Deflecting the Dream: Right Wing Lies About Black America (and the Facts to Counter Them)

As we reflect on this past week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, hearing the guttural effluent spewing from the mouths of America’s right-wing makes it clear where they would have stood — and where most of their ideological forbears did — a half century ago.

Just as the nation’s most prominent conservatives in 1963 castigated the civil rights movement — with the country’s leading conservative journal, even speculating that blacks may have bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham themselves (killing four girls in the process) just to “set back” what conservatives considered the righteous cause of Southern whites — likewise, today’s reactionaries inveigh against all talk of inequality and discrimination.

Not only do they insist there is no real racism facing people of color anymore — and there hasn’t been any for 45 years — they go further, insisting that it is whites who are the real victims. We’re the ones who can’t get jobs because of affirmative action, they insist, even though black unemployment remains nearly twice as high as for whites, even when only comparing people with college degrees.* We’re the ones being kept from voting by thuggish black men in berets with batons, who are trying to intimidate white people so as to steal elections, even though an investigation into voter intimidation claims against the New Black Panther Party revealed that no such intimidation took place, and not a single white voter actually lodged a complaint.

These refrains are nothing new. The bellowing about “reverse discrimination” has been the white reactionary mantra going all the way back to the 1880s, when the Supreme Court struck down various post-emancipation civil rights laws, proclaiming in the words of Justice Joseph Bradley that it was time for blacks to take “the rank of a mere citizen” and to no longer “be the special favorite of the laws.” Much as Justice Scalia recently declaimed as “racial entitlements,” provisions of the Voting Rights Act that had been instrumental in blocking attempts to limit the black franchise, so too was Bradley saying, in effect, we’re bending over too much for black people. Any special provisions to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunity, even to those who were merely two decades removed from their status as property, were to be understood as untoward “preferential treatment.”

Dr. King, of course, had something to say about this notion of preferential treatment for blacks — what some call affirmative action and what others like Chris Wallace this week called putting a “thumb on the scale” for African Americans — though conservatives know nothing of it whatsoever.

In his classic book, Why We Can’t Wait, which was written the same year as the March on Washington — and which I’d wager has not been read by any of the nation’s most prominent conservative mouthpieces (not Limbaugh, not Hannity, not O’Reilly, not Beck, not one of them) — King actually ridiculed those who embraced the kind of context-free colorblindness of Justice Bradley, or now, a Chris Wallace. As King noted:

Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.

That King was demanding not only an end to formal segregation and overt racial impediments to voting, but also economic justice and full and remunerative employment matters not to the right. They don’t care that John Lewis, who was actually there, and as such knows just a tad bit more about the movement and its goals than they, believes there is still work to do on those fronts. Indeed, they would deign to tell Lewis what the movement of which he was a part was actually about, even though he was in it and they weren’t. To wit, Rush Limbaugh this week, insisting that the entirety of King’s goal had been “integration.” Rush, of course, deliberately ignored that the march included demands for full employment, a higher minimum wage, and full access to equal and affordable housing, but he knows his audience won’t catch the deception because they weren’t in attendance either.

And they don’t care that Dr. King’s family agrees with Lewis, and insists that King himself would too were he here. No, to conservatives, the struggle for equity is over, and whatever inequalities remain are the fault of black people themselves.

So they have tried to change the subject, from racism and discrimination on the one hand — what they refer to as “imagined slights,” as if the clear majority of blacks who believe them to be real are crazy (cuz it’s not racist at all to think that) — to defective black culture, on the other. Yes, once upon a time in a land far away, opportunities were unequal, they aver. But no more. And so rather than harp on discrimination or various inequities, civil rights leaders should lecture the black community about their own pathologies: out-of-control crime rates, rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and the breakdown of the black family, over-reliance on government handouts and an insufficient commitment to education, among others. And if black leaders won’t do this — because, in the words of one right-wing commentator this week, they’re “fine for house work but not heavy lifting,” (cuz it’s not racist at all to say that) then whites will have to “pick new civil rights leaders” who will, and to hell with what black people think.

