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The Conservative Curmudgeon
September 3, 2013

The State of Race Relations 50 Years After the March on Washington
by Allan C. Brownfeld
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ALEXANDRIA, VA — As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s landmark "I Have a Dream" speech, many assessments are being made of the state of race relations in contemporary America.

Michelle Norris, a special correspondent for National Public Radio and director of the Race Card Project, notes, "In some ways, the America of today has even exceeded what he (Dr. King) allowed himself to envision. Fifty years after King delivered his speech, another black man will stand at the Lincoln Memorial to address the masses -- this time at a lectern embellished with a presidential seal. And the crowd assembled to hear Barack Obama will include women, minorities, and immigrants who have climbed a ladder of upward mobility that simply did not exist five decades ago. There will also be people in that crowd who can look into their own past and remember a time when they once enforced or embraced segregation, not necessarily out of hatred but because that is just the way it was."

What would Dr. King think if he were to walk among us today? At the present time, there have been some who, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, proclaim that race relations are little better than in the 1950s. Those voicing such sentiments are, in effect, asking us to choose between their self-serving proclamations and what we see daily as we proceed through our increasingly multiracial and multicultural society. Others have been advancing the theme of limited opportunities and a growing "wealth gap" between the races.

   

Fifty years after the March on Washington, we have a black president, a host of black CEOs, growing black middle and upper classes, and unlimited opportunities for those who are prepared to obtain the education and skills to take advantage of them.

 

Michele Norris points out "Since the mid-1970s, the unemployment rate for blacks has consistently been roughly double the unemployment rate for whites. Even the concept of wealth is relative when assessed in black and white terms... Eighty five percent of black and Latino households have a net worth that falls below the median wealth for white households."

Some commentators have gone so far as to proclaim that the American dream of economic mobility is dead — or at least fading. It has been documented, for example, that countries in Northern Europe do a better job of moving poor people up the economic ladder than we do. And some impute a racial component to this disparity.

The explanation or the gap in wealth between the races may be more complex. A study conducted by Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley found that social capital plays a large role. Cities with strong families, civic support groups, and a community service orientation do well on social and economic mobility. Thus, Salt Lake City — dominated by Mormons — has mobility levels similar to those in Denmark. The U.S. scores lower on mobility, according to this study, because it has more broken families and single parents.
    
Today, President Obama and others have expressed concern about the racial gap in wealth creation and mobility. Valerie Jarrett, one of the president's senior advisers, says, "He wants to create opportunities and to make sure the level playing field is ready for everybody. If you look at poverty or unemployment, they disproportionately affect people of color. People who don't have health insurance are disproportionately of color. There is inevitably an overlap in addressing racial equality at the same time you're trying to create economic empowerment."

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, says, "If you look at 50 years after the 1960s civil rights movement, the most stubborn and persistent challenge when it comes to the nation's racial challenge remains in the areas of economics and wealth."
 
William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor whose writings on race have influenced the president, declares, "If you don't have skills or a decent education in this global economy, your chances for mobility are limited. The problem is especially acute for low-skilled black males, and many turn to crime and end up in prison, which further marginalizes them and decreases their employment opportunities."

Fifty years after the March on Washington, we have a black president, a host of black CEOs, growing black middle and upper classes, and unlimited opportunities for those who are prepared to obtain the education and skills to take advantage of them. It is a fact that in today's America, an individual, regardless of race or ethnic background, can go as far as his or her ability will permit.

 

…we have a large black underclass, high prison incarceration rates, and a growing gap in the accumulation of wealth.

 

And, at the same time, we have a large black underclass, high prison incarceration rates, and a growing gap in the accumulation of wealth.

The question is: why is this the case? Is it the result of lingering white racism, as some suggest, or is the cause more complex? If we do not assess a problem correctly, after all, we are unlikely to resolve it.

    Walter Williams, the respected black economist, argues, "If we put ourselves in the shoes of racists who seek to sabotage black upward mobility, we couldn't develop a more effective agenda than that followed by civil rights organizations, black politicians, academics, liberals, and the news media. First, weaken the black family, but don't blame it on individual choices. You have to preach that today's weak black family is a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism."

Walter Wms.Walter Willams

 

In New York City in 1925, 85 percent of black households were two-parent households. A study of family structure in Philadelphia in 1880 shows that three-quarters of black families were two-parent households.

 

In fact, Williams points out, black female-headed households were just 18 percent in 1950 as opposed to about 68 percent today. From 1890 to 1940, the black marriage rate was slightly higher than that of whites. Even during slavery, where marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. In New York City in 1925, 85 percent of black households were two-parent households. A study of family structure in Philadelphia in 1880 shows that three-quarters of black families were two-parent households.

At present time, Williams writes, "The poverty rate among blacks is 36 percent. Most black poverty is found in female-headed households. The poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits since 1994 and is around 8 percent today. The black illegitimacy rate is 75 percent — and in some cities, 90 percent. But if that's a legacy of slavery, it must have skipped several generations, because in the 1940s unwed births hovered around 14 percent. Along with decline of the black family comes anti-social behavior manifested by high crime rates. Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims. Using the 94 percent figure means that 262,621were murdered by other blacks. Although blacks are 13 percent of the nation's population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, more than 20 times that of whites.

To those who are calling for a national "conversation" about race, Walter Williams asks:  "Tell me how a conversation with white people is going to stop black predators from preying upon blacks. How is such a conversation going to eliminate the 75 percent illegitimacy rate? What will such a conversation do about the breakdown of the black family, and even the term breakdown is not the correct word. The family doesn't form in the first place. Only black people can solve our problems."
    
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is a time to commemorate how far our nation has come. Those who remember the years of segregation marvel at the state of race relations today. None of this is to say that problems no longer exist. Many do, as they are always likely to be manifested in a society composed of imperfect human beings. But some racial gaps that are attributed to "racism" are really far more complex. It is time to celebrate the progress we have made and move forward with a real understanding of the nature of the problems that persist.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2013 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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