Segregate Black Boys — Says Race Relations Leader

by Harry on March 7, 2005

Trevor Phillips is urging that consideration be given to segregating black boys, and teaching them separately.

bq. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said it may be necessary to examine the option of segregation because of the discrepancy between the academic achievements of black and white teenagers. Low levels of self-esteem, an absence of positive role models and a culture where it was “not cool to be clever” were combining to affect the performance of Britain’s black pupils, according to Mr Phillips. While he acknowledged some might perceive his conclusions as “unpalatable”, he insisted the steps were essential to protect future generations of black youths.

I would be cautious about this. It is true that black children trail white children in achievement in the UK. I don’t have particular expertise concerning the gap in the UK, but I do know that even in the US most of the achievement gap between black and white kids is down to class (almost all of it, when class includes grandparental income and wealth. The introductory chapter to this book nicely summarizes the evidence) The studies I have seen of gaps in particular LEAs in the UK (some of them by leading researchers) simply refrain from controlling for the socioeconomic class of the children; so it is consistent with them that this is all about class, not race. Black kids are much more likely to be in high need schools with less experienced teachers and high levels of teacher vacancies than white kids, simply because they are more likely to be poor. Again, the claims (are certainly ture) that black boys are more likely to be excluded from school than whites do not control for class.

On top of this, although the ‘not cool to be clever’ attitude is a real problem, Phillips might seek more evidence whether this attitude tracks race rather than class, before pushing for segregation. Although the ‘black disengagement’ thesis is widely held in the US, it is contradicted by some very good studies (see chapter ten and Ronald Ferguson’s contribution to this). But even if, in fact, the attitude does track race, that would be a good reason to avoid segregation; if black kids are more likely to have that attitude we surely don’t want them all in the same place mutually reinforcing it.

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Indigo Jo Blogs
03.08.05 at 11:03 pm



bza 03.07.05 at 7:47 pm

Readers interested in a slightly more popular discussion of the respective influences of class and race can also look at this recent New York Review piece.


Scott Martens 03.07.05 at 8:24 pm

The idea is not inherently wrong, but it is profoundly flawed and definitely not something to swallow right out. The truth is – all else being equal – eliminating the number of distinctions in any student body causes mean test scores to rise. This is true with girls, its true for religious faith and yes, it’s true about race. The fewer number of automatic pigeon holes you can put kids in, the fewer self-fulfillng prophesies you’ll see.

I think this is probably a larger factor than the “not cool to be clever” thing. You find enough of that among white kids too, and in highly segregated black schools in the US. Segregation doesn’t address that.

Of course, in the real world all else is rarely equal. I understand the people who would consider this option seriously and I understand why they would suggest it. I’m just not sure it will work as well as they think or in the way they want.


Sebastian holsclaw 03.07.05 at 9:13 pm

Perfectly implemented maybe this would be a good idea. But there are so many ways for the idea to go horribly wrong that I doubt it be wise to try it.


RA 03.07.05 at 9:28 pm

The solution to the problem is to find a way to keep black fathers in the family. In the US 7 out of 10 black children are growing up with no fathers in the house. Thank you left-wing, socialist, welfare state.


harry 03.07.05 at 9:47 pm

I don’t know the figue for the UK, but it is much lower. Despite the fact that the UK actually does have a sort of welfare state.

The absence of black fathers from the the households in which their children are growing up is not unrelated to the US habit of mass incarceration. Lots of them are in jail; lots of others were in jail and now don’t have jobs. I guess you can blame the socialists who run the criminal justice system for that, if you can find them.


Matt Weiner 03.07.05 at 10:09 pm

Unfair, Harry. The criminal justice system is indeed largely government-run. Were it run by market there would be no more crime or incarceration than market forces demand. It follows logically.


Procrastinator 03.07.05 at 10:49 pm

Are we talking about African or Caribbean boys? The link makes the distinction, can we? I’ll have to check the facts and figures, but it is a socio-economic reality in the UK.

>> Thank you left-wing, socialist, welfare state. > The solution to the problem is to find a way to keep black fathers in the family. In the US 7 out of 10 black children are growing up with no fathers in the house.


Ronald Brakels 03.07.05 at 11:09 pm

Perhaps the any proponents of segregation can consider the following points and get back to me.

1. I’m light brown. Which class do I go to? Can I choose. If I can choose, can anyone choose?

2. I look black, but I think the white kids are going to get a better education, and make better contacts that will help them in their future, so I want to be in their class. Can I go?

