I've watched carefully how the riots in and over Ferguson, MO have been reported and discussed over the past week. Some news outlets (notably CNN) have been almost transparently desperate in their attempts to whitewash the rioters (you should pardon the expression), trying to make people believe that the problem's minor and not very widespread. The New York Post has an excellent exposé of the network's attempts. It makes interesting and educational reading. CNN's also attempted to ensure that any discussion of the racial element in the Ferguson situation is classified as 'racism' one way or another - see, for example, this article, which is about as biased towards the liberal/progressive viewpoint as any I've seen anywhere.
On the other hand, far too many on the conservative/libertarian side of the aisle have attempted to portray all those resentful of the Ferguson grand jury verdict as thugs, low-lifes and 'ghetto trash'. A lot of them are; but I don't think they're a majority of those concerned by what this incident has revealed. To 'tar all of them with the same brush' (and yes, I know that expression has its origins in slavery and racial discrimination - but so does the present discussion) is as unjust, in its own way, as to try to portray the rioters and looters as poor misunderstood racially-suffering little baa lambs.
I think a key issue hasn't yet been addressed by anybody, and that is: This isn't really a race issue at all - it's a class issue. America prides itself on being a relatively 'classless' society; in fact, one of the factors discussed during the Revolutionary era was the value of doing away with nobility and the upper classes in favor of an egalitarian political solution. Nevertheless, we do have a series of classes in the USA today, based more on economics than on birth. Very often, what's couched in terms of 'racism' or racial politics is, in fact, a matter of class.
Let me give you a few examples. Over the past week, on an e-mail list to which I belong, two articles from American Renaissance have been discussed. Both are from lawyers, the first dating back to 2003, the second from earlier this year. (Yes, I'm aware that American Renaissance has its own agenda and viewpoint. So does almost everyone else in this debate. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center appears to be just as bad, but on the other side of the political spectrum. One has to use any source with due care and diligence.)
In the first AmRen article, 'Urban Law 101 - What I Didn’t Learn in Law School: Adventures with black clients', the author paints a truly dismal picture of the education, personal ethics and morals, and other shortcomings of his black clientele. Here's just one example.
I pride myself on doing good work for my clients, but I cannot remember even once being thanked or complimented by a black client. They do not observe even the most common courtesies. Also, with rare exceptions, blacks will never admit they made a mistake. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, it is always someone else’s fault. The most common excuse blacks give is, “They are putting me through the changes.” I have yet to figure out exactly what that means.
Most people tell lies because they think a lie will help them. I have come to the conclusion that most of my clients cannot distinguish between a plausible lie and a wild fairy tale. They are convinced people will believe anything they say. Clients often tell me some fantastic story I cannot possibly defend in court. If I tell them what they are saying is unbelievable the usual reaction is anger and screaming. Typically, they will add, “I’m paying you. You have to believe what I say.”
There's more at the link.
In the second article, 'Confessions of a Public Defender', the author makes similar points.
As a young lawyer, I believed the official story that blacks are law abiding, intelligent, family-oriented people, but are so poor they must turn to crime to survive. Actual black behavior was a shock to me.
. . .
Although blacks are only a small percentage of our community, the courthouse is filled with them: the halls and gallery benches are overflowing with black defendants, families, and crime victims. Most whites with business in court arrive quietly, dress appropriately, and keep their heads down. They get in and get out–if they can–as fast as they can. For blacks, the courthouse is like a carnival. They all seem to know each other: hundreds and hundreds each day, gossiping, laughing loudly, waving, and crowding the halls.
. . .
Prosecutors are delighted when a black defendant takes the stand. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. However, the defense usually gets to cross-examine the black victim, who is likely to make just as bad an impression on the stand as the defendant. This is an invaluable gift to the defense, because jurors may not convict a defendant—even if they think he is guilty—if they dislike the victim even more than they dislike the defendant.
Again, more at the link.
The problem with both of these articles is that yes, they are largely true: but they're not the whole truth. I've worked for years as a prison chaplain, both part-time and full-time, and have ministered as a pastor in a number of American inner-city areas. I'm here to tell you, there's a white 'underclass' that does precisely and exactly the same things. Yes, as a proportion of their racial group, more blacks than whites commit crimes or are guilty of 'underclass'-like behavior; but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of whites doing precisely the same things. To refer to it as a 'black problem' is, in fact, a racist outlook, whether or not we want to admit that to ourselves. (The owner of the American Renaissance Web site, Jared Taylor, argues this position in his book 'Face To Face With Race', which I've read and recommend as a useful - albeit one-sided - perspective on the issue. Unfortunately, I think he falls into this trap as well, and his views are tainted by his overtly partisan perspective . . . just as badly as many liberal and/or progressive views on race are tainted by opposing perspectives.)
