Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Canard Of Racism

David Broder has a piece in WaPo on Bush, race, and New Orleans. As usual it is thoughful and thought provoking, unlike a lot of the recent dialogue from others, like, say, Jesse Jackson.

A major drawback to becoming a knee-jerk political ideologue is that once your reputation has been established all subsequent statements and actions are viewed with suspicion or dismissed outright. Does anyone take Jesse Jackson seriously any more and if so, why? Here is a public figure who purports to want to end racism and does so by judging every action and utterance of others through the prism of race. A compendium of inflammatory and irresponsible statements by Jackson would make War and Peace look like a pamphlet so there is little need to list them here.

The real question is this: to what degree have many of Jackson's insidious and often opportunistic allegations led a great many people to dismiss real racial injustice out of hand? When the Reverend shouts "racism" regarding the response to Hurricane Katrina is his voice heard outside of his amen corner?

It is inarguable that all forms of racism still exist in this country, including the kind practiced by Jackson, so we as a society still have a lot of work to do. Are there causes deeper than merely skin color that come into play? A few come to mind.

There is a strong correlation between race and economic stratification in America as well; this is evidenced in the fact that although it is true that Katrina affected black more than whites there are several factors implicated in that outcome. First, New Orleans is 67.25% black, (according to the 2000 census) so no matter what, African-Americans will feel a greater impact than say, Asians (2.26%) or whites (28.05%). What we do not yet know, and may never fully understand, is if more than 67% (a proportional effect) of the people affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were black. For the sake of argument, let's assume they were. Why?

Aside from racial demography, economic factors must be considered as well. In 1999, the per capita income for whites in New Orleans was $31,971. For blacks it was $11,332. This is not a typo; the per capita income for whites was nearly three times what it was for blacks. (It should also be noted that in Louisiana the rate of white income to black is double, $20,488 versus $10,166.) So is this inherently racist? Not necessarily, and although it is nearly impossible to discern the true economic impact of racism it has to be conceded that race alone cannot solely responsible for this type of per capita income disparity.

Let's look at education, which strongly correlates to income, particularly true in a school district with a student population that is 93.5% black. In the Orleans Parish, the average expenditure per student is $7,296, not an inconsequential sum. And what does this buy? A school system in which, by its own standards, 46% of the schools are deemed academically unacceptable. (The state average is a little over 5%, by way of comparison.) An additional 26% of the schools are on academic warning. A mind-numbing 72% of the educational system there is effectively broken. Where is the accountability? Where are the claims of racism? A school district that is 93% black has nearly $7,300 spent per student and all it buys is failure? It couldn't have to do with the fact that the teacher's unions are, after the trial lawyers, the single largest contributors to the Democratic Party, could it? And what possible defense could there be in this case for not implementing vouchers? Wouldn't one want to empower the overwhelmingly black parents of school children with a credit of over $7,000 to find the best education that money could buy?

Furthermore, in the same Orleans Parish School District, nearly one in five (18.8%) of students do not graduate from high school. (Source: La. Department of Education) Again, this in a district that spends over $7,000 per student.

Another factor in success in life, and therefore a method of avoiding poverty, is becoming educated before having children and having a family under the auspices of marriage. This metric, from the federal government, is therefore interesting: Illegitimacy rates differ dramatically by state, from 17 percent in Utah to 56 percent in the mostly black District of Columbia. The next highest states are Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico (all 47 percent). Half of all children in Louisiana are born out of wedlock. (I have been unable to find numbers specific to New Orleans.)

The good news is that the illegitimacy rate has been dropping; the bad news is that at the rate of decline it will take 115 years to return to the 22 percent level of the early 1960's that was a prime cause for Lyndon Johnson's War On Poverty.

Think about these numbers for a moment.

No public figure, or political party, has all the answers. It is beginning to look like those sources may not have any of the answers. But two things seem abundantly clear: that $6 trillion dollars and 40 years later conditions for the impoverished, of all races, haven't improved and that there is an inescapable, if broad, connection between personal repsonsibility and the manner in which one's life unfolds. Our government has done enough regarding the former and has little, if any, control over the latter.

The proper method of riding a dead horse is to dismount. In our quest to help the poor in this country, what do we do now?


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