- Historic Sites
The End Of Racism?
February/March 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 1
The second thing would be to provide external opportunity, by which I mean incentives for investment. What blacks need are not social workers but condos and co-ops and jobs. The third point is that young blacks, particularly young black males, have got to be prepared, socially and culturally, to take advantage of opportunity.
A very difficult question if you’re talking about the current generation. You have a generation of blacks in the underclass, and it’s very hard to see how these young people, who have developed routines of incivility, promiscuity, and violence, can be habituated to living the kinds of lives that most people take for granted. I’m not sure what can be done in the very short term. I am much more hopeful about the younger generation of black kids, who are eight and nine years old. Yet too many of these youngsters will also go awry if something isn’t done now.
Again, do you think government has a role here?
Government has a very limited role. How is the government going to regulate socialization patterns in the black family? The government isn’t going to be able to tell single black mothers how to raise their children. The government’s role is going to be small.
What is the mechanism then?
The only way for it to happen is for the lead to be taken by the leaders of the black community—if not this generation of leaders, then a new generation. The project of cultural restoration has to come from within. Society can help, but the leading role has to be played by blacks. My own greatest hope lies with inner-city black preachers, who I think are doing the most to try to provide at least enclaves of decency within the inner city.
Why can’t the wider society be more involved? Why does it have to come from within?
Part of the reason is ethnocentrism. People’s circles of sympathy begin with themselves, then focus on their families and then their neighbors. It’s very difficult to get people to act toward strangers in the same way they act toward their relatives. I think most people would be willing to give something in the form of private charity and in the form of taxes and might be willing to give something in the form of voluntary work. But if you’re saying that you want people to adopt the inner city, this is ridiculous. It’s not going to happen, and any social policy based on that expectation isn’t going to go anywhere.
Toward the end of the book, you go through a kind of litany: Liberals must, liberals must, liberals must, liberals should. What should conservatives do?
Conservatives, many of them, are not that interested in the issue of race. Blacks are not an important part of the Republican coalition. While there’s some ritual obeisance made to winning the black vote, it’s very unlikely, because blacks are to the left of the Democratic party. How conservatives are going to win the black vote, except through symbolic things like putting Colin Powell on the ticket, is beyond me. I think that if you’re going to have a movement that addresses these problems, it’s going to come from liberals.
It seems to me there’s a tendency among conservatives to say, “We cry, we weep, over the racial disaster in America,” but then as soon as it looks as if various unpopular social programs and affirmative action are going to be taken away, the attitude changes to “Okay, fine. There is no racial problem anymore.”
There is a minority of conservatives who are against government. These strict libertarians in a sense come in a camouflage guise, because they realize that if they wrote articles calling for people to take out stop signs, and so on, they would be regarded as lunatics. So they adopt a more tactical approach. But that is their agenda. They will essentially, when push comes to shove, oppose every government program. I don’t think this describes the conservative majority. Most conservatives don’t have that view. They certainly oppose government programs that don’t work, and government programs have empirically proved to be a disastrous failure, at least many of them, and many of them in this area. Perhaps other middle-class programs have worked better; that’s a debatable point. You have an alliance between the antigovernment libertarians and the prudent conservatives, who I think are the majority. I think if you could show that there were Head Start programs that were dramatically improving test scores, you would have support for that.
Is there a sense of moral urgency in the conservative movement about any of these issues, other than getting rid of racial preferences? Is there a sense of moral urgency about the disaster in the ghettos, the suffering there?