[A version of this essay first appeared at Asia Times]
Why did the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in police custody arouse a national wave of revulsion? There are two vectors to this wave: The humiliation of American blacks and the horror of white liberals.
If police are restrained, or even de-funded, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) demands, the crime rate will rise sharply, and blacks are far more likely to be crime victims than whites. As I report below, policing is the only sustained success of any branch of government. The violent crime has fallen steadily during the past twenty-five years, and the black incarceration rate (both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of all prisoners) has fallen as well.
Why black Americans should want to undermine the police forces that protect them is a sensitive question that has a simple answer: The price of such police protection is humiliation. The sort of policing that keeps criminals off the streets requires stopping and frisking large numbers of people, stopping cars with a broken tail light, and so forth. But this also subjects large numbers of innocent people to humiliating examination and occasional mistreatment.
Most people would rather be dead than humiliated, and black Americans are no exception.
It is easy to point out how unreasonable are the complaints of Black Lives Matter. Reasonable, sadly, has nothing to do with the issue: When people engage in extreme behavior, it is due to extreme distress. Nonetheless the numbers tell a clear story: Black Americans are a thousand times more likely to be killed by another black American than by a police officer, as the estimable Heather Mac Donald explained in The Wall Street Journal. To be precise, American police (white or black) killed exactly nine unarmed black Americans in 2019. Whether these shootings were justified is a different issue. That is about one one-thousandth of the 7,407 blacks murdered in 2018 (last year for which data are available), about 90% of whom were killed by other black Americans.
As Mac Donald observed, “The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. The Post defines ‘unarmed’ broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase. In 2018 there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019. By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.”
If the present wave of protests succeeds in hamstringing American police departments, many more black Americans will die. That is just what transpired in Baltimore after the 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray, who died in the back of a police van after his arrest for possession of a knife. Several days of looting and burning ended with the arrival of the National Guard.
“From 2008 to 2014, there were between a hundred and ninety-seven and two hundred and forty homicides each year in Baltimore; since Freddie Gray’s killing, there have never been fewer than three hundred,” lamented Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the New Yorker May 29. “The city’s mayor at the time—a quiet, serious-minded black woman named Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party—eventually chose not to seek reëlection.” That was no surprise, considering that the Baltimore city government charged six police officers with murder and manslaughter, and mainly black juries acquitted them.
The Baltimore police stopped doing what police forces do when attempting to contain a large criminal population, that is to roust anyone who looks like they might be up to no good. Blacks comprise 13% of the U.S. population, but committed 53% of homicides in which the perpetrator is known in 2018, as well as 60% of robberies. A third of the U.S. prison population is black (although the proportion has fallen somewhat in the past decade). That is effective policing, and it has led to a steady decline in the rate of violent crime in America during the past thirty years—although it sometimes leads to misadventure as in the case of Freddie Gray, as well as rare but outrageous acts of police violence. Below is a graphic from the Pew Institute illustrating the striking success of American police methods.
In keeping with the fall in the incidence of violent crime, the incarceration rate for blacks has fallen steadily, from a total of 592,900 prisoners in 2007 to 475,900 in 2017. As the Pew Institute reports, the black incarceration rate has fallen faster than the white incarceration rate. Policing has been one of America’s great success stories, and blacks have benefited from it more than whites.
Why, then, do black communities view police with such hostility? The increased safety of black communities depends upon measures imposed from the outside by a largely white state power, which is humiliating. It comes on top of other humiliations, of which the most onerous is the fake promise of upward mobility through university education.
Forty-two percent of white 18-year-olds will attend a college vs. 37% for blacks and 36% for Hispanics. The percentage of young blacks of college age who will attend university in the United States is not much different from that of whites. But fewer than 34% of black males at U.S. universities will graduate after six years (the standard program is four years). These are shocking numbers. Of this 37%, only a third, or 12.5% of college-age black men, will obtain a university degree. Almost one-quarter of all black men of college age will try and fail. Those were the black youth who stayed out of trouble, graduated from high school, and sought advancement in the university system—but ended up at the bottom of the greasy pole. That is a humiliation on a gigantic scale.
Blacks are accepted at colleges with a Scholastic Aptitude Test score 250 points lower than white candidates, and Hispanics with 185 points less; Asians must score 50 points higher than whites. A standard deviation is 210 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, so the handicapping is enormous. That fiddle has equalized black and white college admissions, but not graduation rates. The only systematic racial discrimination practiced in the United States victimizes Asian-Americans.
Worst of all, the six-year graduate rate for black men stood at just 33.8% in 2016 (for university entrants in 2010), while the graduate rate for men of all other races and ethnicities rose over the past twenty-five years. Most impressive is the increase in the graduation rate of Hispanic men, which rose from just above 40% for university entrants in 1996 to over 50% for 2010 university entrants.
The drastic improvement in Hispanic graduation rates refutes the assertion that America has a problem with minorities as such. Hispanics are America’s largest minority group at 16.7% of the population, and their university graduation rate has improved steadily. This is not a minority problem but a black problem, and specifically a problem for black men. The six-year graduation rate for black women is 43%.
