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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Quirky Revisionisms

Apologies for a couple days away from blogging, life (and work) intervened.

Anyways, David McDuff of the fine blog A Step At A Time, responded on Friday to my little micro-rant on the revisionist 'the Irish were once considered non-white' meme by posting a quotation from the excellent author and essayist Robert Rodriguez (an interesting discussion of whom can be seen here), that I actually disagree with quite strongly. But more on that in a second.

The central problem with Ignatiev's thesis is that he, as a self-professed anti-racist activist (he campaigns for the 'abolition of whiteness'), transfers his modern obsessions onto history in a very dishonest way. The Irish Catholic immigrants of the mid-19th century were hated by the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority for religious reasons, not racial ones. The nativist movement was fixated on Catholic conspiracies, on the idea that the masses of Irish immigrants arriving in America were a beachhead for the subversion of the Republic and enslavement by the Pope (similar in some ways to the paranoia of their modern descendants, and their fears of a Mexican immigrant inspired reconquista of the Southwest).

One of the central theses of Ignatiev's work was that the Irish 'became white' by embracing anti-black racism, something learned on American soil. The central proof of this, in Ignatiev's eyes, was the opposition of huge numbers of working class Irish (and Germans, for that matter) to the abolitionist cause in the pre-war period. To identity politics types like Ignatiev, this is conclusive proof of a conscious adaptation of American racism in order to assimilate. Except it wasn't. Frothing right-wingers like to shout that views like Ignatiev's spring from Marxism, but what is notable about them is that, in their obsession with 'race' and 'ethnicity', they more or less completely ignore economic issues. The opposition of so many Irish in America to abolitionism, as opposed to the more positive reception the abolitionist cause received in Ireland itself, was down to the fact that Irish-Americans would be facing direct economic competition from the freed black slaves, to add to the competition they faced on the bottom rung of the job market from German immigrants and the native (in the sense of native-born) WASP working-class. This does not mean that, from a moral perspective, such opposition is defensible, merely that it was understandable.

The wider point is that the Irish were not seen as non-white, but that they were seen as a separate people from the dominant Anglo-Saxon group. This latter idea has slowly filtered out over the past century, of Europe as being separated into separate races, but it was stronger in the nineteenth century. This does not mean that the Irish were seen as a non-white group, merely that they were outside of the white mainstream, principally because of their religion, not their nationality. After all, the Irish Protestant community, who had arrived in large numbers earlier in American history, were quickly absorbed into the mainstream of American life, despite their physical indistinguishability from their old Catholic rivals on the Emerald Isle. A similar process occurred among German immigrants, where Protestants were absorbed into American life quicker than Catholics. The discrimination the Irish Catholics faced in America sprung from religious fears and paranoia, and from the social problems of the Irish, not from racial theorizing.

The assimilation of the Irish occurred for several reasons (this was actually the subject of my MA dissertation, which I can email to anyone who is interested), but the principal one was time. The performance of Irish soldiers on the Union side in the Civil War proved powerfully effective in neutering the more fanatical elements of anti-Irish sentiment. The Irish also quickly maneuvred themselves into political power in municipalities across the country. The Church also played a crucial role. The Catholic Church hierarchy, which by the mid-19th century was dominated by Irish immigrants and their descendants, played a hugely important role in abating anti-Catholic sentiment by embracing American patriotism and encouraging their flocks to do the same.

This is not to deny that many Irish were not fiercely racist towards blacks throughout this period, but it is a gross oversimplification to say that Irish assimilation was simply a matter of the Irish abandoning their culture to become white Americans. The Irish were always white, what marked them out from the mainstream was, principally, the Catholic religion and also their Irish cultural background. As immigration from Ireland dried up and newer European immigrant groups began to take their place on the ships the Irish Catholic no longer seemed so strange to the Protestant majority. The idea of 'American' had also warped out to include the Catholic, as it would later expand to accept the Jew, and, as it has in recent decades, to include the Muslim, the Sikh, the Hindu, and the Buddhist.

|| RPH || 4:35 AM || |

Friday, June 24, 2005

Few Quick Things

First off: is the 'the Irish were once considered non-white' the stupidest historical meme ever? I know that dickhead Harvard professor Noel Ignatiev wrote a book about this, but this seems to be an idea that has perculated out into the wider Left intelligentsia (I saw someone mention it in a Village Voice article this week). It is so so so stupid. I wrote my MA dissertation on the Irish in America in the 19th century and not once did I ever come across a primary source where the Irish were called non-whites. It's a different situation from Jews, where Jews were indeed quite often seen as non-white (and still are, out on the outer fringes of Stormfronterism). The Irish were often seen as a separate 'race' from the 'Anglo-Saxon race', but I have never ever ever seen anything where people talked about 'the whites' and 'the Irish' as separate entities. How does such obvious nonsense gain cultural currency? (Answer: because leftist identity politics professors are morons).

Sorry, bad history really irritates me.

I have actually been doing a lot of work behind the scenes on an update to the 'Racial Segregation in Brooklyn' post, doing maps and graphs and tables and all sorts on topics like household income, crime rates, school test results, and so on. I'm not finished yet (but I will be tomorrow night) as I'm having some trouble finding test results for private schools in Brooklyn (even the Diocese doesn't seem to have the stats for parochial schools on their website). Just to show you I'm at it, here's a map of police precincts in Brooklyn that is colored by crime rates:

The NYPD website tallies (PDF file) murders, rapes, robberies, felonious assaults, burglaries, grand larcenies, and automotive grand larcenies, so I went through all of the different precincts numbers and worked out the numbers for crimes per 100,000 residents (they give residential populations for each precincts on pages like this), and then mapped it out by precinct. No major surprises, the area in black with the lowest crime rate (a rather remarkable 853.4 crimes per 100,000 residents last year) is the 66th Precinct, which is, for the most part, the heavily Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. As far as personal safety goes, I'd rather be around the Hasidim than pretty much anyone else on the planet. Honorable people. The highest crime rate is in the 84th Precinct, which covers Downtown Brooklyn (2977.52 crimes per 100,000 residents last year) which, again, is not altogether surprising, as the area has by far the largest number of passers-through of anywhere in Brooklyn, thus inflating the crime rate to above that of more notorious areas like East New York and Brownsville (the 75th and 73rd precincts respectively).

