Friday, February 20, 2009

Straight Talk

Attorney General Eric Holder has proclaimed that we are "cowards" for not discussing race more often. I think he is right, and Heather MacDonald gives many of the reasons why in "Nation of Cowards?" (City Journal,

Political correctness does not allow us to say that more blacks are in prison because more blacks commit crimes (83% of gun assailants in NYC, according to MacDonald, compared to their 24% of the population) and among other things, blacks do more poorly in school (close to a 50% high school drop out rate), score lower on even the new revised SAT tests, and, most tellingly, lead the nation in single mother births. As MacDonald suggests, conversation would be easier if honesty were permitted.

And beyond that, it is true that most middle class whites have little contact with blacks. This is not choice; it's demographics...where we work and, more importantly, where we live. And again, this is not necessarily today's choice, but the result of historical conditions, including bigotry. However, I don't think, if blacks are 20% of the population, it would be particularly wise to decree they occupy every fifth home on a street.

I had an older black man in composition class last year. He had been in prison and been a truck driver for many years and wanted to advance into a position in the computer area. He was a big, jovial man, who called me "Teach." But he made it clear that he didn't want to be the token black in the class and respond to readings with the black race's viewpoint. He wanted to be himself: loud, sometimes angry, mostly funny. He had no desire to be a black foil to white misconceptions, nor to affirm white guilt.

Race relations and conversation in this country will be improved when it's possible to say to any candidate, "You didn't get the job because you weren't qualified" or "You didn't get into Harvard because your academic record didn't justify admission." Along with that honesty, we need to change our schools (I believe we need affirmative action for poorly performing schools) so that all students, especially minorities, are encouraged and pushed to excel. Obviously, a lot of that push must come from the student's home, and having a father in the home is one of the most important factors to ensuring success in life.

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