Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Hard Facts About Black America

Juan Williams is an acclaimed civil rights expert, a correspondent on National Public Radio, and a contributing editor at Fox News. He's got a new book out on contemporary black politics entitled Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Cultures of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It.

As one can tell from tell from the title, Williams is frustrated with the liberal, shake-down civil rights agenda prominent in the left-wing black community. For these views, he has been attacked as a "sellout" and "Uncle Tom." In response,
in a commentary piece earlier this week at the Los Angleles Times, Williams argued that his detractors should take a close look at the facts about black America:

One hard, unforgiving fact is that 70% of black children are born today to single mothers. This is at the heart of the breakdown of the black family, the cornerstone of black life for generations. Some of these children without two parents may turn out just fine, but most add stress to the lives of their grandparents, neighbors, police and teachers who have to take up the slack for absent or bad parents.

It is easier to attack me than to deal with the hard fact of a dropout rate now at about 50% nationwide for black and Latino students. The average black student who gets a high school diploma today is reading and doing math at an eighth-grade level. Even with a diploma, that young person is ill-prepared to compete for entry-level jobs or for a college degree.

In an era of global economic competition — when it is harder to find a job, pay the rent and afford health insurance — there is little room to argue with the fact that it is a national crisis to find so many children of any race failing in school. But it is especially disturbing that so many of those children are black and Latino; they have the added burden of being people of color in a society in which race remains a real factor.

And what about the tragic fact of a 25% poverty rate among black Americans? That's more than twice the 12% national poverty rate and more than triple the poverty rate among whites.

My critics are busy blaming racism for all this poverty. But that tactic is losing its punch because so many people of color, including black people from Africa and the Caribbean, arrive in this country and outperform native-born black people in educational achievement and income. And it is hard to make the old "racism is the whole problem" argument when the other 75% of black America is taking advantage of 50 years of new opportunities — since Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act — to create the largest black middle class in history, with unprecedented wealth and political power.

The core group of black people trapped in poverty today is not defined by lack of opportunity as much as by bad choices. Black youth culture is boiling over with nihilism. It embraces failure and frustration, including random crime and jail time, as the authentic expression of black life. "Keeping it real" and "street cred" in that destructive world require gunshot victims, the "N-word" and treating women as "bitches" and "hos." There is no arguing that this is a sick mind-set.

Here are some more facts: 44% of the nation's prison population is made up of black people, and blacks account for 37% of violent crimes, although black Americans are only 13% of the population. Who can make the case that this is anything but a social disaster?

Yet I'm condemned for asking why today's prominent civil rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters, are not dealing with these problems. They prefer to call for more government programs and more white guilt.
Williams tells it like it is. Yet for this he's ridiculed as a turncoat to the black "inclusionist" rights agenda. Erin Audrey Kaplan, a columnist at the L.A. Times, is one of Williams' detractors.
She called Williams a "righteous posturer" in an opinion commentary piece a week or so back.

I almost wrote a post in defense Williams after reading Kaplan's piece. I've read Williams' work. He wrote
the companion book to the "Eyes on the Prize" documentary, and he's also a biographer of the late Thurgood Marhshall, the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

I haven't read his new book, although I'll probably pick up a copy at some point. I am, of course, familiar with his argument, as Williams has been joined by many black conservatives in attacking the black cult of victimology that is decimating the hopes of much of black America today. I see the effects of the cult of victimology on my campus, where I witness its anti-intellectual manifestation in many of my black students.

For a couple of my earlier posts on black progress, see my entries on Shelby Steele's "White Guilt" and on Margaret Walker's "Jubilee."

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