The Black Middle Classes

By cjohnson | January 17, 2006 2:13 pm

Well, while we’re on the subject of under-represented groups in science (see here and here), let me raise a (perhaps) even more taboo subject by pointing out a very interesting programme on the BBC’s Radio 4 entitled “The Black Middle Class”. (Beware, the UK defintion and the USA definition of the term have some differences, but you’ll figure out pretty quickly the UK definition by listening.) A Journalist (who by the way, I gather from her comments is black, female, British, and trained as scientist) Connie St. Louis interviews several people (from schoolkids to Members of Parliament) on the issue.

Programme 1/2:

Is there such a thing as a Black Middle Class in Britain today? If so, who are its members? Connie St Louis goes in search of an elusive group of people.

Programme 2/2:

Connie St Louis goes in search of the Black middle class in Britain today. She considers what they can learn from their US counterparts.

Some random thoughts and impressions of my own (I’m in the middle of writing a lecture to be given in an hour, so forgive me if I don’t get everything in, and in the right proportion.):

In programme 1, she notices (as I, and hopefully you, have) the depressing fact that the few places that most people are aware of “successful” black people existing are in sports, media and entertainment. You might wonder, in the context of this blog and our recent discussions of women in Physics: Where are the scientists? Do they exist in reasonable numbers and are just not represented in the media much, or are they largely non-existent as a proportion of the population of people from other ethnic groups? Actually, I wonder that too. I don’t know the answer, but my own failure to encounter these people in significant numbers whereever I go around the planet suggests that the latter is closer to the truth.

But she’s not just talking about Scientists (actually, she doesn’t at all), but “middle class” jobs in general. I don’t care for these terms at all, to be frank, but we can use it as a placeholder for the thing I really care about, which is simply being able to use your talents to be as successful as you can (as measured in standard terms that society at large cares about…. power and influence within society, salary level, etc…. leaving intangibles like “happiness” aside for now.) The UK is arguably significantly behind the US on this issue, and it is interesting to hear (if you don’t know about it or have never thought about it) what the shape of the situation is in the UK, as it does reflect on the issue of representation within the sciences as well.

She tries to identify the particular forces that stop black people from getting very far in the UK, and of course rapidly arrives at a discussion of the problems of the education system, and a discussion of the breakdown of certain family structures that may (or may not?) be responsible. Another key factor is the conflict of values which place a lot of pressure on black kids (particularly male ones) in the playground: being black and being interested in education are just in conflict. It’s just not “cool” to be interested in history, science, literature, art, etc…. (That’s definitely a big problem in the USA too.)

Interestingly, there is a remarkable fact (I did not know about) that came up: The black middle class in the UK, such as it is, is a female-dominated phenomenon. The numbers of women (especially of Caribbean descent) in various management positions in various fields completely outstrips that of black men. It’s also true in other “middle class” jobs as well, such as aspects of the legal profession. This is interesting indeed. I wonder if this will show up in science in the UK too? Is there a pool of black female scientists about to spring forth in the UK? This would be great to see.

I certainly have never ever met another black professor in the UK (in any field, let alone science), but in all the hundreds of students I enountered as a professor at one of the premier mathematics departments in the UK (Durham), not one was black (that I recall…… there were one or two of Indian descent, but that’s not a group we’re talking about here), which I found depressing. I do not know how how this translates to other departments, and to other universities, but it would be interesting to know.

This is a vital issue, to my mind. Recall my earlier (and numerous) remarks about the role of science and public undertanding of science in shaping a true democracy. We cannnot as a society leave key decisions about out futures (the air we breathe, energy we consume, medical treatments we receive, etc) entirely to government, business, and a few other controlling people with “inside knowledge”. If a particular enthic group is not able to sit at the table when these decisions are being made, who’s going to look out for them? Etc, etc. And of course there is the key issue of society limiting its potential by not tapping into a large portion of its talent pool….. so its all joined up.

I have not listened to programme 2 yet, where she examines the case of the USA and what it might have to teach the UK (and I hope, the other way around), but it is bound to be interesting.

Notice that there’s not much said in the above (or in the programme) about racism. This is not just a rant about how black people are “kept down”, by racism, or just by low expectations, etc. But be sure that these are major factors too. I can tell so many stories of my own, and so many of us who have managed to get anywhere got there by having to fight through all that (and once there, still have to fight a lot against such things)…. So it is part of the equation, but not a cleanly separable part of it.

What do you think about the whole issue? Including the aspect concerning black scientists? Don’t feel you can’t comment if you don’t know anything about the UK’s systems: this is a universal problem.

-cvj

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  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    I’m at university in Scotland. There are very few black people in any of my classes; none in my informatics class. I don’t know of any black faculty members at my university (doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that I don’t haven’t been taught by anyone who is black). There is a Black Students’ Campaign (which includes people of African, Asian, and Caribbean descent)starting up though, that corresponds to the National Union of Students’ Black Students’ Liberation Campaign. The NUS is become quite active in these issues.

    Relatively speaking, there’s quite a large Arabic community from India and Pakistan. Also a large Oriental community. But i’m the only Hispanic I know in my university.

    It’s not the case that the city I live in just has no black people living in it, because if you walk past the state schools, you’ll see lots of black kids. So these kids just don’t go to university or don’t go to university here.

    You’re absolutely right, Clifford. It’s a major problem.

    “We cannnot as a society leave key decisions about out futures (the air we breathe, energy we consume, medical treatments we receive, etc) entirely to government, business, and a few other controlling people with “inside knowledge”. If a particular enthic group is not able to sit at the table when these decisions are being made, who’s going to look out for them? Etc, etc. And of course there is the key issue of society limiting its potential by not tapping into a large portion of its talent pool….. so its all joined up.”

    Yup.

    I also think that having role models at the top of all races, sexualities, and genders is important for kids.

    Q.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    Here at Cambridge there are a reasonably large number of non-white students, particularly east Asian and south Asian (I can’t lay my hands on appropriate data to back this up so everything I say from here on is largely based on personal experience). There also seems to be considerably more black students than your experience at Durham would suggest. There are, however, one or two interesting points to note. First, the proportion of non-white students seems significantly larger at postgraduate level, and a considerable proportion of the black students are not English. Perhaps Part III mathematics is an important factor in attracting a more diverse student body?

    On a different note, I’m glad to report that almost forty percent of the postgraduate students here are female.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    On a different note, I’m glad to report that almost forty percent of the postgraduate students here are female.

    I should point out that by “here” I mean “within the mathematics faculty.”

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    Liberal social advocacy demands “instead of” rather than “in addition to.” They are no more approbative than “Whites Only” posted above drinking fountains. There are no Jewish scientists or Black physicists or female chemists or Chicana mathematicians. Theres are scientists, physicists, chemists, and mathematicians who are known by their anonymously peer-reviewed acomplishments. Anything else is vile racism – qualification by race.

    30 April 1996, Senator Edward Kennedy: “”Dr. Bernard Chavis is a perfect example,” he said. “He is the supposedly less qualified African-American student who allegedly ‘displaced’ Allen Bakke at the University of California-Davis and triggered the landmark case. Today, Dr. Chavis is a successful ob-gyn in central Los Angeles, serving a disadvantaged community and making a difference in the lives of scores of poor families.” (In fact, Chavis’s first name is Patrick, and he lived not in central LA, but in the suburb of Compton.)

    June 1997, in re Dr. Chavis: “inability to perform some of the most basic duties required of a physician,” the Medical Board of California suspended his license. An administrative law judge, Samuel Reyes, found Chavis guilty of gross negligence and incompetence in the treatment of three patients, one of whom died at his hands. Letting him “continue to engage in the practice of medicine” the judge ruled, “will endanger the public health, safety, and welfare.”

    Social advocacy since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” has spent $trillions elevating the incompetent. The future of mandatory incompetence has arrived. Beware the compassionately compensated hand that wields a scalpel.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Uncle Al: that’s revolting.

    Q.

  • Banerjee

    Quibbler writes:

    … relatively speaking, there’s quite a large Arabic community from India and Pakistan.

    I’m not quite sure that people from the Indian subcontinent can be called “Arabic” – definitely not linquistically and recent data shows not genetically (see PNAS paper.)

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Banerjee: I know that not everyone in India is Arabic, but in this case I am referring to an Arab community from India and Pakistan

    Q.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    No matter how you look at Clifford, the ground swell of public opinion arises from societal values. Social change. While the voice might have been small in the beginning, it took on a greater resonance once everyone agreed to make the change. Would not tolerate it anymore.

    In the North we saw how public opinion changed the way society was acting, although up here, I did not feel the same values before that social change took place.

    Yet one would have to place themselves in disadvantage, discrimminated upon, one’s shoes for a time to think how one would feel, if the roles were reverse, and there was a predominantely black school.

    I am not sure how I would feel.

    My second point, is that I cannot tell the difference in the color of a man’s skin by the words he writes? What give these words accents and meaning, that such might be the case? Hurt, disadvantaged, insecurites, biased to those same words.

    Empathy, for woman and comparative relation in experience, that one would understand?

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    A PC artist friend once stated “The reasons blacks dominate sprinting are purely cultural.” .

    Anybody here agree with this?

    Surely, we should all, as individuals, be considered equal in terms of inherent rights, but we know that we’re not equal in terms of abilities. The notion that every human being is a latent Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, or Miles Davis is nonsense.

    Differences in idividual abilities can translate into statistical differences in collective tendencies once we allow ourselves to be identified as members of groups.

    This, even considered as merely a possibility, may be anathema to those who just want everthing to be nice, but phony solutions based on palatable delusions can only result in disaster.

    So there might be, statistically speaking, racial differences in terms of specific abilities. But is a scientist ‘superior’ to a musician? In both science and music is the possibility of the expression of genius.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    Lincoln put it best in his 1857 Springfield address:

    In some respects she [a black woman] certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others…

    …I think the authors of that notable instrument [the Declaration] intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

  • http://www.buckwaasur.com buck

    Quibbler,

    It feels very weird for an Indian (speaking for myself) to hear there are Arabs from India.

    There’s a large population of muslims in India, but if I am not mistaken, most muslims in India and Pakistan speak Urdu. While urdu has roots in arabic, I think they are different languages and have different (but similar looking) scripts.

    For most people from the Indian subcontinent, the Arab identity is tied to geography and not language or religion.

  • anon

    oh, uncle al. so one anectode proves that there is an equal opportunity conspiracy to let incompetents in. tell yourself that if it makes you feel better. i once got ripped off by a black man, so i guess i get to hate black men forever just like you. it’s called logic, al. try learning some.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Wow. Virtual silence (compared to the other threads), as I feared. If there’s no willingness even to have a discussion (save for some totally bizarre or irrelevant* remarks), then we’re in even worse shape than for the women in physics topic, on which everybody seems to have an opinion. This comment thread speaks volumes, and is thoroughly depressing.

    I’m going to go back to talking about flowers, fruit, food and bikes. Sigh.

    -cvj

    **As to the irrelevant: With respect:

    damtp_dweller: non-white does not equate to black. (I can’t believe I have to make that distinction in the 21st century), and …

    [Update…. I missed some of the point of damtp_dweller’s remark here….. see comment 21 below.]

    banerjee and buck: all very interesting but that was not central to Quibbler’s point, and moreover…. relevance please!

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    I would say more, but on this matter, the situation is so bad in the USA that, unlike the problems women face in physics, I have no personal basis to say anything–the only black physics students I have known, grad or undergrad, are International students from Africa. With such a small sample size and difficulty in evaluating any of it, I was hoping to hear from others who had more direct experience.

    Though, I would say that in the USA, much of the problem does trace back to the rediculous, painful way that schools are funded and administered.

  • ksh95

    Clifford, you say that the UK is significantly behind the US when it comes to cultivating a “black” middle class. Is this true (I’ve never been to the UK so I don’t know). I would imagine that in the US minorities make up a much larger fraction of the population. Hence, a much more visible middle class.

    sisyphys says:

    …but phony solutions based on palatable delusions can only result in disaster…”

    Says who, that’s not obvious to me at all. As a matter of fact, I’d say that a clear view of history and a little thought suggest the opposite….You where supposed to read 1984 in high school

  • Belizean

    Clifford,

    It’s been known for some time that the median income of U.S. blacks of Caribbean origin is on par with that of native whites. Hence, the income gap between native blacks and native whites is likely due to subcultural differences.

    What we need to keep in mind is that subcultures require generations to change substantially. Sadly, the rate at which this change occurs has been retarded by well meaning white liberalism (multiculturalism, affirmative action) allied with corporate avarice (gansta rap, BET).

    Another retarding influence is the lack of black social capital. I once read, to my amazement, that a large fraction if not a majority of whites obtain professional positions through social connections. Blacks have yet to infiltrate this social network to any significant degree. This means that blacks do not compete for many openings in the various (middle class) professions, because they are simply unaware of them.

    It might help to think of racial subcultures as fluids with a mixing time of about 80 years. We’re midway through the mixing interval. I don’t expect us to be discussing this subject in 2045 edition of Cosmic Variance.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    I honestly can’t believe that I have to explain the post, but I’ll try. First, the relevance of “There also seems to be considerably more black students than your experience at Durham would suggest” is plainly obvious: apparently the distribution of ethnicities amongst universities in the UK is non-uniform. I find being criticised for saying this particularly galling since you did in fact ask for information about the situation at other universities here.

    Second, “…the proportion of non-white students seems significantly larger at postgraduate level, and a considerable proportion of the black students are not English.” The conclusion from this is obvious (at least to me): the representation of black British society at postgraduate level in mathematics or physics in Cam seems to be terribly low. Given the fact that postgraduate study is regarded both here and in the US as an important means of entry to the middle classes, the paucity of native black postgrads seems to correlate well with the idea that the black middle class in Britain is relatively small in number. My apologies for mentioning “non-whites” in this context; I had no idea I was to restrict myself solely to a discussion of black Britain.

    You know, I’ve been reading this blog since the very beginning, and was a keen fan of preposterous universe before that, so I have quite a degree of respect for all here. However, over the past couple of days I’ve been surprised by the level of arrogance and rudeness people here are capable of (and please believe me when I say that I use neither “arrogance” nor “rudeness” lightly). Sean’s deliberately mischevious post yesterday was particularly saddening; and now I see that Clifford is all too willing to dismiss things as irrelevant because he doesn’t recognise what is being said.

    By the way, I doubt you’ll be interested now, but Channel 4 broadcast a series over the summer entitled Class in Britain. In spite of the description on the website, the first in the series was particularly relevant to the mobility of black Brits since it focussed on many of the issues confronting immigrants to the UK in the period just after the second world war, many of whom were black. The programme closely examined how new immigrants from the Caribbean inherited many of the social problems of the white working class and how these were further exacerbated by traits unique to Caribbean male culture. If you can find someone who has taped these I think you’ll enjoy them.

  • Dissident

    #13: Clifford, like damtp_dweller I was taken aback by Sean’s post and by the readyness of others to switch off critical thinking and join the angry mob. Much as I sympathize with you, my first thought on seeing your post on a related issue was therefore “I am so NOT stepping into this one too!”.

    Analyzing problems rationally, distinguishing between what we believe or wish and what we know, respecting facts and acknowledging the limitations of our knowledge – that’s what could lead to progress. Alas, it’s not what I see going on here.

  • http://www.phys.washington.edu/~anelson Ann Nelson

    Clifford

    Clearly this is a huge problem, much less easy to address than the factors excluding women from the mathematical sciences. I dont know the answer but this might be a place to try and discuss solutions.

    I would be very interested in a post on some of your experiences, and it might educate people as well. I have had a few housemates and friends who are black and intellectual, and many of the stories they have told, e.g. of not too infrequent unpleasant encounters with police or with other academics who didn’t know their “class” are really horrible.

    The situation in the K-12 schools here in liberal Seattle is awful. The public schools are integrated and minority white but effectively somewhat segregated by division into academic tracks. Very few black kids participate in the gifted program my kids are in and almost all those who do have white parents. And the parents of these gifted black kids report that their kids get given a very hard time by other black kids for being interested in academics, and would rather be at a mostly white and asian school than a school with substantial numbers of minorities because that way they dont have as much peer pressure. The rate of expulsion is over twice as high for black kids.

