Black people clearly need to matter much more in America. What is not so clear is how to bring about changed attitudes. Also unclear are the structural changes needed to bring about the desired result. Is the liberal/Marxist organization, Black Lives Matter, so clearly associated with the current rallying cry, the guiding light?
Consider the kinds of results coming from recent protests sparked by the brutal treatment of George Floyd. We have seen the removal of Robert E. Lee statues and other Confederate military leaders, as well as the statue of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s heavy-handed police commissioner and mayor. We’ve seen the removal of Confederate flags from Nascar events. And we’ve seen the elimination of Aunt Jemima Syrup. (Not actually the syrup, of course, but the brand name and picture of a very pleasant-looking black woman.) These changes are meaningful to the black people who find the symbols irritating, or to be threatening reminders of white supremacist ideology. The black people I’ve encountered recently seem cheered and are holding their heads a bit higher. That’s a good thing. However, these symbolic changes may serve more as appeasements, and as distractions from the changes that should be made. Change, as often as not, is not a good thing. Good change comes about through the careful thinking and labor of people of good will…and by God’s grace.
Racism is in the heart of every person. Humans started blaming each other for their troubles pretty early on in history. Think Adam and Eve. Their mutual blaming was not racial, of course, but then they didn’t have that option. When race became a reality, race became one more excuse for people to squabble. Racism is not going away, any more than theft or anger or abuse or injustice will go away. The protests for George Floyd are not somehow different from all the protests that went before. We can only hope the protests inspire enough good to outweigh the harms they have catalyzed.
I was involved in an interracial Christian conversation recently. In the conversation it became evident that the “black lives matter” protests did not resonate in the same way for all of us. At one point I proposed the following:
“Black lives matter” is a true statement and therefore is worthy of being said. “All lives matter” is a true statement and therefore worthy of being said. Anyone who says, “All lives matter” should have no trouble saying “Black lives matter”, because black lives are a subset of all lives. If a person will say, “All lives matter” but will not say “Black lives matter”, then that person doesn’t believe that all lives matter and, given the context, is probably a racist. Anyone who says, “Black lives matter” but will not say “All lives matter” is also probably a racist.
I was berated for lacking nuance. I countered that I was trying to provide an unnuanced starting point. We wanted to be mutually affirming. We wanted to be open and honest. We wanted to be inoffensive. We found the discussion difficult, which was frustrating because we all felt that the group, made up of long-term friends, should have been able to manage it. Whites and blacks have clearly experienced a very different America. When whites say, “All lives matter,” they mean to be magnanimous, and to include black lives, but blacks hear the line and think, “But this in not what we are experiencing from whites.”
Recent protests have tried to bring to light how blacks are scarred from America’s history, and are systemically harmed in America’s present. Whites have occupied a more privileged position in America, generally speaking. American whites carry a rucksack of grievances against blacks, as well. I suspect these grievances contribute to the puzzling support for Donald Trump.
The discussion has to move beyond the pulling down of Confederate statues, and beyond the (mostly silly) idea of defunding police departments. What changes can happen in America that will make it a free and fair country for all its people? There are multiple answers, I am sure. Society is made up of numerous moving parts. Perhaps, if we step back, allow our political sacred cows to wander off, and consider all elements that contribute to societal health, we may be able to come up with a rational plan of action. It’s a naïve thought, of course, but less so than the notion that if you run around knocking over lamp posts, throwing water bottles, and setting fires you can bully people into embracing a woke enlightenment.
The Washington Post recently published a column that suggested, “The best white statement to make right now may be to shut up and listen.” It’s always a good idea to listen but shutting up is probably not such a good idea. The press has a way of providing a platform for the most shrill, and these are people who will almost always lead us astray. Allow me to counter and suggest that now is the time for calm conversation. The following is a tossed salad of ideas. Some ideas should just be tossed, and that’s what I do. I’m sure that what I submit here will contain errors, dumb ideas, and omissions. Even so, I feel an obligation to think about these things openly. If we want our society to improve, we all need to think about these things openly. Perhaps I will have a good idea or two. Perhaps I will inspire someone to come up with better ideas.
Christian Position On Race
Before I proceed with a discussion about bringing justice, health, and wealth to the black community of America, it is important to consider the Christian position on race, because of its critical assumptions. These assumptions are overlooked or denied by some Christians, to their shame and hazard. And these assumptions are sometimes assumed in non-Christian thinking, without intellectual justification. In any case, they are necessary assumptions.
God made men and women in his image. This is a profoundly affirming concept that speaks to the exalted status of humans. We are God-like. As image-bearers we are called to represent him by being like him. We are to serve as his stewards, caring for the planet and one another. Science confirms that all races, however strange we may seem to one another, are human. The following verse refers to Christians, but it is clear that Christians are drawn from the ranks of every sort of person. After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. – Revelations 7.9.
One day all the irritants between the races will be gone. In every important way the races will be in happy agreement. Where there are differences, they will be treasured. The New Testament uses the metaphor of the body. The mouth doesn’t bad-mouth the feet; the hands don’t punch the stomach. The body works together because that is what it is designed to do. Every part is an important part.
All people belong to God. All people are to be valued and treated with justice and fairness and kindness. Racial strife comes about because people believe it is permissible to hate other races for their imagined inferiority. Thomas Jefferson justified the rebellion against the British Crown on the basis that all men are created equal. (Of course, he demonstrated in his life he did not believe it, even as he proved that the truth is not self-evident). This truth is dependent on the revelations of God. Without accepting these truths, any “justice” will be based on power, meaning it will be provided for those with power, but granted sparingly to those without. This is the recipe for the everlasting bloody ballet of repression and revolt.
One fatal flaw with the Black Lives Matter movement is that it preaches a gospel of victimhood. This human devaluation derives from the insistence that the problems of black people are due to others. Yes, blacks are victims of slavery and cumulative losses from centuries of stolen wealth. Blacks are the victims of laws that stood in the way of black community flourishing. Blacks are victims of white terror and murder. These claims of the Black Lives Matter movement are true but they are truncated truth.
The habit of blaming problems on others is an embrace of helplessness. It is a call for societal paternalism (which the white, liberal woke movement is more than happy to volunteer, particularly with other people’s resources.) The embrace of victimhood (that masquerades as a demand for respect) is personally demeaning and functionally disempowering. Shelby Steele comments: “The power to be found in victimization, like any power, is intoxicating and can lend itself to the creation of a new class of super-victims who can feel the pea of victimization under twenty mattresses.”
Furthermore, neither bullying nor guilting others into action ever generates good results. A few more Confederate statues will be pulled down, Juneteenth will be celebrated in public schools, and a bunch of white liberals will have their kids write in chalk on their sidewalks, “Black Lives Matter.” But when a hard rain falls, the sidewalk will be washed of words.
There are systemic problems in America that harm black people (as well as other minority groups, as well as white Americans who are poor and hold little influence). But the system is not strictly a white system. Most black people in America live in large cities where liberal, Democratic, multi-cultural governments hold power. Black Americans need to acknowledge their existing power and responsibility. While this power is minimal in State governments and in the Federal government, it is extensive in the large cities, which have considerable national influence.
Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, a member of the force for 25 years, resigned less than 24 hours after one of her officers shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. Mr. Brooks resisted arrest, fired a taser at two officers and, while running away, was shot. The event took place in the wake of the more famous death of George Floyd, adding to the combustible environment. No doubt, there was extreme pressure on Chief Shields, as she had to face another situation in which a white officer employed unnecessary violence against a black civilian. However, her resignation was the opposite of what she should have done. The glare of the cameras and the muckraking American media are brutal. But if you want power you must also bear responsibility; you have to be willing to sweat under the lights. The mob must be faced in order for justice to have a chance. None of us can guarantee justice but history tells us that mobs guarantee injustice. (The difference between a peaceful protest and mob action is like the difference between a shopper and a shop lifter.)