Loads more stuff on Brooklyn tomorrow.

Also, if you've never seen it, I highly recommend 'I am a Japanese School Teacher', a website by an American who has been teaching English in Japanese schools for the past two years. Very funny (and often raunchy) stuff. Well worth a look.

I've also been reading a lot of stuff by James Howard Kunstler. It is enough to really, seriously unsettle you, except for when you start digging back through his archives and see how consistently he has threatened imminent doom, and how just as consistently he has been proved wrong (he was one of those freaked out by Y2K). He is heavily on the peak oil thing, which is certainly utterly utterly terrifying if true. He is a great writer, though, a real 'hide under the blankets' kind of style. He is also, in my opinion, absolutely dead on about the vapidity of modern suburban living. I don't want to get too holier than thou about suburbanism, but I do think that the switch from urban life to suburbia and exurbia has been a great disaster for America, and I find edge cities to be mind-bogglingly depressingly awful, and the idea that large amounts of Americans have never walked to a store to buy milk head-scratching in the extreme.

|| RPH || 6:06 AM || |

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

We're the Greatest! (But They Are Out To Get Us)

One of the things that I find most distasteful about modern American political life is the way in which virtually everyone tries to project themself as a martyr. For all the arrogance and chest-beating bravado in politics at all levels, it seems like the core of American political life is paranoia, the sense that, however right you may be, nefarious outside forces are out to get you, and they will stop at nothing to destroy your movement. The classic example of this is Left(ish) identity politics, which sets up the interests of 'people of color' as being inevitably prevented from realization by a 'White Supremacy' that hangs like a fog over daily life. I have always found this sort of 'permanent victim' stuff quite irksome, but that is not what I am going to talk about today.

No, what I am interested in is conservative victimology. Conservatives frequently denounce the 'liberal victim mentality', yet they are eager to paint themselves as martyrs when the need arises. This is most obvious when they see something they don't like in the news and retreat to their corner, mewling about the 'biased liberal media'. One second it's all macho chest-beating, and the next it's tearful complaints about "liberal oppression", and calls for universities to enact David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, that would force universities to hire more conservative scholars. Whatever happened to a 'free marketplace of ideas'? At least the liberal types who demand more subsidies for 'ethnic studies' and diversity hiring quotas and the like aren't hypocrites in this respect, because they don't profess to believe that 'the market' (such as it is) should be given free reign to make such decisions. For what it's worth, I often agree with conservatives that left-wing victimology is foolish, anti-individual, and of little use in improving relations between different groups of people, yet because I believe this, I am only more disgusted when conservatives use exactly the same tactics to complain that they are being 'oppressed'.

It is a wonderfully successful rhetorical trick, a great means of mobilizing the grass roots, but it's horses**t. This is particular the case when you see people from, say, Fox News mouth off about 'the mainstream media'. You people work for Rupert Murdoch, one of the mightiest press barons in the world, and you are somehow underground rebels engaged in samizdat? Gimme a break. Conservatives have control of the federal government, large amounts of the state governments, most of the corporations, the most vibrant and expansionist part of Christianity in America, and a vast section of the media, and their voices are being strangled by a bunch of columnists on the Upper West Side? Give it a rest already.

One thing that I've always wondered about, given Americans' predilection for neurotic paranoia about how The Other is out to destroy them (whether that other is Whitey, libruls, Christians, corporations, or whoever), is how deep this reaches into our history. It seems to have been a fairly constant factor going back through time, and so I wonder if, really, it all dates back to the Puritans arriving here after being forced out of England (although that is a simplification, they weren't expelled, their power was simply broken there) and in their fear that their project was threatened by nefarious outside forces they did not set a national tone of alternating hubris ("we will build a perfect world!") and paranoia ("as long as THEY don't stop us!") that all of the tens of millions of people to follow them here haven't assimilated to. By this I mean, is fear an essential part of the American identity?

|| RPH || 5:50 PM || |

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Music and Politics

Note: Cross-posted from Pearsall's Tunes.

Obviously, I spend a lot of time listening to music, and then thinking about what I listen to. I also spend a lot of time reading about it. One of the things that I have found quite interesting over the last two or so years of reading about music online (I was reading stuff like TWANBOC and Blissblog way before I started participating on Dissensus and doing this blog) was how different my reactions to the music I was listening to were from others. Well, maybe not in the sense of aesthetics, what I liked and so on, but more in how I tried to break it down in my mind. I think the crucial difference is that I've never spent much time worrying about the words in the music that I listen to, that, whether instrumental or not, my mind has mostly focused on the sounds. I suspect that part of this is the result of my educational background and my personal intellectual interests; it seems like a lot of serious music writers have studied English or Philosophy quite seriously at points in their lives. These disciplines are fundamentally about words, about expression, and about ideas, whereas in what I did at university, History, words are functional, pieces in a puzzle, information to be used. Of course, the very best historical writing is written very well indeed - certainly at a level comparable to the best literature or philosophy - but the words are merely the means to an end, to conveying the necessary information. Bad historical writing, if it contains the necessary information, is still useful in doing your own work. Trust me, I've used many historical journals for research, and there really are no limits to how turgidly executed the prose can be. On the other hand, badly-written literature (and to a lesser extent philosophy) is more or less useless.