Yet, this maddening and self-satisfying mantra of the right relies upon a staggering ignorance about the experiences of African Americans in the present day. First, it glosses over the rather compelling evidence of ongoing discrimination against people of color in jobs, housing and the justice system, especially regarding the war on drugs. And it glibly ignores the way that recent limits imposed upon the Voting Rights Act will allow states to adopt policies that will serve as an impediment to black voting (and are designed to do just that).

But also, and perhaps more shockingly, the conservative cries about the “cultural crisis” in black America are rooted in falsehood; because the fact is, in every single instance, what conservatives believe about the black community turns out to be wrong. Black crime rates are down, considerably; so are the rates of birth to unmarried black women; so is dependence on government assistance. Black educational accomplishment is up, and contrary to popular assumptions, black youth value education every bit as much as anyone else.

So rather than abide the lies, perhaps some facts would do us well.

Let us begin with crime

Lie #1: Black Criminal Violence is a Growing Problem

Although conservatives would have us believe — and sadly, many do — that black folks are increasingly violent and criminal, the facts say otherwise. Yes, violence continues to take the lives of far too many people in our country (and disproportionately in the black community), and obviously, to those who have been victimized, larger sociological truths may not matter much, but they are nonetheless important, especially if one is going to proclaim one’s own sociological truth, which just so happens to be utter and complete nonsense.

So note, first of all, that the violent crime rate in the United States was actually three times higher in 1973 than it is today. Whereas there were nearly 50 victimizations for every 1000 people in 1973, by 2010, that number had fallen to only about 15 victimizations per 1000 people. And this declining violence trend has obtained across the board, among whites, blacks, Latinos, youth of all colors — everyone.

For those conservative blowhards like FOX’s Greg Gutfeld, who recently insisted that black folks should stop complaining about racism or being racially profiled, and worry more about blacks killing other blacks, note that the homicide death rate for black men was actually higher in 1950 than it is today, and most of them were killed by other blacks then too. In other words, if crime in the black community somehow could justify downplaying the problem of racism and discrimination, and shifting attention to the “internal” problems of African Americans, then this same argument would have been just as strong — or stronger — in the era of apartheid and segregation, because the violent victimization rates among blacks were higher then than now. Conservatives could have made these arguments then (and of course, some did), as a way to deflect attention from the larger societal injustice to which black America was being subjected. Some things apparently don’t change in the white community — namely, our deflection techniques — even as things do change (and when it comes to violence, for the better) in the black community.

Just so the evidence is clear, let’s look at the crime data from 1978 and compare it to the data thirty years later, from 2008, which is the last year for which we have comprehensive estimates of all violent crimes and the racial identity of their perpetrators.

In 1978, there were 5.9 million violent crimes.

In 2008, there were 4.8 million.

In other words, despite a population that was 43 percent larger in 2008, the number of violent crime victimizations fell 19 percent in the same period. As a result, the victimization rate (which is the number of victimizations per 1000 persons in the population) dropped from 33.7 per 1000 people to only 19.3 per 1000 people over the thirty year period.

When we look at the data, specifically by race, we find much the same thing.

In 1978, there were 19.65 million blacks, age 12 and older (thus, eligible for consideration in crime data), and their victimization rate was 40.6 victimizations for every 1000 blacks that age, for a total of about 900,000 victimizations.

By 2008, despite the so-called collapse of the black community, the emergence and explosion of hip-hop, the introduction of saggin’ pants, and all those other things the right would have us believe are inextricably linked to crime and deviance, there were fewer than 800,000 violent victimizations of blacks, and this, in a much larger black population. In 2008, there were 30.7 million blacks 12 and over, an increase of 56 percent. Yet, despite the fact that there were 11 million more blacks, 12 and over in the population in 2008 than in 1978, there were 100,000 fewer black victims of violent crime in the more recent year, and the victimization rate for blacks as of 2008 had fallen to 25.9 per 1000 persons, down from 40.6 per 1000, thirty years ago.

The same trends are true for black men in particular: the group pegged as especially criminal and increasingly so.

In 1978, there were 8.9 million black males, age 12 and older, whose violent victimization rate was 53.6 per 1000 such black males, meaning there were roughly 480,000 black males violently victimized that year.

By 2008, despite roughly 5 million additional black males that age in the population, the numbers of black males victimized by violent crime fell to 410,000.

