The movement's latest epitaph.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The Civil Rights movement is dead. This noble effort to align the nation’s laws with the belief that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” was a time when brave black men and women, most of them Christians armed only with the power of faith and principle, endured violence and invective with dignity and grace. Now the Movement is nothing other than a wholly owned subsidiary of Progressivism Inc., a special interest outfit shilling for divisive identity politics that benefits only well-heeled black activists, professors, pundits, Congressmen, government workers, athletes, rap stars, and actors who all live with more privilege and wealth than most of America’s “privileged” whites.
The latest epitaph for the Movement is the spectacle of cheap moral preening by NFL players. Most of them multimillionaires, they have taken up the cause of the racist group Black Lives Matter, and now are disrespecting the flag by kneeling during the national anthem. BLM, of course, is predicated on a lie easily disproven that America’s police are targeting black males for extra-legal execution, and that persistent racism and “white privilege” are holding back millions of black people.
No matter that since 1968, police shootings of blacks have declined nearly 75%. That police are statistically more likely to shoot unarmed whites. That most of the quick-drawing police are blacks and Hispanics. Or that a black male is many times more likely to die at the hands of another black male: almost 8,000 black men died in 2016, 90% killed by other black men. For rich and privileged athletes and actors, honoring this blatant lie is a way to assert their racial solidarity with a demographic they have no intention of spending more than five minutes, if any, being around.
Meanwhile, black rates of intact marriages, homicide, unemployment, college attendance and graduation, drug use, and poverty continue to be terrible, despite trillions spent on Great Society programs, a Black Congressional Congress, and eight years of a black president who left office with all these indicators of black well-being worse than when he entered.
So what happened?
Short answer: the Sixties happened. Way back in 1993 Myron Magnet in The Dream and the Nightmare laid out the reasons, building on Patrick Moynihan’s prescient and reviled 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” As Magnet explains, the woes of the black underclass reflected the dysfunctional cultural effects afflicting the poor both white and black: these “Have-nots”
Lack the inner resources to seize the chance, and they pass on to their children a self-defeating set of values and attitudes, along with an impoverished intellectual and emotional development, that generally imprisons them in failure as well. Three, sometimes four generations have made the pathology that locks them in––school-leaving, nonwork, welfare dependency, crime, drug abuse and the like.
Neither race nor racism nor “white privilege” explains this decades-long dysfunction. Rather, federal and state programs funded by redistributed wealth finance and perpetuate this generational failure. So the Race Industry argument that endemic racism perpetuates black underclass misery is fallacious. But despite this mendacious narrative, it is institutionalized in federal welfare agencies, whose workers and politically appointed administrators serve their partisan and professional interests in seeing these programs expand. Meanwhile they justify these policies by evoking the misery of the black underclass who have lived for years in deep-blue Democrat-run cities that have done little or nothing to help the people they profess to serve.
But what happened that led to the attack on the virtues necessary for improving one’s lot? Two massive changes, Magnet writes, in “the majority culture’s beliefs about the nature of democratic society and the poor’s place in it,” changes that “had momentous consequences for the worst-off.” Magnet identifies the emphasis on “personal liberation,” which in turn had two manifestations: the sexual revolution and the Sixties counterculture. Both denigrated and abandoned traditional morality and “bourgeois virtues” like self-control, hard work, personal responsibility, and delayed gratification. And this rejection of the very virtues necessary for the Have-Nots to improve their lives was abetted by those government welfare programs, which subsidized the destructive lifestyles that perpetuated a dysfunctional culture.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley recently summarized the data showing how drastically black well-being has deteriorated since the Sixties:
Between 1890 and 1940, for example, black marriage rates in the U.S. were higher than white marriage rates. In the 1940s and ’50s, black labor-participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970—that is, during Jim Crow and prior to the era of affirmative action—the number of blacks in middle-class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were narrowing. Steady progress was being made. Blacks today hear plenty about what they can’t achieve due to the legacy of slavery and not enough about what they did in fact achieve notwithstanding hundreds of years in bondage followed by decades of legal segregation.
