My earliest memory is looking up at a circle of black and white faces. I was seated in the living room of the family home in Edison Township, N.J., and the group I saw was the local chapter of the NAACP. My association with the civil rights movement goes back to the age of two. The year would have been 1953 or 1954, and my parents were left-wing activists, among the very few white people involved at the time. Their activism was deep. In 1950, my father drove from New York with a group of Columbia University students to protest the impending execution of Willie McGee, a black man convicted and eventually electrocuted for the alleged rape of a white woman in Mississippi. I followed my parents’ example: in my senior year of high school I organized and led a student civil rights demonstration and marched next to Andrew Young. You can look it up.
I believe in civil rights as much now as I did then. That’s why it’s painful to watch the degeneration of the NAACP with its silly petition to persuade the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against George Zimmerman. The leaders of what used to be a civil rights movement want to talk about everything but the main problem afflicting black people in the United States. That is the breakdown of the black family.
Just 29% of black women over the age of 15 were married in 2010, according to the Census Bureau’s comprehensive Current Population Survey. That compares to 54% of white women. At all ages, black women were about half as likely to be married as white women. That is an astonishing number.
The percentage of out-of-wedlock births has risen from 18% in 1980 to 40% in 2010. Twenty-nine percent of white births were non-marital, against 73% for black births. That’s nearly three-quarters of all black births.
Young black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in jail than to be employed, reports the Pew Institute:
Collateral Costs details the concentration of incarceration among men, the young, the uneducated and African Americans. One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men. Today, more African American men aged 20 to 34 without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars (37 percent) than are employed (26 percent).
The report also shows more than 2.7 million minor children now have a parent behind bars, or 1 in every 28. For African American children the number is 1 in 9, a rate that has more than quadrupled in the past 25 years.
The worst oppressors of young black men are older black men who abandon their children. And the second-worst oppressors of young black men are other young black men — 94% of black murder victims are killed by blacks. The accelerating decline of the black family portends a much worse situation in the future.
Why have civil rights organizations and black clergy wagered their reputations on the Zimmerman case? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the issues that really concern African-Americans simply are too painful to discuss. Five years after the ultimate boost to self-esteem — the election of the first black president — things are getting worse faster. If black leaders — from Barack Obama and Eric Holder on down — can’t talk about the real problems, the prospects for the future are frightening indeed.
image courtesy shutterstock / vasabii