So, 5 million more black males to be potentially victimized, but 70,000 fewer who actually were, relative to 1978. As such, the victimization rate for black males fell from 53.6 per 1000 in 1978 to 29.2 per 1000 in 2008: a drop of 46 percent!

As for criminal offending rates, in 1978 there were about 910,000 black offenders who committed single-offender violent crimes and 550,000 who committed multiple offender violent crimes, in crimes where the race of the perp was known. If we assume that the same percentage of “race not known” offenders were black, as were the percentage of those whose race was known (which seems reasonable), this would give us an additional 11,000 black offenders in the single-offender category and an additional 11,500 in the multiple-offender category, for a total of 1.48 million black criminal offenders that year.

In 2008, there were about 830,000 black offenders in single-offender crimes and 280,000 in multiple-offender violent crimes, in crimes where the race of the perp was known. If we add in those offenders whose race was not known but were likely to be black (by once again applying the same relative racial shares to those crimes as the crimes with known-race offenders) we would come up with approximately 120,000 additional black offenders in the single-offender category (for a total of 950,000), and an additional 50,000 in the multiple offender category (for a total of about 330,000). This would produce a grand total of 1.28 million violent crimes committed by blacks in 2008.

Comparing these totals to 1978 we discover that despite an increase in the black population of about 11 million people over the thirty year period, there were roughly 200,000 fewer violent crimes committed by blacks in 2008 than there were in 1978: a drop of about 14 percent, numerically, and a massive drop in the violent crime offending rate, from 75.3 violent offenses per 1000 black people in 1978 to 41.7 per 1000 by 2008: a decline of 45 percent in the rate at which blacks commit violent crimes.

Got that conservatives? Black crime is down by almost half since the late 1970s.

As for murder — which is tallied separately, by the FBI — rates have also dropped precipitously, in general, and for blacks specifically, in the past forty years.

In 1971, for instance, there were over 16,000 murders in the U.S., and 8,900 of the victims that year were black; this number grew to 21,505 murders in 1991, of which more than 10,700 victims were black.

By 2011, however, the total number of murders stood at 12,664, of which 6,332 of the victims were African American.

In other words, over a 40-year period, even as the overall population grew dramatically, there were around 3500 fewer murders in 2011 than in 1971, and almost 9000 fewer murders than in 1991! And by 2011 there were about 2500 fewer blacks being murdered every year than in 1971, and almost 4500 fewer blacks being killed annually than twenty years before in 1991.

From 1976-2005, the murder victimization rate for blacks fell 45 percent, from 37.1 murder victims for every 100,000 blacks to 20.6 murder victims for every 100,000 blacks (the rates for whites also fell 40 percent), and the offending rate for blacks fell 43 percent, from 46.6 murders committed for every 100,000 blacks in the population to only 26.5 murders committed per 100,000 blacks by 2005. As additional homicide data since then demonstrates, the numbers of murders committed by blacks, both numerically and in terms of their homicide offending rate, has continued to fall through 2010 (the latest year for which we have comprehensive offending data on homicides).

In other words, by every possible measure of criminal violence, and in terms of both victimization and victimizing, the black community — which the right typifies as a tangle of pathology — is doing better, not worse, than in the past. This means that conservatives are simply wrong when they suggest that black folks are increasingly given to lawbreaking. Any suggestion that the “real solution” to the problems facing blacks is to put the brakes on criminal wrongdoing is simplistic in the extreme: the trend lines are all positive in that regard, and yet, gaps in well-being between whites and blacks persist. Crime is not the culprit.

Lie #2: Rising Out-of-Wedlock Birthrates are the Real Problem in the Black Community

But lying about black crime is a relatively minor-league obsession for conservatives when compared to their much more hysterical fixation on the supposed “crisis” of out-of-wedlock childbearing among black women, or what they prefer to call “illegitimacy.” Mention racism or discrimination in front of any right-winger and you can almost count the seconds — and you won’t be counting for long — before they deflect the discussion onto the topic of overly fertile black women and their culturally defective tendency to have babies outside of marriage.

And yet, here too, the claims are fundamentally dishonest, although in this case, the dishonesty may be less deliberate and more the result of a simple inability to understand what data does and does not say on the subject.

