promoting racial harmony at least at the professional level. My USNA class had on a very few blacks as well but as pointed out before, my most senior classmante, a four star admiral of real repute is black.

    As well I NEVER saw racial prejudice on any ship in which I served throughout my 23 years, 21 “at sea”. It was all based on merit on each of those ships or staffs. And that was now almost 25 years ago.

    I believe the primary reason that was the case aboard nuclear submarines was that to “get into” the program and be a productive member within that program required extraordinary hard work before being admitted (good grades in school, etc.) and the demands for continued hard work and achievement produced mutual respect amongst those serving, regardless of race. Run a “fire in the engine room” drill and no one cared about which race responded to such things. And for sure if a real fire occurred and mouth to mouth was required, no one cared in that case either.

    Your issue is of course that because of “background” few blacks ever achieved the entry requirements demanded and you seek a way to relieve that discrimination. The counter argument is that such “discrimination” is demanded from everyone applying to a tough program, but skin color has nothing to do with such selection criteria at that level, post high school or college young men.

    I believe today the same could be said for many programs that “screen” entrants, not racially but performance in areas (like schools) before they so apply. Rather than trying to lecture “red necks” to act nice in adulthood, it would seem that finding a way to really encourage the younger minorities is where we should be putting our focus today.

    But the approach of “starting young” does not produce “instant” results, does it? So we continue with terrible (in my view) “quotas” or Affirmative Action or “diversity” methods after the racial horses have long left the barn, around age 12 or 13 or so.

    Every black kid in America is REQUIRED to go to schools beginning around age 6. It is what is done therein, those schools, that could make a real difference when it became time to apply for the “nuclear power program” later on and age 18 or so.



  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    @ Anson and Duane,

    I see no one here so far who has taken issue with the notion of, as Duane well describes it,cumulative disadvantage, which of course was the main point of the post. The issue of Affirmative Action, on the other hand, is more controversial.

    Anson and I have similar backgrounds, i.e., a military milieu that was competitive in the extreme, but in which every effort was made to strive for fairness and justice. As stated, since Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces they have been a model paradigm for remedial action of racial problems. I don’t pretend the record is perfect, far from it, but as Anson points out, it’s pretty darn good and I’m proud of it too. I would point to Colin Powell as a shining example of the success of that effort.

    Duane makes a good point about society having an obligation to do something about the continuing cumulative disadvantage. He says that “. . . we must try to create social structures that at the very least are not making it worse.” I agree with that. But lowering entrance standards as a remedy is a problem for me, considering where we are now. Blacks now have good role models, something almost completely missing in our society a half century ago. Colin Powell epitomizes black success in the Armed Forces, and we even have blacks in the Astronaut Corps. We have many blacks in Congress and in business, and of course a black President, who I might add is also an outstanding model of a family man. Blacks like Denzel Washington are prominent in entertainment. And blacks are apparently, at least it seems to me, more successful in athletics than whites. Even beyond these things I see blacks integrated into society in public, including couples of mixed race. That to me is an even more powerful indication that racism as a societal meme has generationally changed. Not fixed, simply much better than it was.

    I have no personal experience with Affirmative Action other than reading about it in the press. Doubtless, in the early years of the Civil Rights struggle it was something that helped the process. Personally, my instinct is that its time is past. It is time to achieve standards, not lower them. Success is in sight. Blacks now need to man-up and rise to the challenge. The role models show that it can be done. Societal structures are in place in many programs to assist black families and monitor the statistics. It seems to me that we just need to keep the pressure on, keep checking the box and keeping score. That said, one thing that is a real concern to me is the breakdown of family structure, and that applies to whites as well as blacks, but it’s much worse for black children – their fathers have largely deserted them. I wish I knew how to fix that. For both races.

