Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Addresses Never Delivered: The Black Family After Martin


I’m going to put some figures before you in the hope they will not put you to sleep. Americans – mindful of a dictum attributed to Disraeli by Mark Twain that there are three kinds of lies: lies, dammed lies, and statistics – tend to drift off as soon as you drag out the numbers. But, I assure you, these numbers are reliable and pertinent to this discussion. The figures immediately below are taken from Pew Research, because that organization is less prone to “lying” – or, if you prefer, statistical manipulation -- than most politicians on the make who fluff figure for their own sometimes nefarious purposes.

For six decades, since the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, black unemployment, relative to white unemployment, has hardly budged.  You may recall the official title of MLK’s march on Washington: “The March on Washington for Jobs and Liberty.”


Today, as then, black unemployment is double that of whites. There will always be discussions concerning the actual unemployment figure of course. If you are a Democrat in office, the national figure in November 2013 was about 7.6%. If you are a Republican in office, the “real” unemployment figure is a few of points higher, because Republicans include in their figure people who have stopped looking for work.

These statistical differences are altogether unimportant for blacks because -- unemployment in Hartford for the same period was about 15.8 %, a figure that pretty much confirms Pew’s statistics. Hartford has vibrant Black and Hispanic communities, and the unemployment figure there is about twice that of unemployment in the predominantly white suburbs of Connecticut. This differential has not budged, other Pew measurements show, since the 1960s. And worse, all the historical studies show a retrogression in important indicators of prosperity since 1910,  a quarter century after President Andrew Johnson officially ended the Civil War.

Why the lack of progress? How do we account for the retrogression? And what is the magical significance of 1960s? From the Civil War up to the 1960s, blacks in the Northeast were, if you will forgive the hackneyed yuppie phrase, upwardly mobile. But in urban areas the upward trend plummeted dramatically shortly after MLK turned out in Washington a crowd that marched on the Capitol demanding jobs and liberty.

It’s crucial to understand what MLK meant by liberty. He meant that blacks should have the same measure of liberty as whites; that the Jim Crow barriers blacks were forced to surmount before they could become self-reliant should be pulled down and thrown on the ash heap of history; that the unemployment rate among blacks in Hartford should approach that of whites in New Canaan; that the rate of blacks and whites entering the job market should be nearly similar, as should the home ownership rate; that there should not be an ever-widening gap between the college graduation rate among blacks and whites;  that the marriage rate among blacks and whites should approach parity.

MLK indisputably identified self-reliance as the bridge that could, if it were in good repair, span the racial divide. Even Malcom X knew that self-reliance was the equal sign in the equation “black=white.”

So then, what does it means to be self-reliant? It means, among other things, that you are able to finance your own household without excessive interference. A person who is self-reliant is one who is able to fend for himself and those he loves. To this end, he makes sure that he has a steady job that, hopefully, provides him with access to promotion. If he is married and has a wife who is his help meet – In Hebrew, the word “help-meet” means “savior” -- his way in the world will be made smooth. He will be a man of peace, shunning violence. He will be magnanimous, willing to share his talents and good fortune with others beyond his wife and children.

I have just described Martin Luther King and, for that matter, Malcolm X. People who regard Malcolm X as a man who promoted violence make a grave error. Malcolm X, after he had become a Sunni Muslim, rejected violence – except when self-defense required a reciprocal response.  And even here Malcom X was demanding a rightof self-defense long accepted in American society.

I have just described Fredrick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln’s gadfly. And I have just described family life as it had been in these sometimes United States from the post-Civil War period through the 1950s. Magnanimity, or large heartedness, which involves the ability to help others by drawing on a store of emotional and monetary resources, is one of the marks of a free man; a slave cannot be magnanimous, not because his heart is pinched, but because he lacks the means to help others – or himself. The slave lacked the means because he was deprived by force of the means to self-reliance. Other than liberty, the slave owner deprived “his property” of three things: education, guns and votes. Fredrick Douglas felt an ocean of freedom coursing through his veins the moment he was able to read a book.

