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Malcolm wrote:

"...this is what racial prejudice is: it is the irrational elevation of race-based considerations over other, equally or more relevant factors."

OK on the definition, but you never showed that the car salesmen are acting irrationally, or ignoring more relevant factors.

Quite to the contrary, the data and arguments I've seen posted here lead me to suspect strongly that their actions are highly rational from a financial point of view.

Anyway Malcolm, thank you for addressing Sailer's comments so prominently on your blog. I hope the two of you can meet or e-mail someday; he has been my favorite American social critic for several years, and I read just about everyone. Peruse his site more if you get the chance; he is intellectually rigorous, open-minded, and willing to adjust his views to accommodate new data.

His tone has been a little (or a lot) aggressive on this issue and with regard to you personally, and I sometimes think he should reel that aspect of his writing in some. On the other hand, I imagine he gets pretty tired of being called a racist for presenting data people don't like and drawing logical, if unpleasant, inferences from that data.



"I'd like to point out that there were some people interested in a rational discussion with facts and arguments. Those people got out-posted by more hostile people, but it wasn't just people from one side of the argument. It's hard to keep track of a discussion with 40 posts an hour or whatever."

I don't care so much about the commenters but about Mr. Gladwell himself. He posted none of the facts or studies you did and simply assumed people who disagreed with him are racist. Then he's surprised when people he's just tarred with perhaps the most damaging label in America today respond vigorously.


"Why on earth would anyone *assume* racism?"

Great example, Michael. I think the answer to this question, though, is that many people in the United States have a vested interest in assuming white racism, even when it cannot be proved and/or when the behavior in question can be explained as rational for other reasons (hence the racism is 'unconscious').

Assuming white racism is more of a worldview than an explanation. In some ways it even borders on a quasi-religious belief (i.e., it is based on faith so that even if it can't be proven, it is still believed).

This, I think, is why some people get so bent out of shape when others demand that a writer like Gladwell _prove_ racism in the face of competing and entirely plausible explanations. It challenges their faith, and that's an uncomfortable feeling.

Derek M.

I agree with M. Blowhard.
In the information age, a well educated person, of any skin color, ought to have a clear idea of what they will pay for a car before sitting down with a salesman, nevermind the salesman's starting "price".
An ignorant person, of any skin color, will (and should) be taken advantage of.
This is capitalism, not racism.


I just spent the last 2 hours reading Malcolm's last 5 or 6 entries (and the vast majority of the accompanying posts) regarding Kramer, racism, Steve Sailer (interesting that his initials are SS), posting sections on blogs, selling cars, Posner, and football in the south.

Needless to say I am spent.

However, I am incredibly grateful for Malcolm's comments and the majority of the debate/discussion. It is a rare opportunity to experience such a high level of intellectually stimulating and relevant discussion so far removed from a college classroom or expert panel symposium.

Much like "juniper" the "snake-eating-its-tail progression of this 'topic' is kind of wearing me out." But I think we are all better for it.

Sorry the only enlightening insight I can add to this forum is my sincere appreciation to the host and participants.

James B. Shearer

Malcolm Gladwell posted in part:
"He has the gender, race, age, occupation, educational level, and class (or at least a class proxy) of his potential customer. And what did he do? With the black men, he zeroed in on age and race, and ignored everything else."

Actually the study showed gender was not ignored. And why do think he zeroed in on age if all the test buyers were the same age? Is this a mistake?

As for the other variables they were not tested for so there is no evidence they were ignored. Do you think that if you sent in test buyers who dressed and acted like pimps or whores the salesmen would treat them the same?

Michael Blowhard

BTW, let me join in the chorus of fans here. Civil and open debate is great, blogs are great, providing places where people can compare notes and challenge each other is great. Big round of applause from this fan.

James B. Shearer

Derek M. commented:
"An ignorant person, of any skin color, will (and should) be taken advantage of."

This is certainly debatable. Law and morality protect the weak from the strong, I see no reason they should not also protect the stupid from the smart.