Robert L. Woodson Sr. is an American Republican commentator, and president of the Woodson Center. Mr. Woodson is one of many black people who speak to the issue of racism from the political right. I quote Mr. Woodson extensively here through his article, The Resilience of the Black American.
“Taxpayer-funded institutions are now adding their voices to the movement against ‘systemic racism’—the invisible legacy of slavery and discrimination that supposedly determines the destiny of black Americans. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture last month posted a graphic on its website out- lining the ‘Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the United States.’ The document maintained that ‘white people and their traditions, attitudes and ways of life have been normalized over time’ and ‘we have all internalized some aspects of white culture—including people of color.’
“From the sounds of it, these ‘assumptions’ are the types of things that would be debilitating and deleterious to minorities should they adopt and practice them in their lives. Assumptions such as ‘hard work is the key to success,’ ‘the nuclear family . . . is the ideal social unit’ and ‘plan for [the] future’ are offered as examples of ‘white dominant culture.’ In fact, the qualities attributed to ‘whiteness’ are the same principles and values that have empowered blacks in America to succeed despite lingering discrimination and bigotry. The museum removed the graphic after a public outcry, saying ‘it’s not working in the way we intended.’
“The whiteness graphic is merely one of hundreds of capitulations to the demeaning and disabling message of racial grievance merchants, who claim that any and all failures of black Americans are attributable to so-called systemic racism. Institutions that had once been trusted to provide steppingstones to achievement have jettisoned the principles of personal responsibility and self- determination.
“The stories of men and women for whom oppression triggered resilience and success have been redacted from politically correct, grievance-based histories such as ‘The 1619 Project.’ The mission of the Woodson Center, and the ‘1776 Project,’ is to rescue those inspiring examples of achievement against the odds—both historical and current.
“If you asked young black students today who the Golden 13 were, few would be able to identify the group of determined African-American servicemen who won a noble victory in an era in which blacks were prohibited from becoming naval officers. At the insistence of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a crop of 16 college-educated black cadets were chosen for line-officer training in 1944.
“To ensure their failure, the normal training period of 16 weeks was reduced to eight weeks for the black cadets. When they realized that someone in the Navy wanted them to wash out, the cadets covered up the windows of their barracks and studied all night. When they were tested, the entire group passed with high marks. Disbelief in the chain of command that an all-black cadet class could achieve higher scores than an all-white one meant that the black sailors had to suffer the indignity of retaking their tests. Again, all 16 passed, but the Navy offered commissions to only 13.
“This grit and determination to succeed has been repeated over and over again. You can find it in the best-selling book and award-winning movie “Hidden Figures”—the story of the three black female mathematicians who played a critical role in astronaut John Glenn’s 1962 mission to orbit the earth aboard the Friendship7.
“Three years ago, I attended a talk by the book’s author, Margot Lee Shetterly. The reaction to her presentation underscored the thirst within the black community for in- spiring messages of success against all odds. The 1,000-seat auditorium was filled to capacity with a predominantly African-American audience. People were standing in the balcony and along the walls. Hundreds milled in front of the building after the fire marshal determined that the building’s capacity had been reached. The 100 books that the organizers had brought to the venue were sold out well before the presentation began. Even the local bookstores couldn’t scrounge up a copy. During the question-and-answer session, some in the audience lamented not having heard about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan earlier. Children raised their hands excitedly to learn more.
“‘Hidden Figures’ is but one of thousands of black American stories demonstrating that the most powerful antidote to disrespect isn’t protest but performance and the most potent answer to repression is resilience. Sadly, these sentiments are off-message for black elites, liberals in academia and cable-news talking-heads, who prefer the narrative of black victimization by ‘whiteness.’
“Those who attribute all failure of blacks in America—academic, occupational and even moral—to an all-purpose invisible villain of ‘institutional racism’ are betraying those they purport to represent. Those who shake their fists and proclaim that a change in white America is a prerequisite for black achievement are embracing a version of white supremacy. This debilitating dynamic is exacerbated by the guilt among white liberals, who approach the black community with a combination of pity, patronage and pandering.
“Black Americans must refuse to surrender to incompetence, self-devaluation and self-marginalization. Every day at my office, I pass a wall with a photograph of a group of slaves from 1861. The photo is titled ‘Strength’ and features the quotation: ‘The strongest people in the world are not those most protected: They are the ones who must struggle against adversity and obstacles and surmount them to survive.’
The Golden 13 and the women of ‘Hidden Figures’ embodied this maxim. As Ms. Shetterly declared at her book signing: ‘These are the kinds of stories that change your life. You see people doing these amazing things and you internalize it, you normalize it, and it completely changes your inner landscape and what you believe is possible.’”
Let’s discuss police brutality, since it has been the catalyst for the protests over the past few months. Besides George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks we learned of Breonna Taylor, who was killed when the police smashed in her apartment door in an unannounced drug bust. More recently we’ve seen film of police shooting Jacob Blake in Kenosha Wisconsin. I think everyone is wondering what’s going on in police training. Don’t they routinely train the officers in conflict resolution? Don’t the officers know there are cameras everywhere, recording every questionable use of force?
The brutality we’ve witnessed on film seems inexcusable, but is it possible these events are outliers? Are the police being fairly portrayed in the media? To quote Jonathan Rauch, ”Extremism, outrage, and conflict are catnip for journalists.”
Malcolm Jenkins, a black football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, generally recognized as both a great player and a thoughtful voice for social concerns, commented that, in spite of his stature, he is still afraid of the police. But perhaps the reason the police are Malcolm’s great fear is that Malcolm moved to Northern Liberties, one of Philadelphia’s most gentrified neighborhoods. Gerard Baker noted in the Wall Street Journal, “The lives of the 250 or so black people killed by police each year seem to matter infinitely more to activists, media and Democratic party apparatchiks than the nearly 10,000 black homicide victims killed in 2017, the most recent year for which full data are available.”
In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1004 people. This bit of data often shows up in articles discussing police brutality towards blacks. This is too many people being killed by the police (let’s shoot for zero). However, what these articles typically don’t mention is that 235 of the fatalities were black people, or 23.4% of the total. Some counter that 23.4% is still disproportionately high, since blacks make up 13% of the population. But then they fail to mention other relevant data, such as in 2018 blacks committed 53% of all homicides and 60% of robberies. Police use more violent means when the situations they address involve guns and violence.
A study was done in 2019 by Michigan State University and the University of Maryland to consider whether white officers were more likely than minority officers to kill minorities. The research team reviewed police shootings from 2015 found in the databases of the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers. The dataset included more than 900 fatal officer-involved shootings.
In the vast majority of cases, the person killed was armed and posed a threat or had opened fire on officers. Joseph Cesario was the senior author of the report that said,“We find no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and white officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-white officers.
The authors did find that local crime rates played a key role in predicting who was most likely to be killed by police. In areas with high rates of violent crime by blacks, police were three times more likely to shoot dead a black person than a white person. But the reverse was also true, with white people more likely to be shot by police in places where whites committed many crimes.
Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and a co-founder of the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said she agreed that increasing diversity in police departments would not necessarily lead to less shootings.“It’s still true what we’ve been saying, which is we’re less concerned about the racial make-up of police forces than we are of the institutional racism carried out by police, regardless of race,” Abdullah said.
