Lamm's Critics Ignore Real Racism

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Lamm's Critics Ignore Real Racism

by Ari Armstrong, July 28, 2006

It is a fact of reality that, on average and according to particular measures, Asian students in the U.S. outperform white, black, and Hispanic students. For example, a release from the College Board discusses results from the 2005 SAT. In math, "Asian American students outperformed other racial/ethnic groups, scoring 580 in math in 2005... The amount and quality of academic preparation for college varies by racial/ethnic group, parental education, and family income. Precalculus, for example, was taken by: 62 percent of Asian American students versus 34 percent of Puerto Ricans and 32 percent of African Americans... Similar to SAT scores, students' performance in high school varies by race/ethnicity. Mean high school GPAs ranged from a high of 3.39 for Asian American students to 2.99 for African American students."

I have yet to hear a single person claim that the College Board is a racist institution for issuing this release.

Pointing out a fact of reality never can properly be considered "racist." The term "racism" means attributing to "race" -- genetic lineage -- attributes that are not, in fact, due to race. (Some genetic pools are more susceptible to certain diseases, so pointing out that fact is not racist.) Now, if one were to argue that Asians do better because of their Asian genes, that would be racism. But that's not what Dick Lamm has done. Recent claims that Lamm is a racist are absurd and unjust.

Lamm has made a good-faith effort to address the real problems that obviously plague black and Hispanic communities in the U.S., which is more than some of his critics can say. Lamm is, however, collectivistic in certain of his comments. His political conclusions are seriously flawed. So Lamm does deserve criticism, but these grotesque charges that he's a racist serve merely to distract from the real issues and make his critics look like small-minded, petty whiners.

The furor erupted with a July 27 story in the Rocky Mountain News. Recently Lamm recently gave a talk in Vail about the American "underclass." His new book, Two Wands, One Nation, "argues that Hispanics and blacks need to take responsibility for their 'underperformance' and should adopt the values of the Japanese and Jews," the News summarizes. Then on July 28 The Denver Post ran a catch-up article.

The News also linked to a February 18 Speakout by Lamm that is an excerpt from the book. Let's start there. (I will not evaluate other comments by Lamm.)

Lamm argues that "America's future, in many important ways, depends on solving the problem of minority underperformance. That blacks and Hispanics make up a growing percentage of our population demands that this discussion not be put off. America is not producing the skills, talents and educational achievement in its young people to keep us competitive in the new global world... We are overdue for an honest and candid dialogue on race and ethnicity, and the white majority in America must candidly participate in this dialogue."

Lamm describes his central thesis: "Racism and discrimination clearly still exist, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the problem of minority underperformance is much broader and more nuanced than can be explained by the impact of racism alone. When two-thirds of black births are out-of-wedlock births, it is hard to write a happy or prosperous future for black America. When close to 50 percent of Hispanic students don't graduate from high school, it is hard to see Hispanics following the typical American route to prosperity. Blacks and Hispanics are not succeeding in numbers great enough to keep America competitive. The problems of crime, educational failure, drugs, gangs, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment that burden these groups threaten our collective future. I am increasingly convinced the key to prosperity for black America and Hispanic America lies mostly in their own hands and by their own efforts."

Lamm further argues that victimhood "has become more of an excuse than an explanation" in today's age.

Is Lamm wrong? Are the problems he describes real?

Lamm explicitly argues that the problems that plague (some) minorities are not due to race. Instead, he argues, "culture matters." He argues "that the highest family incomes in America are all minorities who have been discriminated against. Japanese-Americans, Jews, Chinese-Americans, and Korean-Americans all outearn white America by substantial margins and all have faced discrimination and racism. We put Japanese- Americans in camps 60 years ago and confiscated much of their property. Yet today they outearn all other demographic groups. Discrimination and racism are social cancers and can never be justified but it is enlightening that, for these groups, they were a hurdle, not a barrier to success... Cuban-Americans have come to America and succeeded brilliantly. Do we discriminate against Hispanics from Mexico but not Hispanics from Cuba?"

