[BOOKS] The Poverty of Benevolence

Fifty years of the Great Society have made things worse for blacks, not better.

20140702-fsA half-century ago, the Great Society promised to complete the civil rights revolution by pulling African-Americans into the middle class. Today, a substantial black middle class exists, but its primary function has been, ironically, to provide custodial care to a black underclass—one ever more deeply mired in the pathologies of subsidized poverty.  In Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed”Jason Riley, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal who grew up in Buffalo, New York, explains how poverty programs have succeeded politically by failing socially. “Today,” writes Riley, “more than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Only 16 percent of black households are married couples with children, the lowest of any racial group in the United States.” Riley attributes the breakdown of the black family to the perverse effects of government social programs, which have created what journalist William Tucker calls “state polygamy.” As depicted in an idyllic 2012 Obama campaign cartoon, “The Life of Julia,” a lifelong relationship with the state offers the sustenance usually provided by two parents in most middle-class families.

“Today, more than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Only 16 percent of black households are married couples with children, the lowest of any racial group in the United States”

For City JournalFred Siegel writes: Riley’s own life experience gives him powerful perspective from which to address these issues. His parents divorced but both remained attentive to him and his two sisters. His sisters, however, were drawn into the sex-and-drug pleasures of inner-city “culture.” By the time he graduated from high school, his older sister was a single mother. By the time he graduated from college, his younger sister had died from a drug overdose. Riley’s nine-year-old niece teased him for “acting white.” “Why you talk white, Uncle Jason?” she wantedplease-stop-helping-book to know. She couldn’t understand why he was “trying to sound so smart.” His black public school teacher similarly mocked his standard English in front of the class. “The reality was,” Riley explains, “that if you were a bookish black kid who placed shared sensibilities above skin color, you probably had a lot of white friends.”

[Check out Jason Riley’s book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” at Amazon.com]

The compulsory “benevolence” of the welfare state, borne of the supposed expertise of sociologists and social planners, undermined the opportunities opened up by the end of segregation. The great hopes placed in education as a path to the middle class were waylaid by the virulence of a ghetto culture nurtured by family breakdown. Adjusted for inflation, federal per-pupil school spending grew 375 percent from 1970 to 2005, but revolt-massesthe achievement gap between white and black students remained unchanged. Students at historically black colleges and universitiesexplained opinion columnist Bill Maxwell, “did not know what or whom to respect. For many, the rappers Bow Wow and 50 Cent were as important to black achievement as the late Ralph Bunche, the first black to win a Nobel Peace Prize, and Zora Neale Hurston, the great novelist.”

[Also see Fred Siegel‘s book The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class” at Amazon.com]

“Why study hard in school,” asks Riley, “if you will be held to a lower academic standard? Why change antisocial behavior when people are willing to reward it, make excuses for it, or even change the law to accommodate it?” Read the rest of this entry »


This Day in History: Literary Legend Zora Neale Hurston Born, January 7th

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January 7, 1891: Writer Zora Neale Hurston is Born. From PBS:

Zora Neale Hurston was an African American writer known for her novels and collections of folklore. She was born on this day in 1891, in Eatonville, Florida, a town founded by African Americans. Hurston’s best-known novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937). The story sensitively portrays a young African American woman’s realization of her identity and independence. 

Editor’s Note: Less known, is the story that Hurston was a conservative thinker and writer (she wrote political op-ed columns late in life) and outspoken Republican. Zora was ahead of her time in challenging the grievance culture and ‘victim’ mentality of her socialist-leaning literary peers, valuing liberty, promoting self-reliance, advocating color-blind equality under the law, discouraging dependence, and swimming against the tide, during a time when black thinkers and writers were openly advocating the virtues of the emerging welfare state. Zora would have felt at home with modern anti race-baiting conservative critics.

On closer examination, however, Zora’s political affiliation, and alleged conservative ideology, is not a settled question. Was Zora Neale Hurston a conservative? It’s not as clear as my above comments would suggest. (I’ve read conflicting reports) In a review of a biography of Hurston, “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston NRO‘s Roger Clegg, in 2004, touches on this subject:

I will not argue that Hurston was a conservative — as Boyd says, “we don’t know” how she would have taken to Clarence Thomas — but there was much about her that conservatives should find endearing. She was anti-Communist (in 1951, she wrote an article for American Legion Magazine titled “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism”), patriotic (“My country, right or wrong,” she wrote in 1928), “a registered Republican” (not so unusual for African Americans not so very long ago) — who supported Robert Taft in his 1952 presidential bid and, in other elections, opposed Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Claude Pepper — and a proud Southerner.

But what is most refreshing is not so much her overt politics as her attitude toward race, and race relations — and the very fact that she was obsessed with neither. She was criticized by black activist authors like Richard Wright because she did not believe that African-American artists had a duty to advance some political agenda. W. E. B. DuBois had declared in 1926, “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.” So Hurston knew that “Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem,” but maintained nonetheless, “I was and am thoroughly sick of the subject. My interest lies in what makes a man or woman do such-and-so, regardless of his color.”

Read the rest of this entry »