Radley Balko, in a June, 2020 article, explained institutional racism in this way: “It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them.” The essence of Mr. Balko’s argument is that the police continue to racially profile and that blacks are routinely assigned more severe punishments than whites. The conundrum is the problem that Mr. Balko also points out: blacks are still committing a grossly disproportionate percentage of crimes. The crime rate and the profiling effects feed on each other.
In 2018 7407 black Americans were murdered, 89% by black civilians. For every black person killed by a cop, 28 were killed by a black civilian. It’s clear that black lives are at far greater risk from other blacks than they are from law enforcement personnel.
According to Heather MacDonald, author of War On Cops, a police officer is 18 1/2 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.
Frankly, the rage against police is either profound ignorance or outrageous hypocrisy. If the killings of blacks at the hands of police indicate that black lives don’t matter, what is the meaning of the killings of blacks at the hands of blacks?
Perhaps the only way to explain the rage is media distortion. The media rarely lies overtly. But the media routinely frames narratives and distorts reality by selecting what to emphasize and what to suppress. Perhaps race relations (and the general American bi-polar mood) would be helped if all news outlets were scored on the basis of ideological slant. Or maybe they should be judged on a pissometer scale. We need the media but if the media has to sell itself by posting stories that piss everybody off, well, who needs the agita? Maybe knowing that media distortion tendencies would be made public would drive media outlets in the direction of responsibility. A taste of their own medicine, I say. Someone give Bill Gates a call.
Are there improvements that can be made in police departments? No doubt. For example, police departments should discontinue their practice of stops for petty offenses. Matthew Loftus remarks, “Many on the right want to defend aggressive practices like stop-and-frisk, but when one looks at the evidence, stopping and searching black people more frequently (even in more ‘violent’ areas) fails to either protect those areas or turn up more contraband in searches. Furthermore, these practices only encourage lawlessness among officers of the law, turning them into just another armed gang. When there is no accountability for state wrongdoing and the most frequent outcome of a stop or search is ‘nothing,’ there will be no trust in civic institutions and we cannot expect poverty or crime to improve.”
Esau McCaulley, author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise In Hope, had this to add: “Over the years, I have been stopped between seven and ten times, on the road or in public spaces, for no crime other than being black. The people I love have also been stopped, searched, accused and humiliated with little to no legal justification. These disclosures might give the impression that I don’t like police officers. On the contrary, I have known many good ones. I recognize the dangers they face and the difficulties inherent in the vocation they choose. But having a difficult job does not absolve one of criticism; it simply puts the criticism in a wider framework. That wider framework has to include the history of the police in this country—their legal enforcement of racial discrimination and the terror they have visited on black bodies.”
Putting police on walking and bike-riding beats has been helpful where implemented. When police become familiar with the people where they work it tends to humanize their actions. This familiarity also tends to humanize the behavior of civilians towards police. (Besides, getting exercise is good, and getting the cops out of those militant-looking, gas-guzzling SUVs would be better for the environment.)
There has been some discussion about reducing the military look of the police. Police need protective equipment, no doubt, but they also need to present themselves as approachable. The purpose for police is the preservation of order and protection against lawless aggressors. The general populace should be able to experience them with a sense of appreciation rather than with dread or anger. At the same time, the general populace should be aware that police are, by design, wary. Their jobs are dangerous and they deal regularly with deceptive, dangerous individuals. It’s difficult to be relaxed and wary at the same time.
Financial incentives from the federal government for making arrests should be ended. It is not the purpose of the police to notch arrests. Arrests are sometimes needed, of course, but quantity of arrests is not a useful means for measuring police effectiveness.
There has been talk about “defunding” police departments. I suspect this is mostly about “moving furniture”. If there are services that are better managed by social service professionals, then let those professionals take charge, but it will be of no help to send social workers to volatile situations where police are needed, anyway. Defunding or abolishing the police “was always an absurd idea, politically and practically,” said Jonah Goldberg in The Baltimore Sun, “that has been promoted by an ‘elite media’ isolated from black people’s real lives.”
Another proposal that seems to have bipartisan support is eliminating qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, has become “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers” that protects them from lawsuits. This suggestion strikes me as a honey deal for lawyers and a disaster for law enforcement. Everyone makes work mistakes. Police officers, while they may have nothing to do but eat doughnuts for 3 days, on the fourth day will find themselves in life-threatening situations that demand cool-headed, rapid decision-making. It is naïve for the public to imagine that police officers will not make mistakes in the situations they face, including fatal mistakes. If police must work under the threat of civil reprisals for mistakes they make in the line of duty, their jobs will take on a Russian-roulette characteristic. It’s only a matter of time before every one of them, particularly the ones most inclined to take responsibility, makes a mistake that results in punitive charges. Unprotected, the most competent officers will quit law enforcement.
In 2018, 167 police officers committed suicide. It is difficult to deal with frequent exposure to wasting lives, human brutality, abusive speech, and mangled bodies—all of which are common to law enforcement officers. I suspect that, even more difficult is dealing with the guilt of the hard consequences of their own mistakes.
In 2019, 38 police were killed in the line of duty. This is not nearly as many people as police killed, of course, but it is their job to enforce the nation’s laws, using force as necessary. Police departments are finding it increasingly difficult to draw in qualified recruits, even though pay and benefits for officers are fairly good. But it’s no surprise. Who wants to continuously put his or her life on the line and then be the target of hatred, verbal abuse and threats? The more miserable the public makes police feel, the more the police force will be made up of people who have difficulty getting jobs anywhere else.
One police department that has received positive press is in Camden County, near Philadelphia. When there were protests taking place in the streets of Camden for George Floyd, rather than clashing with the protesters, police joined with them. By all accounts, things are much better in Camden than they were a few years ago. What was the key to reform in Camden? In 2013 the Camden City Council eliminated the city’s police department and established a new non-unionized department under county control. Scott Thompson, who was chief at the time, said that he had locked horns with the union over “any type” of managerial decision. “I was able to do in three days what would normally take me three years to do. All the barriers were removed. I was now driving on a paved road.” The changed environment meant the philosophy of policing could be changed. It meant that bad cops could be fired. It also meant that many more police could be hired…and that police salaries were lower.
I am not an advocate of the elimination of unions. Nonetheless, unions seem unable to grasp that the incessant employment of legal technicalities to protect irresponsible workers does not promote the union cause. In the case of policing it leads to degraded law enforcement. Unions must embrace the fact that police departments must work efficiently and they must be staffed with conscientious, competent officers. If the unions are unwilling to support these ideas, then unions must be busted, as the union was in Camden.
Ray Kelly, the longest-serving New York City Police Department commissioner, had several suggestions for improving police departments. He recommended that an institution, such as Johns Hopkins, devise a rigorous psychological test for recruits. “It’s critical that you not hire your problems.” He also recommended that police executives be given the authority to terminate officers who abuse their authority. His third recommendation was that recruits be required to have a college degree. Notably, Mr. Kelly is opposed to ending qualified immunity.
Not all American blacks are quite so angry with the police. Corey Brooks is the pastor of New Beginnings Church and leader of Project H.O.O.D. on the south side of Chicago. The church averages close to 700 people each week. They have a community center with a free gym, a career center, and a high-impact job training program. Mr. Brooks was not happy with the protests. As he put it, “George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis sparked understandable outrage. How could another black man have died because of police brutality? The protests began as a natural outpouring of grief, as white and black Americans were united in their horror at this senseless act. But these protests turned violent, and the victims of this widespread looting are often the black community leaders and business owners. How does it advance our cause of racial harmony to wreck the black communities?