    I think the reason the women in physics threads are so much hotter is that it is more socially acceptable to express theories about gender, while all but the real wackos are afraid to express an opinion on the factors that keep blacks out of the middle class.

    On the subject of women, I have probably experienced more disapproval from other women for my interest in physics, and find sexist attitudes among women about the proper roles and abilities of women about as prevalent as among men.

    Would it be presumptuous to call black peer pressure on black kids not to achieve black racism? Of course it is clear to me that white racism is a huge and inexcusable problem that must be addressed but maybe black racism contributes too?

  • LambchopofGod

    “However, over the past couple of days I’ve been surprised by the level of arrogance and rudeness people here are capable of (and please believe me when I say that I use neither “arrogance” nor “rudeness” lightly). Sean’s deliberately mischevious post yesterday was particularly saddening;”

    On the other hand we have to recognize that this blog belongs to these 4 people and if we don’t like what they write we can always go elsewhere. Having said that, I have to confess to a bit of a giggle when seeing Sean write that he is tired of seeing his opponents re feminism raise the same old arguments…tu quoque and all that…recognising that the gang of 4 have every right to post whatever they like, still I hope it isn’t rude to point out that there is a stupefying multitude of blogs out there which discuss these political issues, whereas there are very few indeed carrying expert commentary on cosmology, string theory, the daily lives of physics professors, scooters in Taiwan, etc etc etc. So perhaps it would be more worthwhile to focus on those things, and just give us pointers to the latest wonkettry *elsewhere* ? Just a suggestion…..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    damtp_dweller:- Thanks for sharing your dismay, but given the title of the post “The Black Middle Class”, and the subject matter I talked about in the actual post, I was frustrated by all the discussion of other ethnic groups and little or no discussion of the topic in hand….. please forgive that I missed your (indeed relevant) sentence among the other stuff. My oversight. (Btw I was not complaining about the thing you mention in your first paragraph (of your more recent comment).) Anyway, my mistake. On the other hand, to immediately go off and characterize what I said as arrogant and rude seems a little bit of a strong reaction, but fair enough if you want to do that. I’m sorry to have mischaracterized your message as irrelevant, which it was not….. Also if you have an issue with what Sean wrote, then please take it up with Sean, and not me.

    So sorry about that…..I will strike out my remark and acknowledge that I did not read your message as carefully as I should have. I do note however that your second message was much more clearly explained than the first, and the secdon helped me understand the full relevance of what you were trying to say.

    Oh, and thanks for the channel four link.

    Best,

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    Clifford, reality catches up sometimes, so did not have time to read/comment much…But this is obviously an important issue, it is amazing how few black physicists I have met throughout the years. I am wondering if you have any insights as to why that is, and what could be done about it.

    One thing that you mentioned resonates with me, I remember having a huge netweork of people encouraging my education, and even among the other children it was not unacceptable to be succesful in school. Maybe this goes back to image issues you mentioned before.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I tend to complain more about the underrepresentation of women in science than the underrepresentation of black people, for the paradoxical reason that the former problem should be much easier to solve. In the U.S. (which is the only country I know anything about, and even then not in much detail), it’s kind of obvious why there aren’t that many black people becoming scientists: because of the huge disparities in the economic and social situations of blacks and whites. Ultimately, we have to tackle the fundamental problems of racism and economic inequality, with an emphasis on equal access to good schools, health care, and jobs, before we could expect many black kids to aim for such a specialized high-status occupation.

    Which is certainly not to say that the underrepresentation of black people in science isn’t worth worrying about in its own right. The more good role models there are, and the more obvious evidence there is of black people succeeding in high-profile intellectual positions, the easier it will be for kids to contemplate such a track for themselves.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    So LambchopofGod, where are these examples of wonkettry everywhere talking about why there are so few black people in physics? I do not know where those discussions are. Please supply some helpful links.

    Cheers!

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    ksh95:- Actually, I said it was arguable. But depending upon how you define things, it is demonstrably true. But I think i we both listen to the second of the programmes described above (I have not yet…it was not up when I last looked) we might both learn a lot. Thanks for asking.

    Belizean: – Your point about social networks is interesting, but I wonder how significant an effect it is compared to other things. I simply do not know. Interesting though…. I wish I was as optimistic as you that it is just a matter of waiting for “mixing” to happen. I think we need to stir!

    -cvj

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    #15 ksh95: Of course you’re right. In truth, the study of history is the study of the history of phony solutions based on palatable delusions – and this must be a good thing given that history is not only still going, but experiencing double-digit growth!!

    And as for 1984.. it may be a little behind schedule but a lot of right-thinking people are working on it. (Am I mixing ‘1984’ up with ‘Brave New World’? It’s been a while.)

    In any case, no matter what we do it will all end in disaster. If it doesn’t, I’ve spent these past 30 years in this miserable bunker for nothing.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    From my point of view, looking at different Indian (South Asian) communities, there are two paths out of genteel poverty that they commonly take. The first is to be in (small) business; the second is to get educated and to become middle class via a government or professional job (doctor, engineer). Actually during my period of growing up, among the second type, pure science was seen as a second-class choice, the overriding goal being to achieve financial security. Those who took science were either very in love with science or else temperamentally or ability-wise not inclined to the highly competitive doctor/engineer situation.

    The choice of strategy pretty much depends on what the family tradition has been.

    The question I’d first have, with regard to the black middle class is – what strategies do they follow? Depending on that, one might expect different outcomes in universities on whether they choose the business route or the education route.

    The reason talking about women in science is so much easier is because the cross-section of cultures of women is the same as that of men.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Sometimes as I listen I am not sure what I am listening for, as I listen to the differences of the middle class and the historical differences of those in Europe.

    Carribean taken to europe and used in ways no different then slavery was used , yet the advantages of the middle class here in america are descendants of slave and those who were put in favor, aquired possesion.

    So a history here and the differences in europe and america, and the hopes in Europe? Having migrated here to the lands of the americas?

    What would black people have felt about using the underground railroad and found freedom in the North?

    What would their perspective be on the middle class and I still fail to see the differences on how, this perspective from the north would have been irrelevant.

    Maybe it was a very secluded lifestyle, where rascism was frowned upon.

    What shall I do with my two metis’ grandchildren? I really don’t care what color their skin is.

    Social circumstances that their true blood of INdian descent are further reduced through French integration, and it was easy to see how I could relate on a different level.

    Carribean people married to those of white ancestry will have dilute these differences in Europe so that we don’t see this distinction of white and black anymore?

    Does rascism happen? For sure.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Ann Nelson, Moshe:- Thanks for the thoughts. I’ll try to steer away from the standard horror stories of racism that I’ve encountered (or still encounter) in the context of trying to make progress in the societies in the UK or USA (I’ve lived in both for significant amounts of my life.) It might not be useful at this point to go though them in great detail….

    But you did ask for my own experiences. There is a lot to say but I’ll be (relatively) brief.

    I think I succeeded in getting through a lot of the obstacles because of four primary things:

    (1) Very strong support from my family, particularly my mother. When I decided that I was going to do something (try to do this entrance exam or the other, try to have a go at some career choice), nobody in my family told me it was impossible. Even if they did not really know what it was….they just were encouraging of me to go ahead and do it if I wanted to. There was no shortage of reading, etc, in my family. And nobody told me that I was not supposed to to be able to teach myself electronics from the books that I found lying around (my father was a telephone engineer, and he must have had books from courses he had to take…he never knew that I read them, as far as I know…we never talked about stuff like that…). I think that they were just happy that I was not making a niuscance of myself and had found a way to keep myself occupied.

    (2) West Indian (Caribbean) culture. Actually, that culture, when in the actual Caribbean itself, appreciates the value of education very highly. See above. It gets diluted and messed up when it gets to the UK…I don’t know why… the breakdown of the family might have something to do with it… see earlier remarks. Also, there was at the time I was there little of the kind of playground pressures I talked about that a kid faces in school in the USA and UK. (that may have changed now with the presence of so many TVs showing programs and videos from the USA….spreading the “youth culture”) Of course, there was a little of that, but it was manageable enough for me to rise above it. I was of course a phenomenally determined kid. So any taunting made me more bloody minded about continuing to do things my way. That attitude persists. See later. The fact that my parents moved us to the Caribbean for a while was a lucky accident. I was a kid largely alone (in some senses) on a tiny island, allowed to dream and not told that he could not. Nobody told me that I was not supposed to be able to be a scientist….. and I had little or no TV to constantly brainwash me that the only people who were scientists were only white males. By time I returned to the UK at age 14 my mind was set already……. which leads me to:

    (3) I’m determined. Very determined. Someone (or a system) tells me that I can’t do something that I said I can do – I’m going do stare them in the face and do it right in front of them. This is one of the things that spurred me on in the face of so much doubt (on the part of others) and ignorance that I faced from the first day I arrived back in the uk to go to (what you might call) high school. A few examples: (a) The school I went to sign up for gave me a form to pick the subjects I wanted to do. I was so excited! All the stuff I’d been aching to study at the next level! I filled out the form. They put me in all the “B” groups of almost all those subjects. I never took a test for them to determine that. To their credit, they began to see pretty quickly that was a mistake, but it could not be changed in some cases due to timetabling issues….. but that was ok. (b) The first day (or maybe the second) in the maths class there was a test. I’d never seen 90% of the stuff in the test before and so I did miserably. No-one thought to ask what I’d seen before, but it was assumed that I was just not good at maths. Luckily, the teacher was reasonably open minded, and so the class was run in a way that let the students work through the text book at their own pace. It was supposed to go for the two years of preparation for the mathematics o’level. (O’level is sort of a critical high school exam certificate you get. A-stream students get entered for those…… B-stream students took a lower grade exam called CSE’s at the time, which is what I was to be entered for by default….no questions asked.) I was so determined to show them that I could do that stuff, and so enamoured with mathematics – I’d never done anything like that sort of thing before, I loved it! – I finished the entire book (working all the exercises, etc) in a few months, by late December. So, to their credit they put me forward to do the o’level a year early. (c) I was called into the office of one (well-known in the UK HEP circles) professor at Imperial College and told that they’d received my application for graduate school, but they would not be offering me one of the places that they offered to students graduating from IC since they were going to offer it to “someone smarter”. He actually said that! Wow! To say that to a kid (of any race) is a terrible thing. Well, that may have been one of the biggest boosts to my career ever. I went off, with a new determination to “show ’em” in my mind…coupled with the already motivating fact that I loved the subject…. I had great success in graduate school elsewhere, won fellowships and prizes, went off to the IAS in Princeton….. I was delighted to receive a phone call from him several years later offering me a postdoc in his group (not at IC any more). I should have said that I was not coming since I was going “somewhere better”, but I could not bring myself to be as much of a jerk as he had been when I was a young bright-eyed student sitting in his office. But I thanked him politely and went off to Santa Barbara’s ITP….

    I could go on…..there are many many examples of people making assumptions about what I could not do based upon their visual assessment of me, and I had enough confidence based on those formative years (on the Island) where I formed my character to just spit in their faces and keep walking forward. But the point is that I think I was lucky. I just don’t think I’m smarter or faster than several people I met on the bus everyday heading to or from “South Central” LA, or several roughly equivalent (re: this discussion) parts of London. I just think that circumstances meant that I had ten years being disconnected from a lot of distracting and discoouraging stuff, and that was just great for me. But I could be overstating things….. I do not know if during that ten years I’m talking about the kids the same age as me in the UK would have faced the same negative forces that kids face now…. so maybe the effect of “the Island” is not as significant as I state. But I suspect that it is quite significant.

    Gosh…I’ve forgotten what the fourth thing was…I typed the other three for so long. It will come back to me in good time I suppose. I’ll post this and see…..

    Oh, wait, maybe the fourth thing was

    (4) Pure luck to meet the right people. Those teachers I mentioned above could well have been less open-minded than they turned out to be. Then I woudl have been in a pickle. They would have made up their minds about me -wrongly- as they did at the outset, and I would have been stuck. But where they could -and it was not always uniform- they did eventually recognize that I could do things at a high level and they put opportunities (the same ones that the standard middle class kids had) my way. In a more pressured school system and rigid national curriculum that came in later years, I might not have done so well. Luck. Luck. Luck.

    Surely if we can create better systems in society (the images kids see in the media, the education they go through, etc) – one that does not need to rely heavily on my unusual trajectory, luck, and bloody-minded determination – more black people can contribute to science at the level that they definitely can. That’s all I want to say.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    I understand “your accent” now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Plato:- I see. You’ve got to be the only one then, since most people are confused by it. It is from everywhere and nowhere….like me.

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    My second point in #8

    When you listen, one has to listen a little deeper as to what is being said. It’s not always clear, until you wrote that larger post above in #30.

    You’ll understand what I meant now I’m sure. We all have our “accents” :)

    Now back to flowers. LOL

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    Clifford,

    Thanks for the clarification, I really appreciate it. For my part I will try to be clearer in what I say.

    Anyhow, your comments about the supportive family environment you had when younger are interesting because they seem to tie in with what many social scientists here believe about the current generation of black youths in large cities. In fact, regardless of the racism which black children undoubtedly are faced with from without their communities, there is perhaps a more insidious problem at work: collapse of the family structure within inner-city black communities. This isn’t helped by the fact that minority and immigrant communities in London are so desperately overcrowded that a foreign aid agency has recently begun humanitarian work there.

    I mention this because of an extremely interesting article I read several weeks ago in the Sunday Times which focusses on just these sorts of problems. There’s nothing related to science in it but it’s an interesting precis of contemporary thinking about the problems faced by blacks in Britain’s cities.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    dampt_dweller: – interesting article. I will look at it. And the other link is remarkable too.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Paul Valletta

    The fact that in the U.K, Black Middle Classes have suffered more than any other section of society, is the result of the class structure that is still prevelant in U.K at present. I think that because of the U.K class structure’s stronghold over a vast era, it has been pretty hard for all classes to penetrate the “system”.

    Just the word “class” has its roots historically within education ‘CLASS-room’. Education was a class elitist form of structure, and “CLASS” is based on Her-Majesty’s-Pleasure?..a nod or wink from the right source, elevates one into the hierarchy of “exclusivness”.

    The U.K is changing, not fast enough, but change is at hand. It is fact that there are Black-Middle-Class sections of society, but I think that they are “non-conformists”, in that they may be succsessful, but I do not think that they are subscribing to a class-structure that has been crumbling and have its foundations unearthed?

    It may be that there is an underlaying predjudice, based on “human-to-human” factors, and whats the first thing another Human see’s, when one enters an interiew room for instance?

    CLick here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/extras/episodes/five.shtml

    and click ‘watch the clip’ for the bases of U.K current way to understanding and tackling the problem.

    Anyone in the U.S who gets the chance to see the original “OFFICE” and the recent “EXTRAS” should really have no problem in understanding the British Mentality of predjudice.

    Although its comedy, it is potrayed in a most powerful format, that really makes you stand back and think, think deep that is.

  • Moshe

    Thanks Clifford, our paths could not have been more different, I was spoiled by a very supportive environment all around, it is really interesting to see your perspective.

  • phonon

    There has been a lot of discussion here about underrepresented groups, but little about overrepresented ones. Blacks are an order of magnitude less likely to be physicists compared to their proportion of the population, and Jews (in particular of Ashkenazi descent–in fact I’ve met very few Sephardi scientists or mathematicians) an order of magnitude more likely (at least from my experiences in the US). Are these inverse situations?

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  • macho

    Clifford,

    Sorry for the silence, but when I first checked in the comments seemed to going in a non-productive direction. I sincerely don’t understand why there is such an aversion to accounting for cultural effects in human behavior. This is not a liberal stance, merely a practical one. The data support this, and in addition to the references I sent in to an earlier post there are studies that document such biases based on racial identification.

    I agree with Anne that it would be more useful to discuss the issues with the idea of developing solutions.

    First would be to try to base the discussion on the premise that cultural effects can be very powerful and are not restricted to any one group. Research has shown (and Anne has pointed out that) expectations/beliefs about the abilities, interests, and “proper place” about groups are held not only by outside groups but also by members within the group. (C. Steele of Harvard has done some interesting work on this). Secondly, these sterotypes become deeply embedded in cultural behavior — discrimination and segregation emphasize and reinforce them; resulting behavior and observations are then used to justify further discrimination. Cultures and attitudes can and do change, but slowly. If the goal is to facilitate these changes, we need to identify and understand what the stereotypes are.

