Sane voices are rightly asking us to ignore the antifa and looters terrorizing our cities in the last few days, and urging us to focus instead on the circumstances of George Floyd’s death. It is not completely clear yet what happened, but the details behind the horrific image will have very troubling truths. Are there that many rogue police officers out there? Do they have unacceptable attitudes concerning race? Are the police unions overly powerful, keeping bad cops from being fired?
But to me, there is a much deeper, fundamental question people are overlooking. On the one hand, our nation has made amazing strides. I believe the vast majority of US police officers are appalled by Officer Chauvin’s actions. The socioeconomic status of African-Americans is hugely better than in the 50s and 60s. We elected a black president, absolutely unthinkable when I was a kid. My own boss, the head of a major university, is African-American, in a way also unthinkable years ago.
And yet…the status of the black underclass is as dire as ever. How can it be, in the year 2020, more than 50 years after Martin Luther King , that we still have a substantial number of George Floyds, poor, poorly educated, poorly housed, in trouble with the police, often the victims of same?
Indeed, we stopped making progress on this segment of our society in the 70s or 80s. Politicians, including the Democrats, no longer truly care about the black underclass. What changed? African-Americans are no longer THE minority. They must compete for attention with two minorities who’ve had huge growth since the 70s — Latinos and Asians. And as I wrote in a rather long Public Interest article back in the 90s, those “new” minorities have needs different from, and to some degree in conflict with, blacks, in addition to diluting the attention the latter used to get.
Though the various pro- and con-immigration economists can debate on the numbers, even the most ardent of the pro- side concede that high levels of immigration have hurt low-skilled African-Americans, not only in the direct form of immigration but also in the importation of temporary workers. Incidents like the one after Hurricane Katrina, in which African-Americans employed for the rebuilding were suddenly told they were being replaced by “Mexicans” (not clear whether they were Americans, undocumented or on visa), are very troubling.
A few days ago I saw some very startling data, concerning rates of high school graduation. Which states have the best and worst records regarding high school graduation for African-Americans, and for the black-white gaps in those numbers? Amazingly, several states doing well in that respect are in the Deep South, and some of the worst are “progressive” states such as California, New York, Wisconsin, Illinois — and Minnesota. How could this be possible?
All those those latter states have large numbers of immigrants. Cause and effect? In general I am skeptical of state-by-state comparisons, but the pattern is disturbing.Note too my taking the 70s and 80s to be the time in which our government lost interest in the black underclass — and is also the time when immigration rose sharply.
To be sure, we could have high levels of immigration AND improve conditions for the black underclass, but in these days of “compassion fatigue,” that would be a tall order, especially since the various minorities sometimes have conflicting demands.
For example, I believe strongly in the use of Affirmative Action programs to provide role models for blacks and Latinos. But some very militant Chinese immigrants are demanding that Affirmative Action programs be disbanded.
My father was an immigrant, and my mother the child of immigrants. My wife is an immigrant. The fact is that I’ve been living in immigrant households my entire life, with different languages, strange foods and colorful holidays. Frankly, it’s where I feel comfortable.
Yet the plight of the black underclass has also been a major lifetime concern of mine. And I do believe these two passions of mine are in some conflict.
Whatever the cause, in this modern year of 2020, we should not still have a black underclass. This problem COULD be solved, and should have been solved long ago. I hope the “silver lining” of the Floyd tragedy might be a resumption of the quest of the 60s to wipe out poverty.