Special Notice 36

Black Scholar Tells It Like It Is About the Race Problem


By William J. Dodwell    April 16, 2015

            Once again I find myself writing about race as it comes to the fore in the aftermath of the police actions in Ferguson, MO, North Charleston, South Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.  But this time the particular catalyst is a public discussion I attended featuring Jason L. Riley and his new book entitled “Please Stop Helping Us:  How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” in which he impugns the liberal agenda that claims to hold the cure for racial malaise in America.  Happily, the book corroborates many of my past comments expressed in The Comprehensive Conservative based on mostly observational and anecdotal evidence.  Of course, Mr. Riley goes further speaking from personal experience and grounding his assertions on historical and statistical fact and analysis. 


Mr. Riley is a dark-skinned black who addresses the true nature of the black problem.  I cite his complexion because many in the black community dismiss the authenticity of lighter blacks as “not black enough” to represent their experience.  Indeed, the black population needs to heed the lessons of this work in the face of the misguided tolerance of self-serving liberal allies.  But sadly, I saw only one black in the audience of about 100.  Besides his race, Mr. Riley’s bona fides include serving on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal for twenty years.  In addition, he is currently a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.


Mr. Riley’s view


The perceived threat of black behavior


            Mr. Riley dissects the origins of racial tensions and exposes the folly of liberal shibboleths.  In particular, he says the problem is about the perceived threat among whites of transgressive behavior by blacks mainly based on a long record of violent crime, the prime reason for highly disproportional incarceration rates.  And the negative image extends to white collar crime as well which studies show blacks also commit disproportionately.  Mr. Riley focuses squarely on the always ignored question of why whites are apprehensive of blacks.  It’s not simply because of skin color as the left proclaims.  The answer lies in the general association of blacks with historical behavioral deviance. 


Mr. Riley cited the example of blacks who are followed around in retail stores in anticipation of possible theft.  In fact, he himself was subject to such treatment recently while shopping at Brooks Brothers even dressed in a suit.  (Apropos of the economic stereotype of blacks, also based on perception, the anomaly of a black in an upscale store might also have been a factor.  Recall Oprah Winfrey’s experience in a European shop when a sales clerk not recognizing her rebuffed a request to see an expensive handbag displayed on a high shelf.)  And in college Mr. Riley was frequently stopped by campus security guards.  But he confessed he too was more wary of black shoppers when he worked in a retail establishment in his youth.  Even Jesse Jackson confessed his apprehension when encountering a black on a lonely street.   It’s a matter of the odds based on an empirical criminal record, not gratuitous racial profiling.


            Mr. Riley suggests a symptom of the social and economic plight that has alienated blacks lies in a different social mobility path from immigrant groups.  He identifies two historical tracks to assimilation:  political and economic.  Blacks have relied on representation in government while all others prospered through private enterprise.  One exception concerns the Irish, some of whom initially succeeded in politics, but only while the general Irish population lived in poverty.  This changed quickly when they began to engage in private sector employment as the interest in political life diminished.  Mr. Riley points out that Asians have demonstrated tremendous economic success without ever achieving even minor political clout.  He suggests the reason blacks have deferred to their own in government to elevate themselves is borne out by longitudinal studies that indicate that blacks have lacked the requisite work ethic to succeed in commerce.  This may speak to the black stereotype, but let truth ring.


            Mr. Riley also highlights the commonly mentioned decline of the black family as a major source of social ills that foster a negative perception among whites.  Accordingly, he cites the dramatic rise in the percentage of black single parent households since 1930.  Critics may be quick to point to his own upbringing by a single parent from the age of three after a divorce.  But Mr. Riley emphasizes that, rather than a victim of abandonment, he continued to have a close relationship with his father about whom he said has had a “significantly positive influence on my life”. One senses that influence enabled him to resist charges of “acting white”, a syndrome he says is still a big problem in the black community.


Government, media and black leaders compound the problem


            As for the failure of government social programs and the dependency they encourage, Mr. Riley effusively cites how blacks progressed economically far more from 1930 to 1960 than since the Great Society of President Lyndon Johnson (40 percentage points!).  So much for the role of discrimination which has declined dramatically since the 1960s.  Indeed, the overall poverty rate is virtually the same today as it was fifty years ago. He also says that, while affirmative action was initially a noble effort to identify and elevate qualified blacks, the policy has been corrupted such that today beneficiaries wonder about the real reason they have been hired, questioning their own legitimacy. 


