Happening in America

Do Black Lives Matter?

Before we start, a declaration and a disclosure.  I am going to approach this issue as if it were newly presented to us and politically correct positions were not already set in concrete.  My disclosure, my views are generally on the right.  But I believe good ideas and information come from everywhere and will not base the paths I take on any ideology or sacred positions.

So do black lives matter?  Of course they do, is there anyone who disagrees?  Some object to the slogan and say all lives matter which of course they do.  But the point of the slogan is that more of our black fellow Americans die than other races.  If you look at deaths per capita by race, black Americans die more frequently.  I think this is a problem.

The slogan black lives matter has come to the fore recently mainly concerning innocent black people being killed by police which is said to be a sign of systemic racism in our police departments.  Anytime this happens it is, of course, a miscarriage of justice, but it is a tiny number compared to the other high causes of death among black Americans.  Of the 3 million black people arrested in 2019, 14 who were unarmed were killed.  The percentage is about the same for white arrestees.  I must say that I am still bothered by these incidents because I have heard many black people, including well to do, well educated, professional black people, who say they live in fear of the police.  Yes, that is anecdotal evidence and I do not know their reasons, but it is widespread enough that there must be something there.

If we look at the broad statistics, there are many reasons for this higher death rate among black people. If you compare causes of death between whites and blacks, there all the same causes, but blacks die at a higher rate and there is some difference in the ranking of the causes.  The biggest discrepancies are hypertension, HIV, diabetes, and homicide.  In my opinion there are three interconnected factors that cause this difference.

  • Poor Education
  • High Crime Neighborhoods
  • Poverty

Education:  We have public school systems that provide free education to all American children.  But let’s face it, the public schools in most black neighborhoods are inferior to those in white neighborhoods.  I think much of the reason can be traced to the last factor on our list, poverty.  I have no proof, but I suspect more money and resources go to the neighborhoods that pay more taxes.  Another factor to consider is that children learn much from their parents and thus children with wealthier, thus better-educated parents are likely to be better educated.  School segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the 50s but many schools still have high concentrations of one race.

High Crime Neighborhoods:  Poor neighborhoods tend to have more crime.  It is true that, according to statistics, blacks commit more crimes in proportion to their percentage in the population.  I don’t think that is because black people are somehow inherently crime like, the most likely factor is again poverty and education.

Poverty: Black people, on average are poorer than white people.  While I believe we have mostly eliminated systemic race discrimination in our country, there is still the left-over damage of two hundred years of slavery and a hundred years of Jim Crow.  Since the major breakthroughs of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, many blacks have advanced into the middle class or higher, but many are still left behind.  Poverty brings poorer medical care which might explain the hypertension, HIV, and diabetes death rates.

In the 1960s we launched the war on poverty but the poverty level in America has not changed much since then.  Most of the programs started then were to provide relief to people on poverty which of course, helps with the difficulties of life in poverty but does little to end poverty itself.  The key is to solve the problem rather than treat the symptoms.

The steps I think we need to take are as follows:

Jobs:  The first step to reduce poverty is to have more and better jobs.  Since most jobs are in the private sector, creating an environment for businesses to grow is the best solution.  Cutting business taxes and regulation for example.  In fact, just these policies were working well to lower black unemployment before the COVID-19 crisis hit.  To specifically address black unemployment, opportunity zones in poor neighborhoods is one