Cutting The Racial Gordian Knot: What Are The Ethical Implications Of The Terrible Economic Disparity Between Black And White In America?

Gordian Knot

The question raises the ethical implications to all American citizens and our shared obligation to our nation and its society of a disastrous, crippling problem that poisons our culture. and society: the persistent plight of Black America.

Back when I was a senior in college majoring in American Government and the U.S. Presidency, I took a course  from Professor Thomas Pettigrew, then as now one of the foremost scholars on race, prejudice and public policy. It was about the challenges facing blacks as they tried then to benefit from new legislation and opportunities created by the Civil Rights Act and other policies, such as school busing. I was very impressed by Pettigrew’s even-handed, objective and non-political approach, even though, at my college, political teaching was the rule, not the exception.

I have never left a course so discouraged. Pettigrew, himself a pretty optimistic man, led us into one dead-end after another: black families, education, neighborhoods, political behavior, crime and more, all dysfunctional or suffering. All areas of black society interfered with or blocked improvements, progress, remedies and policy initiatives that showed promise to address racial inequality in other areas.

Late in the course I asked him if he saw any hope that in 50 years, black America would be approaching parity with white America. “I have hope,” he said. “But I honestly don’t see how we get there from here. There is a path, but we haven’t found it.”

It appears that my discouragement then was an accurate reading of the problems ahead.

Last week, these charts from the Brookings Institution’s Social Mobility Memos blog were posted to the web by other sources. They show how deeply the problems I was warned about have failed to improve in 50 years. Here is what they show:

1. Upward mobility is much more unlikely  for black than white Americans. 51% of the black Americans born into the lowest fifth of the earnings distribution remain there at age 40:

Comment of the Day: “Unethical High School Assembly Video Of…What? The Month? The Year? Eternity?”


I must admit: I thought the “unequal opportunity race” video that was the subject of my post to be so outrageously simplistic, exaggerated, insulting to white Americans and discouraging to minority Americans that nobody would defend it. The lively debate that the post sparked proved that the white privilege deflection has seeped into mainstream thinking far more than I had previously understood, and that the position the progressive movement wants to communicate to African Americans is that absent aggressive, government-executed hobbling of present day white citizens as they pursue their own ambitions and dreams, and opportunities for their children, black Americans are doomed to comparative failure, cursed to be victims of traps, gaping craters and metaphorical sharks.

Late in the debate, commenter Chris Bentley, himself an African American, provided a different perspective in two long posts. I am combining them as his Comment of the Day, on the post ,Unethical High School Assembly Video Of…What? The Month? The Year? Eternity?.

To which I say b.s. (as a black man). I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that I have succeeded (and failed at times) solely based on my merit, talents, and desire. I have not been unemployed for even a second, since the age of 18 (I am 37). I have applied to many, many jobs that I have desired, and been hired for many of those jobs. I have been accepted and attended 8 (8!) different colleges, earning 3 different degrees. I have spent the last 20 years working in education, from ECE to college, and spent 3 years as a preschool director (a black male preschool director is about as rare as a unicorn that poops gold).

None of this is meant to be taken as bragging, as my story is no more successful than anyone else on this blog. Nor am I more successful then any average black man, who grew up with loving, educated parents, who forced me to have a good head on my shoulders, taught me the importance of education, and did not teach me to be distrustful of whites, or to blame shift my failures elsewhere. I find it patronizing to be told that individual merit is not enough for me to succeed, when compared to whites; that if I truly want to compete on an even playing field, I need those same whites to level the field.

No. I. Don’t.

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