Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Real Hope, Real Change

Over at The New Republic online, John McWhorter has written an interesting review of an important new book, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century by Amy Wax. Among the most interesting parts is his opening sentence: "This book is depressing because it is so persuasive." He continues:
There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation—that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.
Did I mention that McWhorter is himself black? This is why Ms. Wax's argument is, for him, not only persuasive, but depressing as well. But it needn't be.

Many of the cultural patterns that have developed within black America, those patterns, I mean, that have had the effect of continuing to hold a too large majority of them back, are reversible. Not easily, nor quickly, but reversible still, just not by deliberate acts of the government.

Imagine that the worst passing thought of the average black American were indeed true. That is, imagine that every, not most, but every single non-black person in the country held the entire black race in contempt, at least privately, if not overtly. I maintain that in spite of that very unlikely possibility, there still remains in this country, at this time, more opportunity for black advancement, material and otherwise, than in any other country, at any other time.

So why the relative lack of success in taking advantage of that opportunity? What is missing is not the good opinion of white America, nor an expression of that good opinion in government policy, but, rather, an act of the will. And, significantly, the leadership to inspire, encourage, and instruct that will. But it has to be the right kind of leadership.

There is a brief scene in Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X in which an idealistic young white girl approaches the hero played by Denzel Washington and asks him what she can do for the movement. His answer is abrupt and arresting: "Nothing." When I witnessed that scene, I cheered. Unfortunately, besides the internal corruption of the organization, which Lee does not shrink from exposing in the film, there was, and is, something wrong with the message of self-reliance as preached by the Nation of Islam. That message was, and remains, largely defined as a self-reliance from and against the white man. Insofar as this is true, it will continue to fail in its larger project.

(I can already hear some objecting. "Who are you, white boy, telling black people what is and what is not appropriate leadership?" Thereby making my point.)

As a conservative, it is part of my very constitution to know that government intervention is in almost every instance at best a necessary evil. That is, even when it's unavoidably necessary, it still distorts and corrupts any and all that it tries to achieve. Therefore, as a very strong rule, it is almost always best to simply get it out of the way.

McWhorter probably deserves his moment of depression on this issue. I do hope, however, that for the sake of the country it will not turn to despair. If he and other like-minded black leaders would use their considerable talents to provide the right kind of leadership, a leadership that forswears government solutions, then I'm convinced there awaits still a bright future for not just some, but all African-Americans. And thereby for every American.

(By the way, he includes one very brief personal anecdote in the review that tells me he's already doing yeoman's work for this cause. God bless him.)

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