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The Racial Reckoning: Just Looking Around
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The May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd might be likened to a massive geological upheaval —a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake accompanied by volcanic eruptions everywhere. The initial shockwave brought hundreds of destructive riots with aftershocks of black-on-black crime, calls for defunding the police, demands for yet more Critical Race Theory and similar anti-white indoctrination, the 1619 Project, rampant white self-flagellation and supercharging the already in progress corporate wokeness. Meanwhile, like volcanic ash falling from the sky, billions of dollars have arrived to fight racial injustice, particularly from big-time philanthropies.

Aftershocks will undoubtedly continue—witness recent waves of industrial level shoplifting and the rampant street crime resulting from the ending cash bail. Nevertheless, not everything is headline news or eye-catching violence. The great sage Yogi Berra once said that you can see a lot by looking around, and this adage certainly applies to what you see when just travelling around.

In April 2021 as the COVID restrictions were initially lifted, I treated myself to an expensive (at least for me) trip to Miami Beach. I knew full well about recent black violence there, but I figured that a city so dependent on tourism cannot afford further racial disorders and going in April would avoid partying college students.

What I unexpectedly encountered was a stunning display of conspicuous consumption among young blacks. To be sure, blacks have long shown a fondness for showy materialism. According to one study, for example, an African American family matched with a comparable white family spent about 25 percent more of its income on jewelry, cars, personal care, and apparel. Still, what I encountered had a spontaneous dancing-in-the-streets victory celebratory air about it as if some great enemy had finally been defeated.

These were not families on holidays nor were they college kids on spring break expropriating government funded Pell grants. Not a single college logo or other signs of college kids behaving badly. Nor did these black revelers appear to be children of doctors and lawyers who typically favor “waspy” brands such as Ralph Lauren. In dress and mannerism nearly all appeared to be lower class youngster from the hood, and so the obvious question was, where is this cash coming from? Had they saved their money for one grand party week? Were easy-to-acquire credit cards funding the festivities? Conceivably, millions in philanthropic and corporate donations intended to achieve racial justice had been quickly converted into party money, but by what mechanism? I have no idea, but whatever the lucre’s source, it was being spent freely.

The most obvious display of extravagance was the daily parade of exotic cars up and down Collins Ave., sound-system blasting away, often with revved up motors and squealing tires. To be sure, parading tricked-out cars in Miami Beach is a long tradition but past cavalcades always featured beautifully restored old classics like two-tone Oldsmobiles or Chevys from the 1950s. crawling along to impress onlookers. No need for wheelies or booming stereos—the car itself was the object of attention.

Today’s parades were different. Vehicle were all brand new foreign makes and eye-catching. Included were Rolls Royce’s, Ferrari’s, high-performance BMW’s and Mercedes plus countless showy street-rod three wheelers. This was an expensive car show orchestrated by young black males. According to the daily rental fees from one rental agency, a Rolls Royce Ghost costs \$999 per day, a Maserati Gran Turismo \$1000, a Ferrari 458 \$1499 while a BMW i8 at a low-cost \$699. And, I suspect that these advertised prices excluded insurance. A showy, noisy impression on Collins Ave. hardly comes cheap.

Meanwhile, I splurged on a luxury hotel where I noticed a significant number of blacks who were also willing to pay \$500+ per night during high season. Nearly all were young women and judging by appearances, none seemed wealthy. Similar heavy-duty consumption could be viewed in open-air restaurants where hefty youngish black female customers sat in groups of three or four at tables overflowing with pricy food and drinks. Oddly, I cannot recall seeing any males at these feasts.

Returning to New York City I’ve noticed a similar uptick in pursuing the good life among blacks who hardly appeared to be well-off or even middle class. Specially, I occasionally eat at steak houses traditionally popular with the Wall Street crowd where it is almost impossible to escape for less than a \$100 per person. Add a few drinks or wine, the bill per person might reach \$200 but such prices failed to discourage black patrons.

There is clearly nothing wrong with renting a Lamborghini for the day, or vacationing at a pricy hotel for a week and there is little call for imposing sumptuary laws. Yet, one can only wonder, given outward appearances, where this affluence originates. Are these consumers a new class of African American earning big bucks from TV commercials or managing diversity consulting firms? Perhaps they are employed by mega-rich foundations or NGO’s and receive generous salaries to advance racial justice. In any case, this phenomenon is new and very visible.