3. I’m white, but I have low self esteem and lack positive role models, so can I go to the black people’s class? If I get a tan can I go?

4. I’m an Australian aborigine. I look black, but genetically I’m as unblack as humanly possible. Which class should I go to? Do I have to give a tissue sample to prove I’m not mainstream black?

5. My mother looks white but my dad looks black. Do my brother and I go to different classes because our skins are different colours?

4. I started off black, but I got whiter. Do I have to change classes?

5. I started off white, but I got blacker. What happens to me?

6. I look white, but I sound black. Which class do I go to?

7. I’m adopted. I’m white but my family is black. Which class do I go to?

8. I’m black, but I have positive role models and I feel that learing is cool. Can I go to a special class for black kids with high self esteem and positive role models?

9. I’m Japanese. Where’s my class? It’s not fair if I have to stay in a class full of dull whites if the blacks are going to get their own class. Where’s my Japanese class? And don’t try and lump me in a class with Asians. I look Asian, but I’m not the same as them. We should have classes based on which language your parents speak.

10. I’m an ex-nazi. I have a pair of calipers and some books written by Joseph Gobbles. Can I get a job with the education department putting children into the correct racial category? I have some friends from South Africa who also need jobs.

11. I’m a plastic surgeon. Is it okay for him to tell parents they need to make their children look white so they’ll get into a white class and get a better education?

12. I think that rather than racial segregation, we should treat children as individuals and give them whatever help they personally need to lead fulfilling lives, reguardless of their skin colour. Is this possible or am I just a crazy idealist?


wendi 03.07.05 at 11:37 pm

I understand that unlike the US, the social class gap does not fully explain the race gap in the UK. However, the gender gap exacerbates the race gap for certain racial groups. Black girls do better than white lower income boys and the gap between working class white boys and black boys is closing.


wendi 03.07.05 at 11:39 pm

I understand that unlike the US, the social class gap does not fully explain the race gap in the UK. However, the gender gap exacerbates the race gap for certain racial groups. Black girls do better than white lower income boys and the gap between working class white boys and black boys is closing.


Thomas 03.08.05 at 12:49 am

Harry, you claim (I’m sure for good reason) that “in the US most of the achievement gap between black and white kids is down to class (almost all of it, when class includes grandparental income and wealth…)”

What sort of mechanism is at work here? Is there some reason to think that the wealth and income of someone’s grandparents would ordinarily be related to that individual’s academic achievement? While still recognizing that there is a significant achievement gap when parental income and wealth are held steady?

I mean, I’m a bit skeptical (meaning just inclined to look closely, not saying the claim is wrong) of this as a way of demonstrating that class, not race, is the issue. (Couldn’t we go back another generation and say that slavery, not race, is the issue? If your great-grandparents were counted as someone else’s wealth and produced someone else’s income, … Would that be persuasive?)


harry 03.08.05 at 1:10 am


I’ve been puzzling a bit about this myself, and might do a post on it when I’ve thought more about it.

Here’s the story: when you control for parental income and wealth you get a not-tiny gap in achievement. When you control for grandparental wealth as well it almost evaporates. i.e black and white kids who have similarly placed parents and grandparents do almost as well as each other in school.

I think this does matter. Rothstein explains it nicely in the piece bza linked to in the first comment. Apparently middle class African American parents simply have less parental support to fall back on themselves, are less ecurely middle class, and are not expecting an inheritance. This might matter a lot for how their children regard college: eg whether they anticipate getting a free ride or not (I can’t tell you how many White Americans I’ve met whose children had their whole Ivy League college paid for by grandparents. My kids, by contrast, can simply rule out expensive private college, unless I take a big chunk out of my income to save for it).

SO I think it is kosher to control for grandparental wealth (but am open to persuasion). But then I got to thinking: what about controlling for whether a parent is incarcerated? I bet that if you control for parental income, wleath, and incarceration status, you close the gap a bit too. But that ignores the fact that African Americans are much more likely to be incarcerated than Whites, because they are African-American. So I agree that its not straightforward at all.

There must be people reading this who are professional and can explain to us what’s legit and what’s not.

wendi: do you have a source for that claim? I’m just being lazy, and will follow this up eventually, but if you have an easy source that makes it easier for me!