Lamm continues, "I suggest that groups whose culture and values stress delayed gratification -- along with education, hard work, success and ambition -- are those groups that succeed in America, regardless of discrimination. I further suggest that, even if discrimination were removed, that other groups would still have massive problems until they developed the traits that lead to success. Asian and Jewish children do twice as much homework as black and Hispanic students, and get far better grades. Why should we be surprised?"

There is nothing racist about Lamm's claims. That said, Lamm should have emphasized that one's cultural group does not determine one's success. Plenty of whites live in squalor and ignorance. Plenty of Asians join violent gangs. Plenty of blacks and Hispanics become successful in business and academia. Lots of people from "successful" families destroy their lives, and lots of people from horribly dysfunctional families go on to get a good education, earn high salaries, and lead successful social lives.

Race does not determine the life path of an individual, and neither does culture. What Lamm misses or at least fails to emphasize is individual free will.

At the same time, the whole point of Lamm's project is to promote personal action for positive change. Ultimately, education, hard work, and ambition are achievements of the individual. So there is an element of individualism implicit in Lamm's approach, but it's subdued.

How did Lamm's critics respond?

The News quotes Terrance Carroll: "I was quite offended... I think there's room to have conversations about personal responsibility and we should. But we can have that conversation without demonizing. It's sad that someone as intelligent as Governor Lamm can't see how these types of comments really don't do anything to further legitimate debate."

But what in Lamm's comments constitute "demonizing?" Why are his observations not part of "legitimate debate?"

Fidel "Butch" Montoya ridiculously characterizes Lamm's comments as revealing "bigotry and extremism."

Cody Wertz of Senator Ken Salazar's office pointed out that the Salazar family is successful. But Lamm never made any universal claims about minorities. Similarly, Wertz could not counter the claim, "people tend to lose money gambling in Las Vegas," with the observation that a particular person won money.

However, again, I do think that Lamm's approach smacks of collectivism, in that he makes culture matter too much and individualism too little. So there is a legitimate point behind Wertz's comments.

The Post followed up by quoting Veronica Barela, who calls Lamm "a hard-core racist."

Gary Hart said that Lamm's statements "seem to condone sophisticated kinds of racial profiling and racial characterization." Lamm's statements do not "condone" anything of the kind. However, they may unintentionally promote those things. Lamm's thesis is that "culture matters." It so happens that culture is spread to some degree within ethnic communities. I do think that Lamm encourages the view that people should be evaluated primarily as members of a culture, rather than as individuals.

The Post article states, "House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, who worked with Lamm on recent immigration legislation, says he found no common ground in Lamm's speech or book. 'I reject those sentiments, I do not share them, and I think to make that suggestion is flat-out wrong,' Romanoff said."

Does Romanoff reject everything in Lamm's book? Does he dispute the claims that, according to certain measures, certain ethnic groups outperform others? If he has evidence to the contrary, he should state it. Does Romanoff reject Lamm's claim that "culture matters?" Does he reject the need for "education, hard work, success and ambition?"

Andrew Romanoff is not a stupid man. Therefore, I cannot bring myself to believe that Romanoff disputes, say, the SAT results cited above or the need for "education, hard work, success and ambition." Could it be that Romanoff's statement was motivated more by political concerns?

There is a bigger point here. Lamm's work is flawed, not because it is racist, but because it is partly collectivistic. But where were all these critics when two tax-subsidized Colorado schools openly promoted racism?

Colorado's two major papers, the Anti-Defamation League, and the speaker of the state house jumped in to condemn Lamm.

Where were the news reporters, where was the ADL, where was Andrew Romanoff, where were Veronica Barela and Gary Hart and Terrance Carroll and Butch Montoya and Cody Wertz, for that matter where was Dick Lamm, when the tax-funded Cherry Creek school district and the tax-subsidized University of Colorado promoted the racist theory of "whiteness?" (See my comments about multiculturalism and my February 9, 2006, column for Boulder Weekly.)

So now you see how it works here in Colorado. If you are not a racist but you point out the real problems among blacks and Hispanics, then you are called a racist. But if you are a racist who spends tax dollars to promote racism and collective "white" guilt, then you are excused.

Those who refuse to condemn the theory of "whiteness" as racist, but who criticize Lamm as a racist, do not even understand what racism is. Or, they understand very well, but they selectively employ racism to promote their political agendas.

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