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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

Is Racial Disparity Evidence of Racism?

Ibram X. Kendi

Photo Credit: Ibram X. Kendi by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

If you’ve scratched your head over the latest of the ever-growing number of things (like algebra and Beethoven) that has “become” racist, you can blame your confusion on radical leftist Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky once said, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” Today, the masses are being played by some novel concepts derived neither from Webster nor Scripture but straight from the lexicon of Critical Theory. 

One gaining currency among Christians and non-Christians alike is “racism” which, we’re being told, is not “prejudice based on race,” but “racial prejudice plus power.” The not-so subtle point is that minorities cannot be racist, only those in the majority can be racist—that is, whites, in fact, all whites. Thus, in pulpits across the country, pastors are imploring their white congregations to reflect on and repent of their intrinsic racism.

Another notion, fashioned by Critical Theory luminary Ibram X. Kendi, is that there is no such thing as a “non-racist”—rather, people are prima facie “racist” unless they are actively engaging in anti-racism. 

If Kendi applied that dichotomy to other, innumerable injustices (Christian genocide in Nigeria, honor killing in the Mideast, female genitalia mutilation in Asia, child labor in Taiwan, sex trafficking everywhere) that he and most decent people oppose ethically and morally but lack the time and resources to materially combat, he would have to conclude that he is an unwitting accomplice in an awful lot of the world’s wrongs. Somehow, I doubt he has. 

But even if his binary view of racism is accepted, who can be anti-racist enough? Turns out, no one.

Consider Amy Coney Barrett, the mother of seven children, two of whom she and her husband adopted from Haiti. After her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kendi compared her to early white colonizers who used adopted black children “as props in their lifelong pictures of denial.” 

Little wonder, we have masses of the newly woke denouncing their “white privilege” and confessing “our corporate sin,” while emboldened radicals prowl about for the guilty and exact penance by toppling statues, burning churches, and assassinating cops. Alinsky would be proud.

Then there’s “institutional racism,” defined by Black sociologist George Yancey as “mechanisms that lead to racial inequality regardless of whether there was an intent to have racial inequality” (emphasis added). In other words, institutional racism exists wherever there is a disparity in outcomes, full stop. 

Embracing that definition, Critical Theory thinkers and their disciples have denounced everything from the transcendent (math, logic, biblical exegesis) to the sublime (classical music, poetry, the National Parks) as “racist” for the disproportionately limited participation and performance among blacks. National Parks? Who knew?

More common are the charges of racism for inequalities in wealth and education among blacks. And while racism may be partly to blame, it doesn’t explain why black immigrants have half the poverty rate of African-Americans or why the earnings and educational achievements of Asian-Americans exceed those of whites. Come to think of it, nobody is calling out professional sports, in general, or the NBA, in particular, because they are not racially balanced. 

Then there’s the criminal justice system, a favorite target for anti-racist opprobrium. Of particular grievance is the disparity in incarcerations and sentencing of blacks attributable, in part, to drug laws that make punishments for crack cocaine (favored by black offenders) harsher than its powder form.

However, if those laws are unjust, they are so not because one group favors one form over another, but because the medical and scientific basis does not support a public hazard commensurate with the legal penalties which apply to all users, regardless of race. 

The same goes for laws against violent crime. The fact that 50% of violent crimes are committed by a group comprising less than 7% of the population (black males), does not make those laws—again, which apply to all offenders, regardless of race—or the criminal justice system “racist.” 

That said, if a black offender with a similar criminal history as a white offender receives a stiffer penalty for the same offense, it would be evidence of racial injustice—not institutionally, in the law or criminal justice system, but individually, in the heart and mind of the adjudicator. As I have written previously, fifty years after the Civil Rights movement racism is not institutional, it’s cardiological.

If any institutional factor is to blame, it is the social programs of the Great Society that subsidized behaviors and choices that made the prevalence of fatherless homes and out-of wedlock births (conditions strongly correlated to poverty, crime, and other negative outcomes) in the black community disproportionally higher than in the white community.  

And there’s another. Continue reading here.

Ever since the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, reparations have been proposed as a form of redress for slavery. Originally targeting the direct victims of slavery, reparations today are proposed, not only for descendents of slaves but for the black community at large, for the racial injustice responsible for the black-white wealth gap.

Setting aside the enormous difficulty of tracing one’s ancestry to an actual slave, determining the monetary value for an injustice 150 years removed would be arbitrary at best, contentious at worst, and open to criticism by all stakeholders. And how would that apply to African Americans with white parents (like Barack Obama), or whose ancestors were slave owners in this country, or whose ancestors were slave owners or slave traders in their native lands?

A solution to division and injustice?

Assuming those thorny details could be worked out, would reparations move us closer to racial justice and reconciliation in this country? It’s unlikely. I can’t think of a more unjust and divisive scheme than to take from people who had no part in antebellum slavery and give to those who were not its victims.

But there’s a more basic question. Say you award every slave descendent—no, every African American—$10,000, $100,000, or whatever, would it solve economic disparity in the black community? Again, it’s unlikely. While it might assuage black poverty for a time, the “rags to riches to rags” stories of lottery winners inform us that people are not poor because they lack money; they are poor because they make poor choices, some of which are underwritten by the state.

