The noted author, Robert Putnam, has recently addressed the topic of black economic and social progress in America. He and his coauthor, Shaylyn Garrett, show that blacks had already made much progress before the civil rights era of the 1960s. For example:
- The life expectancy gap between black and white Americans narrowed most rapidly between 1905 and 1947 (see chart), after which gains were much more modest.
- The black/white ratio of high school completion improved dramatically between the 1940s and early 1970s, after which it slowed (see chart).
- Income by race converged at the greatest rate between 1940 and 1970, and has since stalled (see chart).
- The South saw a dramatic increase in black voter registration between 1940 and 1970 which has since slowed down (see chart).
The authors attribute the lack of faster progress in the above measures since the civil rights era to:
- white backlash and
- a widespread change in American society from a sense of shared values to a more self-centered culture. The authors measure this trend with an inverted U-shaped I-We-I curve (see chart) which, they show, has fundamental social significance.
I do not doubt the value of the I-We-I interpretation of American history and society. It will prove to be a useful explanatory tool in many contexts. But it is not a major factor in understanding the stalled black progress of recent years.
As I have already discussed, too many blacks consider themselves victims of white supremacy and therefore unable to make it on their own. The American way, the reason we are the most economically and socially advanced societiety on earth, is based on our belief that personal success depends on individual initiative.
Of course, some people have a head start in life. But the answer to this reality is to strive to provide more opportunity for everyone, and especially better opportunities for the disadvantaged. More on this coming soon!
Conclusion. The inverted U-shaped I-We-I curve is an important sociological discovery with many ramifications. But blacks will move up more rapidly in American society as they take more personal initiative for their own success and stop considering themselves as victims of white supremacy.