How does this tie into music? Well, I think that the focus on words that is so much a part of studying literature and philosophy seriously lends itself, when applied to music, to focusing primarily on lyrics, to peeling them apart to better understand the intentions and thoughts of the artist. This does not mean that the music itself is unimportant, merely that in so much of the music criticism that I have read the lyrics are as, if not more, important than the music. I don't really approach music in this way. I listen to the lyrics of vocal tracks, but I don't really care what the artist is saying. For the most part, I just like the surface aesthetics of the human voice when set against the music; the words are just pieces of information in a larger whole.

Where is this coming from? Well, I've been thinking about this quite a bit since I read Kid Kameleon's notes to accompany his recent ragga jungle mix at Gutterbreakz. Here's the relevant quote that got me a-pondering:

Unfortunately, anyone who deals with current Jamaican-derived music eventually has to come to terms with their position on anti-homosexual lyrics. Basically, I try my hardest not to play 'em. I'm all for burning out wikkid men, corruption, bomberclaats in general, but the evidence is too strong that Jamaica has a problem with endemic violence towards homosexuals, and while I don't blame dancehall artists for that violence directly I feel I need to follow a policy of "do no harm" for my own mixes. I won't knowningly play openly anti-gay lyrics, although I'm OK editing them out with backspins. It's not a comment on the producer of the track as he managed to snag vocals that are killer in every other way and should be put to use. It's a comment on the vocals themselves. It's a tricky line, but I call on ragga jungle producers to steer clear of incendiary lyrics since I really don't believe the producers are making a statement of deeply held beliefs like the people they are sampling. Please take the time, producers and fans alike, to read LFODemon's Battybwoys are alright manifesto which I wholly endorse.

I read this (as I've read several other pieces concerning violent homophobia in dancehall lyricism, Wayne Marshall has a bunch of links if you are interested) and pondered it. For the most part, I listen to two broad fields of music: global black street music (for lack of a better term; I'm referring to hip-hop, dancehall, and grime) and global white dance music (from techno to hardtrance to hardcore and so on). Obviously these categories are hardly racially impermeable, but these are useful shorthands, and I'm guessing that my readers will understand what I'm talking about. Dance music, being for the most part instrumental, is pretty much disconnected from any concerns with lyrical content. But hip-hop, grime, and dancehall are all about lyricism as much (if not more, really) as they are about how to react to sketchily questionable violent, misogynistic, racist, or homophobic lyrics? I've been wondering about this question precisely because I've found that I have no reaction to such lyrics. I just don't seem to care really. I'm a reasonably liberal guy but for the most part it just doesn't seem to bother me when I hear musicians saying things that I strongly disagree with on a personal level, because I don't really engage with lyrics. Is this wrong? I dunno.

There's a strong common thread running through my music taste - I like electronic sounds over organic ones virtually always. For the most part, I'm just not interested that interested in music made on yer real instruments, or music sampled from said real instruments; I'd rather hear synths. A lot of the sounds that I enjoy in, say, dancehall are similar to the sonic signatures that I enjoy in techno. By placing most of my focus and enjoyment on the textures and aesthetics of the music that I consume, am I abdicating my responsibility to question statements that run counter to my own beliefs and values?

This is particularly the case in regards to homophobia in Jamaican dancehall music. I have had quite a few gay friends over the years, yet when I hear these Jamaican mc's bunning out the battyman dem (or at least when I can decipher the accents to the point where I can tell what they are saying), it just doesn't seem to faze me. Even though it's an implicit attack on all of these fine men and women I've known over the years, I don't feel particularly outraged, certainly less than I do by the antics and anti-gay rhetoric of much of the American Religious Right. Is this me giving them a pass because these musicians are black? Nah, it's not that, because I'm not really bothered by Eminem's homophobia either. I guess that it comes down to the fact that I consider music escapism, fundamentally disconnected from the everyday, and that is why I like the synthesized over the organic: it is one step removed from the everyday. Perhaps it is just a defense mechanism, because my other great passions are history and current affairs, the very definition of the everyday. I spend a lot of time reading serious and heavy things, about wars and crises and virulent debate, and so I try to separate my thoughts about music from my thoughts about our world, its past, its present, and its future.

I realize that these are not particularly satisfactory answers, but it seems like the only way that I really enjoy engaging with music is through the lens of aesthetic appreciation, and not through politics. I don't really enjoy mixing my greatest pleasure, which is music, with my masochistic need to do study the human condition. This is a cop-out, but I guess at least I am self-aware on this point.

|| RPH || 5:36 PM || |

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

This Country is Not Very Homogenous

The enormous size of this nation, and particularly the vast empty spaces of the West, allows an enormous, virtually limitless heterogeneity. This vast multiplicity of experiences often expresses itself in decidedly eccentric, even disturbing, ways. One of the stranger manifestations of modern American life is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a topic discussed in today's LA Times:

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Abandoned by his family, faith and community, Gideon Barlow arrived here an orphan from another world.

At first, he played the tough guy, aloof and hard. But when no one was watching, he would cry.

Gideon is one of the "Lost Boys," a group of more than 400 teenagers — some as young as 13 — who authorities in Utah and Arizona say have fled or been driven out of the polygamous enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City over the last four years.

His stated offenses: wearing short-sleeved shirts, listening to CDs and having a girlfriend. Other boys say they were booted out for going to movies, watching television and staying out past curfew.

Some say they were sometimes given as little as two hours' notice before being driven to St. George or nearby Hurricane, Utah, and left like unwanted pets along the road.

Authorities say the teens aren't really being expelled for what they watch or wear, but rather to reduce competition for women in places where men can have dozens of wives.

"It's a mathematical thing. If you are marrying all these girls to one man, what do you do with all the boys?" said Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff, who has had boys in his office crying to see their mothers. "People have said to me: 'Why don't you prosecute the parents?' But the kids don't want their parents prosecuted; they want us to get the No. 1 bad guy — Warren Jeffs. He is chiefly responsible for kicking out these boys."