On role models: one of Ronald Ferguson’s striking (and not much commented on) findings (in one of his two contributions to the Philips/Jencks volume) is that the optimal teachers for low-SES African-Americans are high SES-origin Whites. Its ages since I read it, so I can’t explain it all. Anyone *really* serious about this topic should read the whole volume (and remember it better than I have…)


rea 03.08.05 at 1:39 am

“not to avoid calling a spade a spade”

Procrastinator, I gather that you’re not from the US. Is it only in US usage that “spade” carries its unfortunate derrogatory racial implications?


dave504 03.08.05 at 5:29 am

As to Ra’s comment about keeping black fathers with their children:
a I remember the US Congress initially passed welfare legislation that paid benefits only to those women without an husband. The cuurent problem of younger girls getting pregnant is due to the glamorization of -babymamas- and the predatory of older adult males on young girls. I not sure that one can blame the sol-called leftist welfare state for these problems.


Functional 03.08.05 at 5:35 am

Rea — I grew up in the South, and I’ve never heard that the cliche about “spades” had any racial connotations. Perhaps people shouldn’t be so hypersensitive.


Mill 03.08.05 at 5:49 am

It’s not that the cliche “call a spade a spade” itself has racial connotations. It is that “spade” is/was sometimes used as a derogatory term for a black person, and so in the context of this discussion that cliche takes on unintended (or not, depending on the speaker, but I doubt that’s the case here) ugly undertones.


dsquared 03.08.05 at 6:17 am

By the way, I’m sure this reminder will have no effect, but there really is no $5 book token prize for the first person to mention “wedlock” in a thread about black people.


Aaron Swartz 03.08.05 at 6:30 am

What about the “stereotype threat” research that found the black-white test score gap of twenty percent disappeared when students were told the test they were taking was specially designed to have no racial difference?



Des von Bladet 03.08.05 at 9:35 am

Re: Grandparents.

Does anyone have a reliable source for Thackeray’s alleged remark that “It takes three (3) generations to make a gentleman.”


Procrastinator 03.08.05 at 10:38 am

Rea, that thought did occur to me as I typed the comment. Then the further thought occurred to me, fiddlesticks, what the hell? Yet another thought occurred to me, could I be painting myself into a corner? states “it pre-dates the slang use of the term spade meaning Negro as exemplified in ‘as black as the ace of spades’. In use since at least 300BC”.

I could have called spies “spooks” or mentioned that I was having “hot juicy faggots” for tea.



Kieran 03.08.05 at 1:06 pm

I was having “hot juicy faggots” for tea.

You’re eating warmed up sticks?


KCinDC 03.08.05 at 1:34 pm

No, no, Kieran. He’s drinking the sticks — having them for tea.


Jeff 03.08.05 at 1:40 pm

No “faggots”: balls of pork liver and part of the pig. Britain even has it’s own first family of faggots!

In Scotland, until the Third Reform Act, there were faggot voters, which were the collective votes of labourers on large estates.

And of course, they can bundles of sticks!

Sorry for the highjack.


Procrastinator 03.08.05 at 2:01 pm

I could whip you up some delicious meals from the inner organs of beast and fowl.

>> You’re eating warmed up sticks?

It’s getting cold my dear. Well, throw another faggot on the fire!

(Sorry, my good taste mood just failed.)

I’m disappointed no-one picked up on the spooks remark. It’s a thankless task: MI5, not Nine to Five.


ecpepper 03.08.05 at 2:05 pm

If grandparental wealth is really a proxy for inherited wealth, why not just control for wealth itself (rather than income) and forget the grandparents?


harry 03.08.05 at 2:37 pm

bq. If grandparental wealth is really a proxy for inherited wealth, why not just control for wealth itself (rather than income) and forget the grandparents?

They do control for income *and* wealth. The point is among equally wealthy families those with less wealthy parents (in the grandparental generation) i) have less latitude to take high-yield risks; ii) are more likely to be transferring wealth to their own parents; iii) have worse inheritance prospects (we measure actual wealth, not expected inheritance, and people with kids in school usually haven’t yet inherited the wealth they expect). Think about your own situation (whatever it is): if you expect to end up paying for your parents old age, think about how different your expectations would be if you were expecting them to pay for your kids to go to college instead; if you expect them to pay for your kids college think about hwo different your expectations would be if you were expecting, instead, to be paying both for your kids to attend college and for your parents to have a modest old age.


