by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine
The race-hack usual subjects recently attacked Congressman Paul Ryan for stating that the problems plaguing the poor––incarceration, fatherless children, drug abuse, rampant violence, and welfare-dependence–– are a consequence of a dysfunctional culture that scorns marriage, parenthood, education, work, and virtues like self-control. Given that blacks are overrepresented among the underclass, these unexceptional observations––regularly made by others, including Barack Obama––called down a firestorm of racialist invective on Ryan. The abuse ranged from the usual clichés about “blaming the victim” and racist “dog-whistles,” to a New York Times columnist accusing Ryan of being as callous as the Brits were about the 19th century Irish famine. Such ad hominem calumny suggests that somebody’s ox is being gored and doesn’t like it.
The overfed “ox,” of course, is the race industry and its enablers in the federal Leviathan. It’s understandable why these grievance-mongers want to deflect attention away from Ryan’s message. Since the rise of identity politics and anti-poverty programs in the 60s, the plight of the black underclass has worsened, even as the self-selected race tribunes––professors, “activists,” lobbyists, government employees, celebrities, politicians––have flourished. Given that the moral capital financing the race industry comes from the misery and suffering of underclass blacks, race-grievance entrepreneurs must ward off solutions to those problems that challenge the narrative justifying their own power.
That narrative is simple: white racism explains the epidemic of black-on-black murder, children without fathers, lack of education, and dependence on the government dole. Since Klan-style racist violence and Jim Crow legal racism have disappeared, “racism” has to be redefined in ever more subtle manifestations like “institutional racism.” The best example of this scam is the “disparate impact” standard for identifying racism, a favorite of the current Department of Justice. By this metric, a mere statistical imbalance in minority participation in car loans or home mortgages is a sign of racism even if no intent can be proven or even identified. This kind of thinking led to the federal regulations pressuring lenders to lower qualifying standards for home loans, which was a major factor in the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession of 2008. The hysteria over “profiling” is another example of this racialist voodoo. Even if a group is overrepresented among perpetrators of a crime, identifying suspects from that group when such a crime occurs is automatically racist.
The biggest victims of the narrative, of course, are those minorities who bear the brunt of the misguided programs and illiberal ideologies that buttress the race industry. The some 80 anti-poverty programs have created well-paying federal and state jobs for bureaucrats and enriched public employee unions, at the same time they reward dysfunctional behavior and punish the hardworking. Rather than gaining the self-respect and sense of achievement that comes from earning one’s daily bread by one’s own efforts, the clients of what Robert Woodson calls the “poverty-industrial complex” are kept mired in dependence, the passive recipients of largess from above, traumatized victims who, like children, must be taken care of by somebody more capable. In short, their inferiority is institutionalized by government social welfare agencies, and rationalized by the “white racism” narrative that excuses bad behavior and absolves those indulging it of all responsibility. Meanwhile the public employee unions deliver millions in campaign contributions to the politicians that work night and day maintaining and expanding these programs, despite their 70-year record of worsening the problems they have spent trillions of tax-payer dollars attempting to solve.
Yet the identity politics at the heart of the narrative is even more destructive because it is more insidious. At the same time that civil rights legislation and the dismantling of de jure segregation were achieved––clearing away the impediments to access to the opportunities created by the post-war expanding economy and shifting social mores––a new de facto segregation appeared in the promotion of an illiberal “black identity” the essence of which was separate and distinct from that of white people. This mythic identity embodied old cultural-Marxist critiques of the soul-killing, inhibited, sexually repressive, “air-conditioned nightmare” of white middle class American life, fused with race-hatred and the sick glamor of revolutionary violence. Elite left-wing whites enthusiastically embraced the version of black identity, for they despised a middle class they had long characterized as rubes and squares inferior to the cultural mandarins safely ensconced in tony neighborhoods and prestigious professions into which black street-rebels rarely ventured. The problem, of course, is that the virtues and habits needed for success––delayed gratification, self-control of appetite, self-discipline, and education in the skills and mores valued by the larger culture––were stigmatized as “acting white” and the acts of race betrayal.
Worse yet, this new identity was in many respects simply the recycling of the old vicious stereotypes racists had used to justify segregation and second-class status for blacks. Those slanders had characterized blacks as less rational, less able to control their impulses of sex and violence, and utterly incapable of the development of mind and character necessary for full inclusion in the dominant culture. Listen to Norman Mailer, in his influential 1957 essay “The White Negro,” reversing the poles of these stereotypes from negative to positive. Scorning bourgeois “conformity and depression,” Mailer admires the black “rebel” and “frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life,” who free of the “sophisticated inhibitions of civilization” lives “in an enormous present,” subsisting “for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body.” The old racist “jungle instincts” had been transformed into black “soul,” and tropes of black inferiority once propagated in every Klan Klavern came to comprise authentic black identity.
For disaffected whites whose social and economic privilege were secure, a black man who dressed like middle-class Americans, spoke like them, and lived by the same codes and virtues became a figure to be mocked and despised, not encouraged and praised. As a result, today comfortable whites enjoy pop-cultural caricatures of black people as glamorous gangsters and rebels who disdain the codes and protocols of respectable society, the very tools necessary for economic advancement. Meanwhile, more blacks are murdered by other blacks in one year than were lynched by racist mobs between 1882 and 1968, more black babies in New York are aborted than are born, nationally black unemployment remains twice as high as white, 1 in 3 black men will go to prison in their lifetime, the black high school graduation rate is 12 points lower than white, black male college graduation rates are nearly 25 points lower than other students––by almost every measure of social and economic well-being from infant mortality to longevity, blacks lag behind whites despite nearly 70 years and trillions of dollars worth of programs that were supposed to improve these dismal statistics.
Rather than rhetorically kill messengers like Paul Ryan, those truly concerned with these problems need to address the genuine racism holding back millions of black people: a dysfunctional culture created by the unholy marriage of government social welfare entitlements and the self-interested identity politics of race hacks.