So, for instance, it is undeniably true that 72 percent of all African American babies born today are born to unwed mothers; and it is also the case that this percentage is nearly double the rate that obtained in 1970, at which point only 37.5 percent of black children were born out-of-wedlock.

However, this figure does not mean what conservatives seem to think it means. While the right uses this data to insist that black women and their male partners — and the larger culture from which they come — are increasingly irresponsible, the reality is, even though the share of out-of-wedlock births as a percentage of all black births has nearly doubled, the actual rate of births to unmarried black women has fallen dramatically. If these seemingly contradictory realities appear confusing to you, it’s not your fault. Almost no one explains it: some because they don’t understand what’s going on, and others because they have a political motivation to lie.

Here’s the deal. According to the table linked above — the same one that points out the 72 percent figure for the share of black births out of wedlock — the birth rate for unmarried black women fell by nearly a third between 1970-2010, from 95.5 births per 1000 unmarried black women at the beginning of that period, to only 65.3 births per 1000 such women by the end of the period. Among black teenagers, 15-19 (almost all of whom are unmarried), birth rates have plummeted since 1991, from 118.2 births for every 1000 such women to only 51.5 births per 1000 women in 2010. So just twenty years ago, black teens were having 2.3 times more children per capita than they are today. From 1970-2009, black teens, ages 15-17, cut their birthrates by 60 percent, while 18-19 year olds reduced theirs by a third. As a result of this apparently positive cultural trend — but one that conservatives ignore — the black teen birth rate is at an all-time low. In other words, and whether we look at teens or adults, unmarried black women are already doing exactly what conservatives would have them do: namely, have fewer children. This means that if we are to view out-of-wedlock childbearing as evidence of some cultural pathology, black culture must be steadily getting healthier and less pathological, rather than more.

So what about that 72 percent figure? The reason that the share of births that are out-of-wedlock has increased to 72 percent as opposed to the prior figure of 37.5 in 1970, is because although births to black unmarried women have fallen considerably, married black couples have cut back even further on childbearing. So if married black couples are having far fewer children than before, and are cutting back even faster than single women, the overall percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock will rise, owing nothing to the supposedly irresponsible behaviors of single black folks. One could bring down the 72 percent figure just as easily by having married black couples each have 10 kids, as by lecturing single black women to do what they’re already doing–only faster! Needless to say, most white conservatives are hardly keen on increasing the black population, so it’s unlikely they’ll be counseling black husbands and wives to go all Duggar Family anytime soon, even though doing so would absolutely slash the percentage of black births that are out-of-wedlock, even if single black women didn’t change a thing about their own procreative activity.

Interestingly, while unmarried black women have actually been cutting back on childbearing, unmarried white women have been dramatically increasing theirs. In 1970, unmarried white women had fewer than 14 babies for every 1000 such women, but by 2010, for every 1000 unmarried white women, there were 44.5 babies begin born. In other words, while unmarried black women were reducing their own birthrates by a third, similar white women more than tripled theirs. Even if we only look at non-Hispanic white women, since 1991, the birth rate for such women rose from 24.4 per 1000 non-Hispanic white women to 32.9 per 1000 such women in 2010. In other words, in only 20 years, the birth rate for unmarried white women rose by a third, even while the rate for unmarried black women consistently fell. So which culture is trending towards crisis?

Lie #3: Blacks are Too Dependent on Government Welfare Programs

But if the crime and illegitimacy tropes fall flat, never fear, the right always has the old fallback of welfare dependence. Yes indeed, nothing beats a good welfare queen story — or one about some “strapping young buck” as Ronald Reagan once put it, buying a nice cut of meat with food stamps — for ginning up white resentment.

Yet, once again, and despite their insistence that dependence on government is some normative black experience, conservatives once again get it wrong. Black reliance on various forms of social program support is lower now than in the past. Although reliance on various forms of government assistance — especially SNAP benefits, or what used to be called Food Stamps — has increased in the last few years (for all racial groups), this has been the result of the ongoing economic crisis, rather than any cultural tendencies to dependency. And even with the weak economy, black folks are almost 40 percent less likely to be dependent on government benefits now than they were in 1993. Currently, only 1 in 9 African Americans are dependent on various forms of cash or SNAP benefits throughout the course of a given year, down from about 1 in 6 in the early 90s.

