Thursday, August 12, 2010

What To Do About Black America

Having gone on my mission in Alabama, this article resonates.

"Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation—that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own."

"Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience—and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, 'That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.'"

"If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it."

I think this goes back a bit to the Ross Douthat's arguments of previous posts. That government has the power, to some extent, to change the culture. In Ross's latest blogpost, he makes all sorts of interesting posts and links to a bunch of interesting articles, but consider this point about abortion:

That a large reason the upper class has been successful in delaying child rearing until later in life is, at least in some cases and in some places, because of higher rates of abortion. But "this dependence on the practice constitutes a deep corruption at the heart of elite life, which undercuts at least some of the happy news about the upper class’s post-sexual revolution stability. And an elite that was more morally serious about sexuality and its consequences would be willing to confront this problem directly, instead of ignoring the issue and/or sneering at the anti-abortion cause."

So, in the wake of the 1960's, "Black out-of-wedlock births started to climb and marriage rates to fall around 1960, long after slavery was abolished and just as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Perhaps a more nuanced explanation for the recent deterioration is that the legacy of slavery made the black family more vulnerable to the cultural subversions of the 1960s. But what does this tell us that is useful today? The answer is: nothing."

I guess you can point a lot of fingers, but the solutions are difficult. In my view, though, perhaps a combination of left/right solutions are in order. Crank up the pressure from above to encourage abstinence before marriage broadly (the only surefire way to guarantee no babies), try to tackle the hard (impossible in our culture) task of constructing laws that encourage this behavior, and spend as much money trying to fund programs that encourage good schools and opportunities in black communities.

The libertarian would probably come to the more obvious conclusion that black communities need to lift themselves out and any attempts from government will largely not work (which is exactly the point of the article). But I'm not a libertarian and doing nothing just doesn't seem appropriate in this regard.

So, America did collectively run over the black community with the truck of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, and the legacy of that persists. We can't fix the problems, but we can help "pays the pedestrian’s medical bills" and provide a framework of social, educational support and encouragement to help them learn to walk (and run) again.

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