Reparations and the Black-White Achievement Gap
Many politicians and activists are now insisting that modern-day African Americans deserve reparations for the enslavement of black people in America prior to the Thirteenth Amendment. A prominent justification for reparations is the racial income gap, and activists think reparations will put blacks on equal footing with white Americans.
Moreover, a major reason for the racial income gap is the achievement gap and the latter is a function of the competence gap.
The competence gap is not unique to African Americans, and it does not necessarily affect groups along ethnic lines. Appalachian whites, for example, have long suffered higher levels of poverty for similar reasons.
Nonetheless, African Americans as a group are certainly affected by a competence gap. Research has documented the academic progress of African Americans, and although they are making gains, on average they are still less educated than white Americans. If black males have the lowest graduation rate in the country, then how can we expect their earnings to be on par with white men?
Economist Roland Fryer has marshaled data proving that the racial income gap is primarily explained by the achievement gap and not discrimination. Earlier studies have also found that academic achievement among teenagers is responsible for variations in the racial income gap. Furthermore, Derek Neal in "Why Has Black-White Skill Convergence Stopped" suggests that the black-white skill gap can be attributed to family patterns that deter investment in human capital. As he notes: “When parents live apart, an agency problem arises. The noncustodial parent cannot be sure that transfers intended for expenditures on children are spent entirely on the child. This monitoring problem acts as a tax on investments in children…. In sum, black-white differences in norms concerning marriage may create differences in the mapping between parental human capital and investments in children that could support persistence black-white skill differences among adults across generations.”
Another contributor to the racial income gap is the reluctance of blacks to pursue majors that will result in them earning lucrative salaries. Maya Beasley in her fascinating book Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite argues that black students exhibit a greater preference for social activism and as a result are overwhelmingly represented in socially useful, but low-paying professions. Moreover, in an interview published by Inside Higher Ed, Beasley instructs black students to form relationships with people outside of black social groups: “While black students may derive substantial value from these networks, there is also a considerable downside to their separation from the wider campus community.”
According to Beasley’s report, some black students posit that the fear of racism precluded them from socializing with white networks. Yet such assumptions are increasingly implausible as studies show that since racism is declining in America while tolerance for racist rhetoric is diminishing. However, racism is not an insurmountable obstacle for people who want to succeed. Black men like Robert Church and William Scarborough managed to excel despite the very real venom of racism in an earlier era. So, it is becoming increasingly difficult for black Americans living in a now-less-hostile environment to use racism as an excuse for refusing to pursue predominantly white fields or tapping into non-black networks.
If improving the plight of African Americans is the aim of activists and the government, then they must hold them to higher standards. Lowering quality in the name of antiracism will only succeed in making African Americans uncompetitive in the market space. Placing the blame for a economic failures squarely on racism is patronizing and rests on the assumption that blacks are incapable of helping themselves.