    I don’t know anything about the UK middle class, so will confine my comments to physics in the US. The numbers are extremely low: (from APS COM 2002)
    http://www.aps.org/apsnews/0502/050216.cfm

    Our data show that in general African American Ph.D. physicists are less than 0.5% of the Ph.D. physicists employed at the DOE labs. African Americans make up nearly 2% of the physics faculties across the United States, including the faculties of HBCU’s. Looking at data compiled by Professor Donna Nelson at University of Oklahoma, we find that the percentage of African-Americans on the faculties of the top 50 physics departments in the U.S. is much smaller (N=60 or 0.6% of total).

    HBCU = Historically Black Colleges and Universities

    The AIP’s statistics on students 2003:
    http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/ed/table11.htm
    African American
    Bachelor’s 4%
    PhDs 2%

    The AIP also breaks down the percent in various racial groups who take physics in high school
    http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/hs2001/figure4.htm

    The numbers are increasing in each “racial group” but in 2001
    the breakdown was
    47% Asian
    33%white
    22%African American
    21% Hispanic

    The full report on HS physics is also worth reading:
    http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/hsreport2003.pdf
    and notes the correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement in general, and the correlations between the socioeconomic status of high schools with the percent of students who take physics and the percent of schools which offer AP physics. (The teacher preparation is a bit scary — only 22% of HS physics teachers majored in physics in college, with an additional 11% who majored in physics education; and almost 50% of HS teachers primarily teach another subject…) They don’t correlate teacher preparation with school socioeconomic status, but based on my work with HS teachers across the greater Chicago metropolitan area there are strong correlations here as well.

    What I don’t know is the percent of African American students broken down by socioeconomic group, although I suspect that this will account for at least some of the disparity between the percent of Africna Americans in the general population and their numbers in ranks of professional physicists.

    In the US, at least, physics is not seen as a way to break into the middle class.
    Many physicists come from families with a strong academic tradition (a parent in academia or science related field) or higher socioeconomic group — most kids who grow up in a small town (one without a college/university in it, which is most) or inner city do not know any physicists, have never met one, and have no idea that this is a potential career.

    As a practical solution it might be worth looking at Xie and Shauman’s work on pathways into science. The decision to major in a science or non-science field is often made in high school, but many of the women who earn a degree in science switch from a non-science major early in their college career — ie it is possible to recruit talented students who had not previously envisioned a career in science.

  • yagwara

    I won’t reiterate the usual suspects: the amazing prevalence of unconscious racism in people who should know better, a deeply unequal education system, the strength of underlying assumptions about the abilities of black people.

    One thing I don’t hear much discussed though. Thinking of my students (mathematics), the ones with the ability to overcome these obstacles all feel an obligation and a need to do something which directly addresses those obstacles: to go into law, government, journalism, maybe medicine. They seem to feel that going into science is a retreat into the academy.

  • Belizean

    I do not know if during that ten years I’m talking about the kids the same age as me in the UK would have faced the same negative forces that kids face now…. so maybe the effect of “the Island” is not as significant as I state. But I suspect that it is quite significant.

    Clifford,

    I have no idea how damaging to you greater exposure to British popular culture might have been. But I think that exposure to American popular culture after about 1970 would not have been beneficial. Using TV as a primary indicator of pop culture, you would have been exposed to black portrays that I summarize as follows:

    1950s: The black presence on TV was slight and generally negative.

    1960s: Blacks were portrayed on TV as members of the mainstream culture who spoke standard American English and were only incidentally black.

    1970s: Incidentally black characters were viewed as inauthentic. Black characters were in general required to speak with ghetto accents. Buffoonery was common.

    1980s: Incidentally black characters remained a minority, with the possible exception of single popular sitcom.

    1990s: The ghettoization of syndicated programs featuring stereotypically black characters begins with the rise of TV networks specializing in such fare. The prevalence of incidentally black characters rises, but they are largely confined to minor supporting roles.

    2000s: Mildly pornographic black videos glorifying antisocial themes become a TV fixture.

    [The great exception to this trend was science fiction programming. There characters remained incidentally black from the 1960s onward.]

    So if you were a child in the U.S. during 1970s or later you would have been exposed to a massive dose of race-conscious TV repeatedly driving home the message that blacks are a separate group with a ghetto subculture equally valid in all respects to the dominant one.

    This idea of the equally validity of all aspects of black culture has gone so far that many teacher are now reluctant to correct the grammatical errors committed by their black students.

    I think that you’re correct in suspecting that confinement to your island was ultimately beneficial.

  • Sami

    I, too, am of the opinion that much larger quality-of-life issues need to be addressed within the black lower and middle classes before we can even begin to contemplate additional reasons for why there are few black physicists.

    Clifford, maybe the reason why this thread has attracted relatively little discussion is because that which has historically limited socioeconomic success for black people in the United States and the United Kingdom has been so cut-and-dried. Originally it was slavery and its legacy. Now (US- or UK-native) black people must deal not only with the (sometimes still resounding!) echoes of disenfranchisement, illiteracy, poverty, etc. but with an internal culture that can romanticise the results of that past and that can deeply discourage any escape.

    We musn’t forget that only a hundred years ago, women sometimes discouraged other women from higher education because it would “unfit them for woman’s true sphere, the home,” and felt that any higher education that a woman did receive would be best put to use in “domestic science.” How did this change? Who changed it?

    Black children of African and Caribbean immigrants, at least in the US, are in some sense not socially considered “black,” just as east and south Asian-Americans born and raised in the US, and their children, are not socially considered wholly “American.” In part this is because many of the black immigrants come from families who left their native countries in order to seek a nebulous something better, but what is interesting is that after the second or third generation, and especially if these later-generation black immigrants live in native black neighborhoods, their grandchildren begin drifting in social habits and in education toward those of their native black peers.

    Not having reached any critical mass, they must eventually assimilate toward some cultural norm, and in any case at very first glance most Americans will treat them as they treat native black people, with all the baggage that generally comes with that.

    I attended average, Middle American public state schools with a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, etc. and a mix of income levels. Discouragingly, as in most public schools, you could usually tell the academic level of a given class by stepping in and counting the number of black children. But the fact is that there were sometimes advanced classes with a number of black students, and if you were to investigate, you would very often find that black immigrant children had grades as good or better than those of whites, Jews, etc. in the class, and that these children had generally positive attitudes toward education and its effect; but native black children’s grades were often near the bottom of the class, and their attitudes toward education and behavior in class were noticeably less positive.

    I cannot say what caused this, but I will observe that it is true in so many other places, particularly in higher education, where immigrant black students and instructors are classed, somehow, apart from native black students and instructors, and often people expect, as if it were the natural course of things, that the immigrants should do relatively well while the natives should struggle and falter, or that the immigrants are able to get in and get by on their own merits while the natives are “affirmative action admits” whose qualifications and abilities are unfit. (What is actually true in many places is that the immigrants ARE sometimes the “affirmative action admits,” and the native black students expected to benefit from any affirmative action are being squeezed out by African immigrants who are considered more qualified.)

    At the base of it these differences are cultural and educational, of course. How to break the vicious cycles happening in poor black America is the main issue — and much of that change must come not from white Lady Bountiful, but from within the black community — but I think it is not unwise to assume, as others have suggested, that an entire group emerging from dire straits will prefer those white-collar jobs with practical impacts on their lives and their hometowns.

    My parents, themselves educated immigrants who had seen the results of abject poverty in their own countries and who had at times lived it, could not understand why I would want to do anything so impractical as physics. To them education was everything, but that education should have been used to pursue something resulting in a comfortable living for my family.

    If we start working on building established classes of black, Latino, Amerindian, Inuit doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers and engineers (!), then we may eventually see more of those who are willing to devote their lives to something so impractical and distant as pure physics or math — all of a sudden it will have become less impractical, less distant, as once the idea of a black engineer or doctor began to seem less distant.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    My experience of Hispanics (I’m going to assume for now that the issues are somewhat similar to the obstacles that face black people) is that education is very highly valued for socioeconomic reasons. Families that can afford it will try as hard as possible to send their kids to university and then to grad school — in the US if possible. In particular, science is often seen as a “way forward” economically — people with degrees in science can get jobs in the US or in Latin America, whereas other degrees may not be as “transferable”.

    But in general, this encouragement of Hispanics into science happens only in the upper/middle classes. That, i suspect, is largely about the cost of sending a kid to university and grad school. And after qualifications are acquired, many people encourage their kids to get highly-paid jobs (ie, not academic!). So academia is important, but not as important as making money.

    There’s also the social aspect with young kids that carries on through adolescence. When i was in grade school, white kids tended to hang out with other white kids. I don’t remember consciously or deliberatly explicite racism on the playground, but i’m sure some degree of prejudice is what made kids hang out with kids of the same racial group.

    Are these factors at all parallel to what black people face?

    Buck: i know people whose families are from India and who self-identify as Arabs. I haven’t questioned them about that self-identification. I suspect they also have family in Arab countries. I am fully aware of what the word “Arabic” means.

    Q.

  • X^2

    Math is considered boring, useless and hard.

    It is a general problem which is slightly exacerbated within the Black subculture. Doing math makes you a dullard since it has not changed for centuries and you need no more than 1 way to say 1 + 1 = 2. I feel more embarrassed to tell people I do a math degree since it is considered a useless degree by many with little applications. I tire to explain the profound uses and to note that the internet – with which they use with such propensity – among many, has not an aspect from programming to engineering to security in which mathematic’s strong hand in it cannot be thanked most profusely. But most, regardless of race (although more so with black people), are certain that there are more important and less boring things to be done with one’s time. You dare to lock yourself in a library while our peope continue to starve, kill each other and be oppressed? That which could be done by emphasizing eduacation, the subtler benefits of studying the science remain hidden for most for the simple reason of a lack of understanding of what such entails.

    Key, is that most, myself included have had a very bad experience learning math, it takes a strong will and knowledge of what you wish to press on nonetheless. Many in my age group (again even moreso with the minority kids) tend to not have the latter. Societies did not develop sciences, art etc. until there existed algiculture and cities where leisure time could begin to exist. One cannot expect those raised in impoverished conditions to give a whit on the finer aspects of the working of nature. Too long have their minds been wired into pondering the finer aspects of survival. With bitterness, it becomes hard to find appreciation of anything, to note the beauty of one’s soul as a reflection of that which exists in nature requires alot of free unpressured time. Improve conditions uniformly and the problems will be lifted.

    Within my age group (20) I have never felt much cause for racisim nor descrimination for an interest in the sciences (within and without the black subculture, if there was teasing it was certainly light hearted in nature, recollections on which bring smiles to my face). It is only among the older generation that I feel uncomfortable and at times the perception of being judged. Indeed among them, the thought “what does this guy think he is playing at” is so palpable as to be felt, hanging in the air like a dark cloud of smoke, clearly spelling out the message. I will refrain to talk on stories where there might have existed a possibilty of my progress being purposely compromised – although my mother is certain of their being carried out with malintent- the events may well have been not but an unfortunate series of coincidences.

  • X^2

    Oh yes I forgot to mention. I am in the UK and I am doing Math(s) in University. Everyone here is nice and there is no one racist in the faculty, although I am the only one AFAIK who is black out of some ~190 or so total students (all years). I only mention that I am black because it is relevant to the topic. Such distinctions and divisions are a double edged sword, they serve only to keep seperations but these divides are what allow for cultural diversity and different interesting people.

  • fh

    “I sincerely don’t understand why there is such an aversion to accounting for cultural effects in human behavior.”

    It suggests that by conertated actions we might be able to change things. It also suggests we and our society are imperfect, and imperfect in very acute and glaring ways.
    The former is strenuous the latter not flattering to our egos. Hence people dislike to think of this.
    I’m not suggesting everybody who has argued this way has this (subconcious) psychological motivations but they are naturally there.

    About the particular silence, Germany has a very small Black population, but I have studied in the UK for a while and indeed I found it to be very much a class society. And skin colour still correlates with class.

    I cocur with Sean that that’s why many people don’t really argue that much about it, society’d have to solve the class problem which is not there for the women case. And then on top of that you’d also have the discrimination and other cultural factors.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    fh wrote:

    I cocur with Sean that that’s why many people don’t really argue that much about it, society’d have to solve the class problem which is not there for the women case.

    and others have written similar things to this.

    cvj says: With respect to all of you, I hope you realise that this is simply a cop-out. You’re taking the easy way out. To claim that a problem as important as this (if you actually believe it is, as you say) is so difficult that you won’t even discuss it is to make the problem more difficult to solve. If people sat around and said that about women’s suffrage not so long ago, where wouold we be as a society right now? This is really really sad. I urge you to reconsider.

    You will never make progress on a problem -no matter how difficult- if you don’t even want to talk about it. Once again….that approach is a cop-out.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    I don’t think these things are simply explained by class. Class is a factor, but WHY is it a factor?

    “And then on top of that you’d also have the discrimination and other cultural factors.”

    On top of that, or more fundamentally?

    as an aside:

    “which is not there for the women case. “

    well, actually it is, at least in the UK. Women with more money have more options available to them because they have access to childcare and healthcare services that aren’t available to the less well-off (eg private healthcare, nannies).

    Q.

  • fh

    Well the class problem has been argued about for 150 Years at least. Or you can go all the way back to Platon to find criticism of deep hierarchies in society.

    I honestly wouldn’t have a clue what to say on this subject. Plus your timing was probably unfortunate after such an intense debate on women, I at least have debate fatigue. Sorry!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    fh said

    “Well the class problem has been argued about for 150 Years at least.”

    It is too convenient to call it a class problem. This is a nice way of not tackling it.

    fh also said

    I honestly wouldn’t have a clue what to say on this subject.

    But why? Don’t you see that as part of the problem too? Everybody is willing to pass on all sorts of wisdom when it comes to women in science. They pass on all kinds of data they’ve gathered either anecdotally, made up, or from learn-ed web links. On a subject that they are no less or more qualified to talk about -blacks in science- they declare it “too difficult” or suddenly display remarkable modesty in their ability to do similar conjecturing, speculating, exchanging ideas, data, etc.

    Fascinating and depressing.

    fh…. you already made some interesting comments. Thanks! Don’t cop-out…keep participating.

    The first step in tacking a problem is to acknowledge it exists. How do you do that? You talk about it !

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    It’s absolutely a cop-out to change the subject to class when we’re talking about race; the subjects are definitely intertwined but just as definitely different. But I don’t think it’s a cop-out to say that the best strategy to increase the representation of black people in science is to improve the conditions of black people more generally. I would love to see a huge improvement in public schools, for example. We should stop funding them via locally property taxes and switch to a national system so that poor neighborhoods have just as good schools as wealthy neighborhoods (if not better). Schools should be kept open late, and provide a local center for youth culture that is a safe haven for anyone who wants to go. There should be genuine opportunities for exposure to many different career options, and abundant help for anyone who wants to aim for a college education. And, needless to say, there should be well-prepared teachers who offer flexible and demanding curricula that allow students to show their real talents. None of this, of course, prevents us from meanwhile encouraging black students to go into science, and presenting to them attractive role models for a life they might not have naturally considered for themselves.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Schooling definitely plays a part in this.

    On a non-government scale (not to say that the government doesn’t play a role, but i’m interested in the non-gov side too):

    “None of this, of course, prevents us from meanwhile encouraging black students to go into science, and presenting to them attractive role models for a life they might not have naturally considered for themselves.”

    At what age does racism “kick in”? That is, is it always around, even from a very early age, or does it start nearer adolescence (as sexism does)?

    There are quite a lot of outreach programs for graduate level women in science. Are there comparable programs for minority groups?

    Q.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Martha’s Vineyard and the appearance of what might never have happened in other settings considering what doesn’t take place in the UK?

    Is this what created the disparity and the feelings of question to what the “middle class” meant?