The 49-year-old Jeffs is the prophet, or leader, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS, as it is known, controls Hildale and Colorado City.

The sect, which broke from the Mormon Church more than a century ago, has between 10,000 and 15,000 members. It believes in "plural marriage," that a man must have at least three wives to reach the highest levels of heaven. The Mormon Church forbids polygamy and excommunicates those who practice it.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a living link to the 19th century, when polygamy was part of the Mormon mainstream. The abolition of polygamy was, of course, the key to Utah being granted statehood in the 1890's. The federal government had for decades been hammering the Mormons over polygamy, driving many of the Church elders into hiding, until the point where they finally gave up and got rid of the practice (one of the main guys having handily had a prophecy about it of course). Still, small sects that chose to retain polygamy like the FCLDS have managed to survive up until today.

Needless to say, such groupings are deeply, deeply strange; a holdover from a very different period of time. Even in the context of the outer fringes of American Christianity, such cultic heresies are particularly bizarre and fascinating. Essentially, the head of the community, currently Warren Jeffs, sets himself up as a prophet and communal dictator, attempting to control virtually every aspect of his followers lives. Quite often those who defy the leader are excommunicated and exiled (usually men) while women, who primarily function as baby machines, only escape with the help of outsiders. The curious thing about this group is that I find the mindset at work to be far less comprehensible than, say, Salafists. It is so far removed from anything that I have personally experienced in my life that I literally struggle to even place myself in their position.

This is one odd country that we share.

|| RPH || 2:32 AM || |

Friday, June 10, 2005

Drown Your Brain

My good friend Robert Jubb has been blogging his exam revision at Consider Phlebas, so if you feel like diving head first into the world of political philosophy then have a look. It's pretty esoteric stuff (or perhaps that is just my history degree talking) but it will repay the time and effort put into it.

He's a smart cookie, that bearded Jubb.

|| RPH || 9:43 PM || |

Who Has the Best Weather?

For the last week it has been hot here in New York. Really hot and humid. Although not as hot as it will get later on in the summer, it came more or less out of nowhere. Indeed, only two weeks ago it was still chilly enough that wearing a sweatshirt was necessary when going outside. Then, BOOM! Roasting heat and sweltering humidity. Shorts and t-shirt, and too long outdoors and you could feel the sweat rolling down your back.

As I have now been back in New York for a while, and had the opportunity several times to remember just how hellishly hot it gets here in the summer, I have to say that London has the best climate in the world. This may seem counter-intuitive, because if there is one thing that the Brits like to complain about, it's their weather. It also always plays a prominent role whenever anyone else discusses those verdantly green isles. Yet the fact remains that because Britain has less seasonal variation in its weather than anywhere else I've ever been (which of course is a pretty limited amount of places) it is far more pleasant year-round. London never, or at least very rarely, gets as scorchingly hot and humid as is standard in a New York summer, yet nor does it ever get as alarmingly cold as the American East Coast or even Scotland. My last year at university in Edinburgh was spent in a flat without central heating...highly unpleasant in the middle of a Scottish winter! Even the rain, eternally cursed, is not so bad; it is rarely more than a drizzle. You can still function in it, go out, do different things, live life. On Monday evening I met a friend of mine who was visiting from Toronto off the N Train and we got caught in a sudden, absurd downpour. In the three blocks between the station and the bar we were going to we got soaked through and often does it rain like that in London?

The Brits, sadly, fail to understand what a great gift their mild climate is, racing off to southern Spain at the first sight of sunshine to crisp themselves a nice shade of lobster (as an aside: why do British holidaymakers struggle so badly with the concept of sunblock? As someone who shares the majority of that nation's ghost-like skin tone, I don't see why turning yourself into a walking bull-target is anything besides really unpleasantly painful. Maybe it's all the spanking.) I, however, know what is what when it comes to being comfortable year-round, and will happily say that London has the finest climate of any city on earth.

Yeah, you heard me right.

|| RPH || 6:20 PM || |

Book Meme Updates

Having done my version of the new book meme, I then passed it on to several people. So, if you'd like to see their choices, hop over to Actually Existing, Consider Phlebas, Far Outliers, and Shot By Both Sides.

|| RPH || 5:59 PM || |

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Racial Segregation in Brooklyn

Several days ago I was messing around at the invaluable City-Data site, a veritable fountain of knowledge for statistical geeks like myself, when I decided to have a look at what info they had on my old Brooklyn zip code, 11222. Not surprisingly, it showed that it is 80% white, because Greenpoint (for that is what it is) is the central home of the city's Polish community. I then started to have a look at other Brooklyn zip codes, punching in different numbers, seemingly at random, and what quickly became apparent was that, in Brooklyn as in the rest of the country, blacks and whites rarely live in areas where they have much statistical parity. So, I decided to do the whole shebang, to comb through all of Brooklyn's residential zip codes for the ethnicity data and see what I came up with on black-white residential segregation.

Why Brooklyn? And why blacks and whites? Well, according to the census data there is a pretty rough numerical parity between the two groups, the two main historical racial groups in American society, and black segregation in housing, education, and many other things from white America has long been pervasive, conscious, and deep. I also chose Brooklyn because it has the lowest percentage of Asians and Hispanics of the city's boroughs, with the exception of white majority Staten Island, and I wanted to look at continuing residential segregation between whites and blacks. Of course, in Brooklyn terms, 'whites' and 'blacks' are not simple categories (not that anywhere else in America these are simple categories, merely that in Brooklyn the mix is more complex), with Brooklyn being home to large, and recent, immigrant communities from the former Soviet Union, Poland, the Caribbean (particularly Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad), and Africa.

