Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The race tribunes are constantly scolding Americans for avoiding the “conversation” about race we have to have before we can heal our racial divisions. Eric Holder in 2009 laid out this argument in a speech calling on America to “examine its racial soul.” We are “essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said, for we “simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” What we need is “to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”
Of course, coming from a lieutenant in the most racially divisive administration since World War II, this advice is preposterous. Since all we do is talk about race and rehash repeatedly racial crimes from the past, what Holder really meant is not that we have a “frank conversation,” but that white people hear a mendacious lecture in which their racism, irrational prejudice, and “white privilege” are laid out, after which they accept their guilt for the dysfunctions and misery afflicting the black underclass and even snowflake Ivy League undergrads.
Now Donald Trump, in two speeches last week, indicated what the “conversation” should really be about––the destructive effects of progressive Democrat policies on too many black citizens: “No group in America has been more harmed by Hillary Clinton’s policies than African Americans. No group. No group. If Hillary Clinton's goal was to inflict pain to the African American community, she could not have done a better job. It is a disgrace.” Referring to the toll violent crime takes on blacks in “blue” cities, Trump said, “Detroit tops the list of most dangerous cities in terms of violent crime, number one. This is the legacy of the Democratic politicians who have run this city. This is the result of the policy agenda embraced by crooked Hillary Clinton.”
These policies started with Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs that gave people handouts rather than fostering self-reliance, hard work, and all the other virtues indispensable for success. Such largesse without responsibility or accountability can damage the character of any person of any race. Read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy for a moving account of how this malign dynamic has ravaged the Appalachian white underclass and their descendants. But it was especially damaging for black people, who had to overcome the lingering legacies of legal segregation and endemic racism. It is a tragic irony of history that a year after Jim Crow was dismantled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Great Society legislation began its destructive influence.
Also at that time the cultural revolution attacked traditional virtue in the name of “liberation” and individual “self-fulfillment.” Instead of impulse control, the queen of the virtues since the ancient Greeks, “if it feels good do it” became the highest good. All authority came under assault, all rules and laws transformed into instruments of “oppression.” Today this hedonistic ethic dominates popular culture, and disguised as “liberation” and “freedom” has infiltrated school curricula and government policy. Meanwhile churches, once the defender of traditional virtues, have lost their authority in the public square.
The sexual revolution was especially damaging, for it enabled the epidemic of out-of-wedlock births and single motherhood that have wrecked the black family. Middle-class whites have been affected as well, but proportionately more of them have the social and fiscal capital that gives them a better chance to survive this breakdown. For a long-oppressed minority dependent on virtue to help them take advantage of new opportunities, the consequences have been more severe.
Obviously, progressives have been at the forefront of both the entitlement expansion and cultural deconstruction, both of which serve the progressive ideology. The centralized technocratic state, like the tyrants and kings of old, seeks to delegitimize or eliminate the authority of mediating institutions––the church and family in particular. The state’s power comes from being the sole moral arbiter of behavior and values, so that its subjects can be shaped in ways that serves the aims and power of Leviathan. On a grubbier level, Democrats prefer an electorate of clients dependent on government largesse rather than a diverse, free, self-reliant citizenry whose interests and beliefs may conflict with those of the technocracy.
And here we come to the greatest irony of progressive racial ideology: rather than fostering equality and autonomy for blacks––and many whites too, for that matter––it has created dependence. But dependence exacts a price. As the African saying has it, “The hand that gives is always above the hand that receives.” Claiming to promote equality, progressives instead have institutionalized inequality. By clinging to the narrative of racial oppression as the “root cause” of problems in urban black communities, progressives reinforce the slander of black inferiority, for the victim is at some level inferior, lacking agency and doomed to suffer passively the aggression and injustice of his superior. Such people are always in need of high-minded white folks to reach down a hand and lift them up. That patronizing attitude sounds like real racism, particularly given how many progressive whites whose heart bleeds for oppressed blacks make sure they live in zip codes where they are unlikely to encounter any black who is not as credentialed and affluent as they.
Trump, then, is right about the failure of Barack Obama and the Democrats to improve life for those blacks suffering from Democrat misrule and government patronage. Larry Elder has summarized how Obama’s mishandling of the economy has impacted blacks:
The net worth of all non-white families has fallen almost 20 percent since Obama took office. For blacks, it’s even worse. The so-called black/white wealth gap is at a 25-year high––with black income down, homeownership down and equity down. From 2007 to 2010, blacks’ net worth declined 13.5 percent. But over the next three years––from 2010 through 2013––it plummeted another 34 percent.
Add in a black poverty level three times that of whites, and an unemployment race twice as high, and this record under Democrat rule gives credence to Trump’s appeal to the black vote, since as he said, “What have you got to lose” after eight years of Obama’s neglect?
This brings us to the other part of the conversation we need to have: the way many professional, financially comfortable blacks exploit the racist narrative to compensate for their own privilege and success that outstrip that of millions of white people. Obama, of course, is the prime culprit, but he is just the most visible example of a black leadership that rarely experiences the horrors of the inner city residents whose suffering they expropriate and leverage for social and political capital. Hence the outcry over “profiling,” or the endorsement of the lie that police murder blacks, or the anecdotes about the “talk” that sorrowful black fathers give their sons so they don’t get murdered by the police. This “talk” itself is evidence of their privilege, for in neighborhoods of any color in which encounters with police are common, you don’t need anybody to tell you not to challenge a cop. You learn that wisdom on the streets.
But if this privileged cadre of politicians, professors, news commentators, movie stars, athletes, pundits, and race-industry hustlers is to keep its leverage, they must be victims of white racism too, just like their “brothers” and “sisters” in the ‘hood. Thus the absurdity of people––many of whose ancestors feared violence and lynching just for “recklessly eyeballing” some white-trash slattern––who whine about “driving while black” or women clutching their purses tighter in an elevator. I guarantee you that a black person who lived under Jim Crow and the Klan would have thought he’d died and gone to heaven if the worse racial injustice he experienced was being pulled over by a traffic cop.
This is the conversation we need to have, one that challenges the narrative of widespread white racism so that we can identity the real sources of the problem––the hollowing out of the black family, the discrediting of traditional virtue, the scorning of self-reliance and impulse control, the attack on Christianity and tradition, the dysfunctional schools in thrall to teachers’ unions, and the callous indifference of Democrats and the self-appointed black “leadership” to the consequences of progressive ideology and character-killing government handouts. It’s sad to think that American blacks survived slavery, legal segregation, and Jim Crow oppression, only to have substantial numbers of them see their lot worsened by progressive politicians and others who find black misery too useful to change.