(It's precisely the same as religious bigotry and intolerance. I've highlighted in a series of articles how the vitriol, hatred and distrust directed at Islam by many people is not, in fact, justified, because the actions of extremists cannot be used to condemn an entire religion and all its adherents. If they could, we'd have to condemn all Christians because of the Northern Irish 'troubles', or the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, or any of a number of modern wars of religion. One-sided, partisan intolerance is as unacceptable in the field of religion as it is in racial issues. It's never about the group - it always comes down to the individual.)
Another thing. We talk about 'white trash', but if you were to refer to 'black trash' you'll be convicted of racism in a heartbeat. Why? Aren't the 'trash' the same? Why is one expression 'racist' but the other not?
The real problem is that those who riot in Ferguson, or those who behave as the AmRen articles discuss, are part of an underclass that's been more or less deliberately created. We've discussed its genesis here on several occasions. Its roots go back to the Moynihan Report of 1965 and President Johnson's 'War On Poverty' launched in 1964. In particular, the Moynihan Report has proved prescient in its forecast of difficulties to come if the problems then evident in the black community were not addressed. In a hard-hitting review 40 years after the Report's publication (that I highly recommend you read in full - it's an eye-opener), Kay Hymowitz demonstrated how it had been systematically discredited and sidelined by progressive and liberal pressure groups - but the problems it identified and predicted had all occurred as forecast. It had been proven prophetically correct, even if politically incorrect.
The creation of a black underclass has been mirrored by the creation of a white underclass. If you look at the situation in rural Kentucky, for example, there are awful parallels between its hopelessness and poverty and the same problems in inner-city black ghetto environments. The surroundings may be different, but the fecklessness and the misery are all too similar. That's only one example. There are many others I could cite, but won't because of lack of space. Suffice it to say that members of the 'white underclass' behave in much the same way as the members of the 'black underclass' cited in the AmRen articles - so much so that I find them indistinguishable from each other, except for the color of their skin. (Yes, I've run into all too many people from both 'underclasses' in my time.)
I submit that the black community has got to take off its blinkers, and see reality for what it is. They've got to stop blaming every problem on 'racism' in one form or another. I've had black people call me 'racist' because I used an expression like "That's stupid!" No, it's not racist to call someone or some action stupid. Stupidity has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with behavior and/or thought patterns. Get over it!
Black people also need to start listening to the wise men within their own ranks. Far too many of them are dismissed as 'Uncle Toms' or denigrated as 'white under the skin' because they won't toe the politically correct line. (Speaking of that, I wonder whether the current frantic efforts to discredit Dr. Bill Cosby on the grounds of alleged 'rapes' have anything to do with his realistic approach to black community issues? He's not been convicted of any crime in a court of law, but an awful lot of 'politically correct' commentators, journalists and media are carrying on as if he's indisputably guilty. What happened to 'assumption of innocence'? And who's behind this sudden flurry of accusations? Was he about to speak out about the situation in Ferguson? I think there's more going on here than meets the eye.)
Let's look at three perspectives from within the black community. Note that all of them primarily address behavior and personal responsibility, things that the white underclass need to deal with just as much as their black counterparts. First, here's an excerpt from Bill Cosby's famous 'pound cake' speech in 2004.
Next, Fredrick Wilson II provides a contemporary youthful perspective.
Wise words, IMHO! Finally, Benjamin Watson's Facebook post on the events in Ferguson has 'gone viral' - with justification. Here are some excerpts.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
. . .
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
. . .
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
. . .
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.
There's more at the link. I encourage you to click over there and read the whole thing - and, of course, as a retired pastor, I emphatically endorse Mr. Watson's last paragraph above. (Note how CNN silenced him when he tried to share that perspective on the air . . . )
I think that the three citations above point to a common thread, unstated but very real. To label the Ferguson issue as primarily a 'race' problem is wrong. It's a class problem. It's a foundational problem in society, but race is incidental. To solve it, we're going to have to change the way our current 'ghetto societies' - of whatever race, and no matter whether they're urban or rural - are structured. Only by providing better and stronger foundations and structures within which people can grow into maturity can we address the real problems in our society. Those foundations and structures have to be there for everyone, no matter what color their skin may be.