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Lawrence Mead had no idea he was going to be the center of a raging controversy about his lack of support for the “systemic racism” narrative. He had written for years about poverty and culture and was a professor at New York University, well-respected in his field.
But this is 2020: he made the serious mistake of writing about the difficulties the poor encounter due to their cultural understandings from countries outside of the west. He never wrote anything about racism as a cause of poverty, because he didn’t believe it; thus, he needed to be vanquished by the never-satisfied Left.
I first learned about Professor Mead on a First Things podcast. He has studied the subject of poverty for over 40 years. The piece he wrote for the Society journal was based on his 2019 book, Burdens of Freedom: Cultural Difference and American Power. The article in part stated:
. . . that poverty in the U.S. can’t be blamed on racism or policy failures. Rather, the long-term poor themselves — namely Black and Latinx people — are lacking the individualism, ambition and ‘enterprising temperament’ of descendants of European immigrants.
In the podcast, he explained that other groups besides black and Latino, such as Asian groups, also have this cultural liability but have learned to adjust.
America is the most successful country in the world due to its cultural focus on individualism. No other country celebrates the individual who, in this country, commits to taking responsibility for pursuing the opportunities that are offered. Individualism was a vital characteristic in determining survival and success of those who first came to this country.
* * * * *
Several petitions were submitted to Society journal demanding that Mead’s article be retracted. Even though Society had published several of Mead’s articles with a similar theme in the past, and they had all passed the peer review process, this article was singled out for condemnation. One petition stated:
‘That this paper was accepted raises serious questions about the editorial process and the credibility of your journal,’ the petition continues. ‘The author makes extreme claims about the causes of poverty but does not back these up with empirical evidence. He also makes sweeping statements about the capacities and virtues of entire racial and ethnic groups, again without attempting to evidence them.’
None of these claims are valid.
Although Mead has offered to write an update of the article, explaining that he is only writing about the poor and about culture, not race, Society is not interested; they have retracted the article. He is being attacked by NYU; his colleagues at the university are calling for his firing, and hundreds of people are venomously attacking his article.
Meanwhile, colleagues who support his ideas have supported him privately but won’t speak out publicly.
Professor Meads refuses to apologize and stands by his research.
Clearly, he practices what he teaches.Published in