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The Beam in Our Eye

Sherman, who lived in the South and had many close Southern friends, understood that the ambitions of the South could be quelled only by a sea of blood. He is the decisive personality of the Civil War, yet there never has been a single cinematic treatment of the man. Twenty-one films, by contrast, portray Jesse James, the Confederate guerilla turned outlaw. He is the 50 Cent of the old South.

I do not mean to draw a moral equivalency between would-be slave-owners and the descendants of slaves, but the functional parallel is compelling. According to the Sentencing Project, "More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the 'war on drugs', in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color."

A generation of African-Americans has been decimated. Murder is the leading cause of death among young African-American men; an American black has a 5% lifetime probably of becoming a murder victim (against a 0.7% probably for a white American).

Wright offers one sort of explanation: it is all due to a conspiracy by a racist government that wants to exterminate black people. The comedian and actor Bill Cosby now is touring America to offer a different explanation: the problems of African-Americans stem from a lack of individual responsibility, especially among men. In the May 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Ta-Nehesi Coates reports on a Cosby event in Detroit, writing, "Cosby had come to Detroit aiming to grab the city's black men by their collars and shake them out of the torpor that has left so many of them - like so many of their peers across the country - undereducated, overincarcerated, and underrepresented in the ranks of active fathers."