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Posted by on Jul 10, 2007 in At TMV | 19 comments

How to Help African Americans

The last Democratic presidential debate left me with one major question: how to help the African American community? How to help them help themselves? It does not take a genius to figure out that today’s policies have not accomplished what they were designed to accomplish. Many African Americans still live in poverty, many African Americans are not insured (health care), African Americans are twice as likely to drop out of school than whites, the list goes on and on. This all despite (or perhaps partially because of) government involvement for decades. What do you all think should be done?

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • Honestly, I’m of two minds on this subject, Michael, and I hate to write about it because, generally, whenever I do I’m shouted down.

    I think there’s an important distinction to be made, one made by the sociologist Charles Moskus. He distinguishes between “African Americans” i.e. Americans of African origin or descent and “Afro Americans”, Americans of black African descent who are the descendants of slaves inmported into the United States before it because illegal to do so.

    The Ivy League-educated son of a Gambian king does not face the same problems here as does the granddaughter of South Carolinan sharecroppers although both may be classified the same way in the U. S. Census and may fit into education and employment quotas, er, targets the same way. I think we (the American society at large) owe the latter a debt of honor and the former nothing we don’t owe to any other American.

    The easiest, best way to help is by helping all poor Americans. I continue to believe, however, that Afro Americans have special needs, we have a heightened responsibility to them, and I think it’s a scandal that the Democratic Party, which owes its fortunes to the fidelity of African American voters, isn’t extending itself more on their behalf.

  • Lynx

    My first instinct at seeing such a question is “damned if I know”, but that’s not quite precise. I know several things that need to happen, but I have no idea how they can be achieved and frankly doubt the ability of government to achieve them.

    A change of mentality must take place at many levels. The most fundamental problem I see is the family unit. Strengthening families is 100% necessary for the African American community to get ahead. Poverty is hard, poverty as a single mother is much much harder. Sure you can do it, but as a widespread (and it is rampant) tendency it’s disastrous. Children need a strong family unit, most especially when they live in places where they are exposed to very unhealthy lifestyles. The prevalence of black men who see no responsibility in raising the children of the women they impregnate is I think both causing and symptomatic of a mentality that relinquishes control, that is irresponsible and unwilling to fight for something better.

    How can this change take place? This I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain government CAN’T do it, it must come from within. In the personal case of a very close friend of mine, the church kept her in school and out of trouble, I’m not a believer but I think the kind of close-knit community that revolved around that church is very positive. I also think the African American community needs another hero, another person to rally behind that isn’t a music or sports star. I think an Obama presidency might give them that kind of hero. Oh it wouldn’t SOLVE the problem, but it would be a good influence.

  • stevesturm

    what’s with the talk of ‘helping’ blacks? Why focus on a particular race and single them out? isn’t that the textbook definition of racism?

    If you think too many people (of whatever) color are in poverty, then come up with a universal program to improve their lot in life. If you think too many people (of whatever) color are lacking education, or health care, or whatever, then address that.

    if you start treating people as people and not as part of some color group, then you don’t have to debate whether there are different subsets of the color group, you don’t have to bother counting and characterizing people into groups at all.

  • stevesturm,

    As Dave Schuler points out we can help Afro Americans by helping all the poor. The thing is, it is not wrong to single them out as a group that has been treated differently. Across history they have been singled out for discrimination, so it is only right to single them out and say, hey our government, our society has wronged this group of people and something must be done to correct that. Much better to acknowledge that than try and ignore them as a group that has historically been discriminated against.

  • Lynx

    stevesturm I think that your view whereby the poor are simply the poor and no distinction is made on their color is the ideal, but ignores some of the reality. Mind you, I oppose affirmative action based on race (though I might support one based purely on poverty), but discussing the black poor as separate from other poor is not necessarily racist. Even when compared to other poor people they have issues that are more and less likely to happen to them. Single parenthood is more likely to be found in an African American poor community than in a Latino poor community, but no knowledge of English would be the reverse. Keeping in mind the general makeup of the communities you seek to help is not racist, it’s smart policy.

    That said I agree that above all, government needs to see to helping the poor. I think that many of the problems more specific to the African American community will not be solved by government, but by the much slower changing of minds and attitudes.

