The First Unitarian Church of Omaha, to which I belong, has formed a sister church relationship with a predominantly black church in north Omaha, Clair Memorial Methodist Church. On Saturday we held a joint workshop, “Confronting Racism” at Clair. Several people said that we should “celebrate diversity, transcend race, and hope that things will be better in twenty or thirty years from now.”
I think the problem is much more fundamental and difficult than this. First of all, there are two main reasons why racism is so prevalent in America, one obvious and one perhaps less obvious:
The obvious reason is the very different colors of our skin.
The other reason, equally important, is that there are huge socio-economic differences between the two races. Whites are, by and large, better educated and more affluent than blacks. They also have a more stable family structure, with far fewer single parent families. People tend to live in homogeneous residential areas and associate with others of similar socio-economic background. All of these social factors serve to separate the races into largely non-interacting groups of people.
How do we confront and attack such deeply entrenched racism in our society? We need an approach which is more fundamental than programs like “welfare to work” or “residential integration.” Even equalizing educational opportunity is not enough. What we need is a long term effort to improve educational outcomes for blacks and other children from low-income families. As the above chart of Nebraska data shows, children from low-income families, who thus receive free or reduced price lunch (FRL), are already behind in reading proficiency by third grade and they just keep falling further and further behind in the later grades. This means that they need major intervention before they even get to kindergarten. In fact what they need is early childhood education, beginning no later than age 3. Conclusion: Racism is deeply embedded in American life and can only be eliminated with a long term fundamental effort to greatly improve educational outcomes for blacks. I will discuss proof that this can be done in my next post.
The death of another black man at the hands of the police, this time Freddie Gray of Baltimore, has again set off a national debate about poverty, inequality and racial injustice. The Washington Post journalist Marc Thiessen wrote about this several days ago in, “The Baltimore Democrats Built,” saying that:
City officials injected $130 million into the Sandtown-Winchester community (where the riots took place) in a failed effort to transform it.
The poverty rate in Baltimore is 24% compared with 14.5% nationally.
The unemployment rate for black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20 – 24 is 37%.
Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore.
In 2014, Baltimore public schools ranked third in the country in per-pupil spending, yet 55% of Baltimore fourth graders scored below basic in reading.
In the Sandtown-Winchester community, nearly half of all high school students missed at least 20 days of school in 2011.
This community’s murder rate is double the average for Baltimore, which in turn had the fifth highest murder rate last year among major U.S. cities.
In other words, Baltimore’s problems cannot be blamed on racial prejudice or on a lack of resources to combat poverty and low educational performance. Clearly needed are better schools and more employment opportunities. Better state and local leadership would help in this respect. But what is most needed is faster economic growth for the whole country. There are many things which could be done to accomplish this. It’s a shame that our current political system is too fractured to allow this to happen.
“It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges.” Booker T. Washington, 1856 – 1915
My last two posts have discussed the theme of a new book by Dennis Prager, “Still the Best Hope: why the world needs American values to triumph.” Mr. Prager’s thesis is that there are three competing ideologies for the allegiance of humankind, namely Islamism, Leftism and Americanism and, furthermore, that these three ideologies are incompatible. Any one of them succeeds at the expense of the other two.
As I said on March 8, Mr. Prager’s broad framework helps me place my own ideological views into perspective. Here is one example of this. As everyone knows, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery. But it is also the 50th anniversary of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed in today’s New York Times, “When Liberals Blew It” reminds us how prescient Moynihan was about a breakdown in family structure and how reviled he was by liberals when he issued his report. Mr. Kristof points out that:
In 2013, 71% of black children were born to an unwed mother (compared to 53% of Hispanic children and 36% of white children), far more than in 1965.
Growing up with just one biological parent reduces the chance that a child will graduate from high school by 40%.
A father’s absence from the home increases antisocial behavior especially for boys.
A lack of preparation for many jobs which are now available.
A black subculture which rejects attitudes and behaviors conducive to upward mobility.
That too few blacks are taking advantage of the opportunities now available to them.
In other words, more and more spending on welfare and public services is not what blacks need for further advancement. Rather it is to stop thinking of themselves as victims and to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility. This is the American way to get ahead!