Kurt Amend

In regard to the posters that continue to believe that you *must* differentiate the variables in the Ayres study, this is missing the point. Gladwell is not looking to see if signs of wealth and education affect the original price. Rather, his analysis of the data concludes that even when evidence exist that the stereotype of black people is not reasonable, it is still being employed. In relation to his example about conversation, it would be like talking to an Oklahoma businessman about football even if they all had on basketball jerseys. While talking about football might be somewhat reasonable. The more obvious evidence (the jersey) would suggest that maybe basketball is a more rational topic. In the same way, the car dealers ignore the evidence that suggested that the black males were intelligent suburbanites that were less likely to be 'duped' by high pricing strategies, instead focusing on what should be a less rational stereotype considering the other information availible.


Sailer calling Dave Barry "one of America's finest prose stylists" is far more offensive to me than anything else he's said.


"But I think we are all better for it."

some of us are, matt, and some of us are exactly where we started. like derek m., for instance, whose notion that "[a]n ignorant person, of any skin color, will (and should) be taken advantage of" is, after however many days of debating the morality or lack thereof of standard business practices and whether a thing should ever be considered good just because it's common, like a knife in my eye. no one ever "should" be taken advantage of. it's easier now than it's been in the past for people to arm themselves with information about prices and different options and bargains from business to business or zip code to zip code, but it's wrong to assume that everyone everywhere can access that information with equal ease. my family doesn't have a home computer; neither does my best friend. but that doesn't make them stupid, and it doesn't mean they deserve to be bilked. you are, to a degree, always partially at the mercy of the salesperson. it's pretty bleak to suggest they're all harboring attitudes like this.



Perhaps Gladwell continues to demonize your generalizations, because your generalizations are so asinine.

You have yet to efficiently back up your claim that "black men enjoy being seen as big spenders."

And now you give us a whole new set of lame generalizations including this gem; "In the past, the educated black man would adopt a white accent and white visual styles. But, the most recent generation of college-educated black men don't want to do that. They want to assert their blackness."

Your primary source for research is clearly re-runs of "It's a Different World" and Rap Videos on MTV.

Sorry for the distraction, I know TRL is about to start.

Good luck with that buddy.


Hey, Malcolm! Hope you enjoyed your recent visit to Oklahoma. Just FYI . . . lots of us FEMALE businesswomen in Oklahoma love to talk about college football, too!


David's post above is refreshing. There are plenty of studies that show immoral discrimination against people who self identify as "black." Would SS argue that people with "Black-sounding" names like Aisha should be passed over for hiring? I'm sure that he has seen the studies. I can't help but think that SS doesn't temper his screeds with knowledge of this continuing discrimation for some ideological reason.

Maynard Handley

But, Malcolm, you have just admitted you do the same thing.

In many situations (dentist, doctor, guy next to me on the airplane) they, just like you, try to start up a conversation based on sport. They thereby conspicuously ignore my iPod, the book I'm reading, the clothes I'm wearing, all of which are pretty strong indicators that I am NOT interested in sport --- gender trumps all the other conflicting signs.

Now to be fair, all this does is waste my time and irritate me; it's not costing me money. But I think this gets back to the point that, really, the only aspect of the car dealers worth burrowing in on is the question of whether this is (for all the various reasons claimed) a useful heuristic or not, something that can be empirically tested.

Beyond that, you can't legislate against stupidity. I've lost track of how many salesmen I've (not in as many words) told, screw you, after they siddled up to me and did their best to try to ingratiate themselves with me by going on about some sport or other. Sure, if you want to be silly about this, this is some sort of sexism. But, really, as jesus said, the stupid will always be with us. And doubtless they would claim that most men they interact with are interested in sports, and that the fraction who are not is sufficiently small that it's not worth noting signs like "carries and is reading a book" to try to filter them out.

malcolm gladwell

Um, Maynard, do you really think striking up a conversation about sports is the same as charging someone $1000 more because of the color of their skin?