    I can’t help feeling a little successful here, feeling I have gotten Anson and Duane into a civil discussion on race, of all things. Thanks for cooperating, guys. (The feeling will likely pass quickly. 😉 )



  8. PiedType says:

    Cumulative advantage still serves a specific segment of the population and probably always will, but I think the economy is changing it for a lot of the middle class. I’m not as well off as my parents were, and I think my son and his wife are working a lot harder to stay afloat than I did. Nor can they count on deriving any “cumulative advantage” with my passing, because what I might have left behind is shrinking fast. In any case, being the beneficiary of cumulative advantage is more or less an accident of birth and I don’t see any fair way to level that particular playing field.

    It seems to me the time for affirmative action is long past, if it ever existed. In any setting, at any time, it is reverse discrimination. Public education is there for anyone who applies himself and takes advantage of it. Lowering standards to accommodate poor students compromises the quality of education for everyone. It serves no one — and certainly not the future of the nation — to keep promoting illiterate, failing students from year to year and eventually graduate them. They will have diplomas, but they won’t have educations. Look at our education system; “No Child Left Behind” has been a disaster. (I graduated from a large public high school in 1961 and could cry at what passes for a good high school education these days.)

    I don’t know if there’s a good way to mediate the disadvantages and attitudes that come with birth into a poor area (regardless of race). How, and by what right, does the government step in to change the influence of parents and environment? I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure anyone else does, either. I do believe the solution to most of the world’s problems lies in education, but beyond making that education available to everyone, I don’t know what more we can or should do. You can’t force an education onto or into those who don’t want it.

    Will we ever achieve a post-racial society? I tend to doubt it. I think, as others have said, that human beings are basically tribal, social, cliquish creatures who generally align with others like themselves. We are drawn to friends, groups, neighborhoods, jobs, where we feel most comfortable and accepted, where the surroundings are familiar and reassuring. Race, education, economic status, and upbringing all influence these choices. But I do think they should be our choices, not the government’s


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Your thoughts on this echo my own, Piedtype, which is why I replied to Duane (below) as I did. I know that disappointed him because he is a strong believer in the power of government to fix society. He is a courageous and tireless campaigner for liberal issues here in a part of the country that largely disagrees with him.

      Government was a vital force in the Civil Rights movement, but I agree that to expect it to achieve anything like true fairness, in light of human nature as you so well describe it, is unrealistic. I think America has achieved a societal structure that does well in making opportunity available. But as you say, there is still going to be bias, if not in race then in other ways such as culture (as in my wife’s Southern origin), body weight, or comeliness. (Hard to think of a greater disadvantage in today’s society than to be born unattractive, is it not?) If blacks (or yellows or whatever) then encounter bias, those are hills that have to be climbed without government assistance. At least MLK’s mountain has been removed, and that was a great achievement.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, PiedType.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      PS, PiedType,

      Since you commented on education and NCLB as you did, I believe we feel similarly about that subject. I have written a number of posts on the subject, one of which is here:



  9. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    Duane and I almost always have civil discussions over race issues. He doesn’t call or consider me a “red neck” nor do I think he is a “screaming liberal” over race matters. But we do strongly disagree and at the heart of the matter I believe it is in the “cumulative disadvantage” discussed above.

    Well folks, I was “cumulatively disadvantage” at age 18 and it hurt like hell. But I rose above the disadvantage with hard work and a somewhat F… You approach, an in your face approach.

    When I left my southern home in Kentucky, I was considered a “hill billy” by the elite whites (no blacks there) prep school in Washington, DC. My accent, “skinnyness”, pimples, etc made me look at sound like someone out of Appalachia and I was demeaned, brutally for such appearances. It took about 6 months and at least one good fight to overcome that discrimination but overcome it I did. No my skin color was not the cause of the discrimination, it was my “culture”. But discrimination of the hurtful and demeaning sort it still was and it had to be overcome rather than simply crawling into a hole of remorse and self pity or relying on the school to fight my battles for me. No teachers in those fox holes in a boarding school of all “boys”.

    Duane speaks of his own culumlative disadvantage when he speaks of his parents’ lack of education and social status. But he too did something about it and did not rely on government to solve his problems.

