Blaming The Past

People love the past. It provides convenient excuses for all manner of individual or group shortcomings. Academic "experts", politicians and race hustlers use history as a coverup. They point to the ugly facts of slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination as explanations for the high rates of black illegitimacy, crime and family breakdown. The connection between slavery and discrimination and what we see today is hardly ever challenged. But challenge it we must.

Only 40 percent of black children live in two-parent households. The illegitimacy rate among blacks stands close to 70 percent. The "legacy of slavery" explanation for today's weak black family structure loses all manner of credibility when one examines evidence from the past. Even during slavery, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. One study of nineteenth century slave families (Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom: 1750-1925) found that in up to three-fourths of the families, all the children had the same mother and father. In New York City, in 1925, 85 percent of kin-related black households were double-headed. In fact, "Five in six children under the age of six lived with both parents." Both during slavery and as late as 1920, a black teenage girl raising a child without a man was rare among blacks. Historian Herbert Gutman, also found in analyzing data on black families in Harlem between 1905 and 1925, that only 3 percent of all families "were headed by a woman under thirty." Thomas Sowell found, "Going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, we find that census data of that era showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940."

In absolute numbers, blacks commit most of the crime in the U.S. Blacks account for half of all the arrests for assault and rape and two-thirds of arrests for robbery. Blacks are disproportionately more represented in all categories of felonies, except

those requiring access to large sums of money such as embezzlement and stock fraud. Criminologist Marvin Wolfgang says, "For four violent offenses - homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - the crime rates for blacks are at least 10 times as high as they are for whites." Close to ninety percent of the victims of black criminals are black.

Crime turns neighborhoods into economic wastelands forcing poor people to bear the cost of traveling to suburban malls to do routine shopping or pay the high prices at local "Ma & Pa" shops. If they manage to buy a home, that home is worth less because of crime and wanton property destruction. Poor people are most dependent on law and order for safety and welfare. Wealthier people have the financial resources to protect themselves such as purchasing alarms, hiring private guards.

An often overlooked crime cost is that people who are the most upwardly mobile people are the first to leave. Their replacements are not as mobile or care less about neighborhood amenities. The people who leave take with them the social leavening that contributes to vital and stable communities.

The "politically correct" theory is that poverty and discrimination is the cause of high crime rates. During my youth, the 1930s and 1940s, black neighborhoods were far safer than today. It would be preposterous to suggest back then there was less poverty and discrimination.

The level of social pathology seen in many black communities is unprecedented and has nothing to do with a so-called legacy of slavery, unless we're willing to say that slavery has a delayed reaction of four or five generations.

Walter E. Williams


April 21, 1999

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