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Heather Mac Donald on the Black Lives Matter Paradox and the ‘Poison’ of Identity Politics

“The only black lives that matter to the press is [the] handful that are taken by a cop,” says Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald, author of “The War on Cops” and “The Diversity Delusion.”

In this episode, we discuss the rise in crime, the demoralization of police across the nation, and the “poison” of identity politics. Every institution and every meritocratic standard is being torn down, Mac Donald says, for having a disparate impact on blacks. It’s “a recipe for civilizational stasis and regression.”

Jan Jekielek: Heather Mac Donald, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Heather Mac Donald: Great to be with you again, Jan. Thank you so much.

Mr. Jekielek: Heather, in the last several years, before 2020, the crazy year that we’ve all been living through, you wrote a couple of books back to back. I sat down and looked at this and thought, “Hmm.” The first one was “The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe.” I’m going to read the whole title because I think it’s important.

Immediately after that, you followed with “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture.” This was in 2020, and what we’re living now seems to be kind of almost like an intersection of these two ideas.

Ms. Mac Donald: It’s true.

Mr. Jekielek: Where are we at with what you found? Let’s start with “The War on Cops.” Let’s start with this whole realm of inquiry.

Ms. Mac Donald: In “The War on Cops,” I coined the term the Ferguson effect, which described the twin phenomena of officers backing off of proactive policing under this phony narrative that they’re racist for fighting crime in minority neighborhoods and resulting in boldening of criminals.

Following the Michael Brown Ferguson shooting—the false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative that triggered riots in 2014 across the country—2015 and 2016 saw the largest two-year increase in homicides in 50 years.

Because cops were not getting out of their cars, they were becoming passive, merely reacting to crime after the fact rather than trying to intervene in suspicious behavior. You had a situation where crime in inner city neighborhoods—another 2,000 black lives were taken in 2015 and 2016. That was 2015, 2016.

Now, what we’re seeing is either Ferguson effect 2.0 or what I’ve also called the Minneapolis effect, which is so much worse following the death of George Floyd in late May 2020. That caused even more brutal anarchic destructive riots across the country, attacks on law enforcement officers, destruction of police property and destruction of the very symbols of law and order—courthouses, police precincts, police cars, businesses torched to the ground.

It’s the same thing all over with “The War on Cops,” but worse. The year 2020 saw the largest percentage increase in homicide in this nation’s history. And 2021 is worse than 2020.

We are learning all over again that when you emasculate law enforcement, when you tell them that they’re racist, they’re going to get the message. Policing is political.

If you hammer home the message that when cops are in high crime neighborhoods trying to save lives and generating inevitably disproportionate data—stop figures are disproportionate and arrest figures are racially disproportionate—It’s because the cops are racist rather than they’re the one government institution most dedicated to black lives mattering, they’re going to do less of it.

Who pays the price? Law-abiding residents of high crime communities who are overwhelmingly black themselves.We didn’t learn the lesson of the Ferguson effect, and it is coming back to haunt us in even greater proportions today.

Mr. Jekielek: What is the lesson exactly?

Ms. Mac Donald: The lesson is that policing matters. I’ve observed with the left that they think crime is a racist fiction. They are not talking about what’s going on in city after city this year and last year. If you talk about it, you will be accused of being a white supremacist.

It is astonishing to me every single day, we are still talking about phantom police racism when there are two dozen blacks being killed in drive-by shootings every single day that nobody talks about. They’re not being killed by cops, not one of them. They’re being killed by other blacks in these insane drive-bys where you have kids spraying whole neighborhoods in retaliation for some imaginary gang gripe, imaginary dis.

To the left, crime doesn’t exist. Why? Because it is disproportionately committed by blacks. That’s sad to say, but the reality is that blacks die of homicide at about 13 times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined because they commit homicide at equally disproportionate rates.

The left cannot talk about crime, cannot talk about violent street crime, because doing so at least implicitly means that you’re talking about black family breakdown, black social breakdown.