    And for a segment of society, in this case the black segment, to go all the way back to slavery 150 years ago and Jim Crow laws of 60 years ago to still call for preferences, quotas, a big “hand up” that raises them OVER others based on race vice merit, well you know how I feel, unapolegetically, today about such matters.

    And I am NOT a GD racist for feeling that way or saying how I feel. Nor do I agree with Duane that some unknown “tapes” from my childhood are the source of such views today. My views on race and racism which are STILL a big problem both here and now in Europe, though they call it muticulturalism, are as much do to with reverse discrimination today than racism of the worst sort 150 years ago towards blacks in America.

    Once a kid enters school, public school, it should them become MERIT, MERIT MERIT that establishes his or her place in life and society. Duane, Jim and I all three rose above our beginnings. Why cannot others do the same regardless of color of skin, today?


  10. To all:

    I want to clear up just some things about my position, which has been criticized here.
    1. My original point was that lowering standards slightly on admission requirements—on admission requirements—might help. I did not suggest any lowering of academic standards or reducing the scholastic rigor in any particular school. That is an important distinction, as PiedType’s slippery-slope argument, based on something I did not claim, demonstrates:

    Lowering standards to accommodate poor students compromises the quality of education for everyone. It serves no one — and certainly not the future of the nation — to keep promoting illiterate, failing students from year to year and eventually graduate them.

    You see how a simple misunderstanding or misapprehension of what I said led to “promoting illiterate, failing students“? I was merely proposing

    a) that the way we evaluate students in order to admit them to certain schools might be part of a solution. The admissions standards are somewhat arbitrary anyway—who’s to say what the correct standards are?—and it is not promoting illiteracy or lower academic standards to so accommodate members of an ethnic group that has been a victim of systemic, historical discrimination. And I suggested,

    b) that when such students are accepted into those schools, provide them with remedial help to get them “up to the standards of the particular school.” “Up to the standards,” I remind you. That’s what I argued, not what some of you seem to have thought I argued.

    2. It seems to me that it doesn’t do much good to acknowledge the existence of cumulative disadvantage among black folks and then not propose doing anything about it. Say what you want about liberals and liberalism, at least liberals have actually proposed a remedy for fixing a historical problem. Anson’s remedy is MERIT, MERIT, MERIT, without actually addressing the underlying and lingering problems in the black community, some of which, but not all of which, have historical antecedents.

    3. Jim, kindly and delicately (which is his normal mode of argumentation) argues, too, against a position I do not hold, and as far as I know, have never expressed. He said,

    Your thoughts on this echo my own, Piedtype, which is why I replied to Duane (below) as I did. I know that disappointed him because he is a strong believer in the power of government to fix society. He is a courageous and tireless campaigner for liberal issues here in a part of the country that largely disagrees with him.
    Government was a vital force in the Civil Rights movement, but I agree that to expect it to achieve anything like true fairness, in light of human nature as you so well describe it, is unrealistic.

    There is in this reply an idea, a friendly but (apologies, Jim) condescending caricature, really, of liberals. It is suggested that we believe, somewhat naively, that government can “fix” society and that we believe government can “achieve” “true fairness.”

    While I believe, like other liberals have said, that our problems are man-made and thus have man-made solutions, I, as one liberal, do not believe that government, and government alone, can fix all of our problems, nor do I “expect” that government will ever achieve true fairness.

    I do believe that it is incumbent upon us, though, to try, both to fix our problems and to achieve widespread fairness in our system. And the “us” in that statement, in our democratic society, involves our government, the “we the people” in our preamble.

    How can we ask of ourselves—of our government—anything less?



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I didn’t mean to be condescending of liberals, Duane, but I think I can see how you might interpret my statement that way. Perhaps it is because I use absolutes to describe the goal. “Fix” society. Achieve “true fairness”. That does indeed imply unachievable goals and an excess of effort, and it would have been better to have put it more realistically. But I note that you use the same term, “fix”, in your next-to-last paragraph. But, is qualifying “fix” with “try” sufficient to limit the effort, not to mention the expense? I submit that just how much we should limit the effort is very subjective.