"I would kill to come up with as perfect a self-parodying phrase as "opening tactical salvo.""

He's also the literary genius that came up with this killer line: "If you leave this web site, I will kill this defenseless toilet."

Ugh. What a goon. I think your lame obsession with Dave Barry says more about you than a million of your bad blog entries. Hey I'm thin slicing.

Maynard Handley

Come on, Malcolm, don't be stupid.
I specifically said "Now to be fair, all this does is waste my time and irritate me; it's not costing me money."

The point is that various individuals who want to ingratiate themselves with me (eg the guy selling insurance, or the guy selling cable internet, or the guy telling me the LCD TV I'm looking at shows basketball so well) look me over and zero in on ONE characteristic, that I am a guy. You said you do the same thing.

Is it correct to summarize that your stance is:
- you are not (especially) against stereotyping that doesn't have economic consequences, but merely irritates people because they don't like bieng viewe a certain way but
- you are against that stereotyping which does have economic consequences?

Surely, in that case, the answer is not to complain, piecemeal, about the bad deal blacks get, but to complain that car buying (or equivalent transactions) should have no element of negotiation in them.
After all, is it fair that a woman be charged more than a man? That a young guy (who, I assume is treated as inexperienced) get charged more than an older guy? That (to lift from a post above) a Korean get charged less than a white? That (I suspect) the short, fat and ugly get charged more than the tall, thin and beautiful?


Ringing in a little late here, but the December 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review had a great article titled "How (un)Ehtical Are You?" written by Nahrzarin Banaji, Max Bazerman and Dolly Chugh. The article explored four related sources of unconscious unethical decision-making, two of which speak directly to the issue at hand: implicit forms of predjudice and bias that favors one's own group. In a nutshell it's not only possible but highly probable that some forms of racist behavior are due to our neurological tendency to make associations and our desire to 'give extra credit' for belonging to 'our group', or in-group positive bias. So the study participants may be rewarding people who are like them rather than punishing those who are not. The motivation is a more inclusionary rather than exclusionary. The article is worth the read.


"Sailer calling Dave Barry 'one of America's finest prose stylists' is far more offensive to me than anything else he's said."

Mr. Sailer also considers Tom Wolfe and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn the best writers alive. Doesn't really help his case that he's an original and daring "intellectual" who somehow transcends the painfully inane conservative dogmatism that most of his peers are happy to embrace.


Do Steve Sailer's tastes in literature have any bearing on his arguments vis-a-vis Malcolm Gladwell's 'unconscious racism' theory?

Next y'all will point out that the guy is also a movie critic. Yes, so?

Joe Smith

The black man is assumed to be an easier target. But here the black men present with additional information that invalidates that stereotype. They are educated, wealthy professionals--and the car salesmen ignore that and cling to the race-centric proxy.

We don't know that based on this study. What we don't know is is educated affluent black men would be charged more or less then poor blacks. We'd need to do another study where we send out our groups of professional blacks and whites, as well as some ghetto homeboys and trailer trash.

Its entirely possible that the salesman's reasoning runs something like this: Black professionals are from a trraditionally low -income group. They may be the first one in their family to go to college, and they are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their new status symbol.


Gladwell wrote:

[They identified themselves as college-educated professionals (sample job: systems analyst at a bank). And they said they lived in the upper-income Chicago neighborhood of Streeterville.]

Not being American, I'm baffled by the above information. Is it customary in America to tell car salesmen about your education, job, and where you live? How did the prospective buyers in the study communicate this information to the salesmen?

Jen Bidding

Sales people in America ask "qualifying" questions. We also look at your shoes and your watch. Where do you live? What do you collect? Did you study "whatever" is school?

They pretend to be your friend and then move in to kill....er, close.


Thanks, Jen. I was just thinking whether all the buyers managed to communicate the relevant "facts" to the salesmen and whether the salesmen believed everything they were told.

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