Part 1—As compared to the gaps of New Haven: As far as we know, Andy Shallal had, and has, a perfectly decent idea.
Shallal is the founder of the Washington, D.C. restaurant-and-bookstore chain, Busboys and Poets, whose first location opened in 2005. Now there are six Busboys and Poets restaurants. Shallal has 600 employees.
Shallal's idea was to talk with his employees about race. In yesterday's Washington Post, Abha Bhattarai published a 2200-word portrait of the way the enterprise works.
From the report, it isn't entirely clear whether Shallal conducts these conversations as a way to improve the functioning of his restaurants, or just as a way to foster greater understanding. At any rate, Bhattarai sat in on several of Shallal's group discussions with new hires. One exchange went like this:
BHATTARI (5/20/18): [I]t is difficult, employees say, to chip away at intrinsic biases.For ourselves, we almost surely would have answered that woman's questions differently. That doesn't mean that Andy Shallal doesn't have a good idea.
"As servers, we believe in stereotypes," a black woman in her 30s said during a recent training session. "Does that make us racist?"
Is it possible, she wondered aloud, to be a racist waiter but not a racist person?
(Shallal's answer: No.)
"How many of you have been surprised by a tip because you thought, based on a person's race, that it would not be good?" he asked. Almost every hand went up.
"We need to be more aware of what we bring to the table," Shallal said. "And what we bring is a lot of prejudice, a lot of preconceived notions and, yes, a lot of racism—whether we like it or not."
Is Shallal simply trying to foster understanding? Or is he also trying to reduce or eliminate the kinds of incidents in his restaurants which may be described as "microaggressions"—incidents which can turn into something much more serious, as occurred with the recent arrests of two men at a Philadelphia Starbucks?
We'll guess that he wants to do both. Regarding the desire to avoid possible microaggressions, we'll admit that we were slightly annoyed when we stumbled upon yesterday's report, which consumed the bulk of the front page of the Post's Business section.
We'll admit that we were slightly annoyed. It's because of the tedious research we'd been doing last weekend. And it's all because of Yale!
In the past few weeks, we've seen several more accounts of microaggressions committed against the poor abused students of Yale. It started when Yale police, rather politely, asked a graduate student to show them her college ID.
This led to an essay at Slate, in which a 2012 Yale graduate who now works for Google described the "unequal treatment" to which he was subjected when he was a student at Yale.
The writer described some undesirable experiences. That said, we'll have to be honest this once:
The writer had recently spent four years at Yale, gaining the highest type of credential our society provides. Given his current employment, we'll guess that he stands of the edge of admission into this country's economic elite.
We're going to be honest! Even after reading his account of life at Yale, he didn't exactly strike us as the wretched of the earth. This was especially true when we thought of the sacrifices made by those who came before him—by the people who suffered and died so that he could be one of the most privileged people in the history of life on the planet.
Such advantages don't mean that it's OK to be mistreated, or perhaps imperfectly treated, in some other way. But we'll have to admit—in the way he described his "unequal treatment" at Yale, his experience there didn't sound all that horrendous.
Meanwhile, in the face of his massive advantages, we couldn't help contrasting the microaggressions of which he complained to the situation of the black kids who are growing up in New Haven—the black kids who students at Yale may sometimes pass in the street.
Those generally low-income kids do not end up at Yale. Presumably, they deal with microaggressions too—but they're also saddled with this:
Where the average student stoodThose data emerged from the recent nationwide study by Professor Reardon and two associates. According to Reardon's analysis, black kids in New Haven are performing 2.6 years behind their white counterparts, presumably by the start of sixth grade.
New Haven Public Schools, Grades 3-8, reading and math
White kids: 1.0 years above grade level
Hispanic kids: 1.6 years below grade level
Black kids: 1.6 years below grade level
Those kids won't have to worry about going to Yale and being asked to show their ID on some lone occasion. They won't have to worry about microaggressions at Yale.
Instead, they have to worry about the major challenges facing their basic life prospects. These kids have a much tougher way to go than the poor abused students of Yale.
Once again, we need to understand what Reardon's numbers mean. Inevitably, his numbers are imprecise—but we should be clear about what the word "average" means:
In this context, it means that a substantial number of black kids in New Haven are more than 1.6 years below grade level at the start of sixth grade. (Elsewhere in Connecticut, the numbers for black kids are worse.)
They're more than 2.6 years behind the average white New Haven kid at the start of sixth grade. And in other parts of the Nutmeg State, white kids are substantially outscoring the white kids of New Haven, who comprised only twelve percent of the city's student population in Reardon's study.
When we read yesterday's report about Busboy and Poets, we thought about the endless supply of reports from our liberal and progressive world about the desire to eliminate various types of microaggressions. To the extent that Shallal can accomplish that task, he has a good idea, and he's running a good decent business.
That said, it has been two years since the New York Times reported on Reardon's nationwide study about racial achievement gaps. And right there where Busboys and Poets exists, his numbers looked like this:
Where the average student stoodNow that's an achievement gap—4.9 years at the start of sixth grade! That's the reality Reardon described, right there in our capital city, where we don't want restaurant-goers to encounter biased expectations concerning tips.
D.C. Public Schools, Grades 3-8, reading and math
White kids: 2.7 years above grade level
Black kids: 2.2 years below grade level
It's been two years since Reardon's study appeared in the New York Times. As always, the Times weirdly bungled its news report about the study. But the Times provided some fascinating interactive graphics which let us examine data from every school system in the country.
It's been two years since that report appeared in the Times. In that time, you have heard exactly nothing about what Reardon reported.
You haven't seen Reardon's report discussed on MSNBC. You have't seen it discussed at Slate.
Your favorite liberals don't discuss the burdens placed on the nation's low-income black kids. But those same favorite liberals won't stop talking about the indignities suffered by young black adults condemned to be students at Yale.
We read about every microaggression, every deeply offensive email concerning Halloween costumes. But what about the basic life prospects of the city's low-income kids?
If Andy Shallal can reduce microaggressions at Busboys and Poets, he has a good idea. That said, we progressives clearly care more about restaurant goers and Yale students than we do about struggling kids.
As the week proceeds, we'll look at the complaints which were voiced in that recent Slate piece. We'll also examine the achievement gaps which exist in our nation's liberal and progressive redoubts.
We liberals! We never hear about these gaps because we don't care about the people involved. We care about Yale and that's where it ends. Few things could be more clear.
Coming: The gaps on the streets where we live
Next week: Gaps and solutions