On Fryer, one last time.

Business…after much discussion, the piece on Roland Fryer will finally run. However, due to editorial issues, it won’t run on BV as I previously said. Instead, it will run here at Virtual Bomaniland.
Am I happy about that? Not at all, no. I’d like for this to be as widely read as possible.
That’s where you beautiful people come into play…

I’ll post the full text of the piece, which will be followed by a link to a PDF. Feel free to send this around if you dig it. In fact, if you dig it, I’m asking you to send the link around (please send the link, not just the text. That way, I know if it’s getting around). This is one of the rare times when I think something I wrote needs to get around, that the ideas presented have a place and have not been articulated in this fashion. So feel free to give this some burn, if you like.
And, as always, hit the comments.
The Strange Academic Future of Roland Fryer
By Bomani Jones
”Absolutely, there’s an insulation effect…There’s no question that working with Roland is somewhat liberating.”
Of the 5,687 words Stephen Dubner wrote on Harvard economist Roland Fryer in ‘The New York Times Magazine,’ these words he took from Ed Glaeser, Fryer’s colleague, are those that really matter. They dwarf Dubner’s attempt to make Fryer’s life an inspiring human interest story, one that bears stark similarity to childhoods of 50 Cent, James Brown, and Richard Pryor. Depending upon perspective, they either obscure or illuminate that Dubner’s only mentions of Fryer’s work are brief summaries better suited for press releases. Those words are why Fryer is important and why he has become one of the few black economists whose name is known by the general public.
From what is Fryer insulating white researchers? Many whites have many thoughts about black people that they would love to explore more deeply that they don’t express for fear of committing the taboo of sounding racist. Many blacks will correctly say that most things that sound racist truly are. All parties involved agree that blacks have more freedom to say such things; and when they speak, there will always be whites along for the ride. Having a black co-author would allow Glaeser—or any other white economist—to do research that implies that blacks, as a group, are genetically or culturally dysfunctional and that their poor labor market outcomes are the result of shortcomings thrust upon them by God or sinful negligence.
That Fryer may serve that role, one that allows intelligent but ignorant colleagues to live vicariously through him, is most relevant to the masses. Arguments about the strength of his research aren’t that important to non-academics, and it’s clear that his profile will be higher than many who are twice as accomplished and inarguably more talented. The uncommon level of fame that awaits him is undeniably a result of the circles in which he runs. The three black economists to achieve significant mainstream notoriety in the last quarter-century are Julianne Malveaux, Glenn Loury (one of Fryer’s mentors), and Walter Williams. Malveaux is known for her uncompromising candor and sound analysis, but Williams and Loury took a route steeped in self-loathing, reaffirming that the willingness to disparage black folks and minimize the role of discrimination can be lucrative in a politically correct universe.
So where does Fryer fit? In a conversation with me about a year ago, Fryer made it clear that he wants to help black people. But in the Times, Fryer says he wants to find “where blacks went wrong,” which sounds like the disparity between blacks and whites is to significantly be blamed on their conscious decisions. Perhaps that was just a poor choice of words, but the same statement from a white man would require…well, insulation.
Fryer surely does not want to be marginalized as a virtual asbestos shield to save his colleagues from the heat of controversy, nor should he be. No one that has met him questions the power of his mind and the creativity that resides within it (even though his interdisciplinary approaches are not as unique as Dubner would have one believe). But when one enters any game, he or she must recognize its rules and what strategies the other players are using.
Fryer could be commended for his willingness to explore ideas that make most blacks do double takes, but not understanding what role he plays in the grand scheme would be naïve. Even if scientific curiosity leads him to reexamine the antiquated idea that blacks’ salt sensitivity explains their greater likelihood to suffer hypertension—as opposed to this being explained by poor access to health care or the stress of dealing with all this racism—he must know what is implicitly stated by even picking up that can of worms, let alone opening it. He must see that even the slightest intimation that the state of black America is the result of cultural dysfunction will embed the notion that discrimination does not significantly explain blacks’ condition in the world today.
Before doing anything, people must consider two things—what their actions will be and how those actions will be used. Over the next couple of decades, it will be interesting to see what Roland Fryer will have to say and how he will express those thoughts. But the other side, how his words will be used to further other agenda, will have the most lasting impact. It’s inconclusive whether he really believes that blacks are to blame for the conditions that make their lives difficult. It’s undeniable that others will try to use Fryer’s talents and ancestry to further that belief.
No matter if he’s hip to the game or not, he’s knee-deep in it. That game is why his name is known. Regardless of whether he plays the game or the game plays him, he should be wary.
So should we.
Copyright 2005. All Rights Reserved by author. For permission to reprint or reproduce this piece, contact the author at Bomani@bomanijones.com. Any other questions or comments are welcome at the same address.
Click here to download a PDF of this piece. All rights reserved by the author.

5 thoughts on “On Fryer, one last time.”