And the idea that blacks receive a substantial portion of their income from government programs is simply false. As of the most recent data, less than 5 percent of all black income nationwide comes from government transfer programs, while about 80 percent came from earnings (not that different from the 83 percent which came from earnings for whites). In part, this is because many families benefitting from programs like SNAP and the cash assistance program, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), have at least one adult member of the household in the workforce, contrary to the common perception of welfare slackers who sit at home and just “collect checks.” In 2009 (which is the latest year for which we have comprehensive data on the subject), half of black TANF recipient households had at least one person in the workforce earning wages, and black households on TANF were actually more likely than similar white households to have someone working full-time, but still not making enough to survive without assistance. As for black SNAP households (most of which don’t receive cash aid), 60 percent have at least one family member in the workforce, the same as for whites. And rather than becoming more dependent on assistance, and less attached to the workforce, program beneficiaries of all races are more likely to have someone earning income in the workforce now than in the early ’90s. Which is to say, those who benefit from government transfer programs are increasingly doing exactly what conservatives would have them do: work more, rely more on earned income than government, and reduce their levels of dependence.

And rather than remain on the programs for long periods — the other claim made by those who believe government aid has somehow sapped the will of African Americans to work for a living — most folks receiving aid do not do so for long periods. As for SNAP, 64 percent of black recipients who come on to the program, move off the program rolls within a year, suggesting that benefit receipt is, for most, a short-term and transitional reality, rather than a long-term condition. For cash assistance, about half of blacks who enter the program will be off the rolls within 4 months, and 7 in 10 will be off within a year.

Indeed, the clear trend in the black community is to be less reliant on government over time, rather than more so. From 1969-1978, for instance, 44 percent of black recipients of cash aid (what was then called AFDC) received benefits from the program at some point in each year for at least six consecutive years, and 70 percent received assistance at some point in each year for at least three straight years. But from 1999 to the present, those numbers have changed dramatically; now, only 12 percent receive aid at some point in each of 6 consecutive years or more, while about two-thirds receive aid in no more than two years straight.

Of course, the notion that government benefits could even theoretically have caused a collapse of the work ethic in the black community was always absurd, given what a small number of persons in the community even receive them. For cash benefits, which only average about $392 per month, per household, there were only a little more than 1 million adults in the entire nation in 2010 receiving TANF, of which only 358,000 were black. As a share of the black adult population that year (roughly 27.2 million), that represents 1.3 percent of all black adults who received cash assistance at any point that year.

And since, as we saw above, half of those will move off the rolls within four months, and 7 in 10 will remain on for less than a year, in truth, the number of black adults who can be said to be truly dependent on cash assistance (meaning longer-term reliance on aid), would be more like 100,000 people, or less than four-tenths of one percent of the adult black population!

Once again, the idea that the black community writ large, or “black culture” even more broadly, is somehow collapsing due to their over reliance on government handouts is nothing more than a reactionary lie, calculated to blame African Americans for their condition, relative to whites, and steer discussion away from ongoing inequity of opportunities in the job market, housing markets and schools.

Lie #4: Blacks are Inadequately Committed to Educational Excellence

And speaking of schools, it is here that conservative lies about black youth reach their zenith, and are sadly often believed even by ostensibly more liberal persons, including the president, who has repeated the mythology numerous times. And so, one will hear it said that black children don’t adequately value education, or are quick to ridicule other blacks who do well in school for supposedly “acting white.”

But while there certainly is evidence that black kids sometimes tease their peers for certain dress style, or musical tastes, and perhaps even speech patterns, the actual research indicates that there is no evidence that black students value educational accomplishment less than their white peers, nothing to suggest that academic success per se is perceived by black kids as being a white thing, and nothing to suggest that African Americans have adopted an “oppositional culture” vis-a-vis schooling that can explain lower performance, relative to whites.

Indeed, as Judith Blau notes in her book, Race in the Schools, research on student attitudes about school and various measures of academic integrity actually find that black students are just as committed to their education as members of any other group. What’s more, they are less likely than others to endorse cheating, skipping class, or cutting corners to get ahead. In fact, it is affluent white students who score the lowest on these measures of academic integrity.