With disgust, Mr. Riley stresses that black leaders and the media refuse to address deviant black behavior and culture, instead focusing only on what whites can do for blacks rather than on how they can help themselves and achieve self-determination as encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King.  He says original civil rights legislation has been the greatest contribution to ameliorating the black malaise.  But liberal government and media, and the imposition of political correctness, have made conditions subsequently worse because they undermine the self-reliance and behavioral reform that is essential to normal assimilation.


My view


Mr. Riley does a service in exposing the reality of the black problem, and as a black man gives extra credence to the solutions.  It is hoped his honest version of the plight, supported by experience, research and scholarly insight, will raise awareness and contribute to the right answers amid an exploitive media and body politic.  But I will go further and address some aspects that may be too hot to handle even for him.  Here’s my take.


The self-interest of the left


            To be sure, the left has no interest in curing the black predicament that is its meal ticket.  It uses blacks as pawns as it encourages dependence on government largess which perpetuates the left’s political power and wealth through its influence over a nearly $4 trillion annual federal budget, plus state and local monies.  That honey pot, primarily funded by redistributionist tax policy and promoted by sympathetic media, redounds to special interest contractors and a gargantuan administrative infrastructure.  Through a myriad of quid quo pros involving legislation, regulation, executive action, employment and political contributions the left enriches itself in the guise of helping the poor. 


Inner city public schools deny blacks the quality education they covet from charter schools because of the selfish resistance of teacher unions, as well as administrators bent on imposing a leftist agenda on curricula and performance standards.  An ongoing malaise also creates opportunities for black leaders, such as Al Sharpton, who benefit in the administration of feckless social programs, and through extortion imposed on spineless corporations based on threats of reputational damage predicated on contrived charges of racism.  The organizations of these race hustlers are fraught with financial improprieties unchecked by the authorities.  An utter disgrace.


The media condone black pathologies by underreporting them, by distorting news, such as by promoting the “Hands up, don’t shoot” myth, and by promoting a violent antisocial black culture to the general population through movies, music and video games.  The media gratuitously infuse race in all areas of human interaction to suppress the reality, denying that people generally gravitate to their own.  Joy Behar, formerly of the television show, “The View”, said absurdly that the term “Black Friday”, referring to the shopping madness the day after Thanksgiving, is racist.  The egalitarian left is dedicated to excusing the failure of black assimilation in its own interest and will do anything to maintain the charade.  Without the black plight a lot of liberals would be out of work.


Political representation wins blacks preferential treatment


As Mr. Riley said, historically blacks have relied on political representation rather than economic participation for relief, which has culminated in the election and re-election of a black president.  Certainly blacks have benefited from it of late, notwithstanding extremely high unemployment in the black community.  The Obama administration has directed funds to lower income minorities beyond an appropriate safety net through accelerated income redistribution.  The largesse includes the Affordable Care Act subsidies, lower mortgage underwriting standards at Fannie and Freddie, a tripling of food stamp recipients, free cell phones, bank legal settlements, and surreptitious appropriations to leftist activist groups including former ACORN organizations.  And one wonders how much affirmative action has been implemented inside government and forced on regulatory subjects.  Granting what is not earned in order to level the playing field on the basis of retribution for perceived racial injustice, or a perverse notion of diversity, stifles incentive and self-reliance.   Giveaways fail to resolve the fundamental black behavioral problem while creating resentment among the majority that builds racial tensions.


            Government continues its affordable housing policy, the seminal cause of the 2008 financial crisis.  Largely an accommodation to blacks, President Obama has doubled down on this policy by appointing Mel Watt the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Association (FHFA) which now oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Mr. Watt, a black lawyer and former Congressman who admitted he knew nothing about mortgage finance before, has for starters lowered the required down payment to 3% and increased the percentage of subprime loans purchased by the government sponsored agencies (GSEs) from the banks.  He also has defied the Dodd-Frank mandate to increase the GSE guarantee fee charged borrowers to reflect actual credit risk.  Underpriced guarantee fees contributed significantly to the GSE losses that taxpayers had to absorb during the financial crisis.  The Congressional black caucus and other Democrats ensure legislation to support lower mortgage underwriting standards while too many Republicans go along in fear of being ostracized as racist by the media and their political opponents.  To be sure, ignoring the mistakes of the financial crisis to relieve racial tensions is folly.


