Friday, July 27, 2012

"The incredible randomness of it all"

Today David Frum wrote an interesting article focusing in on the context in which President Obama made his remark about "you didn't build that."
Obama's second idea is that success is to a great extent random, a matter of luck. You think you succeeded because you were smart or hard-working? Listen—a lot of smart and hard-working people don't succeed...

In this particular election cycle, the argument that the successful are almost by definition deserving and that the unsuccessful are correspondingly undeserving has exploded into noisy public controversy.

The president appears to have heard that argument, and it irks him.
That's pretty close to what I was suggesting when I wrote about those statements being a veiled reference to white privilege.

Frum is suggesting that President Obama was talking about randomness or luck. Reading what he said reminded me that I had wanted to go back and find something that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this a while ago. I think it perfectly captures what the President was talking about. of the most depressing things about being black and "making it" is the incredible randomness of it all...

When you're black, and likely when you're Latino, and likely when you're a kind of white, you see brilliant people all the time--and they get taken out in the most horrific ways. They have kids too soon. They get shot on the way home from school. They get hooked on crack. They go to jail. And then there is that one kid who makes it, who despite the wages of race in this country, goes on and does something big.
Many white people can fool themselves into thinking we live in a society where you can draw a nice straight line from intelligence and hard work to success. The very real lives of African Americans in this country say there is a lot more to it than that.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly think that the President spends more time thinking about the effects of white privilege and trying to work through it than he does explicitly talking about it. At the same time, I also read his comments on not doing it alone as part of his long effort to rebut the philosophical underpinnings of right-wing economics. The President advocates--hardly a radical position in the broader world of economic philosophy--a capitalist economy with government as steering mechanism. Where he marks a change is that he would clearly, if he had his druthers, return to a government that steers primarily fiscal, i.e., investment in infrastructure etc., means rather than monetary, i.e., reducing the cost of borrowing, means.

    To be sure he juggles more than these two rhetorical balls at once.