And ironically, the research actually shows that if and when black students do associate academic achievement with whiteness, it is precisely because of the messages sent by teachers and the schools themselves, especially because of the often rigid academic tracking process, by which even highly-capable students of color are disproportionately placed in lower level classes. If black students see their white peers regularly placed in honors or advanced placement level courses, and rarely see blacks there, some might decide that high achievement is white, but the fault for that perception would fall upon the institutionally racist patterns of tracking — in other words, white institutional culture — not the culture of black students.

But beyond survey data about student values and attitudes, we can also see from the statistical evidence how committed blacks are to education.

So whereas in 1970, only 36 percent of blacks over the age of 25 had finished high school, and only six percent had obtained a college degree, today 85 percent of all African Americans over the age of 25 have a high school diploma, and 20 percent have completed college. Although these percentages are lower than those for whites (at 92 and 34 percent, respectively), black folks have closed the high school completion gap with whites by roughly half in just over 40 years. That doesn’t happen in a culture that devalues education, relative to others. Although dropout rates are higher for blacks than for whites, only 6.6 percent of black 9th to 12 graders dropout each year (versus 2.7 percent for whites): a number that is too high to be sure, but which hardly indicates a cultural pathology throughout the black community. And whereas nearly 30 percent of black 16-24 year olds had dropped out of high school in 1967, by 2010, that number had been slashed to only 8 percent, not considerably worse than the 5.1 percent rate for whites.

It should also be noted that, according to research presented by Dalton Conley in his groundbreaking book, Being Black, Living in the Red, high school completion is directly linked to family socioeconomic status, and once we compare only persons from comparable economic backgrounds, blacks are just as likely or even more likely than whites to complete high school; again, suggesting that whatever gaps exist in terms of finishing school between whites and blacks are about socioeconomic pressures facing lower income families and individuals, not racially-inscribed cultural patterns or group values.

In terms of achievement itself, while white reading scores for 9-year olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have increased about 6 percent since 1971, black scores have risen by 20 percent; among 13-year olds, reading scores barely budged for whites from 1971 to 2008, while rising 12 percent for blacks; and for 17-year olds, white scores remained flat while black scores rose by 11 percent. Likewise, math achievement scores for black 9, 13 and 17-year olds have risen faster since 1971 than scores for whites, thereby closing racial achievement gaps on the NAEP.

Black elementary level students also spend roughly the same amount of time, weekly, studying or doing homework, as do white students: 8 hours weekly, as opposed to 9, and indeed, black students are more likely than whites to do homework or study every day, and to have their parents check up on their homework to make sure it’s done. Among high school students, blacks actually average slightly more homework and study time than whites, and are far more likely than whites to have parents who check to make sure their work is done. Again, these are hardly the practices we would expect to see among people who don’t value education, or whose culture had somehow decided to downplay academic success.

Black tenth graders are also more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to have perfect attendance, and whereas only 44 percent of black high school completers enrolled in college in the early 1970s, today 62 percent do. Once again, these are not the kinds of facts we would expect to find among persons who were culturally hostile to education.

In short, whatever achievement gaps we see between white and black students are not the result of differing cultural values or behavioral norms; rather, they are the result of differential resources in schools attended mostly by whites as opposed to those attended mostly by blacks. We know, for instance that the typical black or Latino student in America attends far poorer schools, with twice as many impoverished classmates as their white counterparts, and students of color are twice as likely to be taught by the least experienced teachers as their white counterparts. Research has also found that teachers often set lower expectations for students with black-sounding names, relative to others (even others within the same families as the child with the black-sounding name), and that this directly correlates with lower achievement.

Conclusion: Black Culture Bashing Is Just Racism in Modern Garb

Given how incredibly and completely wrong are the widely held misconceptions about the black community, it makes one wonder whether those who traffic in these broad and injurious stereotypes are just that cut off from the lived experience of black people, or if they deliberately mislead for political effect. Either way, however, the result is tragic. These lies about black America not only take our attention away from the ongoing struggle for full and equal opportunity, they make fulfilling such a thing more elusive than ever, for they suggest that those for whom such opportunities are being fought are hardly worthy of the effort. If black folks aren’t responsible with their freedoms, after all, what might be the point of having them? If black folks are going to shiftlessly squander all they’ve been “given,” then the legacy of Dr. King is to be pitied at best, and at worst to be the punch line of someone’s welfare queen joke.