What we’ve forgotten is that when families fall apart, police are the only thing keeping communities together, keeping safety on the streets and policing matters. Policing matters. Law enforcement deters criminal behavior. The left will not acknowledge that.

What I found really hilarious recently is the extent that The New York Times or The Washington Post ever acknowledged: there’s kind of an increase in homicides. Occasionally, they will mention that, yes, there was one black child that was shot, when in fact there were like 50 black young children that were killed in drive-bys last year.

The only explanation allowed for this massive crime increase in The Washington Post, on CNN, on MSNBC, in The New York Times, in The LA Times, the only allowable explanation was, it was the pandemic. Somehow the lockdowns were leading to this increase in homicide.

This is a completely phony explanation. Crime in the rest of the industrialized world, whether it’s Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France, Japan, you name it, has gone down during the pandemic. It only went up in the United States. It was going down in March and April. It only started going up at the end of May because of the George Floyd riots and cops backing off.

It has only gone up for homicides and drive-by shootings, which are precisely the type of crime that is most deterred by proactive policing.

Now that the lockdowns are coming down finally, belatedly and not sufficiently, there’s hints that the government dictators will allow civil society to return to some semblance of normalcy. Now, the line of The New York Times is crime is going up because the lockdowns are ending.

Crime goes up because of lockdowns and crime goes up without lockdowns. It’s a completely contradictory set of explanations. The reason that they’re engaged in these types of conceptual contortions and pulling themselves into pretzels is because the one thing they will not admit is that the reason crime is going up is because the cops have backed off.

Mr. Jekielek: Tell me why you think this is? Why will they not want to look at this?

Ms. Mac Donald: That’s a very tough and provocative question to answer. What I’ve concluded over the last five or so years of observing elite culture is that the elites don’t want to talk about the problems in the black community. They don’t want to talk about the academic skills gap—which is the reason why we don’t have 12 percent black engineers at Google or 12 percent black partners at Sullivan & Cromwell.

They don’t want to talk about the failure of socialization that leads to these astounding levels of black violent street crime. I think it’s because they’re terrified that the skills gap and the behavior gap is not going to close.

Instead, they are trying to preemptively decide the only allowable way of talking about those problems, which is to talk about white supremacy as the only allowable explanation for the academic skills gap, for the bourgeois norm skills gap or the behavior gap.

Mr. Jekielek: Let me see if I’m getting this right. You’re saying that it’s kind of impossible to fix with this kind of a mentality.

Ms. Mac Donald: Right? You can’t fix something that you can’t acknowledge if you can’t even talk about the fact that every single day in cities across the country, blacks are getting gunned down. If that were happening to whites, there would be a national revolution.

I mean, those of us on the conservative right, who are concerned about law enforcement, we scratch our heads again and again and say, “We thought black lives matter. Black lives matter. Right? Right? Why are you not paying attention to this?”

It’s just the most mind-boggling lacuna and paradox. How is it that we are talking exclusively about the 12 allegedly “unarmed” shootings of “unarmed” black males that are—I’m using unarmed in quotes because The Washington Post categorization is defined very liberally. You’re classified as unarmed if you’re beating a police officer with his own gun, because it’s not your arm. So you’re unarmed.

That’s the only thing we’re talking about. Meanwhile, there will be at least 10.000 blacks who were killed in criminal homicides by other black civilians last year. It’s just stunning to me. Yes, if you cannot acknowledge that, this is going to keep going on and on and on.

Now, we’ll occasionally get things like we need more government social service spending money. We need more programs. That’s not going to do it. We’ve been spending trillions of dollars on government programs since the 1960s. They have not had an impact on crime. The thing that has had an impact is proactive policing. That’s the second best solution.

The best solution would be re-knitting the marriage norm in the inner city. But short of that, policing matters. The left will not talk about crime because it leads them possibly in a direction that they don’t want to talk about.

Mr. Jekielek: Presumably, the vast majority of people out here want to genuinely help with these very, very troubling and frankly horrifying realities, right? These are human beings, of course.I understand what you’re saying. It’s kind of hard to fathom when we talk about it like this.

Ms. Mac Donald: Well, one can only conclude that the press is racist. The press loves to call everybody else racist, but they will only cover children getting shot en masse if they’re white. A Newtown, Connecticut school shooting brings the entire country into a state of hysteria, understandably. There are cumulatively several Newtowns a year easily in the black community, and it gets no attention from the press.

Black lives apparently do not matter. The only black lives that matter to the press are those handful that are taken by a cop.That is not the problem. The reason that blacks die of homicide at 13 times the rate of whites—it’s not the cops killing them. It’s not the whites. It’s other blacks. They do not matter because they don’t fit the narrative.

The media is utterly committed to the narrative that white supremacy is the dominant force in all things affecting social arrangements in this country.

Mr. Jekielek: At this point, you’ve been documenting some of these realities in these cities, like Minneapolis. You mentioned the Minneapolis effect. Actually, why don’t you tell me that? Why do you call it now the Minneapolis effect?

Ms. Mac Donald: Because it came out of Minneapolis—it was the George Floyd death. Minneapolis was the first to burn. You had the arson attack on the third precinct in Minneapolis. You had the mayor basically telling the cops to stand down—the failure that was so demoralizing to those officers.

The failure of not being allowed to protect businesses, not being allowed to protect their own symbol of law and order, which was their police precinct.

Now, you have a force that’s completely discouraged, demoralized. It’s lost about a third of its officers to early retirement—people going out on disability pay. The defunding movement began in Minneapolis. Homicides there are triple digits. The shootings are up triple digits this year.

The left-wing mayor, Jacob Frey, had to do an about face. Now he’s struggling to find funding, although he’s not really willing to speak out about how we need cops. He wants federal funding to sort of go in the interstices of law enforcement.

Over three weeks in late May, early June, you had three children shot in the head—a six-year-old girl, a nine-year-old girl, and a ten-year-old boy. The six-year-old girl died almost immediately. Both the nine-year-old and the ten-year-old were shot in the head and put on life support next to each other in the north Minneapolis hospital.

The girl eventually died. The 10-year-old boy is left to likely be a vegetable for life. This was in just a three-week period.

Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump, the grand standing civil rights lawyer that represents every black family that’s had a family member shop at cop, went out on the one-year anniversary of the George Floyd death. They poke in downtown Minneapolis about systemic racism and policing. Did they go and visit these children in the hospital? Of course not. It never even came up.

Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned this. I’ve heard about this also, Mayor Wheeler in Portland, and of course, the mayor in Minneapolis at some point realizing this is not going the way I planned. I don’t know exactly what they’re thinking. What impact can that have with the mayor changing his or her mind? You see this as a bigger, actually, dare I say, systemic issue, right?

Ms. Mac Donald: Yes. Well, I’m not too impressed with Jacob Frey. I’m not too impressed with Wheeler. I’ll be impressed if they say systemic racism isn’t the problem here. I guess there was a fairly good statement from Wheeler that this anarchy is no longer acceptable.

I want to watch them over the long-term because the left-wing Democratic base will refuse to recognize the reality of crime. They still think that it’s white supremacists—the hangers-on that went to January 6th Capitol in anarchy, right? Whatever you want to call it, that’s the threat to this country which is absurd.

The scale is not even worth talking about. They’re so disproportionate between the daily reality of dozens of blacks being killed in drive-bys versus the one person who was actually shot on January 6th, this white woman who was shot by a cop.

That was a bad shoot. We still don’t know the cops name. There’s been no investigation. If that had been a black person shot, this again would have been an international scandal, and there would have been more riots.

The politicians are still beholden to their base and are unwilling to really talk about the necessity for law and order and the necessity for respecting the police, for complying with arrest orders, not resisting arrest. It’s going to take more than a few moments of clarity to turn this narrative around.

Mr. Jekielek: What will it take?

Ms. Mac Donald: It’ll take white people getting shot. That’s what it’s going to take. As long as the increase in homicides and drive-by shootings is confined primarily to black neighborhoods, the media is not going to give a damn.

