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Nothing can ruin a Sunday morning like a New York Times magazine article with a dubious title such as, “Toward a Unified Theory of Black America.” The alarm bells are immediate because the Times loves to give attention to black people who are either in jail or on welfare or who have impeccable credentials but who are horribly confused.

Roland Fryer is in the latter category. He is a 27-year old assistant professor of economics at Harvard. His ideas explain why economics is called the dismal science. The word dismal doesn’t begin to describe the damage to black people that Fryer and his ilk can cause.

Fryer and his colleagues in the economics department at Harvard somehow managed to get attention by repeating an old medical theory that seeks to explain higher rates of cardio vascular disease among black Americans. It has been hypothesized that survival during the middle passage from Africa to the Americas favored those whose bodies were best able to retain salt and fluids.

“Absolutely there’s an insulation effect. There’s no question that working with Roland is somewhat liberating,” chirps one of his white colleagues, Edward L. Glaeser. Fryer’s friends don’t need to be insulated from discussion about the salt retention abilities of black people. They need the protection he gives them when they seek to prove that everything is A-OK in America. If it works fine then anyone who isn’t doing well, like black people, have only themselves to blame.

The Times article details Fryer’s very difficult upbringing. His father, who was convicted of rape, was an abusive alcoholic. Fryer’s great aunt and cousins are serving very long prison sentences for drug dealing. It is commendable that he overcame these familial challenges to earn a Ph.D. and teach at a prestigious educational institution.

Unfortunately the Fryers among us are more dangerous if they are allowed to get some book learnin’ than if they had none at all. Immediately after winning the brass ring they begin the stale lamentations about the state of black America. What is wrong with black people? Why don’t they do better?

It never occurs to them to ask different questions. What is wrong with the rest of the country? Why is there no Ivy League professor who explains the irresponsible behavior of white people? Individuals, corporations and the government are all irresponsible. Why are only black people poked, prodded and studied to find out why they act in the way they do?

Where is the unified theory of white America? What happened in the Bush family to create people who steal elections, rob the treasury and turn us all into corporate serfs? Did Barbara drop George and Jeb on their heads when they were babies? Perhaps the Bush boys couldn’t live with the shame of knowing that their granddad did business with Nazi Germany after the United States had declared war on Hitler. Maybe the Bush family is genetically inferior.

Confused black people shouldn’t be allowed to earn Ph.D.s or teach at universities. They should go through a vetting process first. Perhaps a team of psychologists might interview the candidates before they are allowed to get lots of letters behind their names and then inform the rest of us that we are just no good.

Anyone who uses personal family experience to explain away the wrongs in American society would be eliminated from consideration for higher education. They might be sent to vocational school instead. They can make a decent living but their personal issues couldn’t be used by the New York Times in its effort to make the rest of us hate ourselves.

There is no end to the foolishness. Fryer thinks that black children would perform better in school if they were paid to learn. Recently this columnist took entertainment impresario and would be political leader Russell Simmons to task for saying the very same thing. If Harvard professors have as little sense as Russell Simmons then no one should save a small fortune or spend money on SAT prep courses to get their kids into those allegedly hallowed halls.

Fryer muses about the persistent gap in test scores for black children. “As soon as you say something like, ‘Well, could the black-white test-score gap be genetics?’ everybody gets tensed up. But why shouldn’t that be on the table?”

So be it. Let’s find out why Asian kids continue to best their white counterparts on standardized tests. What will Fryer say when white people get “tensed up” over theories positing their own genetic inferiority?

Here is another homework assignment for Fryer. Maybe he can explain why white people looted Enron and Worldcom. Maybe he can tell us why white people killed 100,000 Iraqis to help their friends make money.

Should he be willing to accept this mission he will of course have his head handed to him. The New York Times will not have nice things to say about him. If he asks his friends to insulate him from criticism he will surely get the cold shoulder.

It is all very simple. The powerful group is never examined. They can get away with everything from slavery to colonization to the eradication of native peoples to the creation of a prison industrial complex to the privatization of foreign nations and they will never be told that they are inferior to anyone.

Fryer needs to get busy. He has his work cut out for him.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in . Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at

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March 31 2005
Issue 132

is published every Thursday.

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