  • stevesturm

    ashen: billions upon billions of dollars have been spent trying to correct the wrong of decades/generations ago discrimination. While I agree that the poor lot in life of some people is definitely the result of their poor life decisions today, I disagree that their poor life choices are because of what happened to some other people years/generations ago. If some girl doesn’t know that having kids out of wedlock isn’t a good idea, then it isn’t because her great ancestors might have been slaves, it is because she is stupid and I’m not losing sleep over her ending up poor, regardless of what color she may be. The same for those dealing drugs, failing to go to school and so on. And I’m not holding myself responsible for correcting the supposed sins of people that lived and died years/generations ago.

    And Lynx, so what that certain groups are more likely to have demographics that don’t match up with society as a whole? the important thing is not to try and micromanage society so every slice of America mirrors every other slice, it is to provide opportunities for everyone, so those who decide, whatever color they are, to take advantage of those opportunities can do so. And if it turns out that a particular slice of America is worse off than some other slice, so long as it isn’t because of discrimination, then so what? we can’t all be average,can we?

  • domajot

    Whatever the best way to help may be, the worst way is talk about government programs as one big glob, equally successful or equally failing.

    Even among programs producing negative results, we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water when we start lumping every aspect under big umbrellas. The much maligned affirmative action programs helped put Clarence Thomas in the position of power that he oxxupies today, for example.

    I agree wtih Dave Schuler that the descendents of slaves need special consideration. Intermarriage and classification by race (which lumps recent immigrants from Africa with US Afro-Americans) makes identifying this as a distictive group more difficult with the passing years. How would children of bi-racial couples be classified?

    Perhaps, then, helping Afro-Americans is best approached through programs that assist all the poor.

    In the meantime, this is still a very racist and class-based (increasingly so) society. We are very tribal and the helping hand seldom willingly extends across tribal divisions.

    Somehow, this nation has to recognize that helping one secor of society benefits all sectors.
    We deal with crime by building more and more prisons, a hugely expensive undertaking. It would be more conomical, in the long run, to invest money in crime prevention, instead.

    It all depends on convincing a public absorbed in immeidate gratification of their self-interest thair self interest is best served by investing in the future of the country as a whole.
    The resistance to grappling with this problem is very mush like the resistance to grappling with global warming: near-sighted.

    In picking programs, I favor small pilot programs at first to test the waters: what works, what doesn’t .

  • domajot

    Stevesrum blithely jumps high over the basic questionL what does equal opportunkty consit of?

    A child whose mother works two jobs and has zero time to read to him does not have the same opportunity to succeed as the child of parents living in comfortable (and less stressed-out) circumstances.

    When we talk of equal opportunkity for anyone, let’s not skip discussing what equal opportunity actually means. I would even welcome ‘fair chance’ as a substitue for ‘equal opportunkty’ , but ignoring the cards being stacked against some is the opposite of reasonable, IMO.

  • AustinRoth

    Resistance to grappling with the problem? We have been grappling with it for 40 years now, and it only gets worse.

    Continuing to blame the circumstances of blacks from 100 years ago for today’s problems is, to many of us, part of the problem, not the solution.

    As long as there is a culture of victim hood, there will be an excuse to fail. I have no issue with programs to help people towards self-sufficiency, but that has not occurred, by any measurement you want to use.

    And, anyone who tries to stand up and say such things usually finds they are attacked as racist, or unfeeling.

    So many peoples throughout history have risen up from positions of slavery and domination to achieve great success, but we are to believe that blacks are incapable without our help? That to me is racist.

    Laws and enforcement against discrimination are positive steps, that can, if done vigorously, lead to open avenues towards success.

    Continuing the failed policies of favoritism by laws to ‘redress’ past injuries only hurts those they are designed to help.


  • domajot


    Maybe you’re looking in the wrong end of the telescope.
    You’re focused on the failures of the past, without ;learning from them. Stop and look forward.
    Not investing in prevention ensures that you will be investing more and more in mop-up operations: more prisons, more police, higher security walls, higher insurance rates. And all the while, fewer people employed to contribute to the national treasury. And all the while higher medical costs for the uninsured and unemployed.

    Dealing with problems is one way to prevent you from being a victim of them. It’s in your self-inerest.

  • AustinRoth

    You’re focused on the failures of the past, without ;learning from them.

    Sorry, but that is exactly what I see those that want even more programs set up doing – failing to learn from the past. What we have been doing has not worked, and I am not just talking about the social programs designed to help, that do not.

    Incarceration of Americans, and especially blacks, is beyond a national shame. The constant criminalization of petty conduct and minor drug offenses, combined with a desire to ‘get tought on crime and throw them all in jail’, is one of the most poisonous things we are doing as a society.

