Weighing critical race theory against reality

Do you believe that students and others should be taught to judge people on the basis of their skin color? The “critical race theory” crowd argues that many of the ills affecting society come from the notion of White privilege, and that Whites — even small children — must be punished for the alleged sins of their ancestors, even if they never held slaves or treated Blacks poorly. 

Discrimination on the basis of skin color, race or ethnicity has been illegal in the U.S. for more than a half century, and most Americans of all races are not bigots. Businesspeople who hire employees or serve customers on the basis of race or sex, rather than competency, put themselves at a competitive disadvantage and, ultimately, are forced to change their policies or go out of business — without being ordered to by government officials. 

When engaged in policy debates, it is good to look at the facts and the data to the extent that it exists. Fortunately, the United States Census Bureau has compiled very detailed data on the incomes of Americans by race, ethnic origin, sex, marital status, religion, etc. The data in the accompanying chart comes from the Bureau’s 2018 “American Community Survey” (the latest available). (Note:  Because the data is so extensive, I have just taken a sample — which includes sub-sets of the White, Asian, and African American categories — for the purposes of this article. The entire data bank is available online for those who wish to have a more detailed look.) 

If success is really based on skin color, it would be expected that those with darker skins would have noticeably lower incomes than those with lighter skin tones — but is that true? Most people who pay attention are aware that on average Asian Americans have higher incomes than White Americans, who in turn have higher incomes than Hispanic Americans, who in turn have higher incomes than African Americans. 

As can be seen in the table, Indian Americans (whose ancestors are from India) have the highest average incomes, even though most of them are some shade of brown). Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans all have higher average incomes than white Americans — with skin colors on average slightly darker than the average White American. The Taiwanese are Chinese, most of whose ancestors moved from mainland China in the last 70 years. So why do Taiwanese Americans have higher average incomes than Chinese Americans? Clearly, something other than skin color causes the differences.  

Among Americans who trace their ancestries back to some European country (even though most White Americans have a mixture of several nationalities), the Austrian (a German-speaking nation) Americans have the highest average income levels. At the same time, Appalachian Americans who are a measurable sub-group of White Americans have lagged behind for reasons having nothing to do with skin color.  (Note: Many of the Appalachian Americans have ancestors from Scotland who had fled the English in the century before the American Revolution. By moving to the isolated hills and valleys of Appalachia, they were largely left alone by the English.) 

Economic policies, not skin color, determine average incomes. Greek Americans have one of the highest average household incomes among European Americans. But Greece is the poorest country in the E.U., from decades of bad fiscal management. The average Greek American household has more than four times the income of the average household in Greece. Again, skin color has nothing to do with it. 

The term Hispanic covers those White Europeans of pure Spanish origin to the typical brown-skinned Central American whose ancestors were more often American Indian than Spanish. The term explains a language group, not a genetic or income group. 

Most American Blacks were descended from West African tribes, including what is now Nigeria. The Census Bureau differentiates those of African American ancestry whose forbearers came as slaves in contrast to those who came of their own free will in recent decades and who now have a higher average income than White Americans. Why is that? 

Before the Civil War, White Americans were able to obtain wealth by obtaining free land provided they “worked it” for a few years and from skills that they obtained through education. Slaves could neither acquire land or education (in some states it was illegal to teach them to read and write). Their big disadvantage was not in their skin color but in the fact that, unlike most other Americans, they had fewer ways of acquiring property and education. 

Native American Indians, by being put in common ownership reservations (socialist organizations) without individual property rights, were also put into a very difficult disadvantage. 

If you really want to help those groups who are lagging, find ways (and there are many) of enabling them to obtain secure property rights to productive assets and provide them with marketable skill sets — math, science, information theory, etc. — but not counterproductive education in “grievance studies” (e.g., sociology, Black and women’s studies, etc.) that actually reduces their chances of obtaining well-paying jobs.

• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.

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