Black History Month 2010 is not a great time for a party. Unemployment at almost 10%, and well over 16% among blacks, doesn’t make for much of a festive mood.
But if the mood is not festive, shouldn’t it be reflective?
Certainly, there’s reason for pride in black achievement in the forty plus years since the Civil Rights movement.
We’ve now got a couple black billionaires and a black president. The percentage of blacks with college degrees is three times greater now than in 1970.
But black household income is still just 62% of white households. And the black poverty rate, at twice the national average, has hardly budged since the late 1960’s.
Blacks should be asking hard questions when, over this period of time, many immigrants from different backgrounds have come to this country with little and moved into the middle class in one generation.
The accumulation of considerable black political power – black mayors, governors, a 42 member Black Congressional Caucus, and now a black president – has made hardly a difference. It should be clear that black economic distress is not a political problem.
Studies show that it’s family and education that produces success in America. Income correlates with education and education correlates with family background.
In 1970, 74% of black men were married, compared to 44% today. Or that in 1970, 5% of black mothers were never married compared to 41% today.
The Civil Rights movement was, of course, a religiously inspired and led movement. It made liberal use of the biblical imagery of the Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. Taylor Branch called his trilogy about Dr. King and the movement he led “Parting of the Waters”, “Pillar of Fire”, and “At Canaan’s Edge.”
To the misfortune of blacks who put great hope in the redemptive powers of that movement, their leaders prematurely closed their bibles.
The story of the liberation of the Israelite slaves did not end with their release from their Egyptian taskmasters. That was the beginning. They then proceeded to the mountain in the wilderness to receive the law to take with them and live by in the Promised Land.
When it was clear that the former Egyptian slaves were not up to the task, they were condemned to wander for forty years in the wilderness so that a new generation would arise, enter the land, and build the nation.
Let’s recall that the law they received was about family (honor your parents), about property and ownership (thou shalt not steal), and about being concerned about building your own and not what your neighbor has (thou shalt not covet).
Rather than seeking redemption through this law, post-Civil Rights movement black leaders sought redemption in politics. The welfare state, entitlements, transfer payments, and the politics of differences and envy. Should we be surprised by the result?
The New York Times recently reported that from 2004 to 2008, the political and charitable arms of the Congressional Black Caucus raised more than $55 million from corporations and unions. According to the Times, most of these funds were “spent on elaborate conventions…a headquarters building, golf outings,…and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.”
More was spent on the caterer for the Caucus’s Foundation annual dinner – $700,000 – than it gave out in scholarships.
It’s now over forty years since the Civil Right movement. Enough wandering in the wilderness.
It’s time for a new generation of black Americans to step forward. A generation to turn to the truths that will rebuild black lives, black families, and lead blacks to the freedom that Dr. King and all blacks have dreamed about.
The friend of minorities and immigrants is not government but “Work! Work!! Work!!! Work!!!!” | Marvin Olasky WORLD Magazine
Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951) was the first African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century. Like Barack Obama, he rose through Chicago machine politics. Unlike Obama, De Priest was a Republican firmly opposed to big government. He lost his seat in 1934 when African-Americans voted their empty pocketbooks and began a massive switch from the Republican Party that had claimed their allegiance for 70 years to the Democrats who have claimed their allegiance for the past 75.
That switch had political consequences—Democratic control of Congress, with rare exceptions—and socioeconomic ones as well: Asian immigrants typically built businesses and many African-Americans have as well, but black economic progress in the popular mind is connected to government growth and affirmative action. Schoolroom and media accounts during February’s Black History Month celebrate big-government proponents but generally ignore fighters for individual liberty like De Priest, NAACP co-founder Moorfield Storey, Howard University dean Kelly Miller, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston.
Jonathan Bean’s Race & Liberty in America (University Press of Kentucky and The Independent Institute, 2009) points out that “academic booklists reflect the politically correct view that left-wing liberals or radicals completely dominated the struggle for racial freedom.” Bean’s excellent book shows that many African-American leaders in the 19th and 20th centuries had a different emphasis. Those leaders prized individual rights, Christianity, and markets where the only color is the green of greenbacks. Those leaders knew that government power enforced racist codes and segregation.
Free markets, as Frederick Douglass understood, work for minorities. (Some streetcar companies opposed segregation because it increased their cost of doing business.) From the Civil War to the 1890s, ex-slave Douglass’ stump speech emphasized “WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put.” Douglass sided with employers over racist unions and asked that they give the ex-slave opportunity: “Give him a chance to do whatever he can do well. If he fails then, let him fail! I can, however, assure you that he will not fail. Already he has proven it. As a soldier he proved it.”
In 1924 Kelly Miller, the Howard University dean who was the first African-American admitted to Johns Hopkins, also argued that blacks should favor free markets rather than government or union power: “The capitalist has but one dominating motive, the production and sale of goods. The race or color of the producer counts but little. . . . The capitalist stands for an open shop which gives to every man the unhindered right to work according to his ability and skill. In this proposition the capitalist and the Negro are as one.”
But the development of federal jobs programs and welfare during the 1930s moved many African-American leaders to the big-government side. In 1951 Zora Hurston decried such selling out for temporary advantage: “Throughout the New Deal era the relief program was the biggest weapon ever placed in the hands of those who sought power and votes. . . . Dependent upon the Government for their daily bread, men gradually relaxed their watchfulness and submitted to the will of the ‘Little White Father,’ more or less. Once they had weakened that far, it was easy to go on and on voting for more relief, and leaving Government affairs in the hands of a few.”
Those few, in one sense, have done well by African-Americans over the past half-century: Federal power ended the segregationist power of state and local governments. The feds also mandated affirmative action programs that helped some blacks achieve middle-class status. And yet, as Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, and others have pointed out, those programs left many blacks wondering whether they could have made it on their own, and left others wallowing in welfare.
As sociology professor Anne Wortham concluded in 1978, “For blacks like me, the supreme irony of having to contend with affirmative action measures is that we grew up in a tradition which prepared us for precisely the opposite—that tradition which measured achievement in terms of merit as evidenced by one’s skill, knowledge, experience, interest and attitude. . . . [Now] I am branded as incapable of walking through the gates of opportunity on my own.”
The black-left alliance has produced obvious economic benefits for some African-Americans, but at what cost?