The disparity fallacy holds that unequal outcomes between two groups must be caused primarily by discrimination, whether overt or systemic. What’s puzzling about believers in the disparity fallacy is not that they apply the belief too broadly, but that they apply it too narrowly. Any instance of whites outperforming blacks is adduced as evidence of discrimination. But when a disparity runs the other way—that is, blacks outperforming whites—discrimination is never invoked as a causal factor.
Intuitive examples of the importance of culture are all around us. Disparities in athletic achievement, for instance, are inexplicable without reference to culture. Although blacks make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 8 percent of MLB baseball players. This relatively small disparity has been enough to prompt articles in US News, NPR, and Vox that blame the decline in black baseball representation on everything from mass incarceration to racial bias to a generic sense among white fans that “baseball culture should stay white,” as the Vox piece summarized it.
Meanwhile, blacks account for a staggering three-fourths of all NBA basketball players, while whites account for a mere 18 percent. Curiously, progressives have not seen the under-representation of whites in basketball as requiring any explanation whatsoever. When whites are under-represented somewhere, it is assumed to be a choice or a cultural preference. But when blacks are under-represented somewhere, progressives descend on the issue like detectives to the scene of an unsolved murder, determined to consider every possible explanation except for the “lazy” one: that in black culture, basketball is more popular than baseball.
The disparity fallacy and the denial of cultural factors conspire to create a dynamic that I call the Racism Treadmill: as long as cultural differences continue to cause disparities between racial groups, and as long as progressives imagine that systemic racism lies behind every disparity, then no amount of progress in reducing systemic racism, however large or concrete, will ever look like progress to progressives.
Staying on the Racism Treadmill means denying progress and stoking ethnic tensions. It means, as Thomas Sowell once warned, moving towards a society in which “a new born baby enters the world supplied with prepackaged grievances against other babies born the same day.” Worse still, it means shutting down the one conversation that stands the greatest chance of improving outcomes for blacks: the conversation about culture.
By contrast, getting off the Treadmill means recognizing that group outcomes will differ even in the absence of systemic bias; it means treating people as individuals rather than as members of a collective; it means restoring the naive conception of equal treatment over the skin-color morality of the far Left; and it means rejecting calls to burn this or that system to the ground in order to combat forms of racial oppression that grow ever more abstract by the day. At bottom, it means acknowledging the fact that racism has declined precipitously, and perhaps even being grateful that it has.