Friday, September 17, 2010

End the Current System of Analyzing America By Ethnicity

To start, consider a bit of statistical 'analysis', by way of reference:

Mexico has a per capita gdp/ppp of $ 13,500 a year while the Chinese speaking world is at about $ 7,500 a year. As we know from statistics there is a clear and undeniable relationship between income and IQ. Therefore, either Mexicans work harder, study more, or are innately smarter.


Of course, this is not a standard view in the United States today. In our corner of the world, our sample bias, Chinese-Americans make about twice what Mexican-Americans do. So we bring another set of stereotypes to the table. But from the global income numbers it seems that ethnicity is masking class issues related to immigration patterns particular to the United States.

Critics of the bracketed analysis would point out the large population of mainland China, the geographic, political and economic difficulties in raising that population out of poverty, the legacy of imperialism, Mexico's proximity to the U.S, or the weakness of IQ as a measure of innate anything. In short, people would point at other factors that complicate said analysis.

Unfortunately, we seem unable to do that when it comes to analyzing our own population.

Such is the intellectual weakness of our continuing obsession with ethnic categorization in an increasingly multi-layered American society. It is silly on one level, but deeply dangerous on another.

First, from a left perspective, it undermines working class solidarity. Go to any Cal campus in the Fall and see how many ethnic-oriented tables and student organizations there are versus labor organizations. Politically speaking for the United States in 2010, this is a complete dead end.

Second, it promotes racial antagonism and and the 'science' of ethnic differences in learning. This undercurrent exists in mainstream educational circles - again, based on our statistical reporting of issues solely along ethnic lines. And based upon a misunderstanding of how sample bias can skew perception.

Third, it is inaccurate and unscientific, which erodes logic and rationality in our broader discourse.

We cling to this way of viewing American society because it worked - 40 years ago - when there was little immigration and less flux in the statistical inputs of our society. The US today is characterized by multiple levels of immigration - skilled , unskilled, from multiple areas of the world, and by ethnic mixing domestically on a scale rarely seen in human history. This tapestry is being thrust into an archaic and brittle system of categorization despite in many cases deep differences in class, culture and educational background. And behind it are political voices who like this way of breaking up society by skin color - most importantly the wealthy who of course are deeply in love with the idea of fracturing working class solidarity.

When statistics obscure rather than illuminate, it's time to use a new model, most especially for those on the left.


The most obvious example of this is Obama. He is of course 'black', but from a middle class background and attended one of the most elite private high schools in the country. His father was from the political elite of Kenya, highly educated, and hand-picked to immigrate to the United States for those reasons. His mother was also highly educated and had a doctorate degree.

Can Obama's success really tell us anything about the conditions and opportunity for a descendant from slavery who grows up in Detroit ? I don't think so.