  1. I have a thought regarding “Fryer says he wants to find “where blacks went wrong,” which sounds like the disparity between blacks and whites is to significantly be blamed on their conscious decisions.”
    I’m not familiar with Fryer’s work, but I think Fryer’s desire to find “where blacks went wrong” may not be quite as self-loathing and exonerating of white folks as it reads.
    It would be naive to pin 100% of the blame for 100% of black people’s (and other minorities’) problems on the sins of the white man. Certainly slavery and racism are evils that blacks have suffered for all of American history. Certainly there have been countless white men in positions of economic and political power who have consciously and actively oppressed and persecuted blacks. For none of these intentions, actions and institutions can black people be held at fault.
    However… at some point the white man’s actions end and the black man’s responses begin. At some point the black man has a choice in what to do next. It is at this point that the black man must begin assuming responsibility for himself.
    For example – in general, black people don’t value education. Obviously, you’re getting your PhD and you’re black, so you don’t fit, but in general, it doesn’t happen. A quote from Chris Rock comes to mind – “you could have a masters degree, nigga’s don’t care. “Hey man I got my masters!” – “what, you my master now? I’m suppose to listen to your punk ass? Fuck you, nigga! Fuck you, so what you got a masters degree, so what you got a motherfuckin masters degree. Are you tha smarty art nigga, huh!? You tha smarty art nigga!? Let me asks you this, let me asks you this! Can you kick MY ass?”
    So we have ourselves a problem – why don’t black people value education? My way of attacking the problem might be to examine what white people did to make this happen. Fryer’s might be to examine what black people did – where they “went wrong” – and I think that’s a legitimate way to think about it.
    At some point what the white man has done can no longer be blamed for black people’s struggles. At some point the black man has the ability to make the right or the wrong choice for himself. Sometimes it’s unreasonable to expect him to be able to make the right choice, but sometimes it is, and maybe Fryer’s interest lies in finding where those cases are.
    ……… ok, now that I think about it, I’m beginning to agree with you. “Those cases” represent probably 2% of the problem while where blacks did NOT go wrong represent the other 98%. Given that one is forced to question Fryer’s motives.
    I can definitely see now why this may be more his hustle than his cause (to borrow your words for describing Jesse to me) and it’s even more sad that he could be sacrificing his own people to play the game…

  2. I have no idea who Fryer is outside of what I’ve read on your website, but this has nothing to do with him….more so the comment BBoypoop made.
    “For example – in general, black people don’t value education. Obviously, you’re getting your PhD and you’re black, so you don’t fit, but in general, it doesn’t happen.”
    Now, that just stuck in my mind. I don’t necessarily think that statement is true. I think that education has been devalued by some economic groups, mainly the poorer citizens, because it is not being pushed. In situations where school programs are being cut, and classrooms are over crowded and the education budget isn’t what it should be in the poorer communities, the students are being “let through” the educational system or told that sports may be their only way out while telling them they just need to get the minimum to make it. It’s hard to cultivate that type of enthusiasm when you aren’t getting it from school or possibly not even from home. With the costs of higher education going up and financial aid dwindling, it’s even harder to dream about going to college. A lot of kids don’t think they will ever be able to afford it and therefore move on to something less expensive like technical schools or nursing or medical assistants. Not that I’m knocking those jobs, cause if that was your dream to be a plumber or whatever than all for it (Shoot I would love to date a carpenter or plumber, electrician..), but people who just settle for these jobs and think that thats all they can attain pass that on to their kids…not all of them do but enough of them.
    Ok I’m just running on and changing topics, but that statement just hit home cause I know a few people in that situation back in Cali. I was wondering had you ever thought of it or wrote something on it before?

  3. I think I made a mistake in implying that devaluing of education is intrinsic to anyone who is Black.
    It seems to be agreed upon that a lower economic status does correlate with less valuing of education, and the unusually high incidence of Blacks being in the lower tiers of economic status would suggest that they probably also don’t value education.
    Hence that “Black people don’t value education” (in general), I believe, is logically true… however I don’t mean to suggest that the cause of this is their being Black. We can see the obvious correlation with economic status (someone e-mailed me that after adjusting for family income Blacks are actually overrepresented in college enrollment), but then you have to ask
    1. are there other factors like this that correlate
    2. what is the cause of Blacks’ generally lower economic status?
    It’s questions like these that I imagine Fryer would be trying to answer… and my impression from Bo’s article is that his track record calls into question whether he’s really searching for truth, or … something else.

  4. I suggest you all read a Fryer piece. I’ll recommend one: “An Economic Analysis of ‘Acting White’” with Austen-Smith, Quarterly Journal of Economics (February 2005). Enjoy and please make fully informed comments. 🙂

  5. Hopefully you still check this…
    Just curious if you think he’s matured at all as it’s been 17+ years or so. Just heard of him for the first time when I was told to listen the the recent Freakonomics episode that had him on it. I’m, trying to read and follow his thoughts on police brutality and shootings (he talks about how “difficult” a policeman’s job is, but I didn’t hear him say a word on how their ‘lack of proper training during the police academy and during their career’ might also have an impact) and he claims that it’s data driven, but I just want to know are his numbers and “conclusions” correct.
    Thanks Bo!

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