LizardBreath 03.08.05 at 3:12 pm

Wealthy grandparents also tend to deliver significant gifts, e.g., college tuition. Such gifts are economically significant, but never show up as parental wealth.


bza 03.08.05 at 5:14 pm

The influence of class (as measured by wealth and income) has so far been discussed mainly in terms of financial considerations. But its worth pointing out that such SES differences also correlate with cultural differences. In particular, children from middle class families are more likely to have a positive attitude toward education and believe that education benefits them; they’re more likely to be exposed reading material in the home; and their parents are more likely to oversee their schoolwork. These other factors shouldn’t be neglected, especially since the narrowly economic factors Harry has primaryily been discussing are most relevant to higher education, while race- and class-associated gaps in educational achievement appear even among young children.


Thomas 03.08.05 at 10:21 pm

Harry, I still find the mechanism a bit hard to understand. If I knew that I could expect a sizeable inheritance, I wouldn’t work nearly as hard as I do, and I think that’s true of the younger version of myself as well (not that I worked particularly hard, but then I didn’t get an Ivy education in the end either). I mean, think of your own children: are they likely to work harder because you won’t be providing everything for them, or are they likely to work less hard? Perhaps I’m just projecting a personal flaw…

(If inheritances are this important to achievement, then perhaps the Republicans are right to want to do away with the estate tax.)

My point: inheritance expectancy may allow you to take risks and may allow you to make additional investments, but as far as I know there’s no evidence to demonstrate that additional risk or additional investment is what’s needed to close the achievement gap. Further, we wouldn’t expect to find that, since educational spending is a low risk/high reward investment. (If we could say that the achievement gap would disappear if we controlled for wealth, income and the amount of family resources directed at current education, we’d be on to something, but as far as I know there’s no evidence for that.)

I think bza’s comments are relevant, but a bit off target. A question to ask is: Do middle class black families, for example, value education less (in a non-economic sense) than similarly situated white families? If so, why?


harry 03.08.05 at 10:26 pm

A very striking illustration of bza’s points — and many more — can be found in Annette Lareau’s *Unequal Childhoods* (which Rothstein discusses briefly in the review to which bza linked in the first comment). What is especially striking about Lareau’s ethnography is that different race parents in the same class position behave very similarly to one another (in her study).


harry 03.08.05 at 10:29 pm

Thomas, your comment wasn’t up when I posted the previous. I’ll reply properly when I have more time (probably not today).


bza 03.08.05 at 10:47 pm

I think bza’s comments are relevant, but a bit off target. A question to ask is: Do middle class black families, for example, value education less (in a non-economic sense) than similarly situated white families? If so, why?

That’s certainly relevant. I understand there’s some evidence that answers that question is the affirmative, but finds that it only explains a very small part of the observed racial differences in educational achievement. On the other hand, new research is contantly turning up more ways in which class, not race, seems to explain differential educational outcomes, which, when taken in conjunction with the fact that African-American families are disproprtionately low-SES, explains racial differentials.

So my point in bringing up cultural attitudes towards education and the like that are associated with SES-status is that these are additional mechanisms by means of which class affects performance in school, distinct from the financial mechanisms that the thread had previously been discussing. One might incorrectly underplay the significance of class and its ability to explain racial discrepancies by focusing on only some of the mechanisms in which class makes its effects felt. But again, because of the differences of class membership among racial groups this isn’t to change the topic from that of racial correlations in education outcomes.


Dave 03.09.05 at 1:51 pm

Trevor, intentionally or not was actually commenting on the state of African-Caribbean boys instead of “Black” boys as such. Some commenters though seem to be lumping all Black people in UK together as if they are a homogenous community. This is not the case.

Black African kids do OK in school, just as Black African university students do well in University. Black African men, unlike their African-Caribbean brothers do not [normally] have babies out of wedlock.

I have my own theory as to why this is the case and would make time to expound on it in the too distant future.


sluggo 03.11.05 at 9:22 am

Suddenly, the phrase “I eat faggots for breakfast” has a whole new meaning.


Rahul Sinha 03.11.05 at 10:20 am

No one has mentioned that this report indicated that black girls (defined however) have HIGHER achievement marks than white children, much less black boys.

This neatly undercuts any class argument. Simply put, the prevailing culture of black male youth is holding its members back; any other explanation would have held back their sisters!



Rahul Sinha 03.11.05 at 10:31 am

(Just a link in support of the above)


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