      Allow me to offer an example from my own experience. Appointments to the United States Naval Academy are offered to a wide variety of students. Children of MOH awardees are given special consideration. Many applicants have one, two or more years of college elsewhere before going. Some, apparently including Anson, based on a comment from the other day, are afforded prep-school time designed to lighten the academic load during the first year, a year chock full of hazing. Need I point out that hazing can be very distracting from one’s limited study time for German, chemistry, boilers, college calculus, naval history and mechanical drawing? (One of my classmates had two full years at the Citadel, a tough military school, before entering for a full four years at USNA!) There is also a contingent every year of top material from the enlisted ranks of the U.S. Navy, for which there is a government funded prep school designed for the purpose. And then there are some, like myself, who went from a little midwestern high school directly into the belly of the beast, not only with no extra academic preparation but no real notion of what I was in for. (I ranked very near the bottom of my class at the end of the first year, but was in the upper third for the senior year ranked alone.)

      Now, to what extent should the application process be designed to achieve some level of fairness for that system? True fairness is of course impossible, but a greater effort than the present certainly is possible, given more effort and expense. One could ask, why should the enlisted people get that custom-designed curriculum that takes all the pressure off the first year’s academics? I think the answer is that the program is good for fleet morale, and for politics, and the prep school makes sure it succeeds. Some savvy parents foresee the benefit of prep school. But, bottom line, at some point short of “fixing” the system, one has to stop “trying” to hone the design and start production. Then you have survival of the fittest.

      With MLK’s help, the mountain has been moved. Now we are only arguing over what to do about the hills, are we not?



  11. hlgaskins says:


    An excellent post and really well laid out.

    No on to affirmative action and quotas.

    As I recall it, Affirmative Action’s initial purpose was to even out the employment “playing field.” It simply stated that should two candidates of equal standing apply for a position, and one was a member of a minority, then preference would be given to the member of the minority. Unfortunately affirmative action failed to achieve that goal because there was no way to insure that Anglo-Saxon hiring authorities would observe it. Institutionalized discrimination became a concern when institutions representing a minority neighborhood such as banks were under represented by the members of that community.

    I personally don’t believe that hiring on the basis of quotas alone makes sense either, because it could render an institution less effective, but how do we resolve this dilemma? Do we accept the notion that hiring authorities aren’t intentionally culling the herd based on race? This poses a difficult issue without some form of oversight which is really quite impossible without some form of policing. The simplest and yet almost as equally ineffective solution resulted in quotas which at least had one redeeming feature, it insured that a higher percentage of minorities that represented the people that it served were hired. It didn’t however end institutionalized discrimination, it only weighted against it when scrutinized.

    University in enrollment became another example of institutionalized discrimination especially in programs with limited student enrollment such as law and medicine, another forum of quota. As with most limited enrollment courses the highest scoring students are generally selected from available applicants. Where this disadvantages members of minority is that white non-Hispanic Americans make up 66% of the population compared to African American’s who are a mere 13% of the population. This means that if applicants were proportionally equal among whites and blacks, then whites are 5 times more likely to be accepted than are African American applicants. My view however is that the real issue is limited enrollment.

    We should allow as many students into law and medical schools as can qualify, and then there’s reverse discrimination. It seems our white brethren are content to assume superiority over African Americans, only to turn complain about being discriminated against for being white. To some degree that’s even happening in situations involving some minority hiring authorities who are now apparently discriminating against whites. Even more interesting is that in many educational programs such as medicine and science, Asian applicants have become over represented. Even though Asians only make up 4.2% if our population and yet they are being enrolled at a higher rate than whites which now has whites crying foul. I don’t know by what percent, but I’ll leave that for another post. HLG


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I admit to being a bit confused by your discussion here, HL, but I come away with my same opinion as before. The Civil Rights achievements accomplished much – the mountain was removed, even though some of the tools like forced busing and Affirmative Action were flawed and might even have resulted in reverse discrimination. But society does now have the issues out in the open and there is, in Duane’s word, an ongoing effort to “try” to level the hills. Opportunity is key. I think of George Washington Carver. What might he have done with today’s opportunities instead of the mountain he faced? My head spins, and the world turns.

