Too much focus on race

Published 8:27 pm Monday, January 6, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass

We are too much focused on race in regards to our social problems.

In order to find approaches that will improve society, we have to see society accurately. If we examine society inaccurately, we develop approaches that do not work. By being too focused on race, we hinder our thinking, and our approaches do not work.

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Culture is more important than race in America. Consider the Crips gang member who threatened my life one evening in the South Central Los Angeles. He was black, and he wore everything blue, the Crips’ color. He was a big guy, and he let me know it was seriously inadvisable for me to help the police as a witness again.

Other than the color of their skin, how much in common is there between the gang member and Barack Obama? Their skin color is the same, but their cultures are different.

We need to determine which cultural patterns work well and which do not. We need to devise approaches to bring about positive change in the cultural patterns that hinder people’s efforts to realize the American dream. What cultural patterns made it possible for Barack Obama to be President of the United States? What cultural patterns caused the gang member to choose a life of violence and crime? How can we help Crips be more like Obama?

Consider the error in our thinking in approaching social issues associated with race and wealth. It is commonly known that white Americans make more money per capita than black Americans, and we associate that with a racial issue. “Conventional wisdom” indicates the reason for this difference is that black people were enslaved by white people. But this ignores the fact that Asian Americans make more money than white Americans and white people were never enslaved by Asian people. In fact there has been a long history of white people discriminating against Asian people on the West Coast. This being the case, there must be cultural issues that help Asians do so well in the mainstream economy.

What are the social patterns of highly successful Asians that help them make greater wealth than other Americans? I used to live in Gardena, which was then primarily an Asian community in the South Central area of Los Angeles. But there were also white, black and Hispanic people living there. How were the Asians different from the rest of us?

Asian family life showed the most noticeable differences. First, across the generations there commonly exists a helpful cohesiveness. There is little, if any, conflict among them, and divorces are rare. Family members and family friends trust each other and help each other in business relationships.

Second, Asian families stress the importance of education to their children. Asian students do much better in school than other students. Asian students also they help each other. I watched this day after day in the Gardena public library. I would walk to the library past community ball fields populated with white, black and Hispanic players. But the Asian students were in the library helping each other with schoolwork.

In our efforts to improve America, we are too much focused on race. If we look at society from a cultural perspective, we will discover that people who do well in America share common cultural characteristics, regardless of race. But too many of us are too focused on race to see the realities around us.

Joseph L. Bass EdD is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at