The deeper issue is not a taste for conspicuous consumption per se, but how these behaviors fit with the current mania to equalize wealth across racial lines. After all the asset gap between whites and black families is huge—by a factor of eight according to one Federal Reserve study—so how can it be narrowed when so many blacks prefer short-term bling versus durable assets likely to appreciate? To wit, the path up the economic ladder is a well-worn one, and one need not be a genius to pursue it, so why spend \$899 a day renting a Bentley Bentayga to impress bystanders? Why not save for a cheap home, fix it up, buy a nicer one and slowly accumulate assets?


Such visible displays of over-the-top short-term consumption also undermines the academically promoted narrative regarding racial gaps in wealth. Hard to convince gawking onlookers strolling up Collins Avenue that this gap results from events that occurred a half century or more ago—the GI Bill, redlining, racial discrimination in employment, under-funded segregated schools, white bigotry, low taxation of inherited wealth, restrictive covenants for home sales, even slavery, and all else that legitimately once kept African Americans poorer. Who are you going to believe? Your own eyes or some left-leaning experts? Keep in mind that these youngsters putting on a car show in rented tricked-out Beamers grew up benefiting from affirmative action, easier admission to elite universities, and generous access to credit thanks to federal pressures on lenders. And their parents most likely also had similar advantages by virtue of being black. If things are as miserable as claimed, how can a young man of color have the credit necessary to rent a \$312,000 Rolls Royce?

And speaking of wealth creation, there is yet more to be seen by “just by looking around.” Beside vacationing in Miami Beach, my post-COVID wanderings took me to nearly a dozen towns a few hours drive from the Big Apple. Some were old WASP second home vacation spots, for example, Skaneateles, NY, other like Hudson and Rhinebeck NY were more “artsy. All were predominantly white, filled with picturesque houses and storefronts and, most importantly, all enjoyed a booming real estate market. Every main street included high-end real estate offices while locals recounted wild increases in house prices. Judging from the pictures offered by realtors. house prices were often around a million; some much more. In every case, it was the same story—refugees from the city seeking “a nice place with good schools.”

Connecting the dots will show that the George Floyd upheaval did bring new-found wealth accumulation, and on a grand scale, too, but the beneficiaries were not asset-poor African Americans. Rather, the recipients were homeowners who, as per our new PC vocabulary, enjoyed white privilege. Now a rich lawyer who years back fled to Sharon, CT to escape high New York taxes suddenly became even richer thanks to the burgeoning local real estate market. Who would have guessed that Racial Reckoning of urban rioting, shootings, arson and looting would transfer wealth to already rich white homeowners? And provide hefty commissions for realtors now selling big houses often sight unseen.

This booming real estate market recalls the “white flight” exodus of over a half century ago but, at least from what I encountered, now there was no new housing construction. Across all these booming towns a few hours drive from New York City, I failed to see a single new sub-division or even a “under construction” real estate advertisement. The entire housing marketplace comes out of existing inventory, and while soaring lumber cost and labor shortages might partially explain the absence of new construction, it’s hard to believe that exploding demand had not attracted builders. After all, vacant land abounds, alternatives to wood-based construction exist, buyers are willing to pay a premium, and mortgage rates are low, so quick profits are there for the taking. What possibly explains market failure?

Let me suggest an odd confluence of interests. On the one hand, those owning existing homes hardly welcome competition from new construction. On the other hand, but less obvious, is the ideological anti-growth mentality of many residents living in these booming towns. These are the regulars at the Ye Old Marxist Bookstore & Coffee Shoppe plus congregants worshiping at mainstream Protestant Churches featuring “Black Lives Matter” banners. For these ready-to-demonstrate do-gooders, real estate developers are evil, tree-destroying greedy capitalists and thus must be stopped, albeit from reducing the inflated home values of current rich residents. Unspeakable, of course, is also the possibility that new housing might bring government mandates (“affordable Section 8 housing”) to increase diversity and vibrancy to uplift the masses.

The recent race-related upheavals have made for strange times. Billions pour into promoting racial justice, but the big winners may bend those catering to the black thirst for conspicuous consumption. Forty acres and a mule has been updated to mean luxury vacations and expensive meals. So much for promoting equity to narrow the wealth gap. Ironically, poor blacks are egged on by Marxist radicals to loot and burn downtowns, actions that will benefit affluent homeowners in “nice” overwhelmingly white towns. Real estate brokers are also cheering on the Racial Reckoning as CEO’s and hedge-fund operators flee to mega mansions in the Hamptons and similar outposts of the super-rich. Why let a BLM-instigated riot go to waste? Such news hardly makes the pages of the Wall Street Journal but as the venerable Yogi said, you can see a lot by looking around.


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