This is very important to note: Liberty is not a passive condition conferred upon a man by pre-existing laws. It is a virtue – a power of acting. A man who is “at liberty” is one who has within himself those public and private virtues that enable him to act to benefit both himself and others. That is why the bars of a cell were powerless in suppressing the spirit of a man who knew what liberty really is. Martin Luther King was never freer than when he was imprisoned in a Birmingham jail. The same may be said of Malcom X, who was delivered from bondage when, while in jail, the borders of his life expanded under the influence of books and his tutors. Bars alone cannot circumscribe liberty and freedom. It is only moral atrophy that robs a man of his freedom and liberty. Listen to MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Read and try to hear with the ear of your heart Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address:

“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

These are not words; they are a fire in the soul, a clarion call to freedom and liberty.

Now we come to Connecticut’s cities in the modern period, and we ask:

How goes it with the black family? The black family was resilient in the post-Civil War period. That great wound in the soul, slavery, could not destroy it.

And now?

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER),headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a non-partisan think tank that has been around since the 1920s.

NBER’s 61-page paper, heavy on charts and regression analyses and co-written by Raj Chetty of Harvard and Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley, disclosed some interesting correlations. But the one that immediately leaps out of the report and grabs you by the throat is this:

“The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure, such as the fraction of single parents in the area. Children of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents.”

Now, the single parent household among African Americans dates from the post-Civil war period; its historical roots reach back to 1880. Data from the U,S, Census shows that the most widespread form of family structure among African Americans from 1880 to 1960 was married households consisting of a man and wife. Single parent households remained at the same level until 1960, after which they increased precipitously. A study of family structure in Philadelphia in 1880 showed that three fourths of black families were nuclear households, consisting of a wife, a husband and children. In New York City in 1925, 85 percent of kin related black households had two parents, just like the households of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In 1965, when U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned in a much read report that the black family was in danger of destruction, the out-of-wedlock birth rate had increased to 25 percent among blacks, a figure that continued to rise swiftly as the years passed.

In 1991, 68 percent of black children were born outside of marriage. In 2010, U.S. Census data revealed that more African American families consisted of single-parent mothers than married homes with both parents, and in 2011, 72 percent of black babies were born to unwed mothers.

One more glaring statistic: Not all black babies are born. According to a 2012 report issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, more black babies were killed by abortion in the city (31,328) than were born there (24,758). Of children aborted in New York City during the period under study, 42.4 percent were black, although the black population in the city is only 17.5 percent.

What all this means, in practical terms, is that life in the United States for African American boys has become – as it was NOT for their grandfathers and great grandfathers from the post-Civil war period to the present – a very iffy proposition.

Had they survived their assassinations, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, both loving fathers, would have been more than justified in considering this undeclared “war on the black family” as a species of racism, however well intended the architects of the destruction of the back family might have been. No one needs doubt that they were well intended. But then we know -- do we not? -- that the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions. It was through a gap in that road that the black father had disappeared sometime after both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X made their way into history.

Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King, soon will be in Connecticut, at the invitation of Connecticut Black Republicans, to give the key note address on a forum called ‘Women on Fire." Ms. King’s take on abortion is considerably more fiery and contemporary than that of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider that is doing a bang up business in the black community.

In fairness to Ms. Sanger, it should be said here that she was not fond of abortion and considered birth control, by which she meant contraception, to be an alternative to a practice she called, at various times, “sordid,” “abhorrent,” “terrible,” “barbaric,” a “horror.” The end result of abortion the founder of Planned Parenthood considered “an outrageous slaughter,” “infanticide,” “feticide,” and “the killing of babies.” Ms. Sanger labeled abortionists “blood-sucking men with MD after their names.”

And if all this reprobation was not clear enough, Ms. Sanger said that birth control “has nothing to do with abortion, it has nothing to do with interfering with or disturbing life after conception has taken place.” Subsequent events showed her to be in error on this last point. Nor is abortion the final frontier. Euthanasia is being seriously discussed as a compassionate end of life measure in Connecticut’s General Assembly. And in progressive countries such as China, sex-selective abortion monitored by the state has been heralded as a population control device.

Such is our Brave New World, where a treacherous compassion has become the last refuge of scoundrels.



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