Will Megan McArdle Ever Be Arrested for Trespassing at Starbucks?

Washington Post Opinion Page Merit Ideological Diversity Hire Megan McArdle recently opined that being openly conservative in liberal dominated arenas is the functional equivalent of being part of a racial minority group.

Here’s the crux of the argument:

A person of color in a white space spends a great deal of time noticing they are a person of color, and that they are in a white space. The white people are very rarely conscious of the glistening pink skin surrounding them on all sides. Something similar holds for liberals and conservatives in American cultural institutions. People on the right may be well-treated in liberal domains (I generally have been); their institutions may try hard to be fair (mine certainly have). But they will always be conscious of their difference, that their presence in those spaces is unusual, and cannot be taken for granted.

I’ll note again that she expressed this opinion on the Washington Post opinion page, which hired her expressly to create “diversity of opinion,” and she was paid for it. McArdle further contends that conservatives outside of the media are in fact surrounded constantly by “liberal cultural hegemony” that “barrages them daily with their ‘otherness’.” Which, she reasserts, is the same as the experience of racial minorities.

After drawing this equivalency, she head-fakes to suggest that conservatives should be able to experience empathy for aggrieved minorities, since they experience the same thing every day (hey, #BLM, don’t be alarmed about the #MAGA guys with guns showing up at your march, they GET IT!). With that accomplished, McArdle’s ready to declare that the rhetorical excess and rage-trolling that constitute the bulk of conservative discourse are, in fact, liberals’ fault for making right-wingers feel bad all the time:

If [feeling oppressed because the culture does not reflect all of your preferences, prejudices, or dogmas] happened to you, probably you’d be pretty mad. You might even become occasionally intemperate in your speech. Heck, you might even say “to hell with respectability politics,” and vote for a loudmouthed reality television star whose signature campaign move was telling cultural hegemons to take a long stroll off a short pier.

It’s time, once again, to reiterate that Megan McArdle was paid money to write this on the opinion pages of the Washington Post.

It’s perhaps unfortunate for McArdle that days after this poorly conceived essay, two black men were arrested for trespassing in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a colleague to join them (reports indicate a manager called the cops after the men were in the store for two minutes). Their waiting-around-without-ordering was deemed “suspicious.” Here’s a Slate forum on being black in public occasioned by the arrest. Note that “public” pretty much means “everywhere” and considerably more police get involved than when a conservative sees a gay couple in a cereal ad. The participants are Slate writers Jamelle Bouie and Aisha Harris, Gene Demby of NPR, and sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom. The whole thing is worth it, but here’s an exchange that locates the incident in a set of historical and spatial practices characteristic of contemporary urban life, and calls out the normalcy of using the police to regulate black people’s use of public spaces (or, technically, public accommodations):

McMillan Cottom: In a broken-windows approach to policing, being black is the broken window. It is just cause for aggressive policing. The Philadelphia police commissioner wasn’t wrong when he said the officers did their job. They did. And that’s the problem.

Harris: Yes. While Starbucks is getting this image makeover, no one is questioning why this is a justified method for regulating space in the first place. Maybe the cops don’t have to arrest these guys for not ordering fast enough.

Demby: I was talking to Phillip Atiba Goff, the co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity and a Philly dude, who said it’s a mistake to partition the public’s racial bias off from the police’s racial bias. The police were called into this situation, as a colleague said, to mediate a misunderstanding, like they were RAs in a dorm and not armed agents of the state with broad discretion to use violence and detain people. And so there’s this way that the reasonableness of white people’s fears about black people is backed up by institutions. Folks call the cops to back them up in disagreements with other members of the public in ostensibly public spaces open to everyone.

I’m trying to imagine the cops dragging McArdle away in handcuffs from her laptop and a long-empty latté  as she drafts her column in a coffee shop. I guess my liberal privilege is still unchecked, because I can’t.


New Wealth Gap Research

A new report by a group of economists led by William Darity, Jr. and Darrick Hamilton identifies misguided approaches to understanding and rectifying the gap in wealth between white and black Americans (note: I came across this in the Twitter feed of Chicago sociologist/poet/polymath Eve Ewing. I posted about her New Republic report on the Chicago Housing Authority’s perverse refusal to build housing a while back. Follow @eveewing).

The picture is grim, with black households averaging less than ten percent of white household wealth (depending on which data is used, due to sampling variations). And, while a typical white household at the poverty line has about $18,000 in net worth, the typical black family with similar income has net worth of approximately zero. Whites are disproportionately represented among the wealthy and constitute nearly all of the top percentile. Within racial groups, a black family at the 99th percentile has just one eighth the wealth of a white family at the 99th percentile ($1.5 vs $12 million).

The authors offer a pointed rebuke to conservative and neoliberal policy prescriptions, which they content fail to grapple with the importance of intergenerational wealth transfers and instead blame dysfunction in the here-and-now among black Americans for their lagging wealth:

In this report, we address ten commonly held myths about the racial wealth gap in the United States. We contend that a number of ideas frequently touted as “solutions” will not make headway in reducing black-white wealth disparities. These conventional ideas include greater educational attainment, harder work, better financial decisions, and other changes in habits and practices on the part of blacks. While these steps are not necessarily undesirable, they are wholly inadequate to bridge the racial chasm in wealth.

These myths support a point of view that identifies dysfunctional black behaviors as the basic cause of persistent racial inequality, including the black-white wealth disparity, in the United States. We systematically demonstrate here that a narrative that places the onus of the racial wealth gap on black defectiveness is false in all of its permutations.

I’ve written a bit here about the ways that discussions of poverty in segregated urban communities tend to focus on internal organization instead of surrounding and pervasive structures, on behavior, values, and education instead of property, employment, and investment.

The authors do intervene in an emerging debate among sociologists and historians, about the significance of home ownership for wealth building. While recent scholarship by Matthew Desmond and others has argued for closing the wealth gap by promoting minority home ownership, the authors of this study demonstrate that property owned by black Americans does not build the kind of wealth that property held (and passed to heirs) by white Americans does. Historian Carl Nightingale’s study of segregation uses the phrase “racist theory of property value” to explain how American markets embed race in exchange value, and policy scholar Richard Rothstein’s recent Color of Law summarizes a raft of recent work examining government support for a racially divided housing market and its consequences for home equity wealth inequity. Plus, as Darity and Hamilton show, racial gaps in home equity wealth reflect gaps in all classes of assets. While the exclusion of minorities from home ownership is a problem, it’s not the whole of the problem by a long shot.

“Buying Black,” education, entrepreneurship, thrift, and financial literacy initiatives get their turn, too. Perhaps most satisfying, the authors call out the recent pop-anthropology and model-minority mythmaking of Tiger Mom Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, who claimed to identify a set of group cultural traits that separate relatively successful minority groups from struggling ones, while ignoring differences in the material circumstances and political incorporation of different ethnic groups.

This report is a comprehensive debunking. It’s not long, and it’s clearly written in plain English. It’s well worth an hour’s time to read.