Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility


Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility

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This report was published by Manhattan Institute.


Over the last 40 years, I’ve explored why, notwithstanding the success of the civil rights movement, the subordinate status of African-Americans persists. Key to my thinking about this intractable problem has been the need to distinguish the role played by discrimination against Black people from that played by counterproductive behavioral patterns among Blacks.

This puts what is a very sensitive issue rather starkly. Many vocal advocates for racial equality have been loath to consider the possibility that problematic patterns of behavior could be an important factor contributing to our persisting disadvantaged status. Some observers on the right of American politics, meanwhile, take the position that discrimination against Blacks is no longer an important determinant of unequal social outcomes. I have long tried to chart a middle course—acknowledging anti-Black biases that should be remedied while insisting on addressing and reversing the patterns of behavior that impede Black people from seizing newly opened opportunities to prosper. I still see this as the most sensible position.

These two positions can be recast as causal narratives. One is what I call the “bias narrative”: racism and white supremacy have done us wrong; we can’t get ahead until they relent; so we must continue urging the reform of white American society toward that end.

The other is what I call the “development narrative,” according to which it is essential to consider how a person comes to acquire those skills, traits, habits, and orientations that foster successful participation in American society. To the extent that African-American youngsters do not have the experiences, are not exposed to the influences, and do not benefit from the resources that foster and facilitate their human development, they fail to achieve their full human potential. This lack of development is what ultimately causes the persistent, stark racial disparities in income, wealth, education, family structure, and much else. (The charts and tables on this and the next several pages offer a glimpse of the magnitude of these disparities.)

Loury, G. (2019). Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility. Manhattan Institute.

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