Friday, April 4, 2008

Forty Years Later

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, and media commentators have throughout the day been making references to King's I Have a Dream speech and talking about keeping King's dream alive.

I'd like to, but I'm afraid that King's dream is pretty much moribund. The dream was, in part, that someday his children would be "judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin." The dream was that we would live in a color-blind society where people would look past one's race and pigment to one's values and achievement. Unfortunately, modern liberalism has made that all but impossible.

So far from making race an irrelevancy, liberalism has made it a matter of crucial importance.

Affirmative action, race-based scholarships, minority set-asides, race-norming, school busing, welfare, etc. were all attempts to compensate blacks - a kind of reparations, if you will - for the abominations of the past. What they actually accomplished for black people can be debated, but they surely stoked white resentments and pushed further into the distance the day when skin color doesn't matter.

Moreover, the Democratic party has exploited race since the 1960s by instilling in blacks a kind of plantation mentality.

They promised African-Americans they'd take care of them as long as blacks promised to remain on the Democrat plantation. Having the necessities of life provided for them by the government, blacks over the last forty years of the twentieth century have been given little incentive to cultivate the virtues that enable people to rise out of poverty and cope and compete in the wider world.

As long as there were jobs available which didn't require any special level of education, blacks who were interested could find work, but lacking the encouragement and incentive to develop their minds, having liberals constantly make excuses for black failure, they found themselves unable to succeed in universities and adrift in the sophisticated information workplace that evolved in the 80's and 90's. Unable to meet the demands of the jobs that were opening up, liberals prescribed for them even more government help, which Democrats were quick to promise. But the more government took care of their needs the further behind many African-Americans fell and the less able they were to fend for themselves.

We're sometimes surprised to find a thirty year-old who still lives at home, unable to muster the will and discipline necessary to make a decent living and raise a family on his own. We wonder at the attitude some have that their parents owe them support, and we're puzzled, sometimes, why the parents allow them to live that way. We ask ourselves if it wouldn't be better for everyone involved if the offspring were placed on the receiving end of a little "tough love."

Yet, that's a pretty accurate metaphor for how we've treated minorities in this country for the last forty five years. Our policies have created a deep dependency upon the "parent" government, and whenever the effects of this dependency are manifested in the short-comings of the dependents their failures are often seen as proof that government is just not doing enough to help.

African-Americans are encouraged by demagogic leaders like Jeremiah Wright, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and thousands of lesser known characters, as well as their white abettors, to believe that white society owes them big time, and liberals respond to the demands of these grievance-mongers by trying to make life as easy for the "oppressed" minorities as possible. Unfortunately, few propose placing demands on them or holding them to the same standards of performance that would be expected of whites or Asians because to do so would be racist, or at least insensitive to the historic difficulties blacks have had to endure.

So what happens? Liberal whites harbor the self-actualizing attitude, albeit tacitly, that African- Americans are the white man's burden and African-Americans develop a corresponding racial inferiority complex along with all the simmering resentments that naturally accompany such an outlook on life. The attitudes of both the liberal and the black are demeaning and degrading and neither is helpful, so how do we break out of this pattern into which we have been locked ever since the sixties?

The way out is to hold blacks to the exact same standards in every aspect of life that others must meet. Black crime, educational failure and family disintegration can't be swept under the rug, yet many whites consider it impolite to mention these vices in racially mixed company, as if it were somehow an insult to blacks to point them out. The resulting silence about them translates into a kind of tolerance, or even acceptance. Nevertheless, these dysfunctions must be consistently acknowledged and confronted as sources of failure in the black community, and grievous impediments to any hope of future black success. As long as we ignore them, or make excuses for them, blaming them on poverty, or not enough police, or bad schools, the problems will never be solved.

We must also establish the conviction that advancement or achievement should be based on nothing other than ability - not race, not gender, not who your daddy was - just merit.

Some will object that "merit" is just a racist code word - a claim that reeks of self-deprecation. Some will protest that too many blacks will fail to meet tough standards and expectations. But many others will rise to the challenge who otherwise wouldn't, and their example of accomplishment and self-worth will be contagious in their families, and will reverberate through their neighborhoods. Some will unfortunately be left behind, but the situation is critical, and we can no longer allow the feel-good nostrums of liberalism to dissuade us from doing what must be done to change the sense of black inferiority that liberalism has spawned.

What sort of standards are we talking about? Here are two just for starters: First, black kids should be expected to stay in school, get good grades, graduate and go on to get some post-secondary education. Dropping out should not be accepted in the black community. Second, black couples should be expected to wait until they're married to have children and once they're married to stay married. Illegitimacy must lose it's sanction in black society because it's a heavy anchor on black aspirations.

Those two things alone would constitute an enormous first step toward reversing the blight of black poverty and failure in America.

Like Martin Luther King, a lot of us have a dream, too. We dream of the day when what matters most in a man is what values he holds - what kind of morals he lives by, his ambitions, his attitudes toward his family, his community, and his country. We dream of a day when the things that we share in common are more important than the things which make us different. We dream of a day when the color of one's skin matters no more than the color of one's eyes, and when everyone, regardless of ethnicity, recognizes that the best way to guarantee a united, cohesive future is to share grandchildren.

Even so, if that day is ever going to come, liberalism is just going to have to get out of the way.