Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Losing the Race 4

For my post today about John McWhorter’s 2000 book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, I’d like to talk about McWhorter’s discussion of crime.  On pages 13-15, McWhorter seeks to refute what he calls “Article of Faith Number Five” in the “cult of victimology.”  This article of faith states that “The Number of Black Men in Prison Is Due to a Racist Justice System".

McWhorter does not believe that this is true, for he maintains that the number of African-American men in prison relates to statistics that “nationwide blacks commit…42 percent of the violent crimes in the country”, not a racist justice system.  At the same time, McWhorter does acknowledge that racism may be behind why African-American men commit crimes.  McWhorter states: “The reason they commit more crimes is surely traceable to racism, which left a disenfranchised people on the margins of society and most vulnerable to antisocial behavior.”

That raises a question in my mind: to what extent does McWhorter believe that racism is responsible for the negative condition of poor African-Americans?  McWhorter refers to statistics indicating that most African-Americans are not poor and do not live in the ghetto.  This is an important argument, yet one cannot ignore that even the statistics that he cites indicate that 20 per cent of African-Americans live in ghettos, and about a fourth live in poverty.  That is still a sizable number, even if it is not a majority.  Remember that the number of people who were unemployed during the Great Depression was around 20 percent.

Does McWhorter believe that the condition of poor African-Americans is due to racism, or to other factors?  A white conservative may look at this information and say, “Well, if most African-Americans are not poor, that shows it is possible for them to succeed, so those who do not succeed must be at fault.”  Granted, McWhorter does argue that a number of African-Americans are holding themselves back by their separatism and their anti-intellectualism.  But how easy is it for a poor African-American to get out of the ghetto?  I doubt that McWhorter would say that everyone in America has the exact same shot at getting ahead.  Some people are born into situations over which they had no control, and they find themselves unable to get out of them.  Would McWhorter agree that racism is at least one factor that keeps many people in the ghetto from getting out of their situation?

I’d like to turn my attention now to the issue of disparities in drug sentencing.  Why does crack cocaine get a heavier sentence than powder cocaine?  McWhorter notes that the Congressional Black Caucus actually supported such laws in the 1980′s because crack was decimating African-American communities.  McWhorter states that “whites were not part of the murderous culture that was decimating blacks young and old in the inner cities” (page 14).  And McWhorter affirms that such laws worked, for “Crack no longer terrorizes the inner cities as it once did.”

McWhorter’s discussion here gives me some things to think about.  I still don’t think that it’s fair for African-Americans to get a harsher sentence than a white person for using essentially the same drug, albeit in a different form.  I also think that the mass incarceration of African-American men is a problem—-that it wrecks their future and takes fathers from the home.  I certainly wouldn’t go to the other extreme and say that there should be no legal penalties.  I just wonder if there is a way to have law and order, and to be humane about it.

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