“Violence is rampant in Chicago, and it has nothing to do with isolated incidents of police brutality. Over Memorial Day weekend, ten African Americans were shot and killed in drive-by shootings. We need justice in the George Floyd case, and we need assurances that these hateful acts will not take place again. At the same time, we need partnerships with the police so they will help us re-establish law and order in our neighborhoods.”
Gun-toting civilians formed neighborhood watches in areas of Minneapolis in the wake of the George Floyd killing. “It got to the point where crime had no consequences,” said Tania Rivera, who described a toxic environment of drug dealing, prostitution, gunplay, and public sex. She called it “…everything you didn’t want your neighborhood to look like.”
In Seattle, on June 24, 2020, A group of Capitol Hill residents and businesses filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Seattle for the “extensive harm” they’ve faced as a result of CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. In a surprise to almost no one, it appears that living in anarchy is inconvenient and dangerous. The CHOP, described by its advocates as an idyllic, police-free haven guided by love and community, didn’t quite live up to its billing. Five shootings and two deaths turned the area into a lawless dystopia. Trash men were unable to collect trash. Graffiti covered storefronts. Music and fireworks continued late into the night, keeping residents from sleeping. Drugs were openly sold and used. Local businesses shut down because employees didn’t feel safe. On July 1 the police moved in and moved the protesters out. Carmen Best, Seattle Police Chief remarked, “I support peaceful demonstrations. Black lives matter and I too want to help propel this movement forward toward meaningful exchange in our community and meaningful change in our community, but enough is enough. Our job is to protect and to serve the community. What has happened here on these streets over the last few weeks is lawless and is brutal and bottomline it is simply unacceptable.”
Nearly nine in 10 Black Americans said major changes were needed to overhaul policing in the U.S., according to a recent poll from the Gallup Center on Black Voices. Yet only 22% of Black respondents supported the idea of abolishing the police, the poll found, compared with 20% of Latinos and 12% of white respondents
The battle for African American advancement has gone on in this country since the end of the Civil War. Some things have gotten better. More blacks have become financially stable. I live in a large metropolitan region and, as far as I can see, the races are mixing fairly comfortably across the region, at least with respect to being able to walk any street and patronize any business. However, a report from the Economic Policy Institute stated that “The typical black family had almost no wealth in 1968 ($2,467). Today, that figure is about six times larger ($17,409), but it is still not that far from zero when you consider that families typically draw on their wealth for larger expenses, such as meeting basic needs over the course of retirement, paying for their children’s college education, putting a down payment on a house, or coping with a job loss or medical crisis. Over the same period, the wealth of the typical white family almost tripled, from a much higher initial level. In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median white family ($17,409 versus $171,000).”
Something is going wrong. A lot of somethings are going wrong. Let’s take a look at some of the things that are impeding the flourishing of the black community in America.
Systemic Racism – Historical
The question of reparations arises occasionally, as people argue that blacks have suffered terrible harms for the past 400 years and that those injuries have never been redressed. The harms cannot be disputed, especially the harm of slavery. Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were enslaved and shipped to the new world. Of these, 1.8 million did not survive the passage. About 400,000 Africans were taken to the United States (the colonies), with roughly 60,000 more dying en route.
But considering historical context, there seems to be slim discussion about the Civil War itself these days. Secession occurred because northern states and southern states were at loggerheads about the future of slavery. The South could see that the North was outmaneuvering it through western expansion and that free states were certain to dominate national legislation. The South’s economy, sitting squarely on the shoulders of slave labor, was doomed. Such deeply rooted vested interest is rarely surrendered without a fight. In this sense, the Civil War (or as some in the South still call it, “the War of Northern Aggression”) was nearly inevitable.
It was a costly war—the most costly by far in U.S. history. Recent estimates say there were 750,000 casualties (2.4% of the population), that figure being divided roughly evenly between the adversaries. As a point of reference, 2.4% of America’s current population works out to nearly 8 million people. The Vietnam war cost less than 60,000 lives, while the second most deadly U.S. war, WWII, cost 406,000 lives (.3% of the population).
The official U.S. wartime expense (excluding pensions) was roughly $6 billion, or $71 billion of today’s dollars. The cost of the war to the Confederate states was about $3 billion. In 1860 there were nearly 4 million slaves in the U.S., valued at about $3.5 billion, which made them the largest asset in the U.S. economy. These were all huge financial losses to the American people. Were these financial losses and this extraordinary sacrifice of lives sufficient punishment for America? Should reparations be added?
Perhaps punishment for murder is analogous. There are few executions anymore, which is just as well. But when someone commits murder and serves 30 years in jail, do we expect that person to provide reparations afterward? Perhaps it’s an unfair analogy, given that few long-term prisoners would have resources to provide meaningful reparation. Still, we like to say, “he paid for his crime,” once the sentence is served. Perhaps reparations are sought, not because they are appropriate but because they are possible. Uncle Sam has deep pockets.
Shelby Steele comments, “Suffering can be endured and overcome; it cannot be repaid. Blacks cannot be repaid for the injustice done to the race, be we can be corrupted by society’s guilt gestures of repayment.”
But what about all the Jim Crow laws and other legislation that harmed blacks after emancipation? Michelle Alexander, in her book, The New Jim Crow, argues that the “War on Crime” is only the latest major governmental policy that has disproportionately affected the black community, hampering its economic advancement. I’ll talk more later about America’s love affair with incarceration but, for now, let me ask this? How much welfare and government subsidy has already been provided for the black community?
It’s hard to get a handle on the costs of welfare. By some accounting, the amount is over a trillion dollars per year. By another accounting the amount is $370 billion. Guess which number comes from conservatives and which from liberals. You have to get pretty deep into the weeds to figure out which programs are or are not considered welfare. In any case, welfare programs benefit people of all races. Latest statistics say that 25 million (42%) white, 11 million (19%) black, 18 million (31%) Hispanic, and 5 million (8%) “other” people benefited from welfare in the past year. Blacks have benefited disproportionately from welfare. I don’t mention this as a complaint. I worked for more than 30 years, managing programs that provided $300 million of grant repair services for low-income Philadelphians. Roughly 75% of those services went to black families, nearly all of whom were in great economic need. The point is that while it is true there have been and still are institutional barriers to the economic progress of blacks in America, there have been and still are institutional supports that serve as counterbalances.
Neither can we ignore the benefits to blacks from Affirmative Action programs. These programs have been established on the basis of being counter-racist, i.e., designed to compensate for the long-running tilted table that has been disadvantageous to blacks. I understand the arguments for affirmative action and I feel some sympathy for them. On the other hand, my experience tells me that the best policy is to promote the most qualified person in every situation. Promotions based on racial and/or sexual proportioning tend to diminish service quality. Such promotions are like cronyism and have similar adverse effects. Everyone loses—even those who’ve been promoted, because they’ve been put in positions for which they are under-prepared. Some will become competent in time, no doubt. If this were always the case I would say, go to it, let demographics be our guide. But it is not always the case. Most of the time the less competent remain the less competent.
Quoting Shelby Steele again, affirmative action “…indirectly encourages blacks to exploit their own past victimization as a source of power and privilege. Victimization, like implied inferiority, is what justifies preference, so that to receive the benefits of preferential treatment one must, to some extent, become invested in the view of one’s self as a victim. In this way, affirmative action nurtures a victim-focused identity in blacks” Affirmative Action is a kind of hand-out. What blacks need—what everyone who is disadvantaged needs—is opportunity, access, and fair treatment.
