Over the next couple of weeks, we will be hearing a lot about how — fifty years after the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” — America is still woefully short of the land Dr. King dreamed of, and of course that conservatives are to be blamed for this.
And, really, there is no point in disputing this claim.
For example, it is obvious now that we would have been so much better off if the fuddy duddies had ignored the Congressional Black Caucus and allowed the sale of crack cocaine in the inner cities to proceed apace. Becoming a crack addict is no big deal, and it is better to address any problems after the fact by encouraging the crack addict to report to a social worker or healthcare professional. That should be obvious and, indeed, it’s obviously racism to deny it. After all, white folks have long acknowledged that meth addiction is no big deal and have never objected to drug trafficking in white, rural areas.
Same thing for crime generally. Our criminal justice system is hopelessly racist from the top down, starting with our white president and white attorney general, who have tricked all the black prosecutors and judges and policemen to look the other way while systemic racism abounds. True, no one really disputes that the people who are convicted are guilty, but what the ACLU is after is more arrests of white people in order to eliminate the existing racial disparities.
And when the police target high-crime areas and use stop-and-frisk tactics, it’s a terrible thing for people of color, even if it is not technically “racial” profiling. Either the people who are stopped are innocent, in which case they have no choice but to proceed to go about their business, or they are not, in which case they are arrested. It’s hard to say which is worse.
And another thing: Why should rich white folks insist on three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws anyhow, when these unfortunate criminals aren’t likely to be in their neighborhoods? It’s absurd that we should continue locking people up at the same time that crime rates are going down.
There’s nothing wrong with making excuses for bad, self-destructive behavior. That might be called “enabling” in some other context, but not here. It’s not really the criminal’s fault, after all. Conservatives just don’t know how hard it is and how the world is mistreating people of color. When you see an alcoholic who is down and out, it’s just common decency to buy him a drink.
When Dr. King said that he hoped for a day when his children would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, he meant precisely that: That racial preferences are a good idea, and that telling someone that they can’t have a job or vote because of some silly felony conviction is terribly, terribly wrong.
And it’s not just crime that is no big deal. Why should employers be able to get away with telling people that they have to pass some kind of firefighting test before they can become firefighters? Why should bankers care if someone is likely to repay a loan before deciding whether to make a loan at a particular interest rate? In our schools, isn’t it more important that all racial and ethnic groups be disciplined at the same rates than that there actually be school discipline? And why encourage immigrants to learn English when everyone knows that not knowing English is no impediment to a rewarding and successful career as a ditch digger?
People of color are much, much better off if they are not encouraged to study hard, live within their means, follow the rules, and otherwise “act white.” Acting white is, after all, for white people, and conservatives should not insist on such undiverse behavior for anyone else. In the long run, if folks in a particular group are not meeting some standard, it is better for them if we get rid of the standard than if we encourage them to meet it. After all, too, too many people of color won’t.
What’s worse, the fact is that it is much harder to raise children who do well in school and stay out of trouble with the law and have a lot of “values” in a home without a father. Now, given the choice between getting rid of these trifling and unrealistic standards, on the one hand, versus embracing an inspiring diversity of childrearing possibilities, on the other, isn’t it obvious that we should be nonjudgmental?
And it is likewise undeniable that the racism that continues to plague us is in no way caused by racial disparities in crime and poverty and other social pathologies that are directly traceable, in turn, to 72 percent of African Americans being born out of wedlock. People do not engage in racial profiling or harbor other racist stereotypes because of black underachievement; rather, black underachievement is caused by stereotyping that is completely untethered to reality. For example, this is why Jews and Asians, who also face stereotyping, are also underachievers.
Conservatives will point to laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to people like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey — whose prominence in 2013, we must admit, might not have been anticipated a generation ago. Yes, it is true that there are more “opportunities” available to people of color now than in 1963 since it is technically true that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in just about any public transaction, and perhaps the case can be made that “bigotry” is somewhat less socially acceptable now than it was fifty years ago.
But “opportunities” should mean “outcomes,” and “bigotry” should mean “opposing any liberal policy.” That’s just plain common sense.
Yes, we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. We will never be a colorblind society for so long as conservatives insist that our laws and our standards be colorblind, since nondiscriminatory laws and common standards will always divide us.