Thursday, July 26, 2007

WTF: Atanu Dey edition

In the US, I noticed that Americans of African descent do much worse than Americans of Jewish descent in most spheres. Jews are expected to be good at whatever they do, whether scholarship or the arts, while blacks are expected to generally drop out of school, engage in crime and end up in jail. ...

These WTF-inducing words are from this blog ostensibly devoted to Indian economy.

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If you feel like going WTF all over again, check out Vivek's catch.


  1. Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. Anonymous said...

    Did you read the whole post? You have just taken one line out of context.

    What Atanu is arguing is that we are all burdened by weight of expectations. The low expectations attached to Blacks is a function of historical (and continuing)discrimination, broken families and the environment they grow up in.

    Atanu is explaining the problem, not condoning it.

  3. Anonymous said...


    I see the interpretation of "are expected to" rather differently.

    While the more common usage is in the sense of "desired outcome" - "Teacher expects you to do the homework".

    The other is perhaps as follows :

    For example - from this research

    "Co-authors Roland Fryer and Paul Torelli find that black and Hispanic students who earn high grades face social costs in terms of their popularity. Fryer and Torelli define "acting white" as any "statistically significant racial differences in the relationship between [student] popularity and grades." Participants in student focus groups say that a number of behaviors are condemned as "acting white," including enrollment in honors or advanced placement classes, speaking proper English, wearing the wrong clothes from the wrong stores, or wearing shorts in the winter."

    It is this that Atanu seems to refer to his writing. That people constantly compare themselves with their peer groups. And unfortunately in the United States the 'peer' often gets defined along racial ( broadly black/white lines ). Moreover the Jewish being a more closely knit and smaller community look into their communities for inspiration and success tends to be breed success. Not being economically backward also helps a great deal.

    The two groups see different examples around themselves - vicious cycles of broken families/teenage pregnancies/poverty leading to drug dealing/other crime.

    This is very different from saying and it is nobody's case that one group is "genetically" more predisposed to crime than the other.

  4. gaddeswarup said...

    It is early in the morning and I have flu. I may be missing some thing but I did not find Atanu's post objectionable.
    I find the post quoted in Vivek's blog seems to be the sort of idea which some economists have been touting. It seems to be some kind of determinism that I find difficult to accept. Greogory Clark in"A Farewell to Alms", William Easterley and collaborators in "Was the wealth of nations determined in 1000BC?" seem to developing similar ideas in a more respectable format. Here is a passage from Tyler Cowen's review of Clark's book:
    "A simple example from Professor Clark shows the importance of labor in economic development. As early as the 19th century, textile factories in the West and in India had essentially the same machinery, and it was not hard to transport the final product. Yet the difference in cultures could be seen on the factory floor. Although Indian labor costs were many times lower, Indian labor was far less efficient at many basic tasks.

    For instance, when it came to “doffing” (periodically removing spindles of yarn from machines), American workers were often six or more times as productive as their Indian counterparts, according to measures from the early to mid-20th century. Importing Western managers did not in general narrow these gaps. As a result, India failed to attract comparable capital investment.

    Professor Clark’s argument implies that the current outsourcing trend is a small blip in a larger historical pattern of diverging productivity and living standards across nations. Wealthy countries face the most serious competitive challenges from other wealthy regions, or from nations on the cusp of development, and not from places with the lowest wages. Shortages of quality labor, for instance, are already holding back India in international competition."
    It is difficult to believe such differences remain constant. There were similar talks about coloured players in soccer in Europe some years ago. I do not see much point in trying to reenforce these stereotypes because of disappointments in some games.

  5. gaddeswarup said...

    Another flu induced comment. Atanu's post is reminding of Hoff-Pandey experiments in U.P. and some of Madhukar Shukla's posts on unearned priviliges:
    Atanu may be making a case for reservations in some circumstances.

  6. PaiN said...


    To quote a passage out of context is intellectually dubious.

    So I'm wondering if you have any substantial response to the points Atanu makes in that post or your criticism is limited to selectively quoting him.

  7. Vivek Kumar said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  8. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Abi: Thanks for the link-love.

    I had made the mistake of assuming that my WTF was self-explanatory. It wasn't, and I have corrected the mistake by explaining what the WTF was about.

    Like many other people on this comment-thread, I too don't quite see what is wrong with Atanu's post. I read the preceding and succeeding lines of the quotation used by you, and the meaning appears to be quite clear to me - and not at all WTF-inducing.

    Some details perhaps?

  9. Krish said...

    For those who say that Atanu was not wrong, I want to ask one question. Who has the expectation that blacks will drop out of school and get into crime? Whites? No way, except for some racist kind. If at all anyone is having such expectations, it should be Indians who have such daring expectations and even proclaiming it openly. Even if Atanu was just pointing out to such expectations, pointing out to some non existent expectations itself is wrong. This is a clear case of a racist argument. We can argue on whether he meant it this way or not. But the statement is a clear racist statement. I wonder how many people couldn't see this!! Are we, Indians, are blinded so much by racism at all levels, we couldn't even accept it as a racist statement before we discuss the motives behind the statement?

  10. Krish said...

    gaddeswarupji, Amit is using the genetics term without understanding what is in store there. Here is a short description of what biological studies says

    "Genetic variations within a race is much larger than genetic variations across the race"

    This should explain where Amit has got it wrong.

  11. Anonymous said...

    @Krish :

    Atanu must probably come and clear this BUT :

    If the following statement is made - "Alzheimer's patients are expected to quadruple in the next x years", it does not mean that you *want that* to happen.

    It means based on past data for the last x years, we expect this trend to occur/continue. If you read the entire article from Atanu, that appears to be most likely interpretation of his statements.

    I agree that the first order approximation the statements sound racist, but they do not sound any more racist in the same approximation than this sentence -

    "No way, except for some racist kind. If at all anyone is having such expectations, it should be Indians who have such daring expectations and even proclaiming it openly."

  12. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    I agree that the Atanu quote is out of context; but such as it was, too, I found it hard to disagree with. It is a common perception that Jews face immense peer pressure to do well. It is also a common perception that blacks, especially from underprivileged communities, face immense peer pressure not to study -- their hip-hop-gangsta-rapper peers see studying as "acting white". (Google for "acting white".) Whether these perceptions are correct, I don't know... but even in your incomplete quote, it looks like Atanu is addressing the perceptions, not the reality. (If enough people have the perception, it becomes the reality.)

  13. Krish said...


    There is a difference between Alzheimer's patients, where expectations is based on scientific studies, and African Americans, where expectations is based on racial bias. You cannot equate both.

    Also, I have spoken to N whites and I can assure that such a perception might exist only in 10% of them. But I have also spoken to N Indians and such a perception exists with 90% of them. Just because it is our predominant opinion doesn't make Atanu Dey's comment right. If Imus can lose a multi million dollar contract over such lose talk, if Larry Summers can be criticized for his loose talk on women, Atanu Dey also deserves a strong unequivocal condemnation for this. Just because some people think that Larry Summers was just talking about the perception and not reality doesn't make him right or stop the condemnation. It is time we shift our moral standards to a much higher level than what we have now. We cannot make hypothetical statements of racist nature with various assumptions about possible perceptions.