Now, the crime is spilling out via carjackings, really horrific carjackings that are happening in suburban neighborhoods around Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, DC. People are being drugged in their cars in Chicago.

An alderman set up a time where drivers could go and fill up their cars at designated service stations when police were there so they wouldn’t have to worry about their car being stolen at gunpoint, out from under them when they’re trying to fill them up with gas.

That’s starting to happen. You’re getting the random shootings on expressways. You had the shooting in Times Square. When this starts happening to whites, then there will be political pressure, and the media will cover it. That will happen.

This crime is coming to a suburb near you. You have now white flight. We see suburban Atlanta that’s trying to succeed because they feel like they’re not getting the police protection.It will happen. We’re going to have more riots this summer. We’ll have more crime.

It’s going to be very bad because the police cannot recruit. They can’t keep people on the job. They’re understaffed, and officers are still operating under this terror that they will not get a fair shake in the criminal justice system.They’re certainly never going to get a fair shake from the media. They figure it’s just better to be absolutely passive and do what is required of them and nothing more.

Mr. Jekielek: As you’re talking about this, it’s just such a mind warp that it will take whites being shot to affect this. That strikes me as actually kind of bizarrely racist. Can I say that? I mean, I don’t even know what to think about that.

Ms. Mac Donald: But how do you describe the media? As I say, how do you describe the media? They don’t cover black death. They cover white death. I mean, I scratch my head. Occasionally, there’ll be some white child that’s, I don’t know, abducted or something, and this becomes a national story.

It’s almost like we’re back to the original constitution with black lives worth five-eighths of whites or something. I don’t know how many more black bodies it’s going to take for the media to really say, “Whoa, we’ve got a problem here.” To the extent that they write about it, it’s because of the pandemic and now it’s because the pandemic’s lifting. But if we were losing two dozen whites a day in drive-by shootings, there’d be a revolution.

Mr. Jekielek: My mind is reeling with everything you’re saying. But I do want to look at your other book, “The Diversity Delusion.” When I read the book, when I think back to it, you foresaw a lot of what’s happening right now.

Ms. Mac Donald: I and other people. I’m not the only person who’s been noticing the identity politics that’s completely corrupted the university, that’s completely poisoned the pursuit of knowledge and the passing on of the civilizational inheritance that is our privilege to be the recipients of.

People like myself have been talking about this since the 1990s, 1980s—the rise of multiculturalism, of feminism in academic departments, the idea that students should be taught to evaluate a book based solely on the gonads and melanin of its author—giving them an excuse.

I don’t have to struggle with Milton syntax because he’s a dead white male, thereby shutting myself off from some of the most rich verse in the English language, some of the most languorous, erotic, overripe poetry of descriptions of paradise and the natural bounty there and the fruitfulness of this place.Why should I read it? Because it’s a dead white male.

That poison that first took down the loving, grateful study of the humanities spread into the social sciences. It was obvious it was not going to stay put. It was obvious.Even in the ’90s I had a cover story in “The New Republic” when Andrew Sullivan was the editor there. It was still taking a range of opinion on the rise of corporate diversity training.

This was happening all the way back in the ’90s. I remember this huckster, R. Roosevelt Thomas, would go around to corporations saying, “No, no, don’t insist on promptness because that’s a white value. There’s black time.”This was in the ’90s.

Now everybody’s so surprised when they’re hearing it out of the Smithsonian’s African-American history museum—somehow people just didn’t pay attention. You have every CEO on this planet now that’s terrified of his employees because they all come bearing this academic fever, this virus of oppression ideology.

They’re going around saying that The New York Times black reporters are at risk of their lives because the op-ed page publishes an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton, calling for a national federal law enforcement response to the riots that were tearing apart federal property, courthouses, and monuments.

Somehow this op-ed put the lives of the Times as black opinion editors at risk, so the opinion editor was fired. I mean, this is the pure academic whining and narcissism and safety-ism and self-pity that is transforming corporation after corporation.

