Several weeks ago, Steve Levitt, a genius and a starred economist, took some very important research on the black-white achievement gap in education that he co-authored with Harvard's Roland Fryer, and using a website, "translated" it into "ghetto English" which he then featured at Freakonomics.com.
I am a fan of dark and ironic humor. I also understand that Dr. Levitt is playing around with academic conventions regarding language, and how insular and self-important said community can be in regards to the rites and rituals of writing, research, and publishing. He is also likely having fun with notions of "code-switching" and the arbitrariness of language conventions.
But, there is something uncomfortable about watching Steve Levitt, a white economist who studies behavior, culture, economic decision-making, and the political economy of the everyday, playing this game with an important article on educational outcomes and race--one which reaches the following conclusion:
Compared with the results of previous studies, our findings provide reason for optimism. We find smaller achievement gaps, in both the raw and the adjusted scores, for children born in the early 1990s than others had found for earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared with earlier generations of students, the current cohort of blacks has made real gains relative to whites. Indeed, recent cohorts show smaller raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promising sign.
Once students enter school, however, the gap between white and black children grows, even after controlling for observable influences. We speculate that blacks are losing ground relative to whites because they attend lower quality schools that are less well maintained and managed as indicated by signs of social discord. Though we recognize that we have not provided definitive proof, this is the only hypothesis that receives any empirical support.Here is the same conclusion "translated" into ghetto English:
Compared wit tha thangs up in dis biatch of previous studies, our findings provide reason fo' optimism. Our thugged-out asses find smalla achievement gaps, up in both tha raw n' tha adjusted scores, fo' lil pimps born up in tha early 1990s than others had found fo' earlier birth cohorts. It could well be that, as compared wit earlier generationz of students, tha current cohort of blacks has done cooked up real gains relatizzle ta whites. Git tha fuck outta mah grill wit dat bullshit, recent cohorts sheezy smalla raw black-white gaps across multiple data sets–a truly promisin sign.
Once students enter school, however, tha gap between white n' black lil pimps grows, even afta controllin fo' observable influences. Our thugged-out asses speculate dat blacks is losin ground relatizzle ta whites cuz they attend lower-qualitizzle schools dat is less well maintained n' managed as indicated by signz of hood discord. Y'all KNOW dat shit, muthafucka! Though our crazy-ass asses recognize dat our crazy-ass asses have not provided definitizzle proof, dis is tha only hypothesis dat receives any empirical support.
Roland G. Fryer Jr. be a junior fellow all up in tha Harvard Society of Fellows n' a gangbangin' faculty research fellow all up in tha Nationizzle Bureau of Economic Research. Right back up in yo muthafuckin ass. Steven D. Levitt be a professor of economics all up in tha Universitizzle of Chicago.While some have suggested that Levitt's post is "racist," I am not sure if said adjective is a good fit for his failure of good taste.
Posting a private joke online (at a website that is followed by millions of people) is ill advised.
Posting a private joke about race, poverty, and education, especially when you are one of the country's foremost economists (and by all accounts a pretty nice and cool guy), also reminds us of the troubled history and relationship between the academy, and the poor and working class communities that many elite institutions find themselves surrounded by. The town/gown distinction is real; the elite institution/ghetto underclass divide, where the latter is a convenient laboratory for the former to study, is real as well.
Did Steve Levitt commit "academic blackface?" I am not sure. And should it matter if he did? It is all a joke anyway, isn't it?