A quick note: the City-Data site from which I got my information on each zip code took its information from the 2000 census. It being five years later, the information for many areas is almost certainly already out of date, yet still, on a broad scale, I believe that it is useful. City-Data only breaks out the data by the five main categories for racial self-identification, and does not provide stand-alone data for Hispanics (as Hispanics can be of any race). This means that those Hispanics who self-identify as white or black on the form have been placed in the white and black categories in this data. If anyone can point me towards a zip code compendium that does break out Hispanic data by itself, then I would be grateful. Although I'm not all too sure about our tendency to set up 'Hispanic/Latino' as a quasi-racial category in and of itself, because, as the writer Richard Rodriguez has said, "Hispanics do not constitute a racial group. Members of every race in the world can claim to be Hispanics. As Hispanics -- the blond Cuban, the black Dominican, the mestizo Mexican -- we assert a cultural tie."

One useful thing to remember when looking at the data below is that it comes from Census Department definitions, which are often at variance with others' definitions of who fits into what group. The most pertinent example of this is the white category, which, in the official definition, includes Middle Easterners and North Africans who a majority of people probably see as non-White (their inclusion probably goes back to the 'Caucasoid' racial theories of the 19th century, and the fact that for some time the majority of Middle Eastern immigrants were Levantine Christians, who themselves tend to be often physically indistinguishable from Southern Europeans). Again, unless I can find some other source that breaks these out, I've got to go with what I have. It is also useful to remember that, for the most part, in this census data the designation 'some other race' usually refers to Hispanics who haven't put down 'Hispanic and Black/White' on the form. I haven't included Native Americans or Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders on any of these charts or pie graphs because, between the two of them, they only account for around 0.4% of the borough's population, and for graphical clarity it is easier to leave them out. If you are a member of either group, I apologize for leaving you out.

So, what do I have? What did I find? Unsurprisingly, racial segregation between blacks and whites in Brooklyn (as elsewhere in the country) continues to be a genuine reality. Of Brooklyn's thirty-seven residential zip codes, 17 have a white majority, 13 have a black majority, and seven have no majority at all (in the 2000 census, no group besides blacks or whites formed a majority in any zip code in Brooklyn).

Click all images to be taken to a larger version

As you can see from the pie graphs above, the vast majority of both blacks and whites in Brooklyn live in zip codes where they are in the majority. Indeed, 67% of blacks and 57% of whites live in zip codes where their group makes up at least 65% of the population. Only 9% of whites and 10% of blacks live in zip codes where the other group is in the numerical majority.

Above you will find line graphs that illustrate the breakdown of the different zip codes, first showing black majority zip codes, then white majority zip codes, and finally those few zip codes without an outright racial/ethnic majority. As you can see, the higher each group's concentration goes, the more that numbers of all other groups collapse, with the exception of Asians in predominantly white areas. This was the factor that I was most surprised to find, and it's something that I am quite curious about. While 69% of Brooklyn's Asian population lives in majority white zip codes (including 57% in zip codes that are over 65% white), only 8% live in majority black zip codes, lower even than the proportion of whites who live in such areas. Of course, 'Asian' in the Brooklyn context can mean many things, from the Chinese community in Sunset Park to the Pakistani community around Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.

I have to be honest here and say that I don't really have any explanation as to the difference, why Asians live far more among whites than they do among blacks. Perhaps part of it is racial prejudice against blacks among some Asian immigrants? Perhaps there is more of a turnover of housing in traditionally white neighborhoods than in traditionally black neighborhoods? Perhaps it is a matter of getting access to the better schools in Brooklyn (which are not in the heart of the Central Brooklyn ghetto)? Or maybe it is just a matter of chain migration, where certain early settlers chose specific neighborhood and then passed the word back to family and friends? Or maybe a sizeable proportion of Brooklyn's Asian population is made up of American-born middle-class Asian-Americans, who have chosen to settle in the sort of middle-class areas in Brooklyn that are usually (although not always) mostly white? I don't know, but if you have any ideas about this, leave a comment in the comments box. I've tried to do some research on the matter on Google, but haven't come up with much of interest, mostly just hectoring identity politics. Is this a local quirk, or is it true elsewhere in the United States that Asians will rarely live in largely black communities?

Above you can see the distribution of Asian and 'Some Other Race' (ie Hispanics who haven't put down black or white as a racial category) in Brooklyn. As you can see, those of 'Some Other Race' (ok, Hispanics) are much more evenly distributed than Asians in terms of their neighbors in Brooklyn. It is also useful to remember that in all likelihood several of those zip codes with no racial/ethnic majority that I found are probably mostly Hispanic, and they don't show up as such in the data because the City-Data site doesn't include Hispanic numbers as part of their number-crunching, so quite a few Hispanics will be in the white and black categories. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this; I'm not going to argue with how people choose to define themselves. If you are black and Dominican, you're still black. Or, if you are white and Argentinean, you are still white. Whatever, I digress.

Finally, here's the main thing. Colored zip code maps for blacks and whites in Brooklyn. It took me hours to do these. If you want a fresh, untouched version, you can find one here.

As you can see, the difference between where blacks and whites live is quite dramatic, with minuscule black populations throughout virtually all of southern Brooklyn, and hardly any whites in central Brooklyn, which has the largest number, and highest concentration, of African-Americans in the whole city. So, why are blacks and whites still so segregated in Brooklyn? Well, it's a complex area, and it's certainly not a new phenomenon. In some areas, it is merely a matter of recent immigrants clustering together, as among the Russians of Brighton Beach or the West Indians in Flatbush. Partly, also, a lot of the poorest African-Americans in neighborhoods like Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant simply can't afford to move to whiter, more middle-class areas like Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst, and those who can afford to move are more likely to head for black middle-class areas or the suburbs than to neighboring, long-established 'white ethnic' areas. I would also argue thatwhites are, on average, more hostile to the idea of living among large numbers of blacks than they are to living alongside large numbers of Asians or Hispanics, which seems to be borne out by the statistics of who lives where. Education also plays a role in perpetuating black-white residential segregation. The worst schools in the borough are mostly located in these ghetto neighborhoods of central Brooklyn, trapping further generations in low-income lifestyles, with little chance of change. A comprehensive re-ordering of the city educational system has been wrangled over for years, but the failure of many schools plays a serious role in the perpetuation of racial segregation in the borough.

