Yesterday, Bill O’Reilly took us from the No Spin Zone to the make-your-head-spin zone in his rant, “The Truth About White Privilege.” And what was O’Reilly’s “truth?” That white privilege is a myth, the proof of which lies in the experience of Asian Americans. Here’s the gist, according to O’Reilly:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for black Americans is 11.4 percent. It’s just over five percent for whites, 4.5 percent for Asians. So, do we have Asian privilege in America? Because the truth is, that Asian American households earn far more money than anyone else. The median income for Asians, close to $69,000 a year; it’s 57,000 for whites’ $33,000 for black — so the question becomes why? And the answer is found in stable homes and in emphasis on education; 88 percent of Asian Americans graduate from high school compared to 86 for whites and just 69 percent for blacks. That means 31 percent of African- Americans have little chance to succeed in the free marketplace because they are uneducated. They are high school dropouts.
Asian Americans also tend to keep their families intact. Just 13 percent of Asian children live in single parent homes compared to a whopping 55 percent for blacks and 21 percent for whites. So, there you go. That is why Asian Americans, who often have to overcome a language barrier, are succeeding far more than African-Americans and even more than white Americans. Their families are intact and education is paramount…
…[And of black leaders] Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault.
So, in short, according to O’Reilly, so-called “Asian” characteristics like educational achievement and two-parent households are what are needed for success, and the fact that Asians exhibiting them has resulted in us being so richly rewarded is all the evidence we need to dispel the notion that there is such a thing as white privilege.
Mr. O’Reilly’s attempt to pit Asian Americans against African Americans is an example of the worst kind of self-serving racial manipulation, but it is sadly neither new nor original. In fact, the supposed social mobility and financial and educational achievement among Asian Americans been used again and again as so-called evidence of post-racialism and a failure of everything from civil leadership to work ethic among Black Americans.
The problem with his argument is that, beyond the obvious victim-shaming and blaming, it relies upon manipulated data and unfounded claims that muddy the waters concerning the very real experience of anti-Asian racism, even as they justify anti-black racism.
So, as one Asian American, I’d like to set the record straight about Asians.
But, first, let’s untwist some of the ridiculous anti-black tropes here. In numerous studies, it has been found that Black people engage in drug abuse no more than, and maybe even less than whites do. And, as whites comprise a much larger percentage of the population, white people constitute the largest group of consumers of illegal drugs, even while being imprisoned for that crime at a much lower rate. So, given the relatively high incomes and low rates of unemployment among whites, it is simply illogical to suggest that Black poverty is the result of drug abuse.
And, Mr. O’Reilly’s claims that a lack of education is a prime contributor to Black unemployment also fails to pass the smell test. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that the rate of unemployment of Black college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 in 2013 was 12.4%, more than twice that of their non-Black peers (5.6%). That made the unemployment rate among Black college graduates in 2013 higher than the current overall Black unemployment rate as cited by O’Reilly (11.4%).
In another study, white men with recent criminal histories were found to be far more likely to receive calls on job resumes than similarly qualified black men with no criminal record at all. And a Young Invincibles study that finds that Black college graduates have the same likelihood of finding a job as a white high school drop out. If it’s not white privilege that is driving these results, are we to assume that dropping out of high school or committing crimes is what gives the whites in these studies an edge over Black college graduates?
Mr. O’Reilly’s “I want to tell you one thing more I know about the Negro” rant is full of holes. But having established that, let me tell you a few things I know about Asian Americans.
First, the claim that high median Asian family incomes is proof of a lack of white privilege is just wrong. The reality is that higher median family incomes among Asians is based on at least two factors: 1) Asian families include more wage earners, and 2) Asian Americans tend to be clustered in cities where median incomes are higher overall. The reality is that even with the wage per hour edge of being concentrated in high cost of living, high wage cities, per capita income among Asians is lower than for whites, as is family wealth, and the rate of homeownership.
Second, while Asian Americans as a whole are the most highly educated racial group, Asians are the least likely group to be promoted into managerial positions in both the public and private sectors. So while we enjoy a lower rate of unemployment, it may just be because we’ll work for less.
Third, the Asian American experience demonstrates that the so-called “intact” family with two-parents at home is not by itself a causative factor in determining “success.” Asian Americans’ supposed edge in this area remains consistent across Asian ethnicities in the U.S. So it’s true of Japanese Americans, who, as an ethnic group, have among the highest rates of college graduation and per capita incomes among all Americans, and among the Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian Asian ethnic minorities who all exceed the national average rate of adults without high school diplomas of 19.6%, with the Hmong and Cambodians on the extreme end of disadvantage at 59.6% and 53.3%. And, these same groups are among the most impoverished Americans, with Hmong average per capita income from 2007-09 being just $10,949, and the most successful of the Asian groups most affected by poverty that I’ve listed here, the Vietnamese, at just $21, 542.
I could go on to cite statistics that indicate that Asians suffer most from long-term unemployment, or that Asians are falling into poverty at a faster rate than other racial groups, but I think my point has been made here. Asians do, as an aggregate, enjoy certain privileges over other racial minority groups, but that advantage is greatly exaggerated. Moreover, whites still enjoy a significant edge over Asians when it comes to how we are rewarded relative to our compliance with “family values,” and by pretty much in every measure of “success” except educational attainment, which the growing number of college graduates living in relative poverty because of student loans can tell you is mostly a money-out proposition.
Trying to manipulate statistics to hide this fact in order to leverage animus against Black people, or at least against Black leaders, by comparing Blacks to Asians is just playing the race card. People like O’Reilly like to use Asians (and use is the operative word here, isn’t it?) to make excuses for the collective failure of our society to address the reality of Black poverty and unemployment. They do it, ad nauseum.
Why? Perhaps because where racial inequity is concerned, white privilege is the carrot, and plain old anti-black racism is the ultimate stick.