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credit: news.nationalpost.com

credit: news.nationalpost.com

Much, of late, has been written about the plight of the black family, “the black family” commonly being a generalized and compressed version of familial dysfunction centered in dysfunctional urban areas ruled for generations by equally dysfunctional Democrat political machines, at least some of which politicians are themselves black. Such analyses usually ignore the fact that more blacks than ever before live solidly middle class lives and are well integrated into society, living as fully accepted, productive Americans who just happen to be black. There is, however, no question, that obscenely large portions of the black population of the United States are mired in various miseries. The reasons bandied about for this state of affairs tends to fall under two broad categories: (1) It’s the fault of historic discrimination; or (2) large numbers of black people continue to make horrifically bad choices.

Comes now Steve Chapman, writing at Reason.com, whose article is titled: “The Black Family in 1965 and Today,” and subtitled “Poor black neighborhoods are not the unassisted creation of poor black people, but largely the malignant result of factors beyond their control, which subtitle leaves little doubt about Chapman’s point of view, though he does make some concessions to the idea of personal responsibility:

Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.”

Chapman invokes Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an influential liberal who, in 1965 and thereafter, dared to suggest that black people bore significant responsibility for their faulty choices, and those choices had destructive consequences.

He was accused of blaming the victim, but he was onto something important. Today, Moynihan, later a liberal Democratic senator, is invoked by conservatives to explain why African-Americans’ progress has been so slow.

Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, claims that ‘family structure offers a much more plausible explanation of these outcomes than does residual white racism.’ Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is more blunt. ‘The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family,’ he said last year. ‘White people don’t force black people to have babies out of wedlock.

O’Reilly’s observation would seem to be not only true, but entirely accurate beyond a Dan Ratherian doubt. Chapman, however, will allow only partial credit:

They’re right, up to a point. It’s far from optimal for 72 percent of black children to be born out of wedlock. Social ills would diminish if there were more stable, two-parent black households.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s incomplete. Worse, it’s often used to gloss over intractable realities that continue to hinder black progress.

It’s true that whites don’t force blacks to have children out of wedlock. But it’s wrong to suggest that whites bear no responsibility. Poverty is often the result of lack of access to good jobs or any jobs, and discrimination by employers didn’t stop in 1965—and hasn’t stopped yet.

The impact of drug laws, and the harsher treatment black men get from the criminal justice system, means that many have records that scare employers away. But research indicates that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get interviews than blacks without criminal records.

A lot of the well-paid blue-collar jobs once abundant in cities have vanished. Moynihan lamented that unemployment had long been much higher for black men than for whites, and the gap is bigger today.

Without decent jobs, these men are not likely to be able to find wives or support families. They are not likely to get married or stay married. If family breakdown causes poverty, poverty also causes family breakdown.

“It’s far from optimal for 72 percent of black children to be born out of wedlock.” Chapman establishes himself as the master of understatement, not only in that, but in observing things would be better for society were that horrific number much, much smaller. Yet, whites are responsible. Why? Blacks can’t get good jobs, there are unspecified drug laws, and black criminality exists. All of this is the fault of whites.

The Civil Rights Movement was one of the most successful in history. It attained all of its goals. One may argue that racism and discrimination still exist, but this is essentially arguing that unless absolute perfection is achieved, not only through legislation but through a complete and flawless transformation of human nature into something other than human nature, society has not been meaningfully changed and blacks must always be oppressed. Clearly, by any rational measure, the kind of oppression Chapman cites is all but extinct. Actual racists are rightfully treated as social pariahs, and more than sufficient state and federal law exists to guarantee more than adequate redress of legitimate grievances. Under Barack Obama, the Department of Justice is hyper sensitive to any discrimination—even if it does not exist–and more than willing to pursue legal action in favor of blacks (though not against whites).

Racial discrimination in employment is against the law and has been for decades, yet Chapman claims such discrimination to be a major factor without a shred of proof. To whatever degree black men receive harsher treatment in the criminal justice system, it is because black men, particularly young black men, commit crimes in numbers far out of proportion to their numbers in the population, and when they come before a judge, for drug or other offenses, they are far more likely to be felony repeat defenders than the members of other races. This is not evidence of discrimination, but of a criminal justice system functioning properly to separate the most dangerous criminals from society.