This is not to say that all African-Americans in the borough are poor; they are not. There are enclaves of middle-class blacks throughout Brooklyn, in places like Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. There is also often a reluctance among whites to move into black areas, over issues of not wanting to be a minority in the neighborhood and worries about crime (crime rates are still very high by city standards in the poorest, most black, neighborhoods, of Brooklyn, although they are down dramatically from the early 90's), and education (which is why few of these white newcomers tend to be families with children) although that is changing with the filtering in of some artists and young professionals into areas like Bed-Stuy.

Of course, Brooklyn is always changing, and the maps of today will undoubtedly fail to describe the reality of ten years hence. For now, though, this is the situation.

Update, July 6th, 2005: For anyone arriving here by Google, there is a sequel to this post with loads more stuff here. Topics covered in the sequel include median household income, the distribution of Asians in Brooklyn, crime rates, and the public schools.

|| RPH || 3:44 PM || |

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Since I'm Nicking Content From GNXP

Go and have a read of the 'Overclocking' post over at GNXP, which has links to all sorts of discussion about the new scientific paper, The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, which proposes that the high iq's and unusual genetic diseases that are more prevalent among Ashkenazi (European) Jews than among other populations may be linked.

Reading all of this reminded me of a couple of passages from Thomas Sowell's classic Ethnic America, which I'll quote for your interest here.

"(The early 20th century) was an era when it was common to avoid promoting children until their scholastic performance merited it, but even so, the record of Polish Jews was worse than others. A 1911 study showed that 41 percent of the 5,341 Russian-Jewish children surveyed were behind the "normal" grade level. Partly this may be because so many entered late due to overcrowded New York schools that annually turned many away. However, even among the Russian-Jewish children who entered at age six, 23 percent were behind their normal grade level - about the same as for the New York City school system as a whole, where most were presumably enrolled. As late as World War i, soldiers of Russian - mostly Jewish - origin averaged among the lowest mental test scores of any of the ethnic groups tested by the US Army. These results led a leading contemporary authority on tests to declare that this disproved "the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent." Like so many confident "expert" conclusions, this one failed to stand the test of time." (p. 88)

And here's a second quote:

"Even when the Jews lived in slums, they were slums with a difference - lower alcoholism, homicide, accidental death rates than other slums, or even the city as a whole. Their children had lower truancy rates, lower juvenile juvenile delinquency rates, and (by the 1930s) higher IQs than other children. The Jews had lower infant mortalities and more organizations than other low-income people. There was also more voting for congressmen by low-income Jews than even by higher income Protestants or Catholics. In short, the Jews had the social patterns and values of the midddle class, even when they lived in slums. Despite a voluminous literature claiming that slums shape people's values, the Jews had their own values, and they took those values into and out of the slums." (p. 94)

|| RPH || 12:14 PM || |

Monday, June 06, 2005

Over at GNXP

I read GNXP a lot. It's usually insightful, occassionally infuriating (especially some of the commenters), but always compelling reading. Over the weekend, Jason Malloy published an absolutely superb analysis of a debate between Jared Taylor, a White Nationalist, and Tim Wise, a liberal white anti-racist activist, that, from a scientist's perspective, skewers both of their foggy-minded errors on the question of race. The comments are excellent reading as well, varying from the unhinged to the deeply considered. Definitely worth a look.

For what it's worth, I don't doubt that our traditional conceptions of 'race' have some correlation with genetics; the idea that 'race is only a social construct' has always struck me as somewhat silly. Precisely how deep the connections are is only just beginning to be understood, and there is still a long way to go before all our genetic secrets have been revealed. Having said that, even though I believe in race as something that has biological meaning (in the sense of the 'races' having certain in-group genetic mutations in common), I don't think it matters any where near as much in terms of day-to-day life as culture or upbringing. I have far more in common with Asian or African or whatever non-white Americans who are from a similar economic and educational background to myself than I would with, say, an unemployed former factory worker in eastern Germany, even though I'll look much more like the German. What 'race' actually means is still somewhat cloudy, but whatever happens it will not change the fact that who we are is in large part dependent on who we are around and how we grow up rather than who looks like us in somewhere remote to our everyday experience.

|| RPH || 4:35 PM || |

Book Tag

This one comes from Randy McDonald.

1) Total number of books I've owned:

At a rough guess, I'd say between one hundred and two hundred. I have about a hundred here with me in New York, and there's more at my parents' home in London. I'm quite impressed with Randy having owned a thousand books in his lifetime...I certainly haven't had so many! I have also read a lot of books that I've borrowed from the rest of my family.

2) The last book I bought:

Markar Melkonian My Brother's Road: An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia - It's a biography of the legendary/infamous Monte Melkonian, as written by his brother. Monte went from an all-American childhood in rural California to pre-Revolutionary Iran, street fighting against the Phalange as part of an Armenian militia in Beirut, membership in the secretive Armenian terrorist group Asala, involvement with sundry shadowy Palestinian and Kurdish groups, a French prison, and the status of national hero for his role as one of the best Armenian commanders in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Needless to say, this guy led a pretty outsized life, so I figured that a biography of him by his brother, who had himself participated in some of the fighting against the Phalange in Beirut, reconstructing his life would be pretty interesting. I've only gotten about 50 pages in (I've been reading other stuff), but so far it is very good.

