News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Rich White Men Are Doing Just Fine -- It's Men and Women of Color Who Continue to Fall Behind

We keep hearing that women are surging ahead in school and work, and that men are falling behind. What we don't hear is that most of these discrepancies come from race.

Men have it hard these days. The recession took their jobs, be it construction or finance. They're not attending or graduating from college very much. They're having to take business classes that tell them to work on their communication skills. Women, by comparison, are flooding college campuses, holding down most of the country's jobs, and leading a couple of countries around the globe.   This is the picture of gender relations drawn by Hanna Rosin in the latest issue of "The Atlantic." "The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men's size and strength," she writes. "The attributes that are most valuable today--social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus--are, at a minimum, not predominantly male."

In Rosin's interpretation of events, men are about to become the wall flowers of a post-industrial economy ruled by women. This might sound like a 1970s radical feminist dream come true, except for one small detail. The end of men won't be the end of racism.

The origin of Rosin's story was actually about a decade ago. That's when men started having a crisis. In truth, it was researchers who began having a crisis as they looked at data and found that women were more likely to graduate from college than men. College administrators were also noting that they had more women on campus, in some cases more than men. The data and anecdotes were picked up by columnists, media pundits and authors at the time and the alarms went off: men--and here we're implicitly speaking of white men--might be losing their prized place in the educational and economic pecking order.

A funny thing happened, however, when Jacqueline E. King of the American Council on Education sat down in 2000 to look at the problem. She found that the gender gap on college campuses was actually among Blacks, Latinos and poor whites. "There is little evidence to suggest that white, middle-class males are falling behind their female peers," she wrote at the time. 

But the white-man-in-crisis story took hold. It spawned books and articles about boys being left behind. It was a gripping tale, after all. It was horrifying, even. Ostensibly, it was about gender, about men being outdone by women. Except it wasn't. It was a story that tapped the worst, unspoken fears of white men--that they might be left behind like poor Black men, dropping out of school at high rates, desperate to find good-paying jobs, unable to pay child support.   

To Rosin's credit, she addresses this racial fear directly in her Atlantic story, albeit it without suggesting that it might be problematic: "The whole country's future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans: the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don't follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare."

The future of the country might be poor, Black and unmarried? You can almost feel the collective shudder among Atlantic readers.

Rosin, unfortunately, does what her supposedly now almost extinct male predecessors have done, laying out information about poor Black families as if they existed in a political vacuum. Perhaps that wasn't her intention. Presumably she knows about the racial disparities in sentencing laws that put more Black men behind prison, the welfare mandates that make it impossible to receive assistance if a partner is around, the double-digit unemployment rates for Black men. But Rosin skips mentioning any of this.

Instead, she sums up the theories about why boys in general are falling behind in school. They're not verbally equipped at young ages like girls. They don't test well in the age of standarized testing. They need boy-friendly environments where they can walk around and get all that aggression out.

See more stories tagged with: