Moving Past the Fergusons

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three editorials taken together go very far in making sense of the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri, that has existed since Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. The first offers an explanation of the clearly evident outrage, but without addressing the equally obvious problem of opportunists seizing an opportunity to wreak havoc. The second -- and the most important in my opinion -- does the best job of explaining the chaos facing black leaders genuinely interested in progress. The third illustrates, by way of example, the cultural problem indicated by the second. The authors are, respectively, Leonard Pitts, Jr. of the Miami Herald, Joseph Epstein of the Wall Street Journal, and Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Pitts writes that the protests are not just about Michael Brown. Pitts's piece reminds us of a broader historical context and is worth reading, especially for those of us in physical proximity to the events, and who might be wondering if any of this is even about Michael Brown:

[I]t is about the bitter sense of siege that lives in African-American men, a sense that it is perpetually open season on us.

And that too few people outside of African America really notice, much less care. People who look like you are everyday deprived of health, wealth, freedom, opportunity, education, the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence, life itself -- and when you try to say this, even when you document it with academic studies and buttress it with witness testimony, people don't want to hear it, people dismiss you, deny you, lecture you about white victimhood, chastise you for playing a so-called "race card."
There is no disputing that black men are worse off by many measures than almost any other demograpic group, and seeing that on a daily basis can be an enormous psychological burden.

However, as Joseph Epstein indicates, there is plenty of room for disagreement as to why so many black men remain poorly-off and feel unable to change things:
... The old dead analyses, the pretty panaceas, are paraded. Yet nothing new is up for discussion. Discussion itself is off the table. Except when Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele and a few others have dared to speak about the pathologies at work--and for doing so, these black figures are castigated.
And, much later:
The situation today for a civil-rights leader is not so clear, and in many ways more complex. After the victories half a century ago, civil rights may be a misnomer. Economics and politics and above all culture are now at the heart of the problem. Blacks largely, and inexplicably, remain pledged to a political party whose worn-out ideas have done little for them while claiming much. Slipping off the too-comfortable robes of victimhood is essential, as is discouraging everything in ghetto culture that has dead-end marked all over it. The task is enormous, the person likely to bring it off, a modern-day Moses able to lead his people out of the desert, nowhere in sight. Until that person or persons arrives, we can expect more nights like those in Ferguson, with cries of racism, with looters and bottom-feeders turning up, with sadness all round. [link added]
While I am not sure a "modern-day Moses" is strictly necessary, I agree with Epstein's assessement of the situation faced by black Americans as transitional. I would go further than Epstein in my assessment of the quality of the "civil rights" establishment: I see them as derelict at best.

Jesse Jackson, Sr. offers us a prime example, in the form of an editorial that appeared recently in USA Today:
Here's America today: high unemployment and low graduation rates result in guns and drugs in and jobs out; hospitals and public schools closing; gym, art, music and trade skills taken out of our public schools; inadequate investments being made in our infrastructure with roads crumbling, bridges falling down and an outdated public transportation system; a failure to address climate change; denial of capital investment for entrepreneurs; abandoned homes and vacant lots; a lack of youth recreational opportunities; frivolous entertainment, texting and Twitter replacing serious news reporting, reading, writing and arithmetic; a cutback in funding and a denial of equal opportunity in public jobs such as for teachers, policemen and firemen; all of which leads to hopelessness, despair and cynicism. [bold added]
Yes. After ironically alluding to the failed War on Poverty, Jesse Jackson calls for more of the same, and, for good measure, takes the death of a young man as a chance to hawk big government solutions to ... global warming, of all things. Not anywhere is there a hint of Jackson considering whether our nation's government has created or worsened any of the real problems faced by the country in general and black men in particular -- or a clue that he might consider a real alternative to trying to solve everything through central planning.

It is supremely ironic, given that Jim Crow, a government program for keeping black people down, didn't make black leaders as highly suspicious of intrusive government as the American people were around the time of the Revolution. As Thomas Jefferson might have asked: Might a government big enough to pass loot around also be big enough to sap the pride and initiative -- and the sense that there is opportunity out there for the taking -- from an entire people?

Leonard Pitts argues that black men endure heavy psychological pressure from the idea that their options are purposely limited by the society around them. But Joseph Epstein makes it clear, and Jesse Jackson demonstrates, that it is time to stop and question the premise behind those feelings. Opportunities are, in fact, partly limited by vestigial (and vanishing) racism, prejudice, culture, and bad government. How to make the most out of what opportunities are open and how to fight the right battles to become as free as anyone else require what is most sorely missing in this whole sad episode, and many others like it: A rational examination of facts (including one's emotions), with the overall purpose of determining what is best for one's life and how to achieve it.

This is not to minimize the incredible burden it must be to go through life seeing poverty and hearing from all corners that the deck is stacked against you -- or the horror of seeing someone much like you killed out of the blue. But self-control and careful thought are, in fact, the way to win anyway.

Anyone can take away your freedom or your life, but no one can touch your soul unless you let them.

-- CAV


Scott Holleran said...

Great post. I agree.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Scott.

Anonymous said...

It seems hard to defend what this police officer did based on early reports. But the early reports in the George Zimmerman case looked bad as well.

Still, Black Americans are much more likely to be killed by fellow Blacks. Over 90% of people arrested for murder in St. Louis last year were black.

If you were to take the black children out of the Ferguson schools and replace them with white children from Idaho and Utah is there any doubt they would do just fine?

I think the prospects for blacks doing well are pretty bleak. What explains why they don't do well anywhere in the world? If it's not genetic it might as well be.

-Joe Jones

Gus Van Horn said...


Apologies for the late moderation of your comment and reply.

Regarding your notion of dumping white kids into lousy public schools, I can't disagree more. Just for starters, if you were to perform such a perverse experiment, you'd have to also give many of them poverty, broken families, and unsafe environments. Things would doubtless even out.

Furthermore, I have also, long ago, addressed your other points in this post and its comments.