I saw it, but other people saw it too. You have Roger Kimball. He’s one of the great writers for The Epoch Times. He’s been warning about this since the ’90s. I don’t know why Americans didn’t pay attention.

I mean, I have to say I told you so. Whether it’s because we’re not that intellectual a country, and so if you tell Americans that, well, they’re not reading William Wordsworth any longer or Shakespeare or Anthony Trollope or Edith Wharton or Mark Twain or Max Sparber, maybe they don’t care that much. I don’t know. They should care.

Now, this infection is coming for classical music. They should care that Mozart is now being demeaned and impugned and belittled because he’s a dead white male. I mean, this is heartbreaking.They just thought it didn’t matter, but it matters.I guess what I’ve learned is there’s almost nothing in the academy that we shouldn’t say is important—it all was.

We had the start of the trans movement with—first you had gay studies, and then you had gay studies being not radical enough. Some of the early gay rights activists actually complained about it, a conference that had females going into male bathrooms.He said, “Wait a minute. I’m gay, but I’m also male.

There’s a distinction here between biological females and males.” He’s been brought out to sea by the tide of the new victim class, top dog victim, which is trans.

That happened in the universities. We’d noticed students with their 160 different categories of gender in these various transformations and asexual and all of this. Again, we sort of laughed at it, “Ha ha ha ha. They’re so cute, these students, these snowflakes.”Now, you have whole states being boycotted because they want to say you actually have to be a biological female to compete in female track. So nothing stays put.

Somehow, because these college graduates go in this transmission belt into the world at large, they carry the virus with them. That’s what we should wear masks against. If we could have lockdowns, we should have lockdowns against college graduates and let the rest of us go on with our lives and try to recover the values that keep a civilization going.

Mr. Jekielek: A number of people that I’ve spoken with recently are arguing that it’s much better not to go to university but to educate yourself right now.

Ms. Mac Donald: Yes. I would reach that conclusion with sorrow, with reluctance, because for a while, I could think of nothing greater than being a college professor. This is what I aspire to be, teach comparative literature, teach French literature, German or Italian. I think that the greatest calling is to pass on these works.

When we stop reading them, they die. That’s on us. We have an obligation to keep Andrew Marvell alive, to keep John Dunn alive, to keep Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope alive. When we stop reading them, they die. We’re committing a genocide of great geniuses.

But at this point, it is very hard to get a sound scholarly education and not get your whole way of thinking impaled by the bureaucracy and by left-wing faculty.

What we need is conservative benefactors to figure out how to crack the difficult nut of trying to create a new institution that has sufficient prestige attached to it. That these social-status-climbing prestige-hungered parents will send their child to and will have enough bragging rights at their cocktail parties that they can compete with parents with kids in the Ivy Leagues or other name brand universities. Parents don’t care so much what their kids learn, but they want the IQ stamp on the forehead that the known universities provide.

Mr. Jekielek: Sorry, I noticed that you’re going to be teaching at Ralston College.

Ms. Mac Donald: Oh, am I? No, I’m on the board.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay, maybe I spoke too quickly.

Ms. Mac Donald: That’s a great institution. It took a long time getting off the ground, but it is absolutely committed to a very traditional curriculum based even in medieval scholasticism of going back to some of the great works of the medieval universities and philosophy and back to the classics of the Greek and Latin thinkers as well.

I’m sure there’s enough of a demand to fill its seats, and we need more institutions like that. There’s also a chain. Hillsdale runs charter schools that are classical academies that have a traditional curriculum. I don’t know if it’s K through 12 or high schools or not, but there’s effort—we just need a lot more of them.

Mr. Jekielek: As I was preparing for our interview today, I discovered that back in the early 2000s, you actually wrote a book, “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society.” Again, you make these titles quite informative. It struck me that this title kind of informs the other two books that we’ve been discussing today 20 years earlier.