The genetic question


            We know that government and the media perpetuate the black plight.  But what is the root cause?  As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?”  Blacks seem to have a genetic predisposition to violence borne out by chronic and pervasive crime, and perhaps even benignly illustrated by their dominance on the football field.  The inclination would seem to be founded largely on a characteristic black emotion and physicality that may be evident to some degree in blacks of mixed race as well.  During the Q&A part of the event a questioner asked Mr. Riley if he thought black performance on the football field is an exponent of the propensity for criminal violence which he acknowledged.  He said he did not analyze the link and seemed to consider the question off topic.  Fair enough.  But one senses Mr. Riley did not want to broach genetic implications.  However, I will.


            The obvious and unspeakable question becomes, “How is it that blacks have been unable to compete in a meritocratic America despite some $20 trillion of social programs since the Great Society, massive opportunities through affirmative action, and radical reduction in societal discrimination in the last fifty years?”  As Mr. Riley says, deviant behavior, especially violent crime, creates the perception of a threat that alienates blacks from the rest of the population.  This conduct is manifest in disproportionate dysfunctional single parent families, incarceration, poverty, illiteracy, illegitimacy, drug abuse, and encouraged by a black culture that largely celebrates the pathologies.  Are these behaviors simply alternative to productive pursuits in which they can’t compete?  The scale and long history of the problem in spite of so much corrective accommodation suggests an inherent factor at play.  Are the violence and lack of work ethic cited by Mr. Riley genetic?  Does the rap culture, for example, reveal their true nature?  Some would suggest this is racist.  But by definition, that term applies only to one who calls for discrimination or harm against a racial group.  Exploring differential truths among peoples is legitimate exegesis.  Indeed, the epithet has become a meaningless cudgel of the left to suppress the truth that threatens its power.  Unfortunately, most recoil at the charge resulting in a tacit tolerance of deviancy that exacerbates the problem.  This has to change.


            Genetic predisposition does not necessarily have to be fatalistic.  Consider alcoholism among the Irish.  The condition is congenital but it is controlled in the interest of a productive life.  Similarly, the Irish have to control their temper.  Their homeland is not called IREland for nothing.  The history of the Irish in America shows they generally have overcome or contained a propensity for alcohol that was once much more problematic.  As is said about fighting terror, a problem has to be identified for what it is, Islamic extremism.  As such, genetic based predilections have to be recognized where they exist.  The malady in the black or Irish gene may vary in degree, recede, and skip generations.  And some are more capable than others in managing the problem.  Blacks have to control their anti-social impulses.  The vast majority of blacks do, but too many don’t.  If they really want to end problematic encounters with the police and truly seek racial harmony, they have to stop committing highly disproportionate violent crime.  Then the perceived threat will diminish and the alienation will abate.


            But there are other factors.  The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the black cleric whose church President Obama infamously attended for some twenty years, proudly invoked a study in a 2008 address to the NAACP that contrasts black cognitive orientation to that of non-blacks.  The study showed that blacks are aural-oriented learners as opposed to others who are object-oriented (as in book reading).  This might explain why blacks have not generally excelled academically or in business but have succeeded in music and other arts.  If true, this does not mean that blacks are doomed to marginalization.  But it does suggest, absent misguided affirmative action, their natural economic prospects are generally less than others in a society that increasingly places a premium on education.  Conversely, their demonstrated superior physical prowess assures disproportionate success in athletics on a meritocratic basis.  The late Jimmy the Greek, the Las Vegas odds maker, commented some years ago on superior black physiology in sports and was banished by the media as racist.  That political correctness suppresses the truth, impedes solutions, and exacerbates racial tensions.


It’s about behavior and cognition


            Overcoming the chronic black plight rests on correcting pathological behavior.  It also depends on compensating for historically demonstrated heritable cognitive constraints, where they apply, through appropriate educational and occupational direction consistent with individual aptitudes and proficiencies.  Proactively identifying and mentoring promising blacks according to their ability, including the brilliant, can set the stage for deliverance, as affirmative action was originally intended.  But ultimately, the remedy hinges on self-discipline, motivation and a culture that values education and productivity.  The more blacks take an initiative in changing course, and the political left stops effectively condoning and encouraging bad behavior, the closer the resolution.  A tall order indeed. 


Blacks as a class have historically displayed disproportionate social, economic and moral deficits that likely will continue to some degree because of certain seemingly intractable elements that heretofore have resisted change.  What’s more, pandering accommodation of those pathologies by the political and cultural left, especially the liberal media, increases that likelihood.  Perhaps through some newfound restraint among all malefactors, possibly inspired by Mr. Riley’s book, we can hope to minimize the malaise.  Unfortunately, in the meantime grim prospects befall many law-abiding and productive blacks who inevitably get caught in the undertow of the perceived threat.

©2015 William J. Dodwell