    So you look at this and listen from a perspective shared and you learn a lot about Clifford, but there is a bigger struggle that he wants to make known?

    cvj: The first step in tacking a problem is to acknowledge it exists. How do you do that? You talk about it !

    Okay perspective is now focused.

    What do you see “as the problem” and how would you change things Clifford?

    I like Lee Smolins idea about “educating the educators” in this regard? Would that help. Fh raised some statistical information that was not encouraging, yet the push should continue.

    Maybe introduce “reverse” discrimmination. Not to throw a monkey wrench into the pot, but further enlighten what had become available seats to students of varying ethnicities. Who will sit as alloted, would be taken over those whose marks would have granted entry, but, where this problem had to be addressed?

    IN no way should this be taken as a support of racism of any kind. If the student was woman how would this be treated, in the event of enthinicity, I would suspect that this would be overuled, regardless.

    I would point this out, and ask, had we handled the problem in the right way in terms of how we find evidence of this statistical disparation.

    Hope this addresses talking about it?

  • ann nelson

    I would like to find out what people interested in this subject think about the effectiveness and desirability of various things that are being done by many physics departments, such as

    Outreach: For instance sending representatives to gives talks at and recruit from historically black colleges or at meetings for Black adn Hispanic physicists

    Affirmative action : In a mild form this consists of making a conscious effort to avoid inadvertant bias in hiring and selection, by taking time to carefully attempt to objectively evaluate all candidates, and not using subjective criteria easily affected by subconscious prejudice or the self-confidence of ther candidate like “he seems like he would fit in better/be more of a leader/make me more comfortable” etc.

    In a strong form this consists of using different evaluation criteria for underrepresented groups, which are always lower in some aspect (e.g. GRE).

    An intermediate and most common form is using diversity as a “tie breaker” between apparently roughly similarly qualified candidates.

    Mentoring Programs: assigning mentors, usually minority, to minority students

    Minority recruitment programs: Extra financial incentives for minority students to attend graduate school.

    Set aside programs; Fellowships and other benefits specifically set aside for minorities. Sometimes in order to avoid anti-affirmative action state laws these are instead set aside for students or postdocs who have demonstrated interest in
    outreach and mentoring.

    Special conferences, meetings or other networking/support opportunities for minorities.

    How important/desirable/useful are these?

  • fh

    “But why? Don’t you see that as part of the problem too?”

    Speaking only about me personally, it hasn’t touched me directly yet. Where I grew up there is no black population to speak of at all. (in fact it’s almost completely homogenous).
    The equivalent question in Germany would be why we have so few Turkish physicists, but there you are truely in a different field for you also have less turkish physicists in Turkey then German physicists in Germany, the entire society does not seem to value this as highly as we in Germany do.

    Thinking about it, our awareness of the womens issue is definately sharpened by knowing women who are struggling/have struggled personally, especially if it has been in our field.

    Not knowing anyone black I never thought about it as directly.

    So the honest answer would be that yes, to me personally it has been a less important issue, even though I absolutely agree that on a social level it is as much or more of an issue.
    In that sense, thanks for the wake up call!

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Is there a way to rule out subjective biases and deal with concrete information in that selection process?

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    If one had seen this as a problem, in under representation, that you could encourage, why would you not send out information and encouragements for the possibilties “to exist” for any of them?

    IN a tie breaking scenario, of course, send it to the minorities. Why not? You met the stastical valuation and had not catered to the subjective one.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Ann– Of course these programs should be evaluated by careful studies, not by gut feelings. But, given that this is a blog, I’ll give you my gut feeling: I suspect that outreach programs, mentoring, and special conferences are more important and effective than set-asides, affirmative action, and recruitment. In other words, I suspect that the problem is not discrimination at the point where we accept students or hire faculty, but just that the pool is much smaller than it would be if more minority students were encouraged in the first place. And I also think that the most important place to do that encouraging (for women as well as minorities) is in elementary and secondary schools; by the time we get to admitting grad students and hiring faculty, much of the damage has already been done.

  • ann nelson

    Is there a way to rule out subjective biases and deal with concrete information in that selection process?

    Plato–in undergraduate and graduate admissions, where we do not do interviews, in principle we could say the admissions committee is only permitted to see a file with all information about ethnicity and gender redacted. Would this be a good thing? In the far past such information was generally used to reduce the number of asian, jewish, or female students. Now it is either not consciously used or, at many places, it is used to increase the numbers of american indian, black and hispanic students, and, in some subfields, female students. Most people agree the past usage was bad. The present usage of information about ethnicity for strong affirmative action is very controversial. Even in blue states such as California and Washington the voters have explicitly made race and gender conscious hiring and admissions at state universities illegal.

    While I have no sympathy with the whiners complaining about reverse discrimination, It does seem to be that the backlash caused by strong affirmative action ultimately makes this an unproductive approach.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Ann Nelson: – Thanks. I also think (like Sean…thanks Sean….) that there has not been as much attention paid to building the pool as ought to be in order to tackle the problem. And there are soooo many things that can be done to build the pool…but yes it is hard…. and ideally a relationship has to be built with those students who are first contacted at school level, tracking with them for a good portion of their trajectories (i.e. not just giving them an inspiring talk and then bye bye…although that is better than nothing!)….this is particularly hard.

    So yes….. working on the pool in various ways. Workshops/miniconference are really good. Laising with schools too…. and teachers (Plato’s “educate the educators”)…This all at least shows the people concerned that the local university actually cares about them, too.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • KenL

    Boring linguistics clarifications of Paul (#36) and buck (#11).

    Urdu and Hindi nearly identical languages. The primary differences are in the written forms (Arabic, Sanskrit), the ethnicities associated with each, and the language-specific vocabulary associated with those ethnicities and their primary religions (Islam/Hindi). In terms of relationship they’re probably somewhere on the scale between Norwegian/Swedish, and American/British.

    Paul says “class” has its root in the word “classroom”. That would be a surprise to the Romans, who had a word ‘classis’, which is defined as “one of the classes into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people”. The concept of social class does seem to have been around for a long freaking time.

    My $0.02 to this intriguing discussion is pretty simple: American concepts of race bewilder me. Most countries around the world are pretty homogenous, and make a rather clear distinction between “us” (the primary, dominant homogenous group) and “other”. It’s pretty hard to become part of the “us” group unless you’re born into it, or kick the “us” group out and become the “us” yourself. That makes race relations mostly about increasing the status of the “other” group, which seems on at least some level to encourage the disparate members of the “other” group not to piss all over each other.

    The United States rather clearly makes a similar distinction, between “White” and “Black”, but then confuses the issue by entrenching the racial differences into issues of class as well. Then, to compound the mess, the US allows ethnicities to move from the “other” (Black) group into the dominant (White) one. Given the experience of the Irish, Jewish, and Italians, the on-going assimilation of East Asians, and the likely assimilation of Latinos and South Asians, it’s pretty clear that everyone who isn’t already part of the dichotomy prefers to be grouped into the dominant “White” category, rather than the subordinate ‘default’ “Black” category, and is perfectly happy to piss on any other group necessary to make the transition as quickly as possible.

    I’m not sure if Belizean’s (#16) optimism about cultural and subcultural mixing holds. The United States has had a long, long time to assimilate the “Black” category into the dominant group, and has not done so. The successes of the Caribbean Black population he describes might instead be a case of individual subgroups choosing to leverage their non-Black “Latino” identity to get out of the less desirable “Black” group and potentially into the “White” one.

    And his/her notion of ‘subcultures’ seems to give a bit too much credence to the innateness of cultures, and ignore the rather more general nature of human social networks, how they form (and are maintained and strengthened) in families and in communities and in peer groups.

    =====

    I tend to agree with Sean — outreach, mentoring, and support networks are the way to go: increase the size of the pool of qualified candidates. Combined with bettering the economic circumstances of underpriveleged folks — also an important step.

    Affirmative action, set-asides, and recruitment are largely band-aids, not solutions. Too, they just feed simmering resentments of folks (pretty much by definition members of the dominant “White” group) who aren’t getting the benefit of such programs. That said, I don’t think they’re entirely useless — a large part of success in any field is professional networks, and if you’re outside the network you’ll be at a clear disadvantage even with all other qualifications being equal. Recruitment seems one possible method by which the ‘network’ advantage could be leveled for all applicants.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Furthermore (to my earlier comment): – My several pieces of writing about the media and the representation of science and scientists is also relevant here. In my opinion, this is the single most under-rated tool that we have….. It is potentially a powerful ally, but nobody really takes it as seriously as I think it ought to be taken.

    The simple fact is that a lot of kids’ time is spent absorbing images from the media. A scary amount. A really scary amount in fact. We can’t stop people from watching tv, commercials, and videos and playing video games.

    Why are we not using this most powerful of tools in this task before us? I won’t repeat everything I have said about science in the media here…you can look in the archives….. but imagine also helping create some positive images of who is “allowed to do science”. I suspect that if this were done in large enough volume, we’d have black people knocking on our doors asking us how they are to follow a career in science. We need to work with our friends in the Industry (entertainment, etc) right along side working with our friends in the schools. These are two big pieces of a kid’s education… we need to tackle the problem on both sides.

    The simple most important fact -in my mind- is that most black kids do not know that doing science is a career option. We need to tell them this.

    The earlier comment by I forget who about science not being a choice made by working class people because it does not make money is just misguided. Somehow, it is too esoteric? No, no, and no. I am not saying that we need black people to become string theorists or cosmologists! Being a staff scientist in a hospital is an example of a scientist. This person works in the community too. Just like a teacher or a bus driver. It pays a wage. These are good careers too.

    If we don’t tell them this, how will they know?

    -cvj

  • fh

    “And his/her notion of ‘subcultures’ seems to give a bit too much credence to the innateness of cultures…”

    How about inertia instead of innateness? Just because something is culturally formed doesn’t mean we can switch it off with a concious decision, nor does it mean that it must neccessarily dissolve in context. It can function as a ‘system’ in the environment of the host culture almost indefinately.
    See the Jewish, twothousand years of diaspora in all kind’s of host cultures yet the cultural identity stayed stable. And a culture that has in a long tradition of valuing learning and thinking created an environment that seems to vastly benefit your chances of developing your scientific abilities.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Plato asked

    ” What do you see “as the problem” and how would you change things Clifford?”

    I’m not sure I understand the question. Do you mean beyond what I said in the post whose thread this is? I thought I made it pretty clear what the problem is there. Do come back if you’re asking for something different than that.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    X^2 (comments 45 and 46): Thanks! I recognize a lot of what you describe. You indeed have to rise above it, and try not to become too involved in looking for the conspiracy behind everything. Sure, it is sometimes there, and at other times, it is just coincidence. One cannot always tell the difference and one has to draw the line somewhere between spending a lot of time looking for it and just moving on and trying again, or whatever….. It is hard, especially because it wastes a lot of time, energy, and emotional energy. Imagine what things we could create if we were not also wasting time on stuff like that!?

    But yes, it is hard to ignore…even for me today: Trivial example: Most people in my neighbourhood walk right by me (within 1 or 2 meters or so) when I am outside my house fixing my fence or tending the garden. They say nothing, because they are accustomed to treating people like colour as though they do not exist. They assume (because most people hire “help” in to do all the hard work in their households…..and that “help” is always people of colour) that I must be “the help”. It never occurs to me that I might also be a professional who owns the house I’m standing in front of, just like they do. Therefore they say nothing to me, their neighbour.

    So…. What do I do with that? It is upsetting, as they say hello to other (white) neighbours who might be working outside their homes (I have verified this)….. Do I spend time worrying about whether this is racism? Classism (yes, it exists in america, earlier commenter)? Or something innocent? Well, I could, but why waste emotional energy on it? I’m not exactly going to change their behaviour by begging them to tell me hello.

    So I should just get on with life. Easy to say, of course, but it upsets me sometimes all the same.

    -cvj

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    “The earlier comment by I forget who about science not being a choice made by working class people because it does not make money is just misguided.”

    I said something about class and science, but it wasn’t that, so I assume you don’t mean me?

    On the subject of outreach, what forms do you think this should take (question for everyone) ? What do you think would work? *How* do we change things, on the level of what individual people can do?

    –IP

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Clifford,

    Ann Nelson was asking constructive questions, and I thought that is what you were asking. :)

    I ‘ll watch now, and see what “constructive solutions” will be put forward.

    The “original premise” of your question I thought was biased from experience, that was what I thought was “underneath” speaking.

    I “was” looking for constructive criticisms.

    cheers,

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Ann Nelson:It does seem to be that the backlash caused by strong affirmative action ultimately makes this an unproductive approach.

    So this situation has been elevated from the idea of reverse discrimmination? I had no idea that it was such a political process and pervading state recognition.

    Ann Nelson:The present usage of information about ethnicity for strong affirmative action is very controversial. Even in blue states such as California and Washington the voters have explicitly made race and gender conscious hiring and admissions at state universities illegal.

    As a outsider to the americas situation, I would like to think that are all treated equally regardless, but clearly stuations happen where biased from certain views that we could effectively change things, in respect of such equalities. I think honestly that such statements, had to been held up as a idealization, or we might denigrate the very idea, with our opinions baised?

    Who would like to waste time and been emotionally challenged without a clear head thinking? None of us are as far as I know impervious to this.

    If there are such things that would help in constructive criticism these will go far here in this little corner of the world.

    Thank you.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Quibbler:*How* do we change things, on the level of what individual people can do?

    I think you phrased it better.

  • macho

    Solutions:
    1) get a better handle on where and why minority students are dropping out or not entering physics.

    Taking a quick look at the numbers:

    First, in public HS, except for inner city schools, african american students are underrepresented in physics classes. In major metropolitan areas, roughly 1/3 of both inner city and suburban students take physics. In the city, school are about 56% minority and physics classes are about 51% minority, but in the suburbs, 23% of students are minority but only 15% of physics students are minority. (This gap gets larger as you go to smaller towns and rural areas).
    Private schools do better in all areas, with the percent of minority physics students closer to the percent of all students, although the former is always lower. (Although here minority students do better in the burbs.)

    It’s interesting that minority students are more likely to take physics when they are not in the minority — it’s not clear if this is due to tracking of students (which as Clifford discussed in his post, can be biased based on race) or self-perception (when you’re not in the minority you’re less likely to view physics as something for another group) but a careful study could determine more precisely what’s going on.

    These numbers also do not take into account correlations with socioeconomic group. In the US as least, this still unfortunately needs to be addressed. If a significant fraction of african american students are coming through seriously depressed school systems, it has an strong impact on high school physics classes — of those who go on to attend a 4 year college, 40% take a HS physics course; only 6% of those who do not attend college take HS physics. Add to this that “61% of 18-year olds coming from families in the top economic quartile complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to only 9% of those from the bottom quartile.(Mortenson 2001).” and at least some of the gap can be explained. How much is a question that should (and can) be answered.

    So while intervening before college is essential, where and how? Suburban public schools look like they could benefit from more exposure to minority scientists, encouragement of students to take physics, etc (and a critical look at their academic tracking systems). Inner city schools need more science resources: AP physics courses are offered at 51% of the economic most advantages schools, but only 6% of the most disadvantaged schools — and that number decreased between 1997 and 2001; teachers are 50% less likely to be specialists (have a physics degree), and only half as many students take physics (45% vs 22%).

    Second, minority students who take HS physics are less likely to major in physics in college (roughly 9% of HS physics students are african american; 4% of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to this group). This also needs to be addressed and here is my gut level response– Xie and Shauman found that even among the highest acheivers in math/science in HS, fewer women went to college intending to major in science/engineering, and of those who did major in these fields, most entered through a different pathway than the typical first year course for majors.

    This information is very valuable — it is often assumed that the only path into a science career (esp. in physics) is one that assumes the decision is made very early in life and and a laser like focus on science takes the individual from HS AP courses to freshman major/honors courses in college to grad school to academia, with no breaks, detours or deviations (Sheila Tobias may have spoken on this at your conference?). Many white males follow this path (although we all know outstanding prof. scientists who did not). The data from X&S show that this does not have to be the case and offers an opportunity to encourage/recruit students who may not, for various cultural reasons, have envisioned a career in science/eng. Faculty who teach introductory physics should be alert for talented students in introductory non-major courses; departments should be made aware of this path and encourgaged to broaden their view of where to find potential outstanding students, and courses designed with this in mind. (It should go without saying that this is not lowering standards, changing the requirements for graduation, upperlevel coursework, etc).