Ms. Mac Donald: True. It’s the same thing. Bad ideas matter. They really do. We are driven by ideas, not interests. You’d think it would be in the interest of everybody to fight crime, but the idea of white supremacy is more important, and the felt necessity of not looking head-on at black inner city dysfunction overcomes self-interest, overcomes economic interest. People define themselves more by ideology, I think, than by their immediate material interests a lot of the time.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s very interesting too, because that’s kind of what we’re seeing, a tribalism that I wasn’t aware of in Western society: people not interested as much in the ideas, but simply who said it. I’ll agree if it’s the right person. If it’s the wrong person, I don’t agree. Right?

Ms. Mac Donald: Yes. Well, it’s a shorthand; it’s a shorthand. Another example is what’s happening to cities now with just this breakout of squalor. The refusal to enforce laws against public encampment that would say: sorry, you’re not allowed to colonize city streets. You’re not allowed to defecate in front of people’s houses. You’re not allowed to take drugs in front of children.

There is a ground norm of civility that we will enforce, and we’re not going to tolerate this behavior. Cities have given up on that. They’ve given up on fighting crime.

You’d think it would be in people’s self-interest as homeowners, as residents of cities, not to put up with this. In San Francisco, it’s a complete hellhole. Skid row in LA is literally a bourgeois nightmare. The worst of the Tenderloin District in San Francisco cannot compete with skid row in Downtown LA, and it’s been that way for years.

Now you have Venice Beach in LA. You have Hollywood Hills. Probably, it’s Pacific Palisades. They’re now camping out on the beaches of Malibu.

You’d think it would be in people’s self-interest to say we’re not putting up with this any longer. But the ideology of being progressive and somehow allowing this to happen shows that you are anti-capitalist and anti-racist is more important than people’s self-interest. It’s very, very curious.

You mentioned before we started taping this interview using Marxism as a paradigm. I think that’s not quite adequate because material self-interest is not always the driving force in how people behave.

I would also say that I’d almost prefer a Marxist analysis to society to the identity politics ones, because it’s more interesting. Looking at people’s occupations and where they stand in terms of work and capital and labor, at least they’re doing something. Whereas, looking at the trivialities of race and gender, who cares? Being female is not an accomplishment. It’s not even particularly interesting. I refuse to look at the world through the lens of being female.

It’s much more interesting if you tell me not that you’re some gay, trans male, but that you love playing chess, or you’re fascinated with geography or astrophysics, or you love Bach or Scarlatti. That tells me something I’m interested in, not what your superficial characteristics are of sexual orientation or biology or race.

Marxism, to the extent it was interested in robber barons and railroad workers or serfs, that’s a more interesting way. He may be wrong about solutions, obviously fatally wrong, just criminally wrong, genocidally wrong. As a way of looking at society, it’s more interesting than identity politics.

Mr. Jekielek: I can’t help thinking, perhaps I should have said, “Marxian.” This is a term that James Lindsey used in an interview I was preparing for with him.A little bit of Marxism with a little bit of postmodernism and you get something like identity politics; we still have trouble defining it. We call it wokeism. Is it identity politics? You call it just identity politics.

Ms. Mac Donald: Yes I call it victim ideology. But at Google, they’re very confident that they’re going to remain capitalist. Then there’s the phrase cultural Marxism, which I guess tries to get the idea of seeing society is made up of opposing groups, so that’s okay [as a term.]

Still, even though we’ve seen, with the insane coronavirus lockdowns, a grabbing of power by the state and a gleeful takeover of the economy, a private property like Google can be pretty secure that it’s going to be able to hold onto its profits. It doesn’t really need to worry about state appropriation.

It is itself now a completely leftist corporation, although it will fight being regulated by Europe. But I think the problem in our culture in America is the government now becoming one of the primary weapons in identity politics. You have the Biden administration dedicated to the proposition that white racism is the defining characteristic of American society.

They are tearing down every institution. They are tearing down every meritocratic standard because it has a disparate impact on blacks, and that is a recipe for civilizational stasis and regression.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay. That’s very interesting because I’ve been wondering about this. You’ve given me an explanation for this attack on meritocracy. That’s your analysis.

Ms. Mac Donald: Everything today is driven by disparate impact. Every standard, whether it’s in the criminal law or an academic standard, has a disparate impact on blacks because of the academic skills gap.

