I published a paper in “Philosophy and the Black Experience”

I just realized that a paper I wrote and published a year ago is now publicly available online (pdf). The paper is called “Atomistic Individualism and the Hermeneutics of Racist Philosophy” and is published in Volume 11, Number 1 of “Philosophy and the Black Experience.” It starts on page 28. The editors introduce the paper this way:

Matthew Bruenig’s “Atomistic Individualism and the Hermeneutics of Racist Philosophy” is our sixth essay in this issue. Bruenig argues that “racism within the social contract tradition and other Enlightenment philosophy has ignited a dispute among race scholars about how to interpret the racially exclusive works of past philosophers. Scholars like Thomas Hill and Bernard Boxill argue that it is logically possible to separate past theories from their initial racist intentions, and consequently non-problematic to use nominally sanitized versions of them within contemporary prescriptive debates. Other scholars, like Charles Mills and Robert Bernasconi, counter that this kind of separation is inconsistent with typical interpretative methods, and that it does not account for racialized theoretical principles that remain racialized even when applied in universalist ways.” Bruenig proposes “that atomistic individualism, an ontological description and methodological approach prevalent in Western ethical and political philosophy, is precisely such a racialized principle: that is, even if the principle of atomistic individualism is nominally non-racialized or is presented in a theory that is non-racialized, the principle remains racialized because it generalizes from a white experience and differentially privileges the justice needs of white people by making group-based justice claims impossible.”

This is a bit afield from the subject matter I usually talk about on this blog, but maybe some of you will be interested in it. If you do read it, be kind: I wrote this as an undergraduate. I still think it is a good paper, but it is probably not as polished at it could be.

The obscene suffering of black youth

I write often about poverty, inequality, and other kinds of suffering in the United States. I usually write in general terms about the country as a whole, but it deserves mentioning that this sort of suffering is not at all evenly distributed throughout the population. Some racial groups face much higher levels of economic and social suffering than others, and blacks tend to face some of the most extreme levels of suffering. Here I detail the obscene levels of suffering visited upon black youth in the United States.

Childhood Poverty
Let’s start with childhood poverty. According to the 2010 Census, 16.6 percent of black children below the age of 18 live in extreme poverty (below half of the poverty line), 33.4 percent live in poverty (below the poverty line), and 59 percent live in poverty or just above it (below twice the poverty line). In all poverty categories, black children far outpace children overall and white children especially.

College Attainment
When talking about the youth, for some reason we love to talk about young college graduates. Even though they are the most economically privileged subset of the youth, their struggles are somehow supposed to be paradigmatic of the younger generation as a whole. That of course raises the question: what does the population of recent college graduates look like? I’ve written before about the upper class tilt of recent college graduates, but there is also a very substantial white tilt as well. According to the Census, 19.6 percent of young black people (ages 25-29 years) have a bachelor’s degree, while 39.2 percent of young white people do. So by percentage of population, young whites are twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as young blacks. The above-mentioned poverty rates play a big role in this divide.

High School Graduate Unemployment
With bachelor’s degree attainment rates so dismal for young blacks, we should probably turn our sights on the plight of recent high school graduates who are not pursuing further education. According to an EPI analysis, an astounding 49.1 percent of young black high school graduates (ages 17-20 years) are unemployed. This compares with 31.1 percent of the general population of recent high school graduates, and 25.6 percent of similarly situated whites. So in addition to young blacks being half as likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree, young black high school graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed.

Lastly, let’s take a look at youth incarceration rates. Incarceration is generally a man’s game: women are incarcerated at very low rates relatively speaking. With that said, 0.21 percent of black females 18-19 are incarcerated. That number is 0.6 percent for black females 20-24, and 0.73 percent for black females 25-29. All of those percentages are at least twice the general female incarceration rate and at least triple the white female incarceration rate for those ages.

Of course, the real horror story of black youth incarceration is among the men. Around 4.4 percent of black males 18-19 are incarcerated. That number shoots to 8.9 percent for black males 20-24, and 10.5 percent for black males 25-29. The black youth male incarceration rate hovers around triple the general youth male incarceration rate, and is anywhere from 5.6 to 6.6 times the white youth male incarceration rate depending on the age bracket. No doubt the above-mentioned high poverty rates and high youth unemployment factor heavily into these astounding rates of incarceration.

Black youths face extraordinary levels of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration. Unsurprisingly, this suffering goes untalked about almost everywhere. Instead, we are barraged with daily pieces on student debt and the slightly elevated rates of college graduate unemployment. Of course, this sort of emphasis is entirely predictable. The mild frustrations and stings of the most privileged dominate mainstream discourse about suffering and always have. Make no mistake: if the black youth reality was the white youth reality, it would be a national crisis grabbing the attention of every press outlet and policymaker in the country. But the black youth aren’t the white youth, so we get narratives of recent NYU graduates and student movement masturbation instead.

Non-Hispanic Whites no longer the majority of U.S. births

The Census released its birth estimates for the 12 months between July 1, 2010 and July 1, 2011. For the first time, the Census reported that Non-Hispanic Whites did not make up the majority of births in the United States.

This trend has been developing for quite some time, making the report less than surprising. Absent something totally unforeseeable, the era of the non-Hispanic White majority is nearing an end. This is a very meaningful development for many reasons, but here I want to focus briefly on electoral politics. Consider the following Gallup charts:

Basically every racial group except non-Hispanic Whites (NHW) heavily favors the Democratic Party. Even NHWs are pretty split. When it gets to professed ideology, the picture becomes a bit less clear. Except for Asians, more people in every racial group identify as conservative than identify as liberal. Moderates make up the largest ideological affiliation for every racial group except NHW. Given how slippery these three ideological categories are, I suspect the party affiliation data is more telling.

If these party affiliations remain at the percentages that they are, the demographic shift away from a NHW majority will destroy the Republican Party as we know it, or at minimum relegate it to permanent minority status. Especially interesting is that much of the Hispanic increase in population is happening on the southern border in states like Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. If a Democratic majority takes hold in any of those states — but especially Texas — Republicans will have a very difficult time winning the presidency in the future.

Of course, the party affiliations may not hold. Parties might change their platforms or messaging in response to the new demographic profile of the country. Party shifts and any number of other factors might cause the racial breakdown of party affiliations to flip in any number of directions. This is all obvious.

One less obvious possibility is that racial affiliations might change. Throughout the history of the United States, populations originally considered non-White eventually made their way into whiteness, the Irish being the most cited example. Hispanics are especially prime for inclusion into whiteness: most already check the White box on the census for instance. Additionally, intermarriage is on the rise in the United States. In 2010, 15% of marriages were interracial, up from 6.7% in 1980. Here is how they broke down:

Although marriage is not a perfect indicator of future race categories or the racial categorization of future offspring, it provides at least some rough notion of how things might go. White/Hispanic intermarriages are the most common by a huge margin. These high intermarriage rates, along with the self-identification point raised above, points to the possibility that Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Whites might just become undifferentiated Whites. In that scenario, White people would retain the majority, and Hispanic would become a differentiation more akin to the way Italian and Irish Whites are differentiated now. Such assimilation might also slowly wipe out political affiliation differences between Hispanics and NHW, preserving the White political majority.

Needless to say, this is highly speculative, but it is certainly not impossible. Whatever happens, something must give — politically or racially — in the coming future. What actually does give is anyone’s guess.