In my column a week ago, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” I took aim at what I called “smug white delusion” about race relations in America.
Readers promptly fired back. Many put the blame on African-Americans themselves.
Nancy protested on my Facebook page: “We can’t fix their problems. It’s up to every black individual to stop the cycle of fatherless homes, stop the cycle of generations on welfare.” There was a deluge of such comments, some toxic, but let me try to address three principal arguments that I think prop up white delusion.
• First, if blacks are poor or in prison, it’s all their fault. “Blacks don’t get it,” Bruce tweeted. “Choosing to be cool vs. getting good grades is a bad choice. We all start from 0.”
Huh? Does anybody really think that we all take off from the same starting line? Slavery and post-slavery oppression left a legacy of broken families, poverty, racism, hopelessness and internalized self-doubt. Some responded to discrimination and lack of opportunity by behaving in self-destructive ways.
One study found African-American children on welfare heard only 29 percent as many words in their first few years as children of professional parents. Those kids never catch up, partly because they’re more likely to attend broken schools. Sure, some make bad choices, but they’ve often been on a trajectory toward failure from the time they were babies.
Instead of pointing fingers, let’s adopt some of the programs that I’ve cited with robust evidence showing that they bridge the chasm.
• But look at Asians, Mark protests on my Google Plus page: Vietnamese arrived in poverty, and are now school valedictorians. Why can’t blacks be like that?
There are plenty of black valedictorians. But bravo to Asians and other immigrant groups for thriving in America with a strong cultural emphasis on education, diligence and delay of self-gratification. We should support programs with a good record of inculcating such values in disadvantaged children. But we also need to understand that many young people of color see no hope of getting ahead, and that despair can be self-fulfilling.
• Look, the basic reason young black men are regarded with suspicion is that they’re disproportionately criminals. The root problem isn’t racism. It’s criminality.
It’s true that blacks accounted for 55 percent of robbery arrests in 2012, according to FBI statistics. But, by my calculations, it’s also true that 99.9 percent of blacks were not arrested and charged with robbery in 2012, yet they are still tarred by this pernicious stereotype.
Mass incarceration means that the United States imprisons a higher proportion of its black population than apartheid South Africa did, further breaking up families.Society creates opportunity and resiliency for middle-class white boys who make mistakes; it is unforgiving of low-income black boys.
Of course, we need to promote personal responsibility. But there is plenty of fault to go around, and too many whites are obsessed with cultivating personal responsibility in the black community while refusing to accept any responsibility themselves for a system that manifestly does not provide equal opportunity.
Yes, young black men need to take personal responsibility. And so does white America.
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