      A fighting chance is all I ever asked for and that should be the minimum. If we can get more, I’m for it, but not at the expense of reverse discrimination. That would tear down what MLK achieved. IMHO.


      • hlgaskins says:

        My apology if I’ve been unclear. I was exhausted last night and I’m exhausted tonight. I’m strongly in support of affirmative action and have always been so; however, quotas have introduced another form of racism. On one hand we desire to lift as many members of all races as we can, but we have to take care as to how it’s done. We can’t close the doors on Asians American because they’ve demonstrated an ability to over compete. I find limitations in fields such as medicine, law, and various scientific fields to be counter productive. I myself received a degree in a limited program of only 50. Why 50? Why not 200, or 300, or better yet accept everyone who’s qualified?

        Our educational institutions aren’t doing that which as result excludes many who could be comparatively over qualified because they’re Caucasian or Asian. This doesn’t mean that African Americans who also applied aren’t qualified, it means that as a result of quotas, many will be accepted to the exclusion of some over qualified applicants. To me the problem can be resolved by simply finding a means to accept all who qualify regardless of race. While quotas are opening doors to those who need them opened, it’s also closing doors on those who should’ve been accepted but were refused because those doors were always open. Hence, reverse discrimination creates a new inequality
        for one group, to lift inequality in another. In my view, we need them all.


  12. PiedType says:

    RE quotas and affirmative action, I think Anson nailed it with “MERIT, MERIT, MERIT.” Jobs and education should be open to all (equal opportunity), but after that, hirings and admissions should be based on merit. Imposing or expecting “politically correct” balances like matching percentages from the general population gets ridiculous in a hurry. A class of 20 students: how many should be white, African American, Hispanic, Asian? How many must be physically challenged? How many must be blonde, brunette, redheaded? Oh, and of course they must be 50.8% female and 49.2% male. You see the difficulty.

    HLG said, “We should allow as many students into law and medical schools as can qualify.” I agree that only those who qualify should be admitted, but obviously we can’t admit all who qualify. There are practical limitations on class size. Beyond that, if most of the highest scoring candidates happen to be Asian, so be it.

    Duane, I think I didn’t so much misunderstand your suggestion of lower admissions standards as I just ran right by it and on into the effects of NCLB. Mea culpa. Still, if you lower the standards to admit a less qualified student, doesn’t that result in denying the spot to a more qualified student? To me that’s reverse discrimination.


    • hlgaskins says:


      “HLG said, “We should allow as many students into law and medical schools as can qualify.” I agree that only those who qualify should be admitted, but obviously we can’t admit all who qualify. There are practical limitations on class size.”

      Then we simply open new units (classes) to maintain sensible class sizes. Practical limits to class size is limited to the number of classes offered. My feeling is that fields such as medicine are limited to reduce competition as a means to push up wages. We need more doctors, so why should anyone be disqualified simply because they were not a member of a quota group? Asians are excluded because to many of them score high and Caucasians are excluded because there are too many them. I agree that there populations or over representations shouldn’t exclude qualified minorities, but nor should they be excluded because they aren’t members of a minority. So to hell with those sort of quotas and yes to all that are able.


  13. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    For sure, we all agree that excluding someone from opportunities based strictly on race is wrong. If in fact there must be limited enrollment for selected schools or jobs, (there is not enough room or money avialable to admit everyone interested into USNA for example), then many factors must be considered, including the ability and willingness for those entering a school to graduate four years later. Why admit someone that based on their “history” will more than likely fail to graduate.

    USNA has over 17,000 applicants each year. Only about 1250 are admitted. I can only imagine the number of college grads that might “want to be a doctor” but cannot find a school to take them in based on a variety of qualifying measures, grades (merit) in college being only ONE of the qualifying measures.

    The goal of USNA is to produce college graduates that will become Naval or Marine Corps officers and serve in such capacity in the best interests of those two institutions. A Medical School goal is to produce a graduate that can, well, be a good doctor. Admissions boards and the policies under which they must work try to select those that can and will achieve the goals of the respective schools.