In the final analysis assigning reparations is virtually impossible to do in any fair way. Who receives reparations? How is the weight of one’s victimization calculated? Who pays? Who has not benefitted from the system? The 1619 Project is an effort of the New York Times Magazine that strives to reframe American history using slavery as its focal point. The number refers to the date slaves were first brought to North America. Only the date is incorrect, given that the Spanish brought African slaves to Florida as early as 1526. Perhaps we should bill the Spanish. Of course, slavery wasn’t introduced to the Americas by Europeans, in the first place. It was practiced by the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Iroquois, and the Cherokee, among other tribes. Nor was the use of Africans a Spanish invention. Slavery was commonplace in Africa, usually as a result of tribal conflicts. According to some estimates, West Africa alone held more slaves at the height of the transatlantic slave trade than were to be found in all of the Americas. Nearly all the Africans shipped to the Americas were enslaved by other Africans. Perhaps picking 1619 is a bit too convenient. Looking at the history of slavery in the U.S. is a bit like pealing an onion. Once you get past all the onion peels there’s nothing left. As essayist Adam Gopnik remarked recently, “To live at all is to be implicated in the world’s cruelty”.
Systemic Racism In the Present
I have a friend who once passionately explained to me that, “The murder of blacks is a black problem!” He was right in the sense that blacks themselves are the overwhelming source of violence against blacks. But he was also wrong, because blacks are a part of American society, which is largely controlled by whites. Intentionally or not, much of American structure has been set up in such a way that it is more difficult for blacks to succeed, especially those in ghettos. The connections between not having meaningful work and turning to crime are pretty well established. Considering again the Christian perspective, we are not allowed to abandon others, no matter whether their situation is their fault, the fault of others…or both. We are our brothers’ keepers.
It is often argued that urban schools (read minority schools) are discriminated against because they are not funded as well as suburban schools. The facts do not bear this out. Urban public schools are funded at about average level for public schools. They are hampered by bloated administrations that drain classroom resources, and they are severely hampered by disciplinary disruptions. Private urban schools that draw from the same demographics repeatedly show better results. How can this be? Teacher and administrator pay scales are lower, allowing for better outfitted classrooms, and classroom discipline actually exists. Students who don’t want to be students are dismissed.
The economist, Thomas Sowell, has produced numerous books and articles that discuss the education of black children. His most recent book is called, “Charter Schools and Their Enemies”. “The educational success of these charter schools undermines theories of genetic determinism, claims of cultural bias in the tests, assertions that racial ‘integration’ is necessary for blacks to reach educational parity and presumptions that income differences are among the ‘root causes’ of educational differences,” Mr. Sowell writes. “This last claim has been used for decades to absolve traditional public schools of any responsibility for educational failures in low-income minority communities.”
While there are subpar charter schools, it’s clear to Mr. Sowell that the data shows that school choice is a boon for groups that have long been poorly served by the system. It’s also clear that successful charter schools are a threat to the vested interests of adults who run public education. As Mr. Sowell reminds us, “Schools exist for the education of children. Schools do not exist to provide iron-clad jobs for teachers, billions of dollars in union dues for teachers unions, monopolies for educational bureaucracies, a guaranteed market for teachers college degrees or a captive audience for indoctrinators.”
Good education is crucial for the black community in order for it to become more economically secure. How can this happen? Nationalize school vouchers. If every student were given a certain allowance (a voucher system ought to provide at least $10,000 per student), schools would be incentivized to provide quality education. One reason for appreciating competition is its tendency to drive quality improvement.
Religious schools would thrive in such an environment. Why? First of all because they already exist in large numbers, in spite of the stunning financial disadvantage for the families that send their children to them. But also because the meaning of personhood is crucial to education—crucial to the wellbeing and motivation of children. The American public school system is guided by scientific materialism. The logical consequence of this ideology is that life is meaninglessness. This ideological bent may “work” for smart kids who are confident they can succeed in the “American dream”of prosperity. But it fails those who don’t learn according to the factory model; or who are little motivated by possessions or peer pressure; or who are mostly concerned about living purposefully.
There is always push-back against the voucher system. First, there are those who insist it is a breech of the separation of Church and State. This claim is logically confused. To tax everyone and then only provide free education that teaches scientific materialism is the clear breech of the separation. In order for there to be a separation, people must be able to select education that is in agreement with their own beliefs and not be punished financially for doing so. While it is of national interest that all children are educated in the skills necessary to support a society (math, English, civics, history, science, etc.), the issues of purpose, meaning of personhood, morality, etc. fall into the realm of religious freedom. The government should not be in the business of molding the consciences of children, particularly since it is clueless, not to mention theoretically neutral in the matter. Much that is taught in public schools today is rubbish. To quote Paul Simon, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
The other push-back comes from teachers’ unions. Here is an example of institutional racism that damages the black community. This is also a conundrum for the political left, which is heavily supported by teachers’ unions. While the left firmly insists that black lives matter, it legislates for the sake of public schools, at the expense of educating black children.
Pre-school is not a good idea, generally speaking, and it should not be funded with public dollars. Kids need to be raised by their parents. The love and commitment between parents and children is far more important than kids being the first on the block to know how to read Dick and Jane…or to operate the latest Apple gizmo. Instead, government subsidies should be provided for families to enable one parent to stay home with their children up until age 5 or 6. Such subsidies should be provided on a sliding scale, but the subsidy should be broad, serving as many as 90% of families. Frankly, if a kid learns how to sit still, listen, and be respectful, schooling pretty much falls into place.
The right to abortion is promoted as “a woman’s right to govern her own body”. But it cannot mask the reality that it is a means for women (and men) to dispense with the the most helpless of society for the sake of convenience. That issue aside, let’s consider how abortion has affected the black community.
Abortions in America
1971 356,000 (11.7% of pregnancies) 102,000 (15.2% of pregnancies)
2017 280,000 (12.0% of pregnancies) 295,000 (33.9% of pregnancies)
The growing employment of abortion appears to be self-imposed black genocide. Do these numbers suggest that black lives matter? The fact that Planned Parenthood of New York decided in July of 2020 to distance itself from Margaret Sanger is laughable. “The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, chair of the board at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, said in a statement. “Margaret Sanger’s concerns and advocacy for reproductive health have been clearly documented, but so too has her racist legacy.” Planned Parenthood promotes itself as being race-neutral (on the basis that it is happy to kill babies of every race and nationality, I suppose), but the results of its work speak more clearly than its press releases.
How are abortions affecting the big picture for blacks in America? Look at this percentage of population chart:
White 89.5 72.4
Black 10.0 12.6
Asian .2 4.9
Hispanic 2.1 16.3
There’s been much talk about white anxiety over its evaporating majority status in the U.S., but blacks may be just as anxious about demographic changes. Blacks are no longer the second largest ethnic group. In fact, though they still have a large numerical advantage over Asians, that gap is closing.
This negative population drift for black Americans would be much worse if not for the growth in the U.S. of black immigrants. In 1980, 3.1% of blacks in this country were foreign born; in 1990, it was 4.9%; in 2000, 6.7%; in 2013, 8.7%.
This raises another point. Just how discontented are blacks with America? As of June of 2016, it was estimated that there were 9 million non-military U.S. citizens living abroad, representing 2.7% of the U.S. population. A listing of the top 47 countries where these citizens reside includes zero countries in Africa. The evidence suggests that black Americans are not leaving the U.S., while blacks from Africa and the Caribbean are coming into the U.S. as fast as they are allowed in. If people vote with their feet, it is clear that black dissatisfaction with the U.S. is grossly overstated. As a relevant aside, violent Chicago has lost 10,000 black residents each of the last five years.
In any case, the Unborn are humans and ought to be recognized as having the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just as all Americans should. Instead of abortion, all children should have the right to the financial support and commitment of both their natural parents. There is no question that wealth passed down through generations gives advantages to the new generations.