In the post-’60s era, these positive trends would slow, stall, or in some cases even reverse course. The homicide rate for black men fell by 18% in the 1940s and by another 22% in the 1950s. But in the 1960s all of those gains would vanish as the homicide rate for black males rose by nearly 90%. Are today’s black violent-crime rates a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow or of something else? Unfortunately, that’s a question few people on the left will even entertain.
For some blacks, however, this sick dynamic of cultural decline subsidized by the federal government has benefited the Race Industry and its foundational narrative. The elevating of racism into the prime mover of black underclass misery––despite the dismantling of legal segregation, the creation of affirmative action programs, and trillions in redistributed wealth––lets comfortable or affluent blacks, who have benefited the most from these improvements, off the hook for not supporting policies that would help their “brothers” and “sisters” rather than perpetuate their plight. Moreover, the black underclass’s misery and dysfunction are vital for deflecting attention away from the social and fiscal privilege of the well-heeled pundit, professor, musician, actor, or athlete. Just put your fingers in your ears and holler “racism” over and over, even though the brutal and vicious manifestations of racism––lynchings, night-riders, racial pogroms, legal segregation–– were eliminated or reduced to anomalies by the late 20th century.
Hence the need to redefine “racism” into ever subtler or even invisible forms: “subconscious racism,” or “institutional racism,” or “systematic racism” or “white privilege,” or “profiling,” all backed by dubious concepts like “dog whistles,” the subjective interpretation of certain words like “crime” or “Chicago” to uncover their racist appeal; or “disparate impact,” the simplistic notion that statistical racial disparities in, say, traffic stops or home mortgages, all reflect racism.
Most reprehensible is the intellectual and moral idiocy of thinking that the suffering of one’s ancestors creates an endless debt owed to someone who didn’t endure the suffering, or that “white people,” even if they are not the descendants of those responsible for slavery or segregation or Jim Crow, should forever pay that debt. In reality, that suffering belongs to those who experienced it, and the responsibility lies with those who inflicted it. Human suffering is not capital that you inherit with your genes and then endlessly spend on leveraging social and political advantage.
Barack Obama was a product of this duplicitous racial narrative. So it’s no surprise that rather than improving “black lives” that are supposed to “matter,” the Obama administration did nothing but exploit racial rhetoric for political gain. Democrats join in, because black voters are their most reliable constituency and clients for the big-government programs the Dems love. Also, accusing Republicans of racism is their go-to political smear.
But the election of Trump exploded the triumphalist narrative that changing demographics would create a perpetual Democrat majority that endorses the canard of perpetual racism. Trump’s victory, and the unhinged response of progressives to it, has set off a reaction by many voters against the constant hectoring and smearing of whites and conservatives. The obviously self-serving lies of the Civil Rights Industry and its subsidiaries like Black Lives Matter have become so blatant; the hypocrisy of privileged blacks has become so unseemly; the cruelty of progressive exploitation of the social misery of blue-city blacks has become so disgusting; and the abandonment of the professed goal of a color-blind society that does not judge people on the basis of superficial appearances, has become so reprehensible, that many Americans are fed up, and glad to have found a politician who fights back.
And now this habit of exploiting a divisive racialist rhetoric, at the same time that its practitioners do little to effect real change or improvement, has finally reached into sports. This one-time refuge from politics, one of our few public spaces where merit and performance matters more than race or ethnicity, has been polluted. Whether such antics continue, or whether the NFL’s profit margin begins to shrink and the owners discredit this false racial narrative, will tell us whether or not we might have a chance to revive the noble goal of the Civil Rights Movement: to judge people on their individual merits, characters, and actions rather than a bogus racial identity based on physical appearance and preposterous racial melodramas. Only then will we start improving the dismal lot of all those, whatever their color, damaged by the cultural and political dysfunctions spawned by the Sixties.