Posts Tagged ‘Chicqago’

A Black Conservative Call for Racial Uplift Based on Entrepreneurship not Political Power

March 3, 2022

Jason L. Riley, False Black Power (West Conshoshocken: Templeton Press 2017).

This is another book analysing the plight of Black America from a Black conservative perspective. According to the book, Riley’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes for the Wall Street Journal and contributes to Fox News. But the book does quote statistics and sources, which means it’s almost certainly more trustworthy than that news network. When academics from the American universities reviewed Fox’s content, they found that people who took no news at all were better informed about the world than the people who watched Fox. America is indeed being ‘dumbed’ and Murdoch’s part of it. But this book is absolutely fascinating and, if accurate, is a much needed refutation of some of the myths about Black American history.

The introduction starts with an attack on the idea that the decline of the Black American family was caused by slavery. It’s true that slavery did destroy Black family life, as slave families were frequently split up, with fathers separated from their wives and children, children separated from the parents and so on. This, so the argument goes, has made it difficult for Black men to develop the necessary feelings of attachment to form permanent, two-parent families. As a result, most Black American families are single-parent, headed by the mothers. But Riley cites Herbert Gutman’s 1976 book, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925, examined a variety of sources to the show that the disruption of the slave family did not persist into emancipation. Looking at Confederate plantation records, the testimony of former slaves and the records of Black families in Buffalo and New York City, showed that from the second half of the 19th century to the 1920s, these communities were predominantly two-parent. In Buffalo between 1850 and 1920, the figure was 82 to 92 per cent. In New York in 1925 the figure was 85 per cent. (p. 5).

Riley’s argument is that the present poverty and misery experienced by many Black American communities cannot be blamed solely on racism and the legacy of enslavement. He and the authors he cites don’t deny that racism and discrimination exist, rather that the main cause of the present troubles of family breakdown, crime, unemployment and welfare dependency are due to the misplaced social programmes of the 1970s. Like Shelby Steele, he believes that Black Americans have taken the wrong road to uplift. Since the civil rights movement, they have concentrated on acquiring political power, resulting in the election across America of Black politicos, mayor and other officials. But these have not helped ordinary Blacks. He states at one point that Black politicians will ignore the underclass just to stay elected just as White politicos will, and cites a couple of scandals were Black politicians on their constituencies’ education boards were caught fiddling the exam results. He argues instead that Blacks should have followed the example of other impoverished communities, like the Chinese and Pennsylvania Germans, who eschewed acquiring political power in favour of economic uplift. He contrasts these groups with the 19th century Irish. These had political power, but nevertheless the Irish community itself remained poor and marginal.

Riley cites a number of other authors that show the explosion of Black entrepreneurialism after the end of slavery, as Blacks took over and entered a wide variety of professions. These scholars have argued that by the end of the 19th century Black communities also had their own business districts like White communities, as well as excellent schools. The 1913 Negro Almanac boasted of this achievement, comparing the capital accumulated by Blacks with that of the former Russian serfs. The former serfs had collectively $500 million in capital and a literacy rate of 30 per cent. Black Americans had $700 million and 70 per cent ‘had some education in books’. (74). In Chicago in 1885 there were 200 Black-owned businesses operating in 27 different fields. (75). And this trend continued, with the emergence in other areas of a small, but significant Black clerical class. At the same time, the number of Black Americans owning their own homes increased massively. Black prosperity increased during the years of the two World Wars,, when Blacks took on White jobs. They were still below that of Whites, but were catching up. As were Blacks in education. Blacks typically left school four years before Whites. But as the 20th century went on, this fell to two. Between 1950 and 1960 the number of Black doctors, lawyers and social workers expanded so that in 1953 a real estate journal called Blacks ‘the newest middle class’. (77). But this professional, educational and economic rise and expansion somehow came to an end in the 1970s.