For liberals who think that the problem is racism, and that black women are doubly oppressed by misogyny as well as racism, these facts pose a conundrum: If racism somehow deters black men from succeeding in higher education, why doesn’t the combination of racism and misogyny deter black women even more?
A vicious hoax has been perpetrated on America’s young black men by the liberal establishment. University administrators are the most liberal collection of people in any American institution, private or public. As Prof. Samuel Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College reports, “Two-thirds of administrators self-identify as liberal, with 40 percent of that liberal pool stating that they are far left. A quarter of them call themselves middle of the road, while only 5 percent say they are on the right. That makes for a liberal-to-conservative ratio of 12 to one.” The revolving door of minority admissions creates jobs and perquisites for college bureaucrats. U.S. universities now spend almost as much on “administrative support” as they do on instruction, wrote Caroline Simons in Forbes:
During the 1980-1981 school year, public and private institutions spent $20.7 billion in total on instruction, and $13 billion on academic support, student services and institutional support combined, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. By the 2014-2015 school year, total instructional costs had climbed to $148 billion, while the same grouping of administrative expenses had risen to $122.3 billion.
The leftists who run the university system are happy to cover up their deception and incompetence by blaming racism for the low graduation rate of black men. A 2006 study in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education commented, “High dropout rates appear to be primarily caused by inferior K-12 preparation and an absence of a family college tradition, conditions that apply to a very large percentage of today’s college-bound African Americans.” As I reported in a March 30 review-essay in this space, mention of this 2006 analysis in a journal edited and written by blacks would be grounds for instant dismissal on grounds of racism at any major American university.
In the cited March 30 essay I quoted a sample of the academic studies bandied about to demonstrate that systemic racism rather than lack of preparation is responsible for the catastrophic failure rate of black men at American universities.
The inadequate preparation of young American blacks for higher education isn’t hard to explain. Black marriage rates are much lower than white or Hispanic marriage rates. Marriage rates are declining for all parts of the U.S. population, but much faster for blacks. In 1960, 90% of white women and 87% of black women aged 18-59 years had been married at some point in their lives; by 2016 the proportion had fallen to 60% for white women and just 33% for black women. The U.S. National Institute of Health wrote in 2015, “In 2014, 70 percent of non-Hispanic white children (ages 0–18) and roughly 59 percent of Hispanic children were living with both of their biological parents. The same was true for only a little more than one-third of black children.”
Sadly, black women account for 40% of all abortions, although they comprise only 12% of the female population. Black babies, that is, are more than three times as likely to be killed before birth than white babies.
A death-knell is tolling over black America. The high murder rate of black victims killed by black perpetrators is the most extreme expression of a self-destructive impulse that undermine black families. Self-destruction through violence—a form of what Emile Durkheim called anomic suicide—horrifies white liberals. They do not have to ask for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for them, too.
The long humiliation of black men has incubated a terrible rage. The phony promise of upward mobility leaves them feeling cheated, with good reason. This rage has metastasized into a dominant trope in black popular culture. Rapper Jay-Z, an intimate of the Obamas and a regular in the Obama White House, put it this way (in “Dirt off Your Shoulder”):
I probably owe it to y’all, proud to be locked by the force
Tryin to hustle some things, that go with the Porsche
Feelin no remorse, feelin like my hand was forced
Middle finger to the law, n***r grip’n my balls…
For white liberals, a black identity shaped by rage is not only to be condoned, but celebrated. All politics is identity politics to liberals, because the whole object of their existence is to invent one’s identity according to therapeutic needs. That is why the progressive movement took up the cause of transgender rights with such passion: To change one’s gender is the ultimate expression of self-invention in defiance of nature and tradition. The possessors of these newly-invented pseudo-selves know that they are imposters, and that everyone is laughing at them behind their backs. As Mephisto told Faust, “Wear a wig with a million hairs, and stand in heels as long as your elbow, and you still remain what you are.”
The self-inventors hoped to escape the intolerable anxiety of existence by creating an identity out of thin air. But it is a hopeless enterprise; only true psychotics have the concentration to create their own identity. The rest of the self-inventors live in dread of the day when they will be found out for frauds. Life presents endless occasions for humiliation.
Among all the identities that modern liberalism has constructed, black identity is the first and most practiced: In place of the Christian culture that made black churches the bearers of the civil rights movement, black identity politics has constructed a culture of rage and rejection. In 1993 the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church and the most distinguished black pastor in New York, drove a bulldozer up to the headquarters of Sony Music and crushed a pile of rap CD’s to protest their effect on black youth. More recently the first black president hosted an obscenity-spewing rapper at the White House.
That, I believe, explains the dire position of young black men in America. The humiliation of black men and their enraged, self-destructive response horrifies white liberals, for whom the sorrows of black America are not merely a social problem but an identity crisis.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in The Old Regime and the Revolution, uprisings occur when things are improving and people are hopeful. Under President Trump, the black unemployment rate fell to an all-time low of 5.4%. But the extremely low college graduation rate for black men–only one in eight earn a B.A. degree–traps them in low-wage jobs. And the COVID-19 lockdown hit the sectors where black employment gained the most. Blacks were last hired, first fired, and most likely to remain unemployed for a long time.
President Trump is absolutely right to insist that economic growth is “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.” He is also right to emphasize returning manufacturing jobs to the United States.