Momentum

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A topic we’ve debated around here more than once is whether African-Americans continue to suffer from the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow (in addition to ongoing racism).  Some say no.  I’ve always argued yes; that such institutions have a momentum of their own, and the social, economic, and psychological effects last long after the institutions themselves end.  I’ve argued that, on that basis (in addition to ongoing racism), we should be neither surprised nor offended when those effects evince themselves, and policies like Affirmative Action remain appropriate.

Now somebody’s gone and introduced, like, data and methodology into this debate:

We investigate the historical origins of mistrust within Africa. Combining contemporary household survey data with historic data on slave shipments by ethnic group, we show that individuals whose ancestors were heavily threatened by the slave trade today exhibit less trust in neighbors, family co-ethnics, and their local government. We confirm that the relationship is causal by instrumenting the historic intensity of the slave trade by the historic distance from the coast of the respondent’s ancestors, controlling for the respondent’s current distance from the coast. We undertake a number of falsification exercises, all of which suggest that the necessary exclusion restrictions are likely satisfied. We then show that much of the relationship between the slave trade and an individual’s level of trust today cannot be explained by the slave trade’s effect on factors external to the individual, such as domestic institutions or the legal environment. Instead, the evidence shows that a significant portion of the effects of the slave trade work through vertically transmitted factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms of behavior, beliefs and values.

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6 Responses to “Momentum”

  1. unicorntx Says:

    JU:
    It seems to me almost self-evident that “the effects last long after the institutions themselves end”. Neverthelss, it is always nice to have one’s biases supported by research!

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    If any of you guys do Netflix, check out Mario’s Story (supposed to be on HBO sometime this year, too). The website is http://www.mariostory.org

    We had a private screening at the law school recently, and it was cool to hear a lily white attorney from a mega-firm who grew up privileged (went to high school where the Obama girls now attend) talk about how he learned through this pro bono case that someone with brown skin won’t get a fair trial in L.A.

  3. Whitney Says:

    “Instead, the evidence shows that a significant portion of the effects of the slave trade work through vertically transmitted factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms of behavior, beliefs and values.”

    Could this be true due to largely false ideas passed down within families…therefore creating self-fulfilling ideology of sort. This is not to say that racism is dead in our country. I don’t believe that. But could the ideology persist because those affected by it believe it to be worse than it actually is and perpetuate that idea through their children and their children’s children? I’d like to see what Bill Cosby’s kids have to say about it.

    All I’m trying to say is that “beliefs and values” do not necessarily have to be based on actuality. If you say perception is reality, then that has to be true for all parties on all sides of an issue, both those who believe it to be worse than it is, and those who believe it to be better.

  4. urbino Says:

    Could this be true due to largely false ideas passed down within families…therefore creating self-fulfilling ideology of sort.

    Sure. There’s probably some degree of that. But the vast majority of it, I think, is people’s own, true, lived experience. Jim Crow just wasn’t as long ago as people seem to want to think. Those people’s experiences and the life lessons they learned from them are still very much alive. It’s going to take generations for new, consistently different experiences and life lessons to replace them.

  5. Whitney Says:

    I can see that. I live in a part of our country where I am very much the minority and have experienced targeted discrimination. It’s from the minority, to be sure, but infuriating. It’s got to be based on the psychological principle that negative experiences are exponentially more salient, and therefore memorable, than positive or “normal” experiences.

  6. urbino Says:

    Probably so.

    Take your experience and imagine growing up and living in a context where absolutely everyone you know has had those negative experiences — everyone in your entire extended family, every kid in your class, every teacher in your school, every parent and shopkeeper in your neighborhood, and all of their parents and friends &c., stretching back as far into the past as you can imagine — in a steady, repeating pattern over the entire course of your life.

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