    I cannot say for sure I got the numbers right, but I believe I read recently somewhere that we had around 2.5M people in state or federal prison now, and more than 7M are part of the criminal justice system when you add in parolees. About 50% of that population is black. In 1970, the numbers were about 1/6 that, and the rate of incarceration went from 110 in 100,000 to 900 in 100,000.

    We are indeed a police state now, given those levels.

    ps. I just found the link I was thinking of, and rather than re-write the whole post, I am just adding it to the end of this post.

    The Sociology of Crime and Punishment Andrew Austin © 2007

  • DLS

    ??? This is not 1967-68!

  • AustinRoth

    I forgot the ‘However’ to start my switching over to agree with domajot on the incarceration issue. Made it kind of disjointed.

    What are you referring to DLS?

  • AustinRoth,
    I’m guessing he is referring to the height of the Civil Rights movement, which or course is not representative of the length and vigor of the movement. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, certain states like Mississippi are still required to have their elections monitored, thats how bad racial discrimination is.

    BTW, I suggest everyone read Local People by John Dittmer. Gives a human face to the civil rights movement in Mississippi rather than focusing on those who have become part of the mythology of the era. It is academic, over 400 pages, but very well written.

  • Oddly enough AustinRoth I used to be in the honors classes at the school you wrote that for. I have some recent general numbers from a post I did over at Donklephant last year.

    A U.S. Justice Department report released on November 30 showed that a record 7 million people — or one in every 32 American adults — were behind bars, on probation or on parole at the end of last year. Of the total, 2.2 million were in prison or jail.

    According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.”

  • domajot

    I just reread some material about the inner city riots of the late 1960s, and although that is indeed ‘history’, a lot of lessons from it apply today. In fact, that’s exaxtly what I meant by saying that we look at failures from the wrong end of the telescope.

    Because some policies created white flight to the suburbs, they created the loss of jobs in inner cities and all the social and structural decay that followed. Those left behind in the inner cities to live in these conditions, were the blacks Stir in racism, corruption and organized crime, and the result was the riots acroos the country (which the press got totally wrong at the time, and it has never fully corrected the record).

    What do we have today? Pockets of poverty where the same lack of jobs, lack of power and general hopelessness smother the residents.
    The jobless rate in Newark, NJ is higher today than ti was just prior to the riots. That;s a serious fact, to me.

    Since I believe in evolution and man’s ability to learn, I hink the worst possible thing to do would be to say: “Oops, sorry. We made a mistake, and we’re walking away from this mess.”

    Instead, we have to find programs that inject hope in the most hopeless communities, opening the door to possibilites. We need the exact oppostied of what was proposed last year: to cut aid for mothers attending school instead of working. We need programs by which total benefits are not drastically cut by working at entry level jobs instead of accepting welfare. We need to extend hope.

    I also think that it’s a mistake to tackle poverty in so strictly a piecemal fashion:, education, health care, job oppportunities, the effects of globalization. In actuality, it’s all part of one picture and each piece threatens most those who are most vulnerable.

    When one sector hurts, the whole nation suffers, in one way or another. This is America’s problem, and it should be tackled that way.

  • DLS

    What are you referring to DLS?

    ??? What we are encountering here is the same phrases at times we have heard back then, as if nothing has been learned. This is also true at times with Africa.

  • AustinRoth

    Dyre42 – I appreciate the compliment, but I am not Andrew Austin. I just linked to that paper.

  • Unfortunately, there is no equal opportunity for blacks, and it’s easy to prove to yourself that we have a very deep cultural bias against blacks. Those who have read Blink will be familiar with the Harvard research showing how we are all unconsciously prejudiced, even blacks against blacks and women against women.

    Check this yourself on the Harvard Implicit Association Test website.
    The test shows that you can put ‘black’ and ‘bad’ together easily, but not ‘black’ and ‘good’ (the test uses “African American” and “European American’, so it’s not just the wording. You’ll find yourself similarly prejudiced against women and career, biased against Asians, Muslims and in fact all dark-skinned people. This isn’t someone’s spin. Prove it to yourself.
    Research shows that white-sounding names get called back for job interviews much more often than black-sounding names, Hispanic names etc, even with identical resumes.

    We have a long way to go, and pretending that equal opportunity exists for blacks does no good. This isn’t about blacks wanting special treatment for 100 year old grievances. We are prejudiced today. If anyone bucks the trend and regularly associates good qualities with dark-skinned people on the Harvard test, let me know.

    Michael, I’m especially interested if Europeans have any less trouble with these “implicit associations”.

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