Let me give you an example. The average black 12th grader reads the level of the average white eighth grader. And 54 percent of black eighth graders do not even possess basic math skills—basic being defined as partial mastery of the relevant mathematical concepts that we would expect an eighth grader to have.

The SAT gap—the college board defines what it calls a benchmark score in math and reading. A benchmark score is what gives you a 75 percent chance of having a mere C-plus or better in your freshman math course, your calculus course, your pre-calculus, or your English course. A benchmark score is very low. It’s a minimal requirement.

The math benchmark score is about, I don’t know, 540. Well, the average black SAT score is about 454, and a huge percentage of black SAT takers, like 55 percent have neither the benchmark in math or English.

If you have an academic standard that expects a certain amount of math skills or reading skills, given this academic skills gap, it’s going to have a disparate impact on blacks because they’re not picking up the skills in school. There’s a stigma against acting white. Studying is viewed as acting white.

In the STEM fields, we’re saying, “Okay, we’re mandating diversity grants in federal science funding.” You have to have a certain percentage of minorities on your research team or we’re not even going to give you money.” Forget if they’re scientifically qualified or not.

You’re tearing down advanced math courses because they don’t have enough blacks. You have the longstanding attack on exam schools in New York that have been these miracles of meritocracy, of colorblind opportunities for all students to succeed. As we all know, anything that has a high academic requirement is going to be disproportionately populated by Asians now because they are obsessed with academic success.

Stuyvesant High School, probably the most competitive high school in the country, is completely colorblind and meritocratic. You get in by an exam. Nobody knows your name. Nobody knows your color. Nobody knows your national origin. Nobody knows your economic background. Stuyvesant is like, I don’t know, 70 percent Asian or something, and it doesn’t have many blacks because they can’t pass the test.

There have been decades of attack on Stuyvesant from the minority legislatures in New York City saying we have to start admitting by quota. We’ve got to get rid of a colorblind academic standard. That’s going on now in California. We’re tearing down advanced math classes because they have a disproportionate impact on blacks.

The same thing is happening in criminal law. We are engaged in a national project of decriminalization. We’re not enforcing low-level misdemeanors. We’re not enforcing even some gun crimes because they all have a disparate impact on blacks. The only way to get rid of disparate impact in the criminal law is to not enforce the criminal law entirely, and that’s what’s going on.

Disparate impact, that concept which is legally suspect, is being used against every civilizational standard today.

Mr. Jekielek: The reality that you’re describing with the skills gap and so forth, this is a national tragedy anywhere this is the case. One would think you would try to help empower people to overcome that as opposed to doing it from the other side. Right?

Ms. Mac Donald: Right. People have given up on that, obviously. Mr. Jekielek: Have they ever tried, really?

Ms. Mac Donald: Well, yes. The culture has tried it with various strategies. We have been pouring trillions of dollars into welfare programs, into education. It’s not as if there hasn’t been a very vigorous debate about education reform.

The left solution is always for more money. The right solution is choice. We’ve attempted curricular reforms. Of course, we’ve had really, really bad ideas.

One of the things I write about in“The Burden of Bad Ideas” is teacher education. Again, this was something that n the ’90s, was quite apparent. Teacher’s college was embracing multiculturalism.

It was embracing the idea that expecting accuracy from black students is racist, as long as you’ve made an effort, or that mathematics was racist; we need ethnomath. These ideas that everybody’s finally starting to listen to, they’ve been around for decades.

So the left has been saying, “Well, we need education that’s more relevant. We need critical thinking skills.” The right says, “Well, we need more choice.” We’ve been trying. We know the data’s there; that inner city schools actually spend a heck of a lot per pupil. It’s not necessarily a funding question at all. What needs to happen is change from within the culture.

As long as the “acting white” stigma is there, as long as kids are not taking their textbooks home to do their homework—Asian students spend four times as much time on homework as black students. As long as that disparity exists, you’re not going to close the [gap].

