There is a word in German, fremdschämen, which roughly means to be embarrassed by seeing stranger say or do something embarrassing, like be drunk in public or behave foolishly on television. The notoriously shy Finns have the word myötähäpeä that means roughly the same thing. The “second-hand shame” concept is probably something that is exclusive to northern Europeans, but I don’t know. I do know that whenever I watch good whites crash into the reality of race, I feel myötähäpeä.
Asian-Americans also have a huge advantage in building a fan base, although this is driven almost entirely by Mr. Lin, who is the 27th most popular player despite being the 80th most prolific scorer. Of the 30 most popular players, he is one of only two men who has never played in an N.B.A. All-Star game. The other is Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This initially made no sense to me: Mr. Thompson averages fewer than 10 points per game. But then a friend explained the likely reason to me: Mr. Thompson is dating Khloé Kardashian.
What should we make of the edge in support that black players get? It is of course possible that someone will find an alternative explanation for this correlation, but let’s assume that my analysis of the data holds up and that being black is a large advantage today for N.B.A. players trying to build a fan base. How should we interpret these results? Is it a bad thing or a good thing or nothing?
IF the results were reversed — if white players got a big edge in support — this would clearly be bad news. There is strong evidence that black Americans are discriminated against in many crucial areas of life — jury decisions, police stops, job interviews, dating sites, presidential elections. If African-Americans were discriminated against in building a basketball fan base as well, it would show that white privilege can even show itself in one of the arenas in American life in which blacks have had tremendous success.
But African-Americans getting a boost in support? What should we make of that? I view this phenomenon as good news in at least two ways. I think it’s great that members of minority groups who face discrimination in many aspects of their lives show strong support for other members of the group. And it is also encouraging that many white fans will give some extra support to the country’s most successful minority athletes.
Notice the line “if white players got a big edge in support — this would clearly be bad news.” Then a little later the line “I think it’s great that members of minority groups who face discrimination in many aspects of their lives show strong support for other members of the group.” The writer suddenly finds himself bobbing around like a cork on a sea of uncertainty as everything he knew about whites and blacks is now suddenly invalidated by reality. Watching the poor slob stagger to the finish filled me with fremdschämen.
The commenters on Cowen’s blog mostly sought to dodge the central issue of the story, which is that blacks shamelessly practice racial solidarity, while whites do not. That bit of reality contradicts the narrative of modern American life, which is that the great struggle is against white racism toward blacks. Obviously data that shows that whites not only harbor little animus towards blacks, but favor blacks over their own, turns the world on its head. Throw in the fact that blacks are wildly racist and suddenly life is not worth living.
Thirty years ago I worked with a black guy in Boston who was a Laker fan. He was a Laker fan for the same reason all black basketball fans were Laker fans, regardless of their home city. The Lakers were the black team opposing the white Celtics. Plenty of whites cheered for Magic Johnson and plenty of whites rooted against both teams, but blacks everywhere cheered for Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers because they epitomized black basketball and opposed the very white Celtics.
Before my time, blacks rallied to Mohamed Ali versus Joe Frazier mostly because Ali was flamboyantly black, but also because he was anti-white. Frazier being favored by whites only added to it. The truth is, blacks don’t really like white people very much. It’s not a Malcolm X hatred, but the consequence of ethnic solidarity. Black people prefer blacks over whites. They see whites as the rival gang, the other team, so they always root for the black guy over the white guy.This is perfectly normal.
Humans are tribal so we side with those in our tribe over those outside our tribe. It’s a basic survival strategy that worked pretty well until recent. American whites no longer seem to possess this quality. A couple of generations of propaganda against racism has made most white people so allergic to anything that resembles ethnic or racial solidarity, most whites instinctively prefer those outside their group. It’s why a black sports star will get so much support from white fans, even if he is openly hostile to while people.
Progressives are baffled by this mostly because the central narrative of their cult holds that the great struggle is against white racism directed at the noble black man. Poor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz started his project sure he would find proof of the “systemic racism” he learned about in school during story time. Instead he stumbled onto a horrible secret that may haunt his dreams forever. Or maybe not. Being in a cult means having the ability to process disconfirmation and still maintain belief in the one true faith.