Barack Obama, "Our Kind of Black," and Evidence on Discrimination
One point nobody made, at least while I was listening, was the implication of this view of the situation for the conventional picture of racial prejudice. What is usually said or implied is that American blacks do, on average, worse than American whites because of discrimination based on skin color. That might be consistent with a pattern of lighter skinned blacks doing better, but it cannot explain blacks of non-slave origin doing better, especially since many of them, being recent migrants from Africa or the West Indies, are blacker than the average descendant of slaves.
The discussion reminded me of an argument Thomas Sowell offers in Ethnic America. Observing the success of West Indian immigrants to the U.S., he concludes that it provides evidence against both of the popular explanations for the current situation of Afro-Americans. It is evidence against the "official" explanation, which is racial prejudice, since to the eye the immigrants are at least as black as those already here. But it is also evidence against the view, surely widely held if not openly expressed, that the failure of Afro-Americans is due to genetic inferiority, since the West Indians are genetically "blacker," have a higher proportion of sub-saharan African ancestry, as well as visibly blacker. Sowell concludes that the difference is cultural, that the different nature of West African slavery resulted in a culture that produced individuals better able to succeed in our society than those produced by the culture that resulted from plantation slavery in the American south.