John McWhorter, an African American linguist, reviews (link appears to be blocked. Sorry) Amy Wax's book, "Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century." He begins,
This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned.
McWhorter is identified in Wikipedia as a conservative. I don't know what Amy Wax's politics are but at this point I'm willing to listen to anyone who has given a lot of thought to the huge disparities between whites and Blacks on so many social and economic measures. All I know is that some of our inner cities are to middle class America as Gaza is to Tel Aviv.
Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience—and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, “That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.”
Yeah, that's a pretty powerful parable and it deserves discussion. Are the two, the struggles of poor Blacks in America today to the struggles of an injured person having to learn to walk again, the same?
Here is the paragraph that got my attention,
One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. ...
Yes, but... Come on, there's a question of causality here isn't there? Do fulfilling these three conditions cause success or do successful people just happen to fulfill these conditions naturally? Still, they are good goals for anyone to shoot for, especially those who suffer an overall 24.7% rate of unemployment.
I believe solving the problems of the inner cities will require a government safety net that rewards certain behaviors. There should be rewards for getting a high school diploma/GED, rewards for keeping a job for 3 months, 6 months, a year, 2 years, but the government may have to provide those jobs to be fair. I believe we must recruit motivated teachers to teach in inner city schools, and I think everyone regardless of age should be allowed to enroll in the schools (many of us don't realize the value of education until well past our high school years). There should be more government-provided vocational schools that can place graduates in appropriate jobs.
But to be fair, these programs should also be set up in Appalachia, Indian reservations and other pockets of poverty. We need an educated, employed workforce to build the middle class again and create demand for American goods and services, and tax revenue to help pay for these programs.
UPDATE: Two readers of Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish comment about McWhorter's review. Both make good points.
FURTHER UPDATE: Two more readers comment. One has had experience teaching in an inner city school - though his description doesn't match the schools in Baltimore and Washington that have been described to me). Gangs. We've either got to get the kids away from gangs or the gangs away from the kids. Good luck with that!
ONE MORE: Another point of view, one I firmly endorse. Involved parents are the most important factor to success in school. But how can you force parents to be involved? Some are nearly as illiterate as their child and others work two jobs to pay the bills.