    It would also help for departments, institutions, faculty to broaden the concept of what a physics major is for in the way they recruit and promote their field. A BS in physics should not be viewed as only a pipeline to a research career in academia. It offers a great education in critical thinking skills and science/tech. background that provide a powerful and unique background for other fields such as law, business, medicine, journalism, etc. Plus, when well-taught, it’s a lot of fun. We need to stop promoting ourselves as a clositered sect and start training more than only the next generation of physics monks.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Quibbler and Plato:- You ask about specifics. Thanks. Please see my comments 61 and 63, and those of others too. I think those are pretty specific. First and foremost: making various kinds -as appropriate to your resources and inclinations- of contact to basically make students aware that these are interesting subjects…relevant to them…and real career choices available to them….. With more time and money, and access at the right level of course one could try to work on curricular issues, but that is more sensitive and much harder….but there is a lot that can be done on the periphery…..After school workshops…. mini conferences/workshops (involving students sure, but involve the local science teachers -if they want to (they may welcome the break to get a rest; they are hard-worked) ….). Just talking with the local science teachers and finding out what *they* think they need might be a start too…..Maybe they can just have you come in and show their class some slides on a fun topic every few months….. magnetism, DNA, radiation, bugs!, eyes, blood, planets, galaxies. Sounds simple to you but a ton of kids never get that. Don’t even know about one or more of one of those topics… Never get anyone taking the time out to do that for them. Oh: You don’t need to be from a minority group to do this!!! Don’t just leave me and 7 others to do it…there are not enough of us…please!….

    Further: Take every opportunity to reach out to that one kid you meet on the bus (or other means of conveyance) to give them a taste of what you do. You’ll most likely never know if it worked, but it does not cost you anything, and can be quite lovely. See e.g. here. There are many things that can be done that fall under the broad themes of approach and target the obstacles identified…. short of writing your presentations and doing the fundraising for you, I can’t be too much more specific. If you come up with a specific plan of your own targeted to the needs of your local situation, do email me about it and if I can give advice about that plan based on what I’ve done elsewhere…I will….or I’ll try to find you someone who can.

    Thanks!

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    macho:- Several good points there….thanks…..

    -cvj

  • Sakura-chan

    “So…. What do I do with that? It is upsetting, as they say hello to other (white) neighbours who might be working outside their homes (I have verified this)….. Do I spend time worrying about whether this is racism? Classism (yes, it exists in america, earlier commenter)? Or something innocent? Well, I could, but why waste emotional energy on it? I’m not exactly going to change their behaviour by begging them to tell me hello.”

    OMG! You invite them over to dinner and charm the living daylights out of them. =)

  • michaeld

    “non-white does not equate to black. (I can’t believe I have to make that distinction in the 21st century)”

    Just a note – in the anti-racism booklet we’re given at Cambridge (which can be found here) on page 5 it defines a black student:

    “A ‘Black’ student is a person who doesn’t consider themselves ethnically ‘white’. It’s an all-embracing term seeking to include a spectrum of students who may share many experiences at Cambridge which are different to the majority of students who are ‘white’. Black students are typically students of African, Arab, Asian or Caribbean descent, but there are many others who might consider themselves ‘Black.’ ”

    I’m not saying that’s the most mainstream definition of course, nor would I usually use the term in that broad a sense, but it seems to be used like that by some folks at least, so it’s understandable if people interpret it that way.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Sakura-chan: Of course, I make (and have made) normal and good contact with my immediate neighbours as a matter of course in the usual ways. But I am not going to invite the entire neighbourhood into my house -any more than anyone else would- just to play the smiling role of Mr. Ambassador for the black folk, because I may be worried that they think I’m the gardener. But thanks for the suggestion!

    michaeld:- Thanks! LOL! That’s priceless. So you’re suggesting that I use this (incredibly flawed) definition of a black person from a booklet in Cambridge, England !!!!?

    Time for me to go home for the day… and with a broad smile on my face!!

    Cheers,

    -cvj

    P.S.

  • citrine

    On principle, I do not like to see anything but merit used as the admission/ hiring factor, as it smacks of reverse discrimination. However, I’m also aware that the lack of insider info, access to quality education and/or lack of funds keep out bright students from several segments of the population out of professions that require a large investment in terms of time and $$. This is why I’m all for remedial programs that prepare promising high school students for college admission and award them scholarships.

    For several years, I’ve worked for a program like this in the summer. It’s actually a joint program: Upward Bound/Math Science Initiative Project. People from our campus go to high schools throughout the state to recruit bright but underprivileged students for the program. The students arrive on campus in early June and go through a pretty intensive 2 month program of classes (remedial and otherwise) that aim to put them at an academically competitive level with those from schools with more resources. The program also includes special sessions that instruct students on the whole college application process. It’s heartening to see many of these students graduating college – quite a few with science/ tech degrees.

    Throughout the 8 years I’ve worked for this program, I couldn’t help but notice a pretty disturbing trend in the demographics. Of the African-American students in the program, very few are males. I do not see this disparity among students of other races. Any comments?

  • michaeld

    No, Clifford, I was suggesting a possible reason that people may possibly have misunderstood what you meant in your original message. You expressed irritation that people started talking about other races even though your title specifically referred to blacks, and I am suggesting that maybe there are reasonable explanations for why the misunderstanding may have occurred.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    micheald:- thanks. I was being a bit mischievous…… I needed a bit of a laugh after a two and a half hour meeting over some thorny issues….Sorry. But the Cambridge definition is funny. Come on…grant me that…. the whole of Asia is black accroding to that definition, for a start…. It’s just funny. And the fact that it’s from Cambridge, a well-known hotbed of progressiveness with regards diversity, that just kills me…. Sorry (wiping tears of mirth away).

    Anyway I misread damtp_dweller’s message anyway, and that was entirely my mistake…as noted in the corrections and my admission in the later comment.

    Your well-made point is noted. Thanks.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • michaeld

    OK fair enough, though it’s not the official position of Cambridge, it’s the views of the student union and the CUSU Black Students’ Campaign (who are presumably committed to increasing diversity). I think your view of Cambridge may also be a little out of date, but whatever this is completely off-topic.

    I have heard this definition elsewhere though I don’t think it’s mainstream by any means. That handbook was simply the first reference I picked up that had it.

    Thanks for the post,

    Michael

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    you should first of all realize that the number of blacks in the UK is significantly lower. There are 8 percent of people who describe themselves as “ethnic” in the UK and only 1/4 of these are self-described blacks from all black groups you can think about. It is nothing else than 2 percent of the population.

    The percentage is much higher in the US and it is even higher at Cosmic Variance where the black Americans are statistically overrepresented. 😉

    The fact that the black females in the US are apparently more advanced intellectually and technologically, at least in some respects, in the US than the black males is a rather well-known outcome of various statistical surveys. For example, the recent research how different groups use the internet has demonstrated that the black males are behind the black females in average. I could only offer complete speculations what is behind these results. Note that this conclusion is not terribly supported by high-energy physics where black females are really underrepresented.

    From our intellectual perspective, it is not good to see that it is considered “not cool” to develop into a scholar among a large portion of the black community. From a more general, “democratic” perspective, however, the people have the right to have these largely anti-intellectual beliefs, and be sure that the African Americans are not the only group in the world with such similar beliefs being widespread. While I think that people like you should have a much higher influence on the direction of various groups that you belong to, there are still principles of democracy in which your voice has approximately the same value as the voice of those who consider academic work “not cool”.

    You can also ask why it is so that it is not considered cool but the answer will almost certainly depend on the knowledge of pressures that were relevant during many centuries back into the past if not much more.

    In the Czech Republic, there are black Czechs who are otherwise perfect Czechs respected as thoroughly cultural people. An example I am thinking about is Ray Korantenk (not sure about the spelling) who is a TV news anchor and whose father is American. It is a very new phenomenon to see people of African or East Asian descent who speak, for example, exactly the same Czech as others because they were born in that country and who are fully integrated to the society. It is new because the Czech society has been largerly uniform nationally (and certainly racially) for many centuries. At the same moment, the gipsies in Europe are usually not integrated at all, and one should first of all ask whether integration is what the societies should be after. There have been quite many failed attempts to integrate them.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Moshe

    Free associating here, this definition reminds me of the “department of oriental and african languages and literatures” next to the physics building in Texas, my wife and I used to refer to it as the “miscallenious dpt.” back in the days.

  • http://www.azerivista.com weight

    It seems that the working class almost works harder then any other class. Anna

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Um… Lubos…thanks for the illumination about blacks in the UK. 😉

    Oh, by the way, the percentage of black americans at Cosmic Variance is…um…. 0 .

    Thanks for the other comments.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    michaeld said:-

    I think your view of Cambridge may also be a little out of date, but whatever this is completely off-topic.

    I believe you are correct in that. I freely admit. A fair point.

    On the issue of the definition and who wrote it. I know those definitons…I’ve seen versions of them before. They were written to address a different issue from what we’re talking about, and also I remember that time in the UK (yes, Lubos, I was there) when such deliberately inclusive definitions of “black” were being pushed. It probably served a useful purpose at the time (remember the film “The Commitments” by the way? Even the Irish were black for a while**….!), but I don’t think it applies now. Just listen to the radio programme discussed at the header post of this thread and you will see what I mean.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

    **Jimmy Rabbitte: The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. The Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    I see, now I realized my error, Clifford, thanks and sorry! 😉 OK, imagine that you fix this minor bug and erase the adjective “American”. This bug is not mine after all. It is a bug of political correctness that sometimes even makes me think of the entropy of African American holes. 😉

    The blacks in America also have a much longer history than those in the UK, with things that can be considered their own cultural framework. When you play the trumpet or even the saxophone (I always confuse you with Bill Clinton), it is mostly an “American” activity. This does not mean that black Englishmen can’t play the trumpet :-) but it means that Britain is not the most natural envrionment for them to do so.

    Many people of all colors and non-colors in the world are fascinated by this music and culture; a smaller number of people is fascinated by the corruption in New Orleans that was highlighted during Katrina.

    Undoubtedly, role models and examples tend to drag the people in the future in the same direction. There still remain questions whether the role models appear or not, and the answer WHETHER and WHEN is a matter of chance to a large extent. Also, one may ask whether it is a good idea to artificially help to create these role models – and this question has moral aspects, too.

    Even though the systematic attempt of the “majority” to integrate minorities may be viewed as a good service, it is a violence and cultural oppression at the same moment. In the Western countries, does the majority have the right to dictate the minorities what is “cool”? I am not sure. What I think is more natural and desirable is when new leaders appear within the minorities themselves – and I am talking about other nations, too.

    What is missing is not just a large representation of various ethnic groups in science and technologies. There are also virtually no minority politicians who would aggressively promote pro-intellectual and pro-technological (and pro-capitalist, too) stance – even against the will of some other minority politicians. You know, there are many minority politicians who have seemingly “pro-Western” attitude because of Christianity. But that’s not exactly what I call for here. Christ was OK, but the values discussed here are the values of enlightenment.

    The mood can only improve once there will be influential, charming, and powerful advocates of the values of enlightenment who will be able to defend their direction against anti-enlightenment people from the same ethnic group and who will be getting growing support from the whole ethnic group that they belong to.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lubos, I think that for that error -demonstrating that you perhaps were not paying attention in class- this time I get to send you to sit in the corner, facing it, with a cone-shaped hat on your head with a “D” on it. Just for a while.

    Excellent.

    On the other stuff you said: If you’re saying that pursuing education is the province of the “majority” population and if the youth culture of certain minorities
    is such that they discourage their peers from getting an education that’s their own business…. that not getting an education is part of black people’s culture…. then all I can say is “wow”. I can’t even begin to figure out where you’re coming from. Sorry about that. I’m. just. dumbstruck.

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Clifford,
    you wrote it yourself.

    “Another key factor is the conflict of values which place a lot of pressure on black kids (particularly male ones) in the playground: being black and being interested in education are just in conflict. It’s just not “cool” to be interested in history, science, literature, art, etc. (That’s definitely a big problem in the USA too.)”

    Your text does not make it clear whether all of these sentences are yours or whether they are quotes but I don’t think it’s the most important thing. What’s much more important is that the statement is quite obviously true. And it is not only true but it also have quite some consequences – of course that this mood is the primary factor that decides where an individual or a group of people is going as long as people have at least some freedom.

    Some other people would prefer to think that the primary thing that decides how an individual spends her or his life are government regulations that make her or him choose the “right” path and that are designed to overcome some other social oppression by other groups, and so forth. These statements ignite “wow” on my side and I beg to differ. Of course that the primary factor that decides how a person spends her or his life, assuming that there are several realistic options, is the person’s own decision. Of course, these decisions are limited by physical laws, environment (and its opinions), and initial conditions. However, people in various groups don’t choose to be XY or UV because it’s not “cool”.

    I just don’t understand how someone can deny that various values and cultural and technological achievements are connected with various groups of people and/or nations. Of course that they are. Various religions are connected with the nations where they were born and other nations where they have spread, after long periods of cultural influence and/or dominance and/or oppression. And capitalism, mechanics, electromagnetism, and various philosophical things were born in Europe at times when the priorities were very different in other continents. Islam is mostly connected with Arab and several other nations, and it also takes some effort for them to spread their values to different cultures. I don’t know whether these correlations can always be argued to occur from “first principles” or from biological differences, and I don’t think that this is the most important question for policy. What’s more important is that these differences are obviously there and cannot be changed by a single word or decision.

    On the first topic – it’s just not cool to pay too much attention to the difference between Englishmen and Americans living in America. The difference is just so small. All of them speak the first language of this country. More importantly, there are more interesting things about the people being people than the difference between Englishmen and Americans.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Belizean

    52. Sean: I would love to see a huge improvement in public schools, for example. We should stop funding them via locally property taxes and switch to a national system so that poor neighborhoods have just as good schools as wealthy neighborhoods (if not better).

    Your well meaning suggestion is doomed to failure. Scholastic achievement has orders of magnitude more to do with the quality of a student’s home than with the quality of her school. [See the famous Kansas City experiment in which ~$2 billion was pumped (by court order) into inner city schools without even slightly increasing their academic performance.]

    55. ann nelson: I would like to find out what people interested in this subject think about the effectiveness and desirability of various things that are being done by many physics departments.

    The measures you cite, which have to some degree or other been in effect for over thirty years, can only yield marginal results. As others have commented, the problem is the small size the total talent pool not the effectiveness of the means of culling it.

    56. fh: The equivalent question in Germany would be why we have so few Turkish physicists, but there you are truely in a different field for you also have less turkish physicists in Turkey then German physicists in Germany, the entire society does not seem to value this as highly as we in Germany do.

    This is an extremely important insight. The problem with U.S. black and German ethnic Turks is precisely the same — formal education is not highly value within these subcultures.

    59. Sean: In other words, I suspect that the problem is not discrimination at the point where we accept students or hire faculty, but just that the pool is much smaller than it would be if more minority students were encouraged in the first place.

    Correct.

    60. Ann nelson: It does seem to be that the backlash caused by strong affirmative action ultimately makes this an unproductive approach.

    Not only that, the ostensible beneficiaries of affirmative action are stigmatized by it. [Suppose that you need neural surgery and you must select between two surgeons. Suppose that the only information that you have about the surgeons is that one is black and the other is white. Which surgeon would you choose? Even I, a black man, would choose the white surgeon.]

    63. Clifford: We can’t stop people from watching tv, commercials, and videos and playing video games. Why are we not using this most powerful of tools in this task before us?

    The high cost of TV and the like forces content producers to focus on profit. It’s easier to do this by pandering to the existing culture than by attempting to elevate it. If the current black subculture regards athletes as cooler than scientists, the former are more likely to be featured favorably as characters in programs targeting this audience.

    86. Lubos Motl: There are also virtually no minority politicians who would aggressively promote pro-intellectual and pro-technological (and pro-capitalist, too) stance – even against the will of some other minority politicians.

    Yes, but politics is ultimately about coercion. You cannot coerce an interest in physics.

