For several decades Black Americans by multiple measures – including literacy levels, employment and incarceration rates – out achieved their White peers. You would be forgiven if you thought that occurred relatively recently but all of these things, and other positive statistics, actually occurred during the first part of the 20th century. All of those positive trends disappeared with the advent of legislation designed to assist the descendants of slaves – programs popularly grouped under the term “affirmative action”.
Jason L. Riley launches a broadside attack on those programs with Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed, declaring that the very tools designed to assist Black Americans are the same ones gutting it. Armed with an impressive array of statistics, Riley argues that in nearly every way Black Americans are worse off in the affirmative action era then they were before it. Black America is a sick man and the medicine is less treatment, not more.
Please Stop Helping Us is divided into six broad sections which deal with Black American political involvement, culture, internal issues, unemployment, education and affirmative action. As Riley tells it, there are few happy stories in modern Black American life. Regardless of whose numbers you prefer, there are apparently few areas in which Black Americans are succeeding. The Black middle class has remained largely unchanged as a percentage of the whole for four decades. Education rates are falling, whether the children come from damaged or healthy homes. Anti-intellectualism punishes those who strive as seeking to be “White”. Black political leaders seem to actively work against the interests of their supposed constituents and affirmative action programs, which depending on they are defined, see relatively limited support even in Black America.
If all of this is so, why does America continue down the same path? Riley charges that a confluence of factors are to blame. Democrats enjoy widespread increased support from Black America in an era of identity politics and the government policies that support it. Societal guilt and a lack of understanding of the effects of these programs have play a role as well. Riley also argues that his own community, Black culture itself, has become sick and celebrates behaviours and activities – something he points out he knows firsthand, that make it extraordinarily difficult for individuals and the collective whole to advance.
The debate has always been how much the problems in any community can be traced back to an original sin – in this case slavery and systemic racism – and how much can be attributed to the community itself. That of course leads into the debate into how much can (or should) a society do to make up for the past and how honest a community can be with itself. Please Stop Helping Us has definite stands on those and other questions, as do most people in the debate, and where you stand politically will likely dictate how successful you think Riley was in his efforts. It will likely not come as a big surprise that the political left will likely excoriate Riley while the right will agree with him.
It’s probably easy, not to mention self-serving, for those opposed to affirmative action-style programs to praise Riley’s work and use it as justification for rolling them back. For those who truly care, however, Please Stop Helping Us should prompt righteous anger at the fact that a significant portion of America has been held down for both ostensibly noble and crass reasons. Riley is likely sustaining heavy attacks from those whose careers depend on the continuation of the status quo but he needs to be congratulated for saying what most others, in this “post-racial” era, would be terrified to do. Issues in the Black community are not a “Black problem”, they are a problem for everyone who truly care about their fellow citizens.