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Black politicians and the civil rights establishment take it as an act of faith that progress for black people requires racial politics and government programs. How about examining this vision with a few simple commonsense questions.
Whether you're black, white or polka dot, in order to take advantage of opportunities, you must be prepared. A large part of that preparation is to get a decent K-12 education. In order for children to do well in school there are some minimum requirements that must be met. Someone must make them do their homework, see to it that they get a good night's rest, fix a breakfast, make sure they get to school on time and obey school authorities. This is not rocket science but here's my question. Can those requirements be satisfied by a president, congressman or mayor? If those requirements aren't met there's little hope that a child will get the academic preparation necessary to take advantage of opportunities. Spending more money on education cannot replace poor parenting. If it could black academic achievement would be much higher than it is.
Numerous studies show that children raised in stable two-parent households do far better than those raised in single-parent households. They are less likely to have out-of-wedlock births, less likely to engage in criminal behavior and more likely to complete high school. Historically, black families have been relatively stable. From 1880 to 1960 the proportion of black children raised in two-parent families held steady at around 70 percent; in 1925 Harlem it was 85 percent. Today, only 38 percent of black children are raised in two-parent families. In 1940, black illegitimacy was 16 percent; today it's 70 percent. Stable two-parent families are vital for a child's development. The solution to the problem of unstable families won't be found in the political arena. There's nothing a president, congressman or mayor can do.
In many black neighborhoods businessmen must install bars and roll-down gates for their storefronts, hire security guards, pay high insurance rates. Security precautions add significantly to the cost of business and who do you think pays these extra costs? The businessman pays in the form of a lower return and his customers pay in the form of higher prices and less convenience. A tiny percentage of the black community is allowed to impose high costs on its overwhelming law-abiding residents. Criminals, vandals and thugs have turned once economically viable shopping areas into economic wastelands. Insuring public safety is a politician's job and they fail miserably. The police, courts and jails allow thugs to prey on the black community with near impunity.
Solutions to the most serious problems that black Americans face will not be found in the political arena. Otherwise, the problems would have been long solved with the civil rights legislation, all the litigation and the more than $8 trillion dollars spent on poverty programs since 1965. Or, the problems would have been solved by the two terms of President Clinton, whom some blacks have called the first black president.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to finding solutions is the widely held vision of the problem black people face, namely racial discrimination. That vision calls for civil rights strategies. The truth of the matter is that the black civil rights struggle is over and it's won. At one time black Americans did not enjoy the constitutional protections enjoyed by others. Today, there's no constitutional protections not enjoyed by blacks. That's not to say that every vestige of discrimination has been eliminated. It is to say that the devastating problems facing a large proportion of the black community are not civil rights problems and the solution won't be found in the political arena.
Walter E. Williams
November 1, 2004
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