    USNA used to use the “whole man” concept. Yes grades, SAT scores and class standing in high school were important, but not all consuming. Many “fleet applicants” would never make that cut if that was the sole criteria. Leadership in high school, captain of a sports team, student council, various clubs, holding down a part time job, etc. were all considered as well and as far as I know RACE was never considered, pro or con, when I applied in the late 50’s. Race was then irrelevant to ones ability to become admitted to USNA.

    Was there institutional racism on the part of the Board of Admissions to USNA in the late 50’s. Not that I ever saw or heard about. And when we lined up to get our first shots and a haircut and then swore our oath no one cared much about skin color or background. We were headed for pure hell and we all knew it. THAT was our individual and sole concern surviving “hell” that began that very night and continued for “the four most miserable years of my life”.

    My guess is that most people beginning Medical School had that same fear of what was coming next and “steeled themselves” to face that unknown. All the admissions process did was to allow you to begin to “go to hell” and try to survive, at least at USNA.

    Today the same number (about 1250 men and women) are admitted to USNA. Applications have risen as well. But today there is hard evidence showing a “quota system” applied to the output of the admissions board at USNA. A certain percentage of the entering class MUST be female and minorities.

    NO discrimination is applied by direction to individuals but as a group there are quotas today, quotas based on gender and race.

    To meet those quotas females and minorities are admitted over, in some cases far “over” more qualified candidates. A white male, with 1200 SATS, captain of football team, president of student council is “passed over” and a black female with 1000 SATS and no high school leadership resume is admitted.

    Now why does that occur? Simple answer is that diversity in enrollment is more important than the true MERIT for some applicants. That Duane, is in no way “slight adjustment”, it is a gapping hole based on diversity, not merit and such cases, individual cases are “all over the place” each year today when new classes get their shots, first haircut and swear the same oath that I did 50 years ago.

    Want another statistic (HLG) showing today’s political correctness invasion of the Navy. This one gets discussed A LOT on my class web site. Relief for Cause (RFC) for Commanding Officers is skyrocketing today. More and more skippers get “fired”, almost double from previous years. Why?

    Well the number of COs “fired” for operational mistakes like collisions at sea, running aground, etc. are statistically about the same. It is being “fired” for “command climate” (like the Honor’s affair a year ago) that is causing the spike.

    Just as now being at the top of your class in High School, Captain of a sports team, etc is no longer enough to be admitted to USNA over a more middle of the road female or minority, the test of being a good at-sea skipper running a good and “tight ship” is no longer enough. One must be politically correct to “survive” as a skipper today.

    And that kind of stuff snowballs today. Probably unnoticed now, the skipper that recommended Honor’s for promotion to Captain and later command of Enterprise has also now been “fired”. He was a Rear Admiral when he was “fired” simply because of his lack of control of his own XO, almost 8 years ago (or so).

    Now I wonder how many members of the USNA board of admissions are “fired” when a female minority candidate that THEY admitted to USNA is “fired” as midshipmen when that candidate is charged with an Honor violation or flunks out of school? Zero is my guess and I doubt they even keep such statistics today. That would be politically incorrect, like identifying the race of a fleeing felon.



  14. Dang! I don’t check in for a week or two and you are answering comments in German! Things change quick around here.

    Excellent article!


  15. IzaakMak says:

    I never liked the “race” checkbox, mainly because I resented being raised to think of myself as “Black” when I knew that my real heritage involved so much more, but also because none of the options ever seemed to cover what I would consider an honest answer. However, I do think that accumulating accurate statistics could be useful, assuming we can trust government and businesses to use them properly – a very big assumption if you ask me.

    I was a huge Elvis fan as a kid, and I loved the musical parts in his movies too. Of course, I’d developed my love for the “sing your way through life” fantasy long before Elvis came along. But I really resented having to hide the fact that I was an Elvis fan for fear of being thought of as some kind of racial Benedict Arnold!


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