OPINION UPWARD MOBILITY
The Wall Street Journal
Far-left activists, scholars and journalists dominate the debate with views most black Americans reject.
By Jason L. Riley
July 26, 2022 6:20 pm ET
“The Brother From Another Planet” is a low-budget science-fiction comedy released in 1984. It tells the story of an alien who crash-lands his spaceship on Ellis Island and spends the next few days wandering around Manhattan. He looks like a normal black man and can understand what people are saying, but he can’t speak. This leads everyone he encounters to make assumptions about him—where he lives, why he’s there, what he wants—based on appearances. It’s all speculation premised on preconceived notions.
I do a fair amount of public speaking and am sometimes asked about my personal background. People want to know how I turned out the way I did, but I’m not always certain what they’re getting at. How did I become conservative? Why do I speak standard English? How did I stay out of jail? The inquiry is often made in a tone that suggests I have somehow defied expectations, that I didn’t turn out the way people who look like me normally do. It’s almost as if I’m otherworldly.
The reality is that most of the views expressed in this column each week are shared by many if not most black people. A majority of blacks tell pollsters that they support school choice and voter ID requirements and that they oppose racial preferences. Media outlets typically turn to social activists, far-left academics, liberal journalists and progressive politicians for comment on such matters, but the viewpoints of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones are often at odds with those of the average black person.
Moreover, this longstanding divergence in opinion has if anything been widening. One of today’s most prominent activist organizations, Black Lives Matter, has advocated defunding the police, while polling has shown that upward of 80% of blacks want the level of policing in their communities to remain the same or to increase.
In “The State of Black America,” a new collection of essays edited by William B. Allen, an emeritus professor of political philosophy at Michigan State University, Mr. Allen writes that it is not only wrong but counterproductive for the media to give the last word on social inequality to black elites who traffic in racial resentment and identity politics. “The civil rights movement may inadvertently have spawned the most serious obstacle to the progress of American blacks in our time,” he writes in his own essay. “Black leaders have turned to group identity rather than individual identity and American principles of assimilation. The result has been cultural stagnation for some black communities.”
Elsewhere in the volume, Brown University economics professor Glenn Loury challenges the left’s notion that racism mainly explains this cultural underdevelopment. “The ‘structural racism’ argument seldom goes into cause and effect,” he writes. “We are all just supposed to know that it’s the fault of something called ‘structural racism,’ abetted by an environment of ‘white supremacy’ that purportedly characterizes our society. Any racial disparity, then, can be totally explained by the imputation of ‘structural racism.’ ”
Mr. Allen’s is one of several new books that showcase alternative ways of thinking about racial inequality that receive little attention in the press and give the impression that black thinking on social policy is near-monolithic. In “Agency,” Ian Rowe of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the path out of poverty is not more government wealth redistribution but more focus on family structure and the so-called success sequence: graduate from high school, find a job, get married and then have kids, in that order.
Finally, my Manhattan Institute colleague Rafael Mangual has just authored “Criminal (In)justice,” a clearheaded assessment of the woke ideas—defunding police, emptying prisons—that have won over so many politicians and policy makers who show little interest in how such proposals will affect law-abiding residents of low-income minority communities. Presented in the tradition of such scholars as James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, who didn’t let emotion or faddish thinking impede their empirical reasoning, Mr. Mangual follows the evidence to its logical conclusion, even when that conclusion is politically incorrect.
The book’s discussion of the popular belief that poverty is a “root cause” of crime is instructive. Mr. Mangual reports that New York City homicides fell from more than 2,220 to fewer than 300 between 1990 and 2018, a period during which the city’s poverty rate increased slightly. Even during the 2007-09 Great Recession, which hit New York especially hard, crime continued to decline. Between 2006 and 2009, the jobless rate for black men, who are most of the city’s murder victims and perpetrators, nearly doubled, yet homicides and other violent crimes fell significantly.
These kinds of observations deserve far more notice and debate than they normally get in traditional media, where independent thinkers such as Messrs. Allen, Loury, Rowe and Mangual are misleadingly treated like brothers from another planet.
Joe Morton in ‘The Brother From Another Planet,’ 1984.
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