The “abundant blue collar jobs,” that have fled from the cities have done so primarily as a result of Democrat policies and regulations that have made it far too expensive to start and prosper in a small business. In addition, the same leftist policies have stymied effective crime prevention and law enforcement and the resulting astronomic rates of crime—again, mostly perpetrated by young black men—have also driven out businesses. Add in welfare benefits of various kinds that make it possible for people to not only survive, but to live a reasonably middle class life without work, and the very conditions Chapman decries are a foregone conclusion.

Chapman’s suggestion that whites with criminal records are favored for employment over blacks without criminal records is as simplistic and incomplete as the realities Chapman ridicules. Far more goes into any hiring decision than race and criminal history. There is an enormous difference between a misdemeanor record and a felony record, and such qualities as perceived reliability, references, education, appearance, and one’s in-person presentation, matter greatly.

During my days as a police supervisor responsible for hiring, it was common to deal with people not only oblivious to personal hygiene, but unqualified in every way. People applied for police jobs while obviously drunk or stoned, and some actually tried to borrow money from me, not only a stranger, but a ranking police officer. Where such people were concerned, race was utterly irrelevant; they weren’t going to get jobs on this planet in this reality.

The concentration of poverty in inner cities means many black children are exposed daily to crime and violence. Their turbulent environment makes it harder for them to acquire habits of discipline and self-restraint.

Why are these children living in the inner city? Whose choices, exactly, have exposed them to crime and violence? Are these not choices—independent choices—of their parents or caretakers? Is crime and violence an inevitable result of poverty? If so, how do we explain the entirely non-violent and non-criminal lives of the poor of other races, and indeed, of many blacks? Is it possible to admit that inner city black society is, by its very nature and by the choices of its denizens, inherent violent and criminal? Are black people forced to remain in degrading, dangerous environments; in this too are they helpless, the generational victims of whites?

It’s tempting to blame African-American social ills on the modern welfare state, which allegedly breeds idleness. But most poor black households are poor despite having at least one adult who works. The welfare reform of the 1990s, which induced many recipients to take jobs, didn’t reverse the decline of marriage.

“One adult who works.” This is probably true if we define “works” as “occasionally holds a job for long enough to get booze or drug money.” As to whether the welfare state “allegedly breeds idleness,” I can testify, as one who worked that beat for nearly two decades, that it does, or at least, contributes mightily to it. But Chapman also demonstrates the statist’s reliance on government. Reforming welfare “didn’t reverse the decline of marriage.” Again, this is only one factor in a far more complex issue, but we can be sure that removing incentives to stable marriages does not encourage stable marriages.

It is Bill O’Reilly, not Chapman, who is entirely right. Black people are no different than any other race in one vital respect: they can choose to procreate. No one, not even white people, is forcing them to have unprotected sex, multiple times with multiple different partners. They can choose to use birth control, unless of course, like the bizarrely entitled Sandra Fluke, they expect government to fully subsidize their contraceptive needs and wishes. Out of wedlock births, and their inevitable consequences in the black community, occur for the most part because black men and women choose not to use contraception, which is not only universally available in a wide variety of methods, but is inexpensive, and in many cases and places, free for the asking.

Unfortunately, this too is a significant part of the actual problem. Culture matters. Black culture, particularly in the inner city, is particularly dysfunctional. Not only do men choose to procreate without contraception, many consider it unmanly to do otherwise–having multiple children by multiple women is a sign of manhood–and too many women do not demand responsible behavior on the part of their men.

How do we explain the success of Asians who come to America as poor as the poorest black? How are they able to leave nations to travel to safer and more prosperous places, yet blacks cannot? How do we explain the greater success of poor Hispanics and other cultures if white prejudice and oppression, rather than the determinative effects of culture, matter most?

Chapman and others can continue to blame the degraded existence of far too many black people on unnamed, unspecified whites stretching back hundreds of years, but ultimately, each and every American must take responsibility for themselves. If not, what new law, what sensitivity training class, what new federal bureaucracy or rule will make the slightest difference? How long must Americans who harbor not the least animosity toward anyone be blamed for the sins of ancestors they never knew and with whose beliefs they would absolutely disagree? At what point, and by what methods can oppression that hasn’t existed for the better part of a half-century be wiped away?

Merely being born black–or of any race–does not doom one to poverty, crime and squalor. Making the serial bad choices that would destroy the lives of anyone of any race does.