Children are not the unfortunate consequence of careless sex—they are people. If we would reconnect the pleasure of sex to the joy and encouragement of the marriage relationship, and to the amazing result of new life, perhaps all lives in America would no longer be so cheap. If we consistently behaved as if lives matter, well, life certainly would matter more.
The organization Black Lives Matter is avowedly Marxist (an ideology that has never managed to exist apart from totalitarianism and oppression). Consider Russian and Chinese history over the past century if you think lives matter under Marxist ideology. BLM also promotes extreme sexual identity liberalism. The Black Lives Matter website states: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable. [Fathers live outside the village, apparently.] We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).”
This disdain for the nuclear family is a fast-track to the demise of the black lives that are supposed to matter. Consider the following data:
- Poverty rate for children living with two parents: 9%
- Poverty rate for children living with only a father: 24%
- Poverty rate for children living with only a mother: 39%
- According to a 2009 study conducted by Cornell University, children living with married, biological parents smoked less, drank less alcohol, used less illegal drugs, and were less likely to be sexually active.
- The same study claimed that children living with two parents were healthier than those living with grandparents, single moms, or step-parents.
- The more partners kids witness their mothers living with, the more sexual partners they are likely to have themselves.
- Children who were in a “fragile family”, where parents were cohabiting or there was a lone parent, were twice as likely to not graduate from high school.
The evidence of benefits for children growing up with their fathers and mothers is overwhelming, and for what ought to be obvious reasons. Perhaps the reason Black Lives Matter espouses Marxism is its recognition of the inadequacies of the “self-affirming”, tetherless lifestyles that require “villages” (read: tax dollars) to take up the slack. But the State never raises children well. The social recipe espoused by Black Lives Matter is a disaster for their children…is a disaster for young black lives.
Liberal ideology is choking the universal recognition of the connection between sex and marriage. It is destroying the understanding that marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman. The fallout is everywhere obvious and everywhere ignored. People are more lonely today than at any time in history. Abortion is rampant. Divorce is rampant. Unmarried couples are ubiquitous. Children brought up in single-parent homes are commonplace. And who suffers the most? Children. Our liberal society is so obsessed with personal freedom, self-fulfillment, self-determination…narcissism, that it imagines that if we simply change laws to accommodate selfishness, selfishness will become a good thing. “We’re never going back,” you say. Yes, we are. Some are, and they will be the people who will have healthy families. They will be the people with financial stability. And the selfish, whatever percentage of the population they may make up, will continue to experience spiritual despair, broken relationships, and poverty, even as they continue to look at those who are relatively stable, and despise them for it.
“If you don’t think that systemic racism accounts for the high rate of outside-marriage births amongst African-American women, if you don’t think the school-to-prison pipeline cultivates the incarceration of black youngsters, if you have doubts about affirmative action, if you think self-reliance is important, if you think the coherence of the family is an elemental aspect of any social group’s being able to function adequately in the world, if you’re religious, and if you think that blacks’ obeisance to the Democratic Party is unhealthy for their long-term political interests—you’ll be dismissed as being on the right. And that’s where I find myself.” – Glenn Loury, American economist and the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University
W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia described the grim state of marriage in America in an article in the July/August issue of Christianity Today magazine. He does offer hope, however. “…There just might be a silver lining: The ‘soulmate’ model of marriage will most likely fade and a ‘family-first’ model of marital environment will be stronger, more stable, and more likely to offer a secure harbor for children.” If you are someone who wishes black lives to matter, this is the wave you want to catch.
Considering the financial disadvantages of black people in America, this issue cannot be overlooked. I have been blessed in my life with good medical insurance. Even so, it seems to me that the medical industrial complex has drugged us into accepting a crap-shoot system. Medical advice articles give the impression that when you enter a hospital you better have a fierce advocate at your side. Blink twice and you will be plugged with an IV that makes you incapable of recognizing that you are receiving “out-of-network” care, which is to say, out-of-pocket care.
Americans have this idea that medicine will keep them playing rugby into their 90s, and that no expense should be spared to make it so. “Hollywood” procedures should not be driving the costs of medical insurance. On the other hand, people should not have to experience the double-whammy of a serious illnesses combined with the stress of expenses that drain them of their resources.
The United States should have a national health system. National health services can be crappy, of course, but for some reason 32 countries offer universal health coverage: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Look closely at this list and consider how it lines up with your list of countries where you wouldn’t mind living.
A career criminal robbed a bank in Milwaukee,Wisconsin for the sole intention of going to jail, because he had been told the state’s jails offered superior health care. Prosecutor James Griffin called the case “a sad commentary on health care in America.”
You don’t have to be a socialist to see the wisdom of national health care. We already provide Medicare for a large segment of Americans. Do you think those covered by Medicare would quietly assent to its demise?
COVID-19 has negatively affected minority groups more than whites in America. Part of this is due to job types, part is due to public transportation, part is due to the unhealthier eating habits of those who are poor. There may be other explanations, but in any case, national medical coverage would most benefit those who are in financially tentative positions. America’s adoption of national medical care would significantly reduce stress on its most vulnerable citizens. That is reason enough.
Speaking of jail, the number of prisoners in theUnited States is 2.2 million. In 1972 the number was 200,000. The population of the U.S. is 50% greater today than in 1972; the prison population is nearly 11 times greater than in 1972. What’s going on? Has our country suddenly become much more evil, or is it policies in this country that are inappropriately herding its citizens into prisons?
The prison population suggests that the United States is the most repressive government in the world. There are other elements that contribute to repression, of course. Read up a little on AI monitoring in China, for example. Nonetheless, the list below is startling. The ten countries with the highest incarceration rates are:
- United States (.74%)
- Russia (.62%5)
- Ukraine (.35%)
- South Africa (.33%)
- Poland (.24%)
- Mexico (.20%)
- Brazil (.19%)
- Spain (.14%)
- Kenya (.13%)
- Netherlands (.13%)
On a positive note, the overall number of inmates in the United States is decreasing. Note the chart below that breaks this decrease down by race:
White Black Hispanic
2007 499,800 592,900 330,400
2017 436,500 [.22%] 475,900 [1.17%] 336,500 [.60%]
(63,300) (117,000) 6,100
The data is encouraging in that 2017 held 80% as many blacks in jail as were there in 2007. The problem of black incarceration remains stark, however, with the rate of black incarceration being nearly twice that of Hispanics and more than 5 times that of whites (even though the actual numbers in prison are fairly close).
In her book, “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander argues that the War on Drugs is a conspiracy to keep the black man in his place. She contends that the aggressive (and Constitutionally questionable) tactics now employed by police departments, and spurred on by the federal government, grossly and disproportionately affect black people. (Speaking of institutional racism, it’s worth noting that Barak Obama strongly supported the War On Drugs. The 2009 Economic Recovery Act included $2.6 billion in funding for this effort.)
Anthony Bradley in his book, Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration, concurs with Ms. Alexander that way too many young men, especially young black men, are being put behind bars. He argues that current sentencing guidelines in the U.S. are much too long, particularly those being assigned to what should be considered petty crimes. He argues that the massive number of people being prosecuted makes it impossible to supply meaningful defenses (since the vast majority of the accused are poor and dependent on public defenders.) Instead, “justice” is being administered via plea bargaining.
Mr. Bradley points out that jail time has many negative consequences. For example, putting a man in jail impoverishes his family, both financially and relationally. He reveals that punishment for crime doesn’t end at the point when imprisonment ends. Released prisoners often find it difficult to gain employment; they are typically restricted from government assistance, such as in housing; they often are required to pay back court costs; and they often are not permitted to vote. His arguments paint a picture, similar to Ms. Alexander’s, that the prison system is creating a large lower caste in America.