You can spend as many more billions of dollars on inner city public schools. If the kids aren’t doing the homework, they’re not going to learn. It’s up to the parents to say, “Pay attention to your teacher. Don’t beat up your teacher. I want you home studying,” to these kids that are out there committing drive-bys.

There was finally an editorial, not bad, in the Chicago Tribune after a kid was shot by another kid saying, “Where were the parents?” Maybe we stopped blaming the cops. This wasn’t a cop killing. Where are the parents? They have to step up to the plate too.

Without that culture change, there’s only so much the external society can do to close these gaps, whether it’s academic or behavioral.

Mr. Jekielek: As many guests have told me on this show and as I personally researched extensively, because I was kind of stunned by this, the family is really suffering and not just in black communities, but across the board.

Ms. Mac Donald: Oh, yeah. It’s just so disheartening. The situation in which kids are being raised today is utterly catty. It’s random. It’s haphazard. You see these single mothers in grocery stores. I always check if a woman with a child has a wedding ring. Very few people do. It is happening.

The out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks is about 71 percent. Nationwide, for all groups it’s about 48 percent. For whites, ticking up, it’s about 28 percent. For Asians, it’s like 16 percent. I’m surprised it’s that high, frankly. …

It is a sign of such widespread social breakdown because the marriage norm provides a script, especially for young males, that in order to have sexual access on a reliable long-term basis to a female, you have to engage in a bargain. You get access by becoming a marriageable mate and developing the bourgeois habits of deferred gratification, self-control, future orientation so you can be a breadwinner.

When that disappears, when the marriage norm disappears and young males know that they can serially impregnate girls and not have to be responsible for their children—which is the situation in the black community and increasingly in the community that Charles Murray wrote about in “Coming Apart,” what he called Fishtown. Which is the lower-class, white, sort of classically Appalachian world that Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance wrote about—here’s no incentive to stay in school and learn how to deal with a boss and authority and not strike out.

It’s a subtle thing. It’s more than just too many kids being raised without fathers. They’re being raised in a culture that does not presume marriage, and that is as destructive to bourgeois norms of self control, respect for property, respect for law, as the very fact of what happens shows.

The odds of kids being raised in single-parent homes ending up in jail and juvenile delinquents, it’s very depressing. There’s just a disorder that has entered American life, and the breakdown of the family is both sort of a symptom and a cause of that, I think.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, we have a kind of a project then, what you’re suggesting here, and we have to bring back marriage as an institution.

Ms. Mac Donald: Yes. Very difficult. That means rehabilitating males as something that is acceptable in polite society. Because males now, you have the American Psychological Association that several years ago declared its whole toxic masculinity. They define toxic masculinity as basically, masculinity.

Competition, entrepreneurialism, being willing to take risks, going out there, wanting to conquer. These now are viewed as something that is actually pathological. Whereas in fact, they are the very traits that have given us civilization.

Males are systematically devalued. Feminism has said that strong women can do it all, including raising children. A two-parent family is regarded as sort of an optional appendage—of fathers regarded as an optional appendage.

Until we say that no, males are very important. They’re the foundation of civilization. They’ve given us civilization. Yes, mothers are very important. Females are very important. But the values of creation, of competition, of wanting to discover, go out, yes, even colonization, whether it’s the moon or other continents of exploration, those are male activities. So the project is revaluing marriage and revaluing males.

Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts before we finish up, Heather? This has been a very illuminating discussion.

Ms. Mac Donald: Well, I would just urge everybody to go find a syllabus from maybe the 1960s or 1970s of English literature and read the books. If you don’t read some great works, you will have gone to your death without having experienced some of the sublime possibilities of English language. And listen to great music. Go listen to Mozart or Bach or Beethoven and start acclimating your ear to beauty in a way that we’re not always surrounded by.

Mr. Jekielek: During our talk today, you mentioned a number of authors. We’re going to have a transcript below our interview, so people can look those up if they might be unfamiliar with some of them. I know it’s been such a pleasure to have you on, Heather.

Ms. Mac Donald: Thank you so much, Jan. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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