Compiled by Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate editor
Author of Someone Else’s House
What’s next for black America? Blacks — and concerned whites — could do worse this Black History Month than listen to Frederick Douglass. Though remembered as an advocate of political reform — abolition, universal suffrage — Douglass also championed what might be called a developmental approach to black progress. “What are the colored people doing for themselves?” he asked in 1848. “We will rise or fall, succeed or fail, by our own merits.” Today, 150 years later, this is still true. Closing the school performance gap, reducing disproportionate black-on-black crime rates, incubating the small businesses that offer the only hope of healing the ghetto: whites cannot do these things for blacks — and the sooner our politics comes to terms with this, the better. As is, the civil-rights establishment is still blaming whites — and counting on them for change — while the Democratic party shamelessly fans this resentful dependence. George Bush has a better idea: the paramount civil rights issue is education. As Douglass wrote: “What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice…if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall…. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!”
National spokesperson, Congress for Racial Equality
What is next for black America?” With the current political and personal crisis visiting Jesse Jackson and the post-election chaos of Florida, this question becomes extraordinary. The phrase that best describes black America today comes out of a Charles Dickens book, A Tale of Two Cities. “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times”. Black America by most indicators is better off economically and politically, than it has ever been. The great human drama, that started in 1619 when the first slaves arrived on American (U.S.) soil, of liberation has been won. Contrary to the professional grievance mongers, no black person on the planet has more control over their economic, political and cultural destiny than the black American of the 21st century. This is truly the best of times. Yet, black America is at a crossroads. There are problems on the horizon that threaten to undermine all the progress we’ve made. There is a litany of negative social pathologies (i.e.: illegitimacy rate, education gap, aids crisis, murder rate, et.) that one could dwell on. The worse manifestations of affirmative action have caused a great deal of white resentment and racial tension. It has also has moved the moral pendulum away from most civil-rights issues/leaders. But the “big enchilada” of problems would have to be the self-segregation culturally and politically of black America. This problem accentuates the aforementioned problems and obstructs discovery of real solutions.
Today blacks (even affluent) seem more intent than ever on viewing themselves through the prism of race as opposed to seeing themselves as individuals. The rise in popularity of racial demagogues like Al Sharpton and the comfort by which white politicians employ these leaders and their tactics (i.e. the former vice president’s 3/5ths a person campaign speech) reveals a terrible truth. Black and white leaders alike have more of an investment in racial politics and race baiting about problems in the black community than in actually finding solutions. The well-oiled Democratic/liberal fear machine of the recent Presidential campaign and post-campaign has politically isolated the black community in an unprecedented way.
The hip-hop cultural devolution now threatens white as well as black America. “Stars” like Eminem, the “white gangsta” rapper, celebrate and glorify negative social pathologies rather than attack them. In the minds of far too many children (black and non-black) Eminem is more of a “brother” than Secretary of State Colin Powell. This is the daunting difficulty that our new President has to face. With his education and faith based initiatives he has started to attack many problems. He has started to reach out to various community leaders. He’s even met with the Black Congressional Caucus. But for black America to truly be liberated from her self-imposed segregation the president and Congress must not undermine their friends in the minority community. They must identify and support true allies; allies that will not be compromised, allies who aren’t afraid of the fight ahead and allies who will fight the fight with their help or without it. If and how they identify these allies will determine the destiny (What’s Next?) of not just the African American community but eventually every single American life.
Senior fellow, Atlas Economic Research Foundation & syndicated columnist, Scripps Howard News Service
Without forgetting our past, Black History Month also should be about our future. While the black middle class has grown steadily and quietly, there still are many black folks who have been left behind.
How do we bring them along? The usual non-solutions from the usual suspects will not suffice. Greater reliance on the same government that has let us down will get us nowhere, fast.
Black Americans should focus on school choice, including charter schools and vouchers. Failing government schools do not graduate young adults who must go to the University of California at Irvine rather than Princeton or Georgetown. Tragically, they produce millions of young men and women who are marred for life with limited skills and stunted prospects. The fact that the so-called “black leadership” can look at this outrage and shrug is beyond contempt. Immediately passing federal legislation to establish a voucher system in the Washington, D.C. schools will create a perfect pilot program for other cities to follow.
Blacks and whites must lift standards for black students. Expecting anything less than excellence from them is patronizing, demeaning and, yes, racist. This applies to condescending whites as well as black adults who expect failure from black boys and girls and treat them accordingly.
The Harlem Educational Activities Fund demonstrates regularly that poor, fatherless black kids on public relief can graduate from high school and enter Yale, Bryn Mawr, Cornell and other prestigious schools. HEAF does this while equipping these students not to scrape by, but to trounce suburban white kids in chess and other activities. If HEAF can work its magic with the support of philanthropists like New York’s Joanna and Daniel Rose, its example can be implemented anywhere.
Entrepreneurship is vital to the black community. Eliminating foolish regulations that stymie black businesses should be a priority for Congress, the Bush administration and governors and mayors across America. Would-be commuter van drivers should not have to beg city hall or pay six-figure sums for permission to ply their trade.
Capital formation is vital as well. President Bush should promote his Social Security plan as a way for black families to begin estate planning, capital formation, and the sorts of financial activities that white folks take for granted. Bush’s idea for personal retirement accounts will help black Americans gain the economic independence that is becoming a reality for so much of the rest of the country.
Finally, black Americans should reject the concept of “black leaders” such as Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters. Who are the white leaders, exactly? Like any other segment of the American family, we should be able to debate among ourselves and hold a variety of opinions rather than being “led,” like sheep, and always by some of the most hardened socialists on the political landscape. Allowing intellectual diversity within black America will go far to bring us fully into this wonderful country’s mainstream.”