    The mood can only improve once there will be influential, charming, and powerful advocates of the values of enlightenment…

    Such advocates will be largely ignored, as they always have been, particularly by underprivileged groups bereft of intellectual traditions. The best way to reach such groups is to incrementally enlighten their dominant religions.

    68. Plato: I ‘ll watch now, and see what “constructive solutions” will be put forward.

    Okay, Plato, here’s my attempt:

    First, I happen to have personal experience relevant to this discussion. I know what it’s like to grow up as black child of working class parents and what it’s like living in predominantly black neighborhoods and attending predominantly black schools. I know what it’s like to earn a B.S. and Ph.D. in physics from elite universities. I know what it’s like to teach black affirmative action physics students. I know what it’s like to teach physics courses year after year and scarcely ever see a black student. I even know what it’s like to be a black homeowner living in an overwhelmingly white, upscale gated community. [Neighbors have always tended to greet me when I’m gardening. Clifford, California is somewhat less friendly than certain other states. I grew up there.]

    I might be dense, but I honestly have not been able to detect any racism directed against me. It if exists, it is exceedingly subtle. I doubt, therefore, that eliminating racial discrimination will have a measurable effect in increasing the number of black physicists.

    Years of infiltration within the black subculture has taught me that the ultimate problem is simply this: The black subculture does not currently value formal education to same degree as does the dominant white culture. This is hardly the black subculture’s only problem. And, as Lubos pointed out, such problems are not unique to this subculture.

    [Incidentally, the fact that the dominant white culture does not value formal education to the same degree as its Asian and Jewish subcultures explains white under performance relative to those groups.]

    So the only way to fix the problem (of black brain power lost to physics) is to fix the black subculture. [This is difficult. People who attempt to do so pay a heavy price. Bill Cosby made a speech criticizing black parents for spending more on their children’s shoes than on their education. Many in the black community were outraged. Within a few days he was being smeared in the press with allegations of sexual misconduct.] How do we do this?

    Solution #1: Time
    Put the less damaged culture in thermal contact with the more damaged one. Wait until homogeneity is achieved. The problem with this approach, besides its requiring decades, is that the harmful properties of both cultures are exchanged. Hence, the cost of producing more black physicists would be to slightly lower the number of white ones.

    Solution #2: Religion
    I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in the power of religion. A culture’s values (specifically its restraints on inherent human impulses) are those encoded in its dominant religion. In order to substantially increase the number of black physicist, one would have to edit the versions of Christianity disseminated to black children in such a way as to increase the value placed on studying physics. Such a modification of religious values would require an unusually intrepid person; one who would be willing to assume the dangerous role of a religious innovator — essentially the role of a prophet. Clifford?

    Solution #3: Advertising
    Create a foundation dedicated to funding a massive, sustained, multimedia advertising campaign that would over time move the black subculture in the desired direction. Such advertising, both explicit and hidden within programs, would act on the minds of religious leaders and congregants alike. The former would be more inclined to preach the virtues of physics, the latter would more inclined to take such sermons to heart. The problem here, of course, is finding enough donors to bankroll the foundation. Any donations?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Belizean wrote:

    Neighbors have always tended to greet me when I’m gardening. Clifford, California is somewhat less friendly than certain other states. I grew up there.

    cvj says: – Please re-read what I wrote for two things: (1) I have a control in this multiply-done experiment. (2) I did not say that it was racism towards me… it was an example of a case where one cannot really tell…however, there is a well-known culture here of treating “the help” (awful term) as though they should be seen and not heard…..that’s nothing to do with not being friendly..that is racist, imho.

    Belizean also wrote:

    I might be dense, but I honestly have not been able to detect any racism directed against me. It if exists, it is exceedingly subtle.

    and then goes on to conclude:

    I doubt, therefore, that eliminating racial discrimination will have a measurable effect in increasing the number of black physicists.

    So let me check here: based on your (happily for you) blissfully trouble-free existence, you extrapolate that everyone else is wrong on the issue and that racial discrimination has nothing to do with the problem?

    Please clarify.
    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Clifford, I’ve tried to figure out why you exactly think that two of us are saying a different thing. The only possible explanation I could have found is a different interpretation of the “pressure in the playground”. I feel that you want to believe that the “pressure in the playground” is exerted by some supernatural or extraterrestrial agents that have nothing to do with the humans and whose influence should be neutralized by some particular policies – much like when we fight against viruses. Also, you seem to think that the creators of the pressure should not be counted when you want to understand the values that are preferred in a particular community or culture – and their voice should be ignored.

    Well, on the other hand, I think that the pressure is exercised by the friends of the kids who are other kids – or more generally human beings – too. And they have their human rights, too, and cannot be dealth with like viruses! It is even true that a priori, they have the right to exercise this pressure and should be counted as contributors to the group values of their respective groups. And I doubt that it is the “majority” that strengthens the idea that education, arts etc. are not “cool”.

    One can never create a meaningful policy while misunderstanding the origin of a key point – “pressure in the playground” in this case. Note that the discussion above also suggests a consensus that the pool is already small at more basic levels of education, so one should really look at the playground carefully if the goal is to make changes.

    If you localize “pressure in the playground” as a “bad thing” that should be fought with, it is necessary to realize where the pressure comes from. Policies that are based on a complete misunderstanding of very basic points are guaranteed to fail much like virtually all policies that have been tried so far. And one should also realize that the path towards the creation of a powerful black middle class is not a procedure to build the “universal good”. It is a program that – when it’s designed realistically – will undoubtedly have its opponents (the guys who made the playground pressure). Nothing is for free, and those who believe that there exists a completely smooth and generally acceptable way to homogenize the groups are naive.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lubos…. They’re kids . What they learn on MTV does not represent the sum of values of black culture. Come on, you’re smarter than this.

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Let me repeat the point:

    You’re saying that we should take our cues about what determines black culture from the children in the playground. Think about this for a while. Do you do the same thing to determine what are the important cultural values in a non-black context? Please ask yourself this question -and answer it- as soon as you get the chance.

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Ok…last point: who’s asking to “homogonize these groups”? We’re talking about education here. Education does not bring homogeneity. To a first approximation, I’m as educated as you are. But we are completely different, even after all this education. That’s just one counterexample. I can form a counterexample from every pair of people on the planet. (You’re probably quicker than me at figuring out how many counterexamples that is, based on a population of six billion or so, right?)

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    indeed, kids are not the only ones who determine the culture. But kids are still human beings. Moreover, if someone wants to believe that the structure of the black society (jobs, education) in the past was not right and a new structure should be built, then I apologize, but then the kids are the key because the future society will be made of those who are kids today. If you ignore them, you are losing another generation.

    I focused on the kids because it was mentioned as a particular problem. When I try to analyze the problem, you try to stop me by telling me that you don’t care about the kids. It just does not seem that you want to find the actual answers. You dismiss black kids and probably all kids as a mere artifact of MTV. You can always interpret things in this way, but if you do so, you should still ask Why do they watch exactly this or another program on MTV? I am afraid that if someone tried to answer this question, you would also try to paint the whole question as irrelevant.

    Moreover, when we discussed the kids, it was not because the kids are the only ones who can be discussed. You know very well that if we discussed the adults, the conclusions would be very much the same. There is also a lot of pressure on “adult playgrounds”. You dismiss the interests of the adults to be an artifact of past discrimination while you dismiss the kids to be artifacts of MTV. In combination, it seems to imply that you dismiss everyone. What is exactly meant by the culture when we exclude the adults and the kids?

    Meanwhile, the influence of the people on the kids’ and adults’ playgrounds on the direction where the whole group is going could still exceed yours.

    I just can’t follow this logic of the discussion. We try to talk about a particular problem – kids on the playground – and you tell me that kids are irrelevant because they just copy the TV shows created by the adults. When we try to study the adults, you tell me that what the adults are irrelevant because the adults are just what they were forced to become by their difficult childhood. In summary, you apparently just don’t want to study either.

    It is clear that the generations interact with each other. Adults are grown up children and children are influenced by adults in their environment, especially their parents. These things imply that the evolution of anything in the society is gonna be continuous. But still, if you want to change something, there must exist at least one particular group with at least one particular problem that you try to solve. So far we have only seen sleeky jumps from one question to another question that denies reality because the reality is not convenient enough.

    Concerning homogenization, despite your words, Clifford, two of us are very homogenized. It is very unlikely that two people go into theoretical physics and even acquire similar opinions and knowledge about string theory. I don’t think that you are terribly different from me, and the color of skin is just not terribly important factor for me. You know very well what I mean by homogenization. Bringing the black community to the same percentage of college education is an important part of homogenization because the education is an important part of one’s identity and culture.

    Best
    Lubos

  • Belizean

    So let me check here: based on your (happily for you) blissfully trouble-free existence, you extrapolate that everyone else is wrong on the issue and that racial discrimination has nothing to do with the problem?

    Not quite. It seems to me that racism probably contributes negligibly. My reasoning being that if it were a huge contributor, I would have probably noticed it.

    As I mentioned in another thread, I don’t doubt that racism exists. I just think that its effects are now exceeded by those of other common forms of prejudice such as that against the fat, the ugly, the short, and the stupid.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lubos said:

    You dismiss black kids and probably all kids as a mere artifact of MTV. You can always interpret things in this way, but if you do so, you should still ask Why do they watch exactly this or another program on MTV? I am afraid that if someone tried to answer this question, you would also try to paint the whole question as irrelevant.

    cvj says: What? No. Why would I paint it as irrelevant when I wrote a comment about the importance of the media?

    Then Lubos said:

    I just can’t follow this logic of the discussion. We try to talk about a particular problem – kids on the playground – and you tell me that kids are irrelevant because they just copy the TV shows created by the adults. When we try to study the adults, you tell me that what the adults are irrelevant because the adults are just what they were forced to become by their difficult childhood. In summary, you apparently just don’t want to study either.

    cvj says: Nope. That’s not the discussion that’s been had here. I don’t recall saying that adults are irrelevant.

    I disagree with you when you equate:

    1) lack of access to many parts of education,
    2) lack of awareness that certain career options are available, combined with
    3) playground peer pressure to be interested in other things

    to lack of interest in education.

    I further disagree with you that this lack of interest you percieve is a cultural characteristic of an entire race that should be preserved as part of our world heritage.

    That’s all. Completely different discussion from your characterisation.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Thanks Belizean, so based on your clarification, I should modify my statement to:

    “based on your (happily for you) blissfully trouble-free existence, you extrapolate that everyone else is wrong on the issue and that racial discrimination has little to do with the problem.”

    Er…thanks.

    -cvj

  • Belizean

    Still a bit inaccurate. It’s not the case that everyone in this thread attributes the problem to racial discrimination. You yourself have adduced the problem of peer pressure against academic pursuits.

    It could well be that my entire life experience is a total fluke. It’s nevertheless difficult for me to ignore it, when discussing racism.

    My parents have tales of actually racism. A much older sibling has such tales. I don’t. And, call me crazy, I think that’s significant data.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    **Jimmy Rabbitte: The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. The Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.

    Indeed, but now the blacks are the new blacks of Ireland. But that’s a different matter entirely…

  • ann nelson

    Belizean’s advertising campaign is an interesting idea. My state goverment already runs many such campaigns aimed at kids and their parents, featuring topics such as
    Don’t smoke, breastfeed for 1 year, fathers ought to stick around (this one uses biblical quotes), use carseats, limit your kids screen time, read to your kids, talk to your kids about values drugs and sex. I have no idea about the effectiveness. But
    I could imagine adding to these some ads featuring various occupations (other than athlete) with minority role models, particularly ones who had come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who could describe what they do and how they got there.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Belizean: – I was not talking about this thread actually..in fact, we have not really discussed the racial discrimination aspects of the situation much. But it is a huge factor in how things got this way in the first place, and remains a factor in determining why things have stayed this way. Your experience is important to you, but -my goodness- please don’t assume based on your experience alone, that it is not a factor in hiring decisions and the like being made right now, and last week, and nex week, and so on. Frankly, there are people who will ignore the quality of our CVs and easily find a bogus reason that they can’t hire us simply because they don’t think we belong in their department, or in their institution. It just takes one or two people in a department to turn off the whole process for you, and the vote goes to the next candidate on the list who is less “controversial”. And people will stand by and let that happen since when it really comes down to it nobody wants to talk about the “race issue”, (witness the earlier part of this thread for example) and possibly upset their existing colleagues, so why make trouble….? Etc Etc, Etc…

    Thanks.

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    ann nelson:- yes, this is the media approach I’ve been talking about a lot. A while ago, I forget on which thread, a commenter (samantha I think) suggested precisely this idea and in fact shared with us a letter she sent to the Gates Foundation to request support for such an idea…this was in the area of public science awareness in general…. and I beleive that this is where the balance should be. The foundation wrote back and said they were not interested of course…… but there are other foundations….. I have tried followup on that, and continue to do so….nothing to stop otheres trying too.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    media are important but why should we exactly think (or suggest) that they are only (or selectively) important for the black kids? You list three points that you believe to have nothing to do with the lack of interest in education.

    1) lack of access to many parts of education,
    2) lack of awareness that certain career options are available, combined with
    3) playground peer pressure to be interested in other things

    As far as I can say, 1) and to a lesser extent 2) were only a description of reality 30 or more years ago – and I don’t seem to be the only person who says so. And 3) is directly equivalent to reduced interest in education among a significant/important part of the community. How it can not be equivalent? These are sovereign human beings. If an adolescent chooses something else than the college based on his or her own opinions coupled with the influence of his or her friends, then it is his or her decision. And once again, if we are talking about the majority of blacks, they are usually the “peers” that you only use passively in your sentences.

    When these people remain uneducated in 2020, it is mostly because of their reduced interest when they were young in 2006. In 2006, many people may still believe that our society is racist. But no one will believe these things in 2020 (unless we become one).

    Let me remind you that I have grown up in a kind of “inner city” with a high proportion of gipsies, and I have zero problems with any race. This means that at Rutgers, I did my shoppings in a black suburb, and I usually did not cross the street even if a person looked slightly suspicious. Racism is dead – at least in places like Massachusetts, Washington state, and many others.

    Then you don’t want to equate “heritage” with any of these things. I did not use the term “heritage” or its equivalent. But it seems completely clear to me that if the term “heritage” is constructed in such a way that it has nothing to do with the points 1), 2), 3) that you listed, then it is almost a completely vacuous term. I certainly do count the awareness of various cultural values and career options as a part of heritage, much like the interest in various things that is partly innate and partly inhereted from a generation to another generation.

    If a certain group of people is collectively unaware that there are certain “career options” available, then the activity behind these “career options” is missing from the heritage of that group. Your points 1), 2), 3) are just politically correct versions to say a subset of the same things I sam saying, too. Using cryptic dictionaries with some artificially introduced errors that paint two synonyma as different things, and two different things as synonyma won’t help anything. It is just about a creation of fog.

    Finally, Clifford, keep on smiling and don’t panic because I am sure that you are the last one who should be upset about these problems. You may be in the first or 1.5-th generation of black world-class theoretical physicists because theoretical physics is simply not a part of the heritage of the group. Is it such a disaster to realize that? Certainly not for you, I guess. You should proudly acquire your role of a role model instead of whining about the absence – or the existence of non-existent – role models from the past.

    Yours,
    Luboš

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lubos:- Wow. Once again, you leave me speechless.

    “Racism is dead” from the mouth of the same person who says “lack of education is a cultural characteristic of black people that we should preserve”. Excellent.

    Thanks for the comment.

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Clifford,
    you should look at the definition of racism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism

    to assure yourself that awareness of historical facts is not a sufficient condition for someone being racist. You – but more importantly, also a majority of blacks today – were brought up in the atmosphere assuming that the life (and success) of any particular black depends on the amount of discrimination and the will of the “majority”.

    It is time for someone to tell you that these things were lies – lies that help to keep the blacks near the bottom. The true answer about these questions is that one’s life depends primarily on his or her own decisions, priorities and strong will to be committed to these priorities.

    Thanks for your reply, and try to think twice
    Luboš

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Now I see another point you added, Clifford: I never wrote that we should preserve the low degree of education, and you know it very well. The level that I would find good is much higher. But still, I believe that it is up to every individual person to decide whether education is important or not. If you ask me, it is important but not infinitely important for every single human being.