This is why the incessant bashing of black communities and black culture is fundamentally no less poisonous, and no less racist in its impact, than claims of inherent black biological or genetic inferiority were in the past (or occasionally remain in the present). After all, if I really believe (because I’ve heard it said over and over again) that the black community is defective, and that black folks are being raised in a dysfunctional subculture, beset by an inferior work ethic, dishonesty, criminality, incompetence and sloth, what are the odds that I would be able to actually treat any individual black person fairly and equitably, when they came through the doors of my business to apply for a job, or when they sat in my classroom and attempted to learn, or when I saw them on the street and I — the police officer — had to decide whether they were suspicious and deserving of being stopped and frisked? One cannot accept the idea that an entire racial group is largely pathological — whether that pathology is seen as owing to biology or culture — and then be expected to treat individuals from that presumed inferior group with equanimity. To accept these lies about black people and the communities from which they come is to ensure ongoing unequal treatment, ongoing discrimination, and the very kind of injustices which the March on Washington was seeking to address.

This is why it is so vital to push back against the vicious slanders currently in vogue on the right, and which they deploy regularly against black peoples: the kind that used to be the fetid purview of the Klan and assorted blatantly vulgar white supremacists, but which are now the stuff of mainstream conservative thought. The modern conservative movement, to the extent it endorses these notions of black cultural depravity, is no less guilty of furthering racism and white supremacist thinking than their predecessors who ranted about black “cranial capacity,” or the inherently inferior slope of the “Negroid skull.” The fact that they’ve learned to dress up their racist calumnies with prettier sounding rhetoric and a narrative of faux concern for black people doesn’t change anything.

It is time to crush their narrative and expose them for the liars and hate-mongers they are.


* In reply to this statistic, many a white supremacist and/or conservative critic has written to allege that the reason black college grads are more likely to be out of work (or earn less) is because they majored in “worthless” disciplines like “black studies,” or something like it, while whites got degrees in hard sciences or business, and are naturally more employable as a result. This argument was made by white nationalist Jared Taylor, in response to me arguing this point, when we both appeared a month or so ago on HuffPost Live with Marc Lamont Hill. Shame that it — like everything else these know-nothings say — is nonsense. I mean, do we just make shit up guys? How about 5 minutes of research. Oh, OK, what the hell, I’ll do it for you…

Fact is, according to data presented in the National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2011, blacks and whites get degrees in pretty much the exact same disciplines and at virtually identical rates. For instance:

In 2009-2010, out of 1.1 million bachelor’s degrees earned by whites and 165,000 earned by blacks:

21% of white degrees were in business, as were 25% of black degrees;
5% of white degrees are in biological sciences, as were 4% of black degrees;
5% of white degrees were in communications/journalism, as were 5% of black degrees;
2% of white degrees were in computer science as were nearly 3% of black degrees;
7% of white degrees were in education as were 4% of black degrees
4% of white degrees were in engineering as were 2% of black degrees;
3.6% of white degrees in English, as were 2.4% of black degrees;
8% of white degrees in Health professions, as were 9% for blacks;
3% of white degrees in liberal arts/humanities, as were 4% of black degrees;
1% of white degrees in math, as were 0.5% of black degrees;
6% of white degrees in psychology as were 7% of black degrees;
8% of white degrees in social sciences as were 9% of black degrees;
6% of white degrees were in visual and performing arts as were 3% for blacks

In other words, the differences are small and in the case of business and computer sciences actually favor black graduates. Although whites are more likely to major in engineering and math, combined these only represent 5% of white grads, hardly enough to explain 2:1 unemployment gaps with blacks.

Oh, and although the NCES data doesn’t include specific racial breakdowns for Ethnic studies or Black studies, in a separate table they break down these degrees generally and by sex. In 2009-2010, a whopping 66 people got degrees in Ethnic Studies while 710 got degrees in Black Studies. Even if every single one of these degree recipients were black (and they weren’t, by a long shot), this would have represented less than one-half of one percent of all black grads that year.

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