Mr. Bradley suggests that our system of incarceration assumes that crime will decrease when law-breakers are removed from the public. His counter-argument is that this approach actually breeds criminal behavior. His argument brings to mind what many have observed…that we are training people to be criminals by sending them to “criminal finishing schools.” By creating a criminal caste, he adds, we have created a segment of society with little likelihood of ever breaking back into normal society. If they can’t normalize, they will find ways to survive outside the “system”, which typically means more crime. He concludes that our approach to criminals should deemphasize prison, particularly for the non-violent, while increasing job training, life-skill training, and connecting released criminals to supportive social groups. (Imagine the radical change to America if every church and synagogue joined an “adopt a con” program.)
Drug use should be decriminalized entirely. Drugs should be overseen and made available the same way alcohol is. Are there hazards on this path? Absolutely, there are very serious pitfalls, but I see no evidence that the War on Drugs is actually keeping drugs from those who want it. The effects of the war seem to be the proliferation of gangs and drug cartels, to the dramatic harm of our inner cities, and to Central and South America; and the multiplication of those spending time in jail. We’ve done a good job at suppressing the use of cigarettes through public education. Why not put a similar effort into diminishing the use of drugs?
Legal punishments should shift to a system of restitution. Only the most violent should be incarcerated. Most criminals should be assigned punishments that garnish their earnings until costs and penalties, are paid to those offended.
We cannot treat people as if they are subhuman. To quote Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them! But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
America is in love with its guns. There are 400 million in this country. There are many reasons for this, almost all of which are bad. It’s in our blood and in our spilled blood. We became a nation by fighting, because we couldn’t stand being under the “oppressive” thumb of England. Canada was much smarter about it—they have their independence and they skipped the war.
Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. sales more than doubled in its latest period, reflecting continued demand for firearms against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, civil unrest and an election year. The maker of revolvers, pistols and rifles reported a profit of $48.4 million for its fiscal first quarter that ended July 31.
We are afraid the minorities are going to rise up and murder us in our beds. Or maybe we worry it’s the neo-Nazis who will murder us. We’re afraid we’re going to be invaded by the Russians or the Chinese…or maybe the socialist Canadians (see Canadian Bacon). Well, if John Candy appears on your doorstep, your guns will not be necessary, and if either the Russians or the Chinese show up on your doorstep, you’d best throw those guns out the back window, fast.
Guns may be keeping the deer populations down but, otherwise, their contribution is to aid the occasional lunatic who wants to commit suicide while taking a large number of innocents with him; the super-arming of police departments, so they won’t be “out-gunned”; the settling of family disputes; and the decimation of young black men, because they are in the habit of killing each other. We don’t need pistols or assault weapons or bazookas or any other weapon designed specifically for murderous efficiency. The Second Amendment does not authorize guns for everyone, except as a means to supply militia. The Supreme Court’s absurd interpretation of this amendment is a fine example of legal casuistry. Nonetheless, to take a moderate position (in my opinion), even the Supreme Court’s spineless perspective could be satisfied by limiting private gun ownership to rifles and shotguns—the tools necessary for shooting rabbits, coyotes, and second-story men. Reducing guns in this country is a safety issue for everyone, but it is an even greater issue for the black community.
Chicago has no gun shops. However, so far this year Chicago police have seized more than 6400 guns, which is roughly the pace of last year’s 10,000 gun grab. Chicago mayor, Lori Lightfoot commented, “You can literally drive over the border into Indiana and get military-grade weapons in any quantity that your money will buy. And they bring them back to Chicago.” If cops didn’t have to match the sophisticated, ubiquitous armory of America’s criminals and political extremists, maybe they could leave their guns in their cars (or locked onto their bikes) when called into confrontations. Let me climb out on a limb here and predict that if private guns were limited to rifles and shotguns, there would be far fewer killings by cops.
Joblessness is a widespread problem, and it is even more widespread in the black community. The unemployment rate among blacks is twice that of whites. Some have dropped out of the labor force, no longer looking for work after having failed to find decent-paying jobs. Others are incarcerated. Even before the recent economic downturn, about 30 percent of black men between the ages of 25 and 54 were not working.
There are many factors that influence joblessness, but two key factors are poverty, which limits mobility; and education. How is it that this country can employ millions of undocumented, unskilled laborers, while large portions of its own population don’t have work? Part of the answer lies in the false notion about what work is. There is a prevalent idea in America that work is a punishment, especially if it involves sweat and dirty hands. There doesn’t seem to be much recognition that healthy humans need to build, create, solve problems, provide services, and support others.
Disdain for work is demonstrated in bizarre ways. People feel affirmed, somehow, when they purchase gym memberships that enable them to run nowhere on treadmills, push weights, and be seen in spandex. (Some people should reconsider being seen in spandex.) These same people would not be caught dead walking three blocks with a pushcart to purchase groceries. Many people who love to putter in their gardens farm out routine yard maintenance to Mexicans. The trades are begging for young people to fill vacant spots, but the young want to sit at desks in air conditioned rooms and tap on keyboards.
There is a certain amount of drudgery in any kind of work. Too much repetition can make any job boring. As a young man I took a summer job in a small factory. I was the low man on the totem pole, so I got to do stuff like sweep the floor. After mastering floor-sweeping, I graduated to working on a large belt sander. My job was to put divots in masonite Jesus plaques. I would hold the face of the plaque against the belt and put a small divot in the edge…and then another divot next to that one…and then another, until the perimeter of the plaque was completely divoted. The divots created a framing effect. Great. Done. Next plaque. Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt. That was the work for hours at at time.
That summer convinced me that I never wanted to work in a factory. But I did become comfortable around machines. That, along with other exposures, lead to me becoming a passable residential building mechanic. Consequently, I have been able to help friends and family with projects in their homes, and have saved my own family tens of thousands of dollars in repair and remodeling expenses. The money I earned that summer helped pay for college. With work, we have to push past the drudgery and keep our thoughts on the benefits, whether for ourselves or for others.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of most jobs is dealing with people. There are a lot of self-absorbed, mean people in the world. Many of them become bosses. I worked for an alarm company once. The boss came by to check on the three-man crew’s progress at a job. I had run a wire and looped it under a pipe instead of over it. It was a small mistake but instead of simply telling me to redo the work, he took the opportunity to lecture me in front of my co-workers, expressing amazement at my poor judgment and irresponsibility, etc. He chewed me out for the three minutes I needed to make the correction. I was embarrassed, my co-workers were embarrassed for me, and the three of us were embarrassed for our boss. Reasonable people don’t make mountains out of molehills. I learned from that dressing-down to be more conscientious about wire-running. I also learned that I would work for that man as long as I needed to and not a minute longer. When I informed him several months later that I had taken a different job, he went into a rambling speech about my lack of gratitude for all the wonderful things he’d done for me. I would have argued with him but I figured, why should I? I was leaving. His final whining rant only served to confirm my decision.
Bosses can make your life miserable. If you work for 40-50 years, it is unlikely you will escape unscathed the abuses of one boss or another, sometimes because the boss is racist. In most cases, if you have a problem with your boss, it really does help to have a frank, private conversation with him or her, in which you politely express your concerns. Showing your boss up in front of others may feel good but it rarely works out to your advantage. If the job is unbearable, bear with it anyway until you have found yourself a new job. I say all this to make a point: don’t assume your boss is mistreating you for racist reasons. The reality is, few bosses give much thought to the feelings of those they supervise. They think about whether your work is helping them look good. Don’t take their abuses personally.
Near the end of my career the Executive Vice President of my corporation retired, and there was no one lined up to take his place. So I was assigned, along with a black woman, to serve as Co-Interim Executive Vice President. We worked together for six months until she, too, retired, leaving me as the sole Interim EVP. Three months later I learned through the grapevine that a permanent EVP had been hired. Even though the corporation had functioned well during my oversight, I was not even interviewed for the job. My face was the wrong color.
Those who skirted me knew they had made a racist decision, so they tried to make up for it by promoting me and giving me a hefty raise. I could have sued for racial discrimination and I probably would have won. I certainly could have made a public stink. But I didn’t because I knew the problem was systemic racism and that my specific situation was not big or important enough to drive a change.
Sometimes it seems that slavery has made work, particularly physical work or “menial” work almost offensive to American blacks, and that is an unfortunate thing. A person who can take pleasure in the accomplishments of work walks with a lighter step. Colossians 3.23 says, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Part of the implication of this verse is that your work should be something you pour yourself into, striving for high quality results, regardless of whether someone else is watching. The other implication is that God is watching, he appreciates our efforts, and he makes certain our efforts bear good fruit. This belief is liberating.
We should make work available to everyone through nationalized work programs. Such work should be paid at or near minimum wage in order that it doesn’t undermine our economic system, but anyone who wants to work in this country ought to be able to. Knowing that honest work is available eliminates much of the allure of lawlessness.
What is the relationship between crime and the exportation of American factory work to foreign countries? No doubt, using foreign workers reduces the costs of products that Americans buy. But what would it look like if our country subsidized factories so that it was as cheap buy goods manufactured in the U.S. as it is to buy foreign goods? It costs roughly $32,000 per year to keep a person in prison. That money would be far better spent on job subsidies. Wouldn’t our country be a much nicer place to live if we paid to have the litter cleaned off our roads and the graffiti off our bridges?
The U.S. Postal Service has found its way into the news recently, mostly due to the partisan divide over absentee ballots. The election crisis seems to have been averted but the financial stability of the Postal Service has not. It’s hard to make up for the shift from letter writing to emails. It’s hard to make up for on-line bill paying. It’s hard to make up for competition from FedEx and UPS. One easy solution would be to deliver mail 3 days per week— M, W, & F for one half of customers and T, Th, & S for the rest. How much of our mail is time-critical, anyway? Or another way of looking at it is to say, hey, it’s time we start thinking about retaining jobs in this country. We like home delivery; let’s keep it. If the USPS can’t make ends meet, so what? It’s a service taxpayers want, and it provides jobs for Americans who need jobs.
Pride / False Pride
From an article of the Los Angeles Times, “Seeing Aunt Jemima on a box of pancake mix drives home the idea that a Black woman belongs in the kitchen as a servant or caretaker.” Is it a bad thing for a black woman to be a good cook? Or to spend time in the kitchen? Or even to be a servant? We don’t seem to be ashamed of the phrase, “public servant”. In fact, being a servant is a fundamental requirement of being a Christian. Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Mark 10.42-45). According to God, having the attitude of a servant is what it means to be fully human. Impressing God is much different than impressing humans. This, too, is a liberating thought.
It’s understandable that blacks are sensitive about stereotypes, particularly those that appear to be demeaning. On the other hand, to quote Easton Omither, “Sometimes through thoughtlessness you step on someone’s toes; sometimes everywhere you step is toes.”
I supervised a woman for 20 years at the place I worked. I don’t think I ever taught her anything. She was so preoccupied with making sure I afforded her proper dignity; that I remembered the accomplishments on her resumé; and with interpreting every criticism as part of a larger diabolical plan, that she was blind to the possibility that I might be trying to help her improve at her job. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the intelligence or the necessary toughness—she did. But her defensiveness crippled her development and crippled her ability to serve. Never be ashamed of what you don’t know. Your shame will only inhibit your learning. Openly pursue your questions. This is how competence is achieved.
It’s important to be content. Some people attain contentedness through their accomplishments, but everyone experiences self-doubt. Maybe that’s just as well. Self-worship is foolishness. No matter how accomplished we may be in some ways, we are limited in others. It’s okay. This is part of what it means to be human. The only remedy I know for self-doubt is to look to the Christian God who says to each of us: “You are my child. I made you. I love you. You are precious to me and you are important to the world. Trust me and I will show you how this is true. If you trust me I will refine you. I will make you immortal.” Children of God are royalty in the everlasting Kingdom, which means there is no position or achievement on earth that can improve their status. In Christ there is no reason for performance anxiety.
God is calling his people out of all nations. We must preserve justice. We must initiate justice. Can the races live in peace? Not fully, no. And yet, that is how Heaven is defined. It is God’s will that the races live in peace. To thumb our noses at God is profound foolishness. To do so is to call into question whether we actually know who God is. Can we hate others or be apathetic towards them and still love God? If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4.20
This has been a lengthy essay. I congratulate you (or perhaps I should console you) for managing to read this far. Please indulge me just a bit more as I provide a recap:
Black lives do matter because all lives matter, because God made all humans in his image.
- The following is a superficial way of making black lives matter: tearing down Confederate statues.
- The following will not make black lives matter:
- Blaming cops for being racist and abusive.
- Censoring language to allow for only what is politically correct, and demanding hypersensitivity.
3. The following should be pursued in order to help black lives matter:
- Blacks must disown the culture of victimhood while committing to hard work and discipline.
- Blacks must stop killing one another. The country needs to support this effort by radically reducing the types of guns available.
- Marriage should be given the credit it deserves. It is for the loving relationship of a man and a woman and for that relationship to be the foundation of care for children.
- Abortion should be outlawed.
- Work opportunities should be made available to all Americans so there is no need to turn to crime.
- The U.S. should provide national health, in order to relieve its citizens of potentially ruinous medical expenses.
- The U.S. should reform its police departments, especially through effective discipline, in order that they function as community protectors rather than as foreign stormtroopers.
- The U.S. should reform its penal code so that people are not incarcerated unless they are truly dangerous to their communities. Punishment should take the form of restitution, where possible.
- Schools should be funded by a national voucher system.
If you mull over the recommendations here, you should see that some of them seem leftist, while some seem very much from the right. (There is enough here to make everyone angry.) But it wasn’t my intention to to come up with a politically balanced document. I really don’t care about that. Another way of looking at the division is to recognize that much of the above calls for individual responsibility, while much calls for corporate responsibility. The commitment to carry your own weight—this is an individualist ideal. The measure of a good society is that it cares for its weakest members, whether the aged, the disabled, the unborn or, in this case, the racially disadvantaged—this is a social ideal.
Capitalism is not the enemy of socialism. Rather, there needs to be a reckoning between the two perspectives. The two economic visions should serve as complements.
The establishment of Israel in 1250 BC is instructive. In that founding there was an assumption of equality in that every family was provided with a similar land grant that was to remain in the family in perpetuity. Each family was expected to work the land and reap the benefits of its work. But provisions were put in place for generosity, as well. People were to pay a tithe for the support of the priestly class, and for the poor. Farmers were required to leave a portion of their field crops so the poor could harvest that portion and avoid starvation. And there was the Year of Jubilee every 50 years, essentially a provision that returned the land to any owner who, through irresponsibility or calamity, had lost his assigned land.
Individual responsibility and corporate responsibility. These are principles that have their obvious application to the matters of black lives in America. Blacks, there is plenty of correcting you must do within your own house. Whites, you need to get out of the way and remove the improper impediments to black flourishing. And you should gladly accept the responsibility of helping your brother on his way, with hope and expectation that he will, given a healthy environment, attain independence and prosperity. Wouldn’t we all be happier in a land where flourishing was the norm?