Tragically, what the sexual revolution made morally acceptable, the welfare programs of the Great Society made financially possible by subsidizing sex without consequences, procreation without marriage, and homes without fathers. The results of which are the fatherless homes and out-of-wedlock births (conditions strongly correlated to poverty, crime, and other negative outcomes) that have become the norms in the black community.

The success sequence

Exploring cause and effect, the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank, found that avoiding poverty comes down to making three life choices: finishing high school, getting a full-time job, and waiting until age 21 before getting married and having children. Their research shows that only two percent of those who followed these principles are poor.

When followed consecutively, these three principles have been called the “success sequence” because they afford a person the best odds (98 percent) of escaping poverty. Consider that for the last 25 years the poverty rate for a black family headed by a married couple has been less than 10 percent and is consistently lower than that of whites.

But the nuclear family is the exception in the black community where 75 percent of children are born out-of-wedlock and two-thirds of households are headed by a single female, the family structure with the highest rate of poverty. If the “legacy of slavery” is to blame, notes black economist Walter Williams, it doesn’t account for the fact that “in 1940 the black illegitimacy rate was 11 percent and most black children were raised in two-parent families.”

Consequently, black thinkers, like Williams, do not consider economic inequality or even racism the biggest problem in the black community but, rather, the “very weak black family structure,” caused by the disruption of the nuclear family, which “predisposes children, especially boys, to academic failure, criminal behavior and economic hardship, not to mention an intergenerational repeating of handicaps.” Ironically, one of the goals of the self-proclaimed black advocacy group, Black Lives Matter, is to disrupt further this “Western-prescribed” family structure.

Lessons from Oprah

In the 1990’s, media mogul Oprah Winfrey befriended a fatherless boy in the Chicago projects whose mother was out of work. Oprah found his mother a job and enrolled the boy in a private school only to have him expelled for non-attendance. After expressing her disappointment about his decisions, Oprah gave the boy a second chance, enrolling him in a pricy boarding school. He dropped out a short time later.

“I learned from that experience,” said Oprah, ”if you really want to change somebody’s life, you gotta be able to spend enough time with them to change the way they think about what their life can be. It isn’t enough to give a person a new life or money or a new car; you have to teach them how to fish themselves.”

In other words, money and opportunity are not sufficient to lift people out of the projects if they hold a faulty view of the world, life, and human flourishing.  They need proper understanding in these matters and a vision—one loftier than they’ve dared to imagine—otherwise, they will be held captive in the gravitational pull of poverty despite all the social props of the state (e.g., welfare, affirmative action, and reparations).

What’s more, except for criminal behavior, the state can’t set people straight as it lacks both the political will and the moral authority to nudge them toward any way of living over any other. That’s something only the Church can do. How? Continue resding here.

The current occupant of the Oval Office got there on the promise to “Make America Great Again.” And while Lady Liberty lost some of her luster from the rear guard position of the last Administration, her greatness endures and is the reason America has an immigration problem—scratch, crisis.

Five decades after America gained independence, the French author Alexis de Tocqueville remarked on its exceptional character. Unlike other nations that were defined by ethnicity, geography, common heritage, social class, or hierarchal structures, America was a nation of immigrants bound together by a shared commitment to the republican principles of individual liberty, equality, personal responsibility, and laissez faire economics.

Those principles comprise the “America creed” which G.K. Chesterton wrote “is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence.” There, the theological pegs of our Union are established in four explicit references to the Judeo-Christian God.

The Declaration of Independence opens by acknowledging “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It goes on to refer to the “Creator” who endows man with “certain unalienable rights.” It makes an appeal to the “Supreme Judge of the world,” and closes with an expression of trust in the “protection of Divine Providence.”

The last reference is particularly striking, considering the deistic leanings of the Declaration’s main author, Thomas Jefferson. In deism, God is neither a Protector nor Provider; he is a distant, detached Creator who refrains from interfering in the affairs of men.

Nevertheless, in the dust-up to the Revolutionary War, Jefferson wrote, “We devoutly implore assistance of Almighty God to conduct us happily through this great conflict.” And near the end of that conflict, he warned, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?”

Forty years after Jefferson penned the Declaration, he made note to a friend: “We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it; and He will give them their effect in His own time.” And this from the man who is considered one of the least religious of the Founders.

Although Jefferson is the patron saint of secular elites for his famous “wall of separation,” it was never his, or any of the Founders’, intention to denude the public square of religious influence. It is quite telling that over thirty years after Jefferson coined that phrase, the keen political observer, de Tocqueville, remarked: “religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions.”

Even the least religious of the Founders, Ben Franklin, issued this stirring appeal during an arduous debate in the Constitutional Congress:

In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection… All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of Superintending Providence in our favor … have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?… God Governs in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:17). And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice (Matthew 10:29), is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

The Founders, and the founding document they authored, gives testimony to the religious, and uniquely Judeo-Christian, underpinning of our nation. Today, numerous religious symbols on edifices in and around our nation’s capital add their voices to that testimony.

Images and representations of the Bible, the crucifix, Moses and the Ten Commandments exist in engravings and sculptures at the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol building, the Library of Congress, the White House, the World War II Memorial, and the Arlington National Cemetery. At the Supreme Court, the Ten Commandments are displayed in no less than three places: over the East portico, on the Court doors, and over the Chief Justice’s chair. But there is one witness to America’s religious heritage that many people carry in their purses and wallets... read on here.