    Your mystification is bad especially because you have put your comment about “preservation” to quotation marks, igniting the impression that I wrote it. That’s bad, Clifford.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Maybe you thought that I thought that the low proportion of academic professions in the group should be preserved because it is a part of heritage? Well, I don’t count heritage as a holy word. It is heritage that Gell-Mann would call the excess baggage that we must jetison. Not all heritage should be preserved.

    The problem of you and people who think about these things in the naive far left-wing way is that you divide words to good and bad words, and you assume that these two groups are decoupled. (Heritage is good but the peer pressure that wants to keep blacks from education is bad.) But they are not. In many cases, the words in one group are completely equivalent to the words from the other group. Until you accept the fact that there are equivalences and causal relations of this kind, you won’t get the essence what the situation means and does not mean.

    Feynman had described the “cargo cult science” of the people who e.g. try to improve the methods to teach children to read. The only problem is that these methods don’t work, and the results continue to be bad. Because the people who design the methods don’t follow the scientific method, so there is no reason why it should work. Feynman mentioned the experts to teach children – but the same conclusion certainly applies to various policies to help minorities. These policies could not have worked because they were never scientific in nature. And indeed, they did not work.

    All the best, Lubos

  • ksh95

    It should be obvious that the only relevent issue is economics. If your income is above a certain threshold (like huge swaths of black and white people in the US) education is important. If your income is below the threshold (like huge swaths of black and white people in the US) education is unimportant.

    It should also be obvious to those who see the world clearly that Lubos and Clifford (dropping all higher order terms) are identical. Just like Jamal from North Philly and Billy-Bob from Alabama.

    Why is it that MTV BET and Country Music Television seems to by-in-large effect only those in trailer parks and ghettos.

    Anyway, this discussion is moot because America, as it usually does, found and implemented the correct solution during the 1970’s. Race based preferences that slowly over time morph into socio-economic bases preferences.

    This is good for America and good for capitalism.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Yes, Lubos, indeed – All The Best.

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Belizean on Jan 19th, 2006 at 2:33 am As I mentioned in another thread, I don’t doubt that racism exists. I just think that its effects are now exceeded by those of other common forms of prejudice such as that against the fat, the ugly, the short, and the stupid.

    Is rascism comparative as a prejudice?

    Maybe models of “transactional analysis” would better suit the framework for discussion, about how we evolve from one generation to the next? Bring some order, to thinking human beings.

    Here historical context and the evolution of the community might have had the earlier thoughts of the parents transferred to the children, as has been exemplified by recognitions here?

    Clarity of thinking would have been a fair assessment of the adult, gathering all this information, recognizing the child in us, react in a emotive way.

    So having defined our neighborhoods, such interactive phases would then see that all inclusions and assessments, would have been from adult corresspondances, not the parents, and not the children.

  • boreds

    I caught the two programmes discussed in the post. there was another bbc R4 programme which touched related topics last night: `the great debates’. I think it’ll be repeated at the weekend if anyone is interested:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/greatdebates/

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    I find comments by Lubos on this thread, and all threads to do with prejudice and social justice, to be downright revolting. I am now going to stop responding to all of his comments because there simply isn’t any point in continuing to address them. There are none so blind as have their heads full of arrogant obnoxious pseudo-scientific crap.

    (Is it possible to moderate/delete comments on CV?)

    This thread appears to be degenerating somewhat, which is unfortunate because Clifford raised some really good and really important points.

    I’m also rather upset by a lot of the crap that’s coming up here. So i think i’m going to leave this thread, but I am more than happy to continue the discussion of equal opportunities on my own blog and by email with Cliff and any others who are interested in having a serious constructive discussion (rather than people who are here to be gratuitously insulting and dismissive). I for one, am really interested in practical things that I and others can actively do as individuals to help change the existing situation.

    –Q.

  • Belizean

    102. Clifford:Your experience is important to you, but -my goodness- please don’t assume based on your experience alone, that it is not a factor in hiring decisions and the like being made right now, and last week, and nex week, and so on. Frankly, there are people who will ignore the quality of our CVs and easily find a bogus reason that they can’t hire us simply because they don’t think we belong in their department, or in their institution.

    Clifford,

    You might be completely right. I might be a naïve fool. But I have an exceedingly hard time imagining racism and theoretical physics coexisting in the same mind.

    The closest example of this that I can think of is the case of William Shockley. Although he was a racist, he was (probably due to his scientific training) a perfectly rational one. [As you know, it’s perfectly possible to rationally hold erroneous positions.] I would find it hard to imagine even the racist Shockley discriminating against a black candidate. His position, in my view, would have been: 1) The median of the distribution of innate aptitude for physics is lower in blacks than in whites. 2) This particular black candidate, on the basis of his CV, is superior to the white candidates. 3) Let’s hire the black candidate, because he is superior to the others.

    It might well be that white physicists entertain themselves by exchanging “black jokes” in between discussions of the latest additions to the archive. [Any white physicists who have observed such behavior should anonymously post an account.] It might be that some are so steeped in unconscious racism that it impairs their capacity for rational thought in certain areas. I just can’t bring myself to believe this (in the absence of corroborating evidence and in the presence contradictory life experience) anymore than I can bring myself to believe that these people secretly believe in astrology and E.S.P.

    The one observation that argues in favor of your position is that I am, as a consequence of reading this blog, more keenly aware of the phenomenon of very bright people retaining (perhaps for emotional reasons) certain silly ideas.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Belizean says:

    “But I have an exceedingly hard time imagining racism and theoretical physics coexisting in the same mind.”

    Really??!!

    Newsflash! (as they say in the playground):

    Theoretical Physicists can be idiots too. In fact, some of the most spectacular idiots I’ve met have also been theoretical physicists, often very good ones.

    You can also substittute other words, positive, neutral, or negative in the place of “idiots”, into those two sentences and arrive a sensible sentence.

    Theoretical Physicsts are not special people. They are just people doing a special thing.

    -cvj

    P.S. I do not know what the term “rational racist” means.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Hi Quibbler: – I let people have their say and tend not to delete comments at all. When people start slinging mud at each other, they get a warning….then they’re gone. But generally, I think it is good to let it all hang out there. Including my own mistakes. I publicly correct them and leave them there….. Hopefully, young people in the field (or trying to get into the field) will be able to look at this thread, and the other two threads on women in science, and get a good idea of the things that they will face, and get first hand examples of the type of people they will encounter, and the kind of arguments (both good and bad) that are offered for various positions. not just the young, but others too….. including me….I can come back here and re-read things….I might learn a thing or two more from what others have said and suggested.

    So I don’t delete much. We have to take the rough with the smooth and taste the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.

    This is how we learn, and improve ourselves….. if we want to.

    Ok. I think I’m done here.

    -cvj

  • Belizean

    ksh95: It should be obvious that the only relevent issue is economics. If your income is above a certain threshold (like huge swaths of black and white people in the US) education is important. If your income is below the threshold (like huge swaths of black and white people in the US) education is unimportant.

    Unfortunately, it’s not quite this simple. Black academic achievement is lower than white academic achievement, even when family income is taken into account.

  • ksh95

    ECONOMICS!!

    Culture follows economics, not the other way around.

  • Belizean

    115. Clifford: Theoretical Physicists can be idiots too.

    True. But, I find, only within certain limits. I’ve never known a physicist who, for example, seemed to believe in astrology, fairies, E.S.P., the divine right of kings, Santa Claus, trial by ordeal, phlogiston, leprechauns, Lamarckism, ghosts (except for Fadeev-Popov etc.), or witchcraft. But I have admitted that I might simply be totally naïve or have known insufficiently many physicists.

    I do not know what the term “rational racist” means.

    rational racist — one who tentatively holds racists views solely because they seem to her to be the best explanation of observed phenomena, and who is willing to abandon these views in the face of superior explanations.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Belizean: – Santa Claus exists. -cvj

  • Belizean

    113. Quibbler: I find comments by Lubos on this thread, and all threads to do with prejudice and social justice, to be downright revolting.

    Quibbler,

    All that Lubos appears to be saying is that when a dominant group, convinced of the righteousness of its cause, launches a campaign to eradicate certain characteristics of a minority subculture, that campaign, despite being free of explicit coercion, might nonetheless be implicitly coercive. Hence, heavy handed attempts to influence the black subculture run the risk of damaging it in such a way as to lose some of its uniquely beneficial contributions to world culture. Corrective movements arising within the black subculture are, as a consequence, to be preferred.

    I just don’t see how you can characterize such an insight — likely born of experiences inaccessible to those of us raised in the free world — as revolting.

  • Belizean

    Santa Claus exists. -cvj

    This is great news! Do you happen to know his email address? I’d like to beat the rush, and send him my Christmas wish list now.

  • ksh95

    Belizean:
    Unfortunately, it’s not quite this simple

    Actually, it is that simple. All other issues are second order effects that distract observers from the dominant factor…Economics! Upper Class private-school families will score higher than middle class public-school families who will score higher than lower class inner city[rural] school families. This is true across all races.

    How soon we forget that only one generation ago American society was structured such that black was synonymous with lower class….Well duh, of course there are still cultural problems in the black community. Any thing else would be a friggin miracle.

    As far as I’m concerned, the fact that today, after a single generation, a black middle and upper class exist is a testament to some hard work and a few* good policy decisions. Of course, there are still problems, but the distance that’s been traversed is incredible.

    BTW, It is irrelevent where the first moments of the distributions (with respect to race) lie. But if you want to discuss this point, I’d bet that the first moments of the racial distributions converge as income increases.

    Think of it like this, if today you canceled MTV, but kept all minorities poor…do you think society would appreciably change? Of course not. Now, what if you left MTV alone, but gave all minorities $75K a year and home ownership?

    *notably affirmative action.

  • http://www.phys.washington.edu/~anelson Ann Nelson

    Lubos

    anyone who would say about adolescents

    These are sovereign human beings. If an adolescent chooses something else than the college based on his or her own opinions coupled with the influence of his or her friends, then it is his or her decision.

    doesn’t know very many. Adolescents are children,
    the decision making parts of their brains do not always work too well, and it is absolutely the responsibility of the parents, teachers and other responsible adults to positively influence them.

  • ksh95

    Belizean:
    I’ve never known a physicist who, for example, seemed to believe in astrology, fairies, E.S.P., the divine right of kings, Santa Claus,…

    True, but I know many who can’t hold a socially oriented conversation, rip other speakers overheads off of projectors when the other speaker contradicts them, throw temper tantrums when proven wrong…

    Mathematical and Physical aptitude does not exempt one from acting like an idiot!

  • fh

    ksh95

    Pop culture follows economics, but the economic system implemented is a cultural choice.
    Of course the circle closes.

    The equivalent of your 75K + homeownership in cultural terms would be giving everyone a thorough cultural training (i.e. music lessons, intensive schooling from early on, etc…). And hell yeah that would change things drastically.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Clifford:

    “We have to take the rough with the smooth and taste the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.

    This is how we learn, and improve ourselves….. if we want to.”

    I agree, in general. However in this case, it prevented any constructive discussion on the question you originally posed. In the threads on women in science, Lubos and co were denying that sexism exists, despite several women saying they routinely experienced sexist treatment. So it’s obviously all in our heads. That’s just dismissive and insulting. He wasn’t learning anything, the women pointing out that sexism does exist weren’t learning anything.

    Yes, I think those discussions were worth having anyway, but they’re not anymore. I welcome people who disagree with me and there are comments on my blog from people who do disagree with me about a number of things. I routinely have debates with friends who disagree with me. That’s fine. But only if they are willing to discuss and debate in a constructive way.

    Belizean,

    “I just don’t see how you can characterize such an insight — likely born of experiences inaccessible to those of us raised in the free world — as revolting.”

    I *have* experienced sexism and I *have* experienced racism (I’m hispanic, and admitedly the it’s was low-key racism, but nevertheless real.). If you haven’t experienced racism, that’s great. So yes, if your “insight” is that I’m making it up or imagining it, then I’m happy to call that disgusting.

    Frankly, I’m not sympathetic to people telling me what my experiences are or are not when they have never been in my situation, and Lubos, as a white male, clearly is not in my situation.

    And if you want to be a smartass about this, let me remind you that my view as orginially stated is that discrimination and prejudice exist. It was not that everyone experiences them or everyone practices them, but that some people do. I have. Therefore, these prejudice and dsicrimination exist.

    Now I’m done here.

    –Q.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    I watched a TV program a few days ago, about kids in New York schools. The bright boys in some NY city schools had lots of problems – being good at school work was not “cool”, and they were subject to a lot of bullying. Then they changed school to a special school – boys-only (fewer distractions!) – with high standards and discipline, and free from physical fear and with encouraging teachers these boys were blossoming. In New York, I guess the availability of public transportation allowed kids to commute long distances to get to this school.

    But certainly the cost to society of intervening at an early stage – taking them out of a damaging environment – is much less than having to support people who haven’t/can’t make it .

  • Harv

    “But I have an exceedingly hard time imagining racism and theoretical physics coexisting in the same mind.”

    Wow… I too have to comment on this. My friend and I were just discussing the other day at the American Astronomical Society meeting all the unscientific sweeping statements various astronomers have made in our presence and to our friends:

    “Don’t apply for the NSF Fellowship [discussed in other blog entries here] since you won’t be considered a serious candidate for positions later.” (all because this fellowship has an education/outreach component)

    “Astronomers who do outreach aren’t serious astronomers.”

    “If you go to a tier two grad school, you aren’t a good astronomer.”

    “There are no good female faculty candidates out there.”

    “We only hire people who are from Cambridge or Princeton, may be Harvard.”

    “You shouldn’t get tenure because you had kids.”

    And several *very* senior astronomers who are actively sexist and try to ruin the careers of female astronomers who rebuff their sexual advances.

    None of these positions I would call rational, but well, astronomers are people and people rationalize all sorts of things to themselves.

  • Belizean

    Harv,

    Your unenlightened acquantances are astronomers. Such views are precisely what one would expect from their kind.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    I am not in the habit of peddling anybodies wares, but having read TA at quite an early age, it helped to a degree formulate perspective. Where different people were coming from.

    The desires to see rascism handled in the most appropriate context would defintiely been a struggle for those whose knowledge has been moulded by those same experiences, that it would be very hard to separate themselves from a clear thinking mind(if retrogressive emotinally uncontrolled), to the rationalizations of an “adult” who sees in either direction

    An adult=equality

    Having recognized the value of any “ideal set” before ourselves in terms of “equality” seems a most appropriate value assigned to the adult in this situation, as it might apply, regardless of your color, gender etc.

    Transactional Analysis

    I’m not saying this is the framework, but maybe in the thinking process how would such a center focus of the situation express the ideal?

    Yes I read all the things that can be done, but you have not really help identified what the ideal is. Is it equality?

    How would this apply to rascism? Would it help in moving forward the disparities between the UK and the americas?

    If equality and adult perspective was inherent in each of our views, then I think we would be going after and settling a lot of what rascism might have “hidden” in the ways that one might have been treated, heard what was gained from our parents meme’s, we learnt to recognize “it” in ourselves.

    Maybe clifford and others who are after defining rascism(equality), are looking for something like that?

  • Belizean

    125. ksh95:Mathematical and Physical aptitude does not exempt one from acting like an idiot!

    Displaying idiotic behavior is not the same as holding racist beliefs. If you’re arguing that a physicist might, in a fit of idiocy, racially discriminate against a candidate, I suppose that’s true. But it seems just a likely that a fit of idiocy might induce racial discrimination in the candidate’s favor.

  • Belizean

    127. Quibbler: Frankly, I’m not sympathetic to people telling me what my experiences are or are not when they have never been in my situation, and Lubos, as a white male, clearly is not in my situation.

    Sorry, but Lubos did not tell you what your experiences are. As I recall, he merely argued that the observed incidence of women in physics departments can be explained without assuming the existence of sexual discrimination.

    Moreover, the idea that one must have experienced a particular situation in order proffer reasoned arguments about it is explicitly anti-rational. Reason is universal. Arguments stand or fall on their merits, not on the experiences of their authors.