At the same time, Riley cites the statistics to show that the American cops are not gun-happy racists bent on shooting Blacks. Rather, a study by Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, found that Blacks are 23.8 per cent less like than Whites to be shot by the police. (63). As for New York’s stop and frisk policy, that was shown to stop Blacks 20-30 per cent below the appearance of Blacks in the description of suspects.(64). As for police shootings, these fell massively in New York from 1971 to 2015. In the former year, the cops shot 314 people, killing 93. In 2015 they shot 23 people, of whom 8 were killed. (65). He also notes instances where there was still friction between the Black community and police even when the town’s leaders and senior police officers were Black.

On a less serious note, he talks about the Barbershop films and their unsparing, humorous look into the condition of Black America. Set in a Black barbershop and with a majority Black cast, these films showed Blacks making jokes at the expense of revered leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, decrying their kids’ fashion sense – trousers being worn low on the hips to expose the buttocks – and worrying about gangster culture and Black on Black violence. This upset Black activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, but Riley maintains that they nevertheless accurately reflected the way Blacks talk when Whites aren’t around. The same concerns are held by many other Blacks, including one mayor, Nutter, who gave a similar speech at a Black church. He advised people not to dress in a threatening manner if they wanted anyone, of any race, respect them, and called for the kids to work hard at school and pull their trousers up. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, chanting ‘Buy a belt! But a belt!’ But his speech was angrily attacked by Black liberals because it didn’t reflect their priorities of blaming everything on racism. Riley also described the way Obama was often pilloried for his outspoken comments about poor standards in the Black community, while playing the race card himself. Riley also argues that the decline in Black educational standards also has its roots in dysfunctional attitudes among Black youth. If you’re too nerdy or bookish in these communities, you’re going to pilloried for ‘acting White’. This is a controversial position, but, Riley argues, the evidence for it is convincing and solid.

Despite being written from a conservative viewpoint, there are aspects of the book that can also be embraced by those on the left. Firstly, the expansion of Black businesses, jobs, and professions after slavery demonstrate that Black America is as talented as every other racial group in America. I found it a convincing refutation of the genetic argument that states that Black poverty and lack of achievement is somehow because Blacks are, on average, biologically intellectually inferior to Whites and Asians. And the argument that Blacks achieved more when they had stable, two-parent families, would have strongly appealed to a section of the British Labour party. British socialism was influenced, it has been said, more by Protestant, Methodist nonconformity than Karl Marx. Years ago the Spectator reviewed a book on the reading habits of the British working class. They found that the favourite reading matter of a solid working class Welsh community in the teens or twenties of the last century was the Bible.

Much more questionable is the apparent link between the affirmative action programmes of the 1970s and the persistence of Black poverty. Riley doesn’t anywhere show why or how they failed, and correlation is not causation. Just because their introduction was in a period of economic decay and impoverishment for Blacks doesn’t mean that they caused it. And I wondered how much of the decline was due to general, structural changes in the American economy that have also badly affected Whites. For example, Bristol used to have a flourishing print industry. There still are printers in the city, but the industry has declined considerably from what it was and many of those skilled jobs have been lost, along with those in other industries. Many Brits and Americans were hit hard by the oil crisis of the 1970s and the consequent recession and unrest. Thatcher, and then Blair, favoured the financial sector over manufacturing, which destroyed many working class jobs. And then there’s the whole nasty complex of welfare cuts, outsourcing, zero-hours contracts and wage freezes that have kept working people in Britain poor. And the same situation is true in America. This impoverishment and economic restructuring is going to hit Blacks especially hard as the Black community is poorer and less affluent. And I don’t doubt for a single minute that there are problems causes unique to the Black community, of which racism is going to be one.

But this is nevertheless a fascinating and important book, and I think it should have its place in schools if they’re teaching Critical Race Theory. That pernicious doctrine holds that Blacks are being held back solely by White privilege, in which all Whites benefit. The government recently stated that teachers must present controversial ideas impartially and was duly denounced by activist groups and the left for doing so. But I believe the truth in this issue lies somewhere between both sides, and that, if these ideas are being taught, children should be exposed to both sets or arguments. And then make their minds up.

And then, after hearing a variety of viewpoints, we might be more successful in creating a more equal society and truly enabling Black achievement.