3) The last book I read:

Robert O. Paxton The Anatomy of Fascism, which was excellent. I'll have a review of it done by tonight.

4) Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order):

Ah, this is tricky. Choosing five? Hrm. I'll just go with three for the moment, and perhaps update later when I can think of another two.

Alex Bellos Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life - I must have read this about five times by now (and in fact it was the first book I reviewed for this blog). I dunno how much it 'means' to me, but I find it endlessly fascinating, endlessly entertaining, and it always cheers me up. It's a wonderful combination of travelogue, social commentary, humor, and sports. What's not to love?

Philip Gourevitch We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda - The best book I've read about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. It's a deeply, deeply affecting look both at the specific events, how they were planned for and carried out, as well as a meditation on evil, forgiveness, redemption, and man's responsibilities towards each other. Deeply depressing, but powerful stuff. The sort of book where every so often you put it down on the table and pace around the kitchen thinking deeply.

Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment - Obviously this is the sort of classic that any serious reader will have read at some point, so I don't really need to say what it's about. I put this down not just because it is a great book, but also because I first read it for a class when I was seventeen with the best English teacher I have ever had, Jim McGovern, who tragically died a year later. It's very easy to get into cliches when talking about favorite teachers ('he made the words come alive' etc etc etc) but they were all true in my time with him; he changed the way in which I see the world and understand people, and this is still with me today. Rest in peace.

5) Tag five people and have them fill this out on their blogs

Scott Somedisco, Robert Jubb, Phil Edwards, Joel from Far Outliers, and John from Shot by Both Sides.

|| RPH || 4:10 PM || |

Friday, June 03, 2005


I thought Stylus Magazine's rundown of this year's Eurovision Song Contest was quite amusing. Worth a look.

For those who don't know, the ESC is an annual exercise in defining new heights of camp, a pan-European pop music contest notable, usually, for strange warblings, questionable clothes, dire ballads, and the Greeks and the Cypriots always giving each other the maximum twelve points. It also is responsible for giving the world Abba.

|| RPH || 3:14 AM || |

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Couple New York Links

Mr. Babylon - Blog of a second year ESL teacher at a terrible South Bronx high school. Alternately hilarious and depressing, but compulsively readable. I ended up reading the entire thing last night. Fantastic.

Overheard in New York - Snatches of conversation from out and about in the city. Some true comic gems to be found.

|| RPH || 7:24 PM || |

European Unity

So, the Dutch public have followed their French counterparts in decisively rejecting the EU Constitution. In attempting to explain what this means, Robert has posted an unsigned guest post at his blog that argues that the problem with these referenda is that they have not been about the constitution at all, but instead about domestic issues and people seeking to give their governments a bloody nose.

Instead of being about the document itself, the referenda on the Constitution have become a Trojan Horse for malcontents of various shades. When the public do not fully understand what they are being asked to vote on, it is far easier to make a negative case by playing on their fears and prejudices. The Yes campaigners have been hamstrung by the complexity involved. Opinion polls in France suggest that a significant reason behind the No vote of the French left was the suspicion that the EU is being taken over by an Anglo – Saxon, free market ideology which threatens to sweep away much cherished and hard won state protections for individual citizens. In the UK, predominately right wing eurosceptics fear a Franco – German threat to our national identity and the transfer of power to Brussels. (This is of course deeply ironic, we think the Frenchies are trying to take over and they think we want to impose Thatcherism on the world, with the same document!) In the Netherlands, where another No vote will surely follow, it is opposition to an unpopular liberal government, which will be the downfall of the Constitution. It is evident that in none of the above cases is it the actual text of the Constitution that is being voted on. The Constitutional referenda have been hijacked.

I agree with the mystery writer that, considering the deep legalese in which the constitution was written, the referenda ended up being fought on emotional issues closer to home. Although this is unfortunate, this is not a big surprise. I'm personally of the belief that the European elite, by producing such a document, ensured that they would have such problems. I have read only a few parts of it, but it has got to be said that it is not exactly a simple read. By crafting something that is so hopelessly inaccessible, the Constitution committee all but guaranteed that any campaigns on the matter would be focused on wider questions of the role of the European Union (as well as mostly unrelated domestic matters) and not on the document itself. The Constitution is a laudable idea, but by trying to tie up so many loose ends at once the framers created a needlessly complex mess.

I'm personally of the opinion that the European Union, bar certain mis-steps, has been a great boon to the continent over the past half-century. The EU has played a tremendous role in creating, from the ashes of the second World War, a prosperous and peaceful Europe. Indeed, the prospect of admission can be said to have played a bigger role than anything else in dragging Central and Eastern Europe down the right path after the collapse of Communism.

Nonetheless, one of the biggest mistakes that has been made in the course of deepening European political unity has been the pushing away of the public from the process in most countries. Britain is something of an anomaly in this, in that the Conservative Party has, for a long time, had a strong Eurosceptic wing, and voters have been presented with a genuine choice on philosophy towards European issues. In most continental nations, however, the major political parties have held very similar positions on European issues, and the public at large has had little opportunity to express their disapproval of the way in which the process was moving. Who doubts that if France and Holland had chosen to put ratification of the EU Constitution to parliamentary vote the result would have been a yes vote? Although I think that the more conspiratorial mutterings of, say, the British Eurosceptic Right, the whole "Brussels is out to destroy our culture" meme, are ridiculous, I do think that there has been a deep streak of arrogance at the core of the 'European project', a real failure to respect the concerns of the average person.

As a result of this, I think that these no votes, coming from two traditionally 'pro-European' nations, will, in the long run, prove to be quite useful in reminding the European political elite of the fact that they are representing real people, and not just abstractions.

|| RPH || 7:14 PM || |

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

From the Fall to the Future

Misha Glenny The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999

Sunday was the four hundred and fifty second anniversary of the seizure of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turkish armies of Sultan Mehmet II. It is hard to overstate the importance of this event in European history. For over a thousand years Constantinople had been one of the great centers of Christendom, the Byzantine emperors the most legitimate inheritors of the mantle of the Roman Empire. Constantinople was the very heart of Eastern Christianity, the life blood of Orthodoxy. Yet for centuries Byzantium's glory had been dimming, with the emperors powerless to stop the loss of vast swathes of territory in the Middle East and North Africa to the armies of Islam that exploded out of the Arabian desert in the eighth century. Infamously sacked by Western Catholics during the Fourth Crusade, by the fifteenth century the Byzantine Empire was a shadow of its former self, and was ripe for the picking by Turkish armies that for the previous century had been sweeping across Anatolia.

The fall of Constantinople was the moment when the Turkish people stepped on to the center stage of European history. The final conquest of the Byzantine Empire was merely the beginning of Turkey's role in European history. In the following centuries the Turks would fight their way as far as the gates of Vienna, while conquering and ruling over a vast swathe of south-eastern Europe. From the imperial throne at Istanbul the Sultan ruled over European territories that encompassed what are today the states of Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, as well as a vast expanse of territory in the Middle East and North Africa. Triumphant on the battlefield, fantastically rich through East-West trade, and culturally, socially, and scientifically advanced, for a time the Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest imperial powers in all of Europe.

However, with the defeats at Lepanto and Vienna, and their failure to keep up technologically with their Christian rivals, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of decline and decay, the adoption of Western advances in technology and administration blocked by the entrenched conservatism of the ulema (Islamic scholars) and the military leadership. By the start of the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire was in deep trouble. Nowhere were its problems deeper or more intractable than in its Balkan colonies. It was here that the Turks found themselves confronted by an increasingly restive Christian majority and the destabilizing machinations of the surrounding Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. This crisis of Ottoman legitimacy, this cauldron of nationalist, ethnic, and religious passions, is the very core of this wonderfully scholarly book.

A remarkably ambitious undertaking, this book attempts the difficult task of providing an overview of the last two hundred years of Balkan history. Fortunately, Misha Glenny succeeds triumphantly. The chaotic disintegration into fratricidal warfare of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's forced wider world attention onto a corner of Europe that, for much of recent history, has been mostly ignored. As Glenny explains in the introduction, for most intellectuals and politicians in Western Europe and the United States the Balkans was, at this time, a mysterious and ill-understood place where obscure historical events that outsiders knew little about were waved as banners for the grievances of particular groups. Working as a journalist in the region Glenny realized that he was quite ignorant of the background to what was going on, the complex weave of events that so informed the decisions of the actors on the ground. For many in the West it was convenient at the time to see what was occurring in the Balkans merely as the latest manifestation of bizarre primeval hatreds, as if the ethnic slaughter happening was some kind of occasional pestilence that swept the land and could not be explained or understood. Rejecting this thinking meant that Glenny set off on an intellectual journey to show what had happened in the region in the previous two centuries, how the road to Srbrenica was built. This was truly a Herculean task, as it required him to become versed in the stories of a dozen local ethnic groups, and understand how they saw themselves, each other, and the major regional powers of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Turkey, as well as the global powers further to the west.

One of the essential points that Glenny makes is that the carnage that has repeatedly wracked the region, from Greece's War of Independence and the Serbian uprisings of 1804 and 1815 to the genocidal WWII regime of Croatia’s poglavnik Ante Pavelic to the more familiar wars of the 1990’s, is that events on the ground in the Balkans have often been strongly influenced by policies pursued elsewhere. A good example of this can be seen in the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1804. What initially began as a revolt by Christian peasants and traditional Ottoman landlords against the janissaries became, by 1805, an all-out war with the Ottoman state. What initially seemed to be a brief flair-up that would lead to the Sultan Selim giving in to Serbian demands for greater autonomy and a larger Christian role in the administration of Serbia, was utterly changed when, in 1806, war broke out between Russia and Turkey. The Tsar, who had previously mostly ignored events in Serbia, suddenly rushed to the aid of his Orthodox brothers, who, led by the charismatic leader Karadjordje (Black George), seized control of the Belgrade pashalik (administrative district) and cast out the Turkish authorities. Unfortunately for them, though, when the Tsar withdrew his troops in 1812 in order to face the Napoleonic threat it was only a matter of time until the Ottoman forces re-took Serbia, which they did a year later. Thus began a long pattern of Balkan nations being used as pawns in the game of Great Power politics, at the mercy of events in foreign capitals, always only one step away from being ruthlessly discarded.

Glenny also makes the crucial point that what are often seen as inflexible ethnic identities are usually nothing of the sort, that instead these hard and fast boundaries between peoples are comparatively recent creations. Exactly what being Greek or Romanian or Bulgarian or so on and so forth has meant has never been a fixed proposition, and that the modern forms of these identities has been heavily influenced by the nation-state fixated nationalisms of Western Europe. Indeed, Western Europe (and its child, the United States) has played an enormously influential role in the region over the last century, from major events like the post-World War I settlement that hacked up the defeated Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires into a series of new ethnically-based nation-states (with the obvious exception of Yugoslavia) to horrors like the Nazi annihilation of Salonika’s thriving post-1492 Sephardic Jewish community to smaller things like the way in which the 1920’s Romanian elite took many of its cues from French culture as a way of affirming a common Latin heritage and distinguishing themselves from the Slavs that surrounded them.

By necessity, this is quite a long book. It is not a quick read at all, because it is simply impossible to reduce the region’s story to, say, two hundred pages. Yet it is deeply compelling, a dizzyingly complex tale that manages to show both a wide-angle view of how abstract political forces played out at the national level, and also how these events affected ordinary people. A triumph.

|| RPH || 11:21 AM || |