  • ksh95

    Belizean:
    Displaying idiotic behavior is not the same as holding racist beliefs

    Of course not, but people are often beholden to their more primal tendencies irregardless of their of education.

    Belizean:
    the idea that one must have experienced a particular situation in order proffer reasoned arguments about it is explicitly anti-rational

    Yea right, why don’t you tell me what it’s like to be a 13 year old, one legged, Chinese, hermaphrodite.

  • ksh95

    And just for good measure I’ll say it again; Economics, economics, economics. Everything else is secondary.

    Lets imagine that your’re in charge of a country. Lets imagine that you want to oppress a particular group, perhaps for pragmatic reasons (access to cheap labor… whatever). What you would do would be to deny access to education and hence maintain a permanent underclass. The particular characteristics of the underclass will work themselves out as nature takes its course.

    Now, lets imagine that later on you want to uplift the underclass, perhaps again for pragmatic reasons (social stability…whatever). Do you try to change the characteristics of that underclass? Of course not. You provide prefered access to education, facilitating a pipeline between the lower and middle/upper classes. The details will work themselves out as nature takes its course.

    Words like seperate-but-equal, apartheid, positive discrimination, and affirmative action come to mind.

    It’s really very simple,
    better education = more money = better education for the children = more money for the children=…

    I think as physicists we sometimes tend to overthink things 😉

  • citrine

    ksh95,

    Belonging to a higher economic class does not necessarily imply valuing formal education, although there seems to be a lot of overlap among the two groups.
    Going by what I see and read in the media, education does not seem to be a high priority – in general – for high earners in the entertainment industry and sports.

  • ksh95

    citrine:
    Belonging to a higher economic class does not necessarily imply valuing formal education

    Well of course not. It’s a statistical statement not an absolute statement.

    Going by what I see and read in the media, education does not seem to be a high priority – in general – for high earners in the entertainment industry and sports

    Yes, I hear Will Smith and Shaq send their kids to the worst inner city public schools they can find???

    Seriously though, I bet you that the overwhelming majority of entertainers and athletes have children that score 1000 or higher on their SAT’s.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Equality is a strong term how ever you use it. So I look for the conduct becoming. I do not think it a unfruitful exercise, to see what people think regardless of their color or gender. Some of the thinking might/is bad and some may have had time to prepare for a way in which to handle this.


    Here also we have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity altogether and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we have ourselves created, it is as imperative and urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to racial injustice. Equality with whites will hardly solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a society under the spell of terror and a world doomed to extinction.

    Maybe this word “equality” had a grander design than what was held in context of that paragraph? I think there was more to it, which would mean that if one wanted to hold this in mind, and travel through the speeches and words of, do you think, an eqaution about the adult in life, would be inappropriate.

    There are many ways to talk about equality in context of what was/should be right with society? :)

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Today’s Morning Edition on NPR had a story (via a review of a documentary) about a school in Kenya set up to help Baltimore’s children. The statistic was given that 76% of Baltimore’s African-American boys don’t finish high school. So someone had the idea of setting up a boarding school in Kenya and sending the boys there, to get them out of a dangerous neighborhood and away from bad influences.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    Jack Shoemaker

    Like any good teacher, he understands that ethical matters are individual matters, that an ethical society is only the sum of its ethical citizens.

    IN the perfect society?

    Maybe some have put it aside, but of course it still occupies my mind in how we would apply methods to problems that entail a human emotive elements and a mind in which to resolve troubling aspects of ethics in society

  • Haelfix

    While I don’t like questions like this in general (I find them somewhat irrelevant since I don’t know what it means precisely to be ‘black’ as its not a very good scientific concept) one might postulate it has more to do with intercultural forces in the US at least.

    To begin with, you have a what 12% African American percentage in the US? Dilute that further with European and Asian populations that tend to migrate to US schools.

    Amongst that lot, you have an additional resource bias (they tend to choose higher paying jobs due to social economic status). Amongst those remaining candidates, add in a hypothetical intercultural pressure (its not cool to be smart) and its not surprising you don’t see all that many African American scientists (although it seems to me from anecdotal experience, the ones that make it tend to be leaders in their fields)

    One might also suspect things are perhaps less the fault of the US, and more perhaps the sad state of affairs in the African continent. A huge population of potential scientists are relatively untapped due to lack of opportunity there.

  • Bob

    Well, to begin with, most of you here have professional background and, as a result, I feel you may be a bit out of touch in some areas when it comes to this subject.

    I was a letter carrier for 35 years who studied science as a hobby, building dune buggys, launching rockets and finding an addiction for study of the stars and the forces that govern them.
    My father was a navigator. I was often begged to shut my mouth at work for talking about physics all the time..Meanwhile,the work place integrated as well as the town (Des Plaines) did over the last 22 years.

    Here in the Chicago suburbs near O’Hare we have witnessed the standard of living of blue collar African-Americans go right through the roof. The number of fellow workers who held as many as 3 jobs in addition to starting businesses was astronomical.They remind me of my parent’s generation.. This is not to deny that some fell behind, but the majority sacrificed everything to get a home mortgage and get the best schools for their children.

    African-Americans were more scientific than other minorities when they moved in. They did not come in clusters at all. Des Plaines has black families dispersed, buying homes scattered from one another, unlike other minorities that cluster together. And, get this, they are sick of basketball and are discouraging their children from chasing that dream..Academics is #1 on the list and physics is in high order. Studious children do not usually like being the center of attention as much as class clowns and gang-bangers do. Playing sports in front of 50,000 tends to make the studious ones feel a touch uneasy while the gang-bangers feel right at home in such situations. This is part of the reason you are witnessing a large number of pro athletes falling into trouble..They were made for it.

    Leon Lederman’s Academy for Science and Math has opened up another campus near Chicago to accomodate the influx of African Americans into physics..It is working and right now we are witnessing the quiet before the storm that is likely coming in the near future.

    Now, this could be just a “Chicago thing” but I keep getting feedback that it is not. While at this moment many of you feel that you are in a world that “lacks African- Americans”, your future is going to be a surprise.

    Incidentally, the comments about the family make up is utter nonsense. The very cause of Latinos having a low standard of living is because they have the lowest divorce rate. The Latino children in my neighborhood all refuse to go to college because they wish to help their parents out by working jobs and providing them with a chance to travel in an economy that does not afford them much of a retirement. So they skip college.

    In my own family we have two college grads and two that barely made it out of high school. Guess who mooches money off of whom?
    My masters degree sister married a Phd and has borrowed thousands from the family and is unemployed in Madison. My high school drop out sister, knocked up with 4 kids in her teens is, along with her former greaser husband, millionaires. My engineering degreed brother had to borrow the closing costs on his home in LA from his mailman brother, me. I retired before all of them. I told my kids if they want to attend a college they can. Go out.. get a job..save the money..and go. One of our letter carriers saved up for ten years and put herself through Harvard. She’s a lawyer.

    How do you account for the contradiction in the relationship to “equality” when you are striving to be unequal to your fellow humans by advancing in school work?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Bob: – Thanks! That was good to read.

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/01/drawing-venn-diagram-entanglement.html Plato

    How do you account for the contradiction in the relationship to “equality” when you are striving to be unequal to your fellow humans by advancing in school work?

    Bob,

    Inequities exist, and if held to gender, rascism, these are recognizable.

    Wage Gap:

    An interesting story of a life circumstance and how things played out. Who faired better when you think you had all the opportunities(committed your self to working to retirement) to continue “the interest” while you maintained the income. I feel fortunate this way as well. “Security” does wonder in one’s disposition.

    I have seen many college kids work in labour, go forth realizing that the income and security, would have to be sacrificed for a time, for no success at all, or ending up in other careers.

    Was the assessment of careers appropriately looked at while the thoughts of what one might become, would have seen viable opportuunities to use that education? In truth, could the assessment not bear fruit?

    Now, having been burden with the cost of schooling, catches many unaware of years of suffering close to the poverty line, while the career progresses.

    It is true that they might lack the conditions of the hard school of knocks, while they might have been insulated, but true enough, in order to eat and survive with a roof over one’s families head, these lessons with a urgency will soon be forthcoming, to stick with “something”, while the “timing” and conditions improve.

    Race/education, had no predetermination here recognizing the social fabric? We would all aspire to live in “balanced and fair society,” I think.

  • Bob

    Plato,

    Thanks for the response. You asked a number of questions and I’ll take time here to respond to a few points. Hopefully, I won’t drag things out too far.
    _____________________________________________

    How do you account for the contradiction in the relationship to “equality” when you are striving to be unequal to your fellow humans by advancing in school work?
    _____________________________________________

    Inequities exist, and if held to gender, rascism, these are recognizable.

    ____________________________________________

    My statement does not refer to pay but the intention of power inequality that is being sought. Humans quite often attend school to avoid being in the working class. With as much money as Kobe Bryant receives, he still cannot fire or hire a letter carrier and vice versa. If he goes into coaching he will. The law of conservation of energy is still always at work even in that situation..We cannot make gains in life, we can only make exchanges. I can walk down the street and daydream in my own world far more than Bill Gates or Kobe Bryant. Neither one of them would get ten feet without being mobbed
    _____________________________________________

    “Was the assessment of careers appropriately looked at while the thoughts of what one might become, would have seen viable opportuunities to use that education? In truth, could the assessment not bear fruit?”

    _____________________________________________

    For some it likely was that way. My older sister is one example.
    My brother was just short of cash but paid it back. He left engineering and went into sales. Big income, no free time.
    ________________________________________________________________

    I have seen many college kids work in labour, go forth realizing that the income and security, would have to be sacrificed for a time, for no success at all, or ending up in other careers.
    _________________________________________________________________

    For me I found that the school system was a failure. It amounted to taking multiple choice tests and I could pass them in a breeze. Actually, it was work and a social movement in that atmosphere drove me toward science. I don’t think that life at the post office was one of “security”, though it sure looks that way on the surface..until you read the following..

    In October 1960, Science and Mechanics, a predecessor to Popular Science, ran an article about the post office experimenting with fascimile transmitters. A letter carrier in the Des Plaines post office (Mick) brought the article to work and made a prediction that a computer revolution was on the horizon and that we had better prepare to grab hold of it and use it in our interest or workers would lose their livelihoods. He felt it was necessary to build a prototype of a new society he labeled “electronic democracy”..

    Mick was the ultimate Newtonian, learning the laws of physics from his relationship to tools and machines and buildings he experimented on. I came along in 1969 and added my two cents. I felt that education was building a bridge with the things that we don’t like or that bore or disinterest us, uncovering our personal hangups. I further felt that integration was building a bridge with the people that we don’t like, are bored with, or disinterest us. I came to this realization from my own anger at everything around me and drew the conclusion that life might turn into quite an interesting journey with such an attitude instead of following one path into some closet. We were labeled “communists” as anyone was in those days.

    We constructed a blueprint design for the new society in November 1974 and reworked a campaign that would start 18 months later on the work room floor, just in time for the Bicentenial. We called it the November Revolution while being completely ignorant of what was happening at SLAC and Brookhaven at that time.

    I took on the responsibility of translating the high tech world to workers since Mick laid the Newtonian groundwork.We figured we would need a new math for workers to justify ourselves at the negotiating table just as Newton established calculus for the capitalists to use..We were naive as to how long that journey would take.. Mick answered the mail…We started receiving all these inquiries from college campuses and physics departments and couldn’t figure out why college kids would find any interest in a working class movement. Weren’t they going to be the future capitalists?

    We were suspended about 7 times a piece for insubordination..The work rules were slowing down the mail service and we refused to abide by them. After picketing the front of the post office, the media came out and the public turned against the postmaster..They surrendered. WE won every battle..but that became a problem..We developed an arrogance, turning people off but holding their respect at the same time.

    We walked away from it, leaving it for someone else to toy with.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/01/drawing-venn-diagram-entanglement.html Plato

    Social issues can take their toll Bob and I understand this. Sometimes it does seem all up hill, and then at some point you wonder, where this fight inside came from. It is certainly easier to sit back and watch society, as it is transformed from “probable causes” that we have not been paying attention too.

    I watch those who are better educated then I, and they are people too, yet, the political climate would not have made much sense to them, if they had not understood this transformation that was taking place in society?

    You had to be there(your time) I think for them to grasp the changes that would happen in the social fabric, as this new technolgy made it ways into our lives and affected livelihoods.

    This might have been part of the adjustment the market place might take of that downsizing was to encourage new technologies to take our place and reduce overall costs in it’soperation thus increasing it’sprofit line. Whew.

    People become expendable. So you have to plan as you have been explaining. A lot of us are on borrowed time when it comes to what changes will supplant us.

    Retirement is not to far off either, which leaves only my children and all other children, as to what forms our scoiety will take?

    So has some of that philosophy been transferred to the children?:) We have way of trying make things better from one generation to the next, while we watched our parents, so it will not be much diffrent for our children, as they correct the way in which we had done things. You think?:)

  • Bob

    Plato,

    A few points and then I should return this to the topic that Clifford raised concerning the Black Middle Class..You made some very good comments..

    In retrospect, we shouldn’t have ignored their inquiries. The fact that there was such a symmetrical unfolding to realize the charmed quark and how well the particle physics community shuffled science around showed that they were at the same threshold of preparation as we were. But I shouldn’t think that the change we advocated was dependent only upon our success. That is why we walked away. If it is valid others will find it even if they never heard of us. After all, the computer revolution did show up 18 years after the forecast Mick gave.

    I do see changes slowly coming from the professional class and workers as well. Since each of the November Revolutions both are restructuring. Teamsters are finally opening their eyes and organizing employer’s competitors and they are likely going to internationalize to survive. it just won’t be as heroic or utopian like Marx thought. It will balance trade and force the need for physicists to come up with alternative energy sources. Can you imagine what a successful Chinese working class movement would do to the price of gas?

    My astronomy club and the trips I take to Fermilab have given me a lot of encouragement concerning the professional class..

    And integration? The realization of the black middle class in America? It is clearly a reality that doesn’t need an announcement at all. Richard Nixon had his “silent majority” that he felt supported his views. Integration is the new silent majority. The reason we see so many hate groups in America is not because things got worse. 30 or 40 years ago many bigots felt unthreatened by integration. They felt secure that integration would fail and not take root. Now that it is a reality that won’t turn back (regardless of what laws are passed), bigotry must cry out a death song before it wimpers away.

  • Bob

    I should have written that the balance in trade would force “a” need for physicists to come up with an alternative energy source instead of “the” need..

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/01/cosmic-rays-collisions-and-strangelets.html PLato

    Bob,

    A few points and then I should return this to the topic that Clifford raised concerning the Black Middle Class.

    I didn’t want to leave this without acknowledging.

    Some do not like Kuhnian perspective, but in that process, the change through generations is as you say revolutions in thinking ,that changes ole’ paradigms, and ushers in new ways things must be done. Ignorance swept away.

    bigotry must cry out a death song before it wimpers away

    How appropriate. Of course we are not just talking about science here, but social change as well.


    Kuhn vehemently denies this interpretation and states that when a scientific paradigm is replaced by a new one, albeit through a complex social process, the new one is always better, not just different.

    Thanks Bob

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  • RichByName…

    Hi

    As a black man I can tell you that we tend not to aspire too much (though I have a brother and sister who have done well) because we know what people equate to the colour of our skin. So we don’t try to get the best education because the person who crosses the road when they see us approach is also the person giving out the jobs. We don’t open buisnesses that require a non-black customer/client because they are afraid to frequent our places for fear of being robbed our raped (or something).
    So we supply to other black people, who generally have less money, which means smaller profits which leads to less company expansion or even complete melt down which leads to less money for our children(s) education which leads less propects for our children which leads to less for their children and the cycle continues.
    Black women are seen as warm in the main part especially the fuller figure variety and they have climbed up the social ladder through that extra advantage over black men. In the future I imagine black men will be appologising left right and centre to our black sisters and start dating them again hopefully they will still want us.
    There is also the issue of jealousy, when we see a black man do well we see our own personal failings which leads some people to try and stop their success and others become to scared to try. I believe their is a black middle class around south London (Lambeth District) but wether that is made up of ‘House Husbands’ I do not know. There definately is one in Birmingham

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