National Post Barbara Kay: People thought Obama would heal America’s bitter racial divide. It’s gotten worse


National Post - Tuesday March 31st, 2015

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
It is time to recognize that tides rise organically, not by state watering cans and magical presidents.

With Barack Obama’s tenure as U.S. president grinding to its definitive end, it’s clear the chasm between the Messiah-like figure he sold himself as in 2008 and the only-too-flawed mortal we see today will not close.

In no area did he arouse greater expectations than that of race relations. Obama’s inexperience and lukewarm patriotism, factors that would have sidelined any white candidate, were America’s tradeoff for the long-sought grail of white redemption for past sins. Obama’s blackness was perceived as the magically rising tide that would lift all American blacks’ boats.

But little has changed for blacks during Obama’s presidency, and that little has been negative. Homicide is still the leading cause of death for young black men (with 90 per cent of the perpetrators other black young men). Blacks, 13 per cent of the population, represent 37.5 per cent of state prison populations, and contrary to popular opinion, they are mostly there for violent offences, not minor drug crimes (if everyone imprisoned on a drug charge were freed, blacks would still constitute 37 per cent of inmates — a mere 0.5 per cent drop). In spite of decades of affirmative action, blacks underachieve in school and are most at risk of dropping out. The black unemployment rate is double that of whites and has been throughout five decades of liberal policy-making.

Why aren’t black boats rising in spite of all the programs, preferences and money lavished upon their communities? How one answers that question is a shortcut to one’s political stance. Progressives say blacks aren’t succeeding in acceptable numbers because of historically entrenched structural racism in a white-dominated society. Conservatives, when they are bold enough to say so — and few are — agree with journalist Jason L. Riley, that it is largely because of “a black subculture that rejects attitudes and behaviours that are conducive to academic success.”

In a January speech he gave at private, conservative Hillside College, explaining why he wrote his recently published book, Please Stop Helping Us, Riley recounted a telling personal anecdote. Visiting family in Buffalo, N.Y., he was chatting with his seven-year-old niece, when she asked, “Uncle Jason, why you talk white?” She turned to her little friend and said, “Don’t my uncle sound white? Why he tryin’ to sound so smart?” Riley was not surprised. He says his siblings had teased and mocked him the same way when he was young. Fortunately, he ignored them, which explains why he is an editorialist at The Wall Street Journal — and why so many other black young men who succumbed to the pressure to resist “white” values are not.

Martin Luther King never believed America was inherently evil, only that his country was guilty of a lapse into evil

Noting that Obama had announced another federal increase in preschool education, even though studies from his own administration show they have no significant impact, he calls this one more example of the “liberal flight from evidence and empiricism” that began in the 1960s and continues in spite of constant failures. Riley pulled no punches in his speech, stating, “Underprivileged blacks have become playthings for intellectuals and politicians who care more about revelling in their good intentions or winning votes than advocating behaviours and attitudes that have allowed other groups to get ahead.”

We know what those behaviours are. So did Martin Luther King, who never believed America was inherently evil, only that his country was guilty of a lapse into evil, a lapse that could be corrected by recognition of injustice, laws to entrench equality and the freedom to pursue opportunities on a level playing field. Even when it was unlevel, MLK urged good character and self-improvement on blacks as the key to personal dignity and success. That all changed when liberals informed blacks they were perpetual victims — even after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Bill — and so “today there is no greater impediment to black advancement than the self-pitying mindset that permeates black culture.”

This is tough love, but it is true love. Fatherlessness, the single greatest factor for poor social outcomes, is the default for most black children, up to 90 per cent in some inner cities. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labour, published a watershed report: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. In it he identified the breakdown of the black family — not racism — as the source of blacks’ failure to thrive, and the cause of their multiple social ills. His report has been vindicated as 100 per cent prophetic, but he was called a racist by liberals and the report sank like a stone.

Fifty years on, it is time to recognize that tides rise organically, not by state watering cans and magical presidents. Internal culture is the best predictor of any group’s social and economic success. When the children of two-parent black families respond to their articulate uncles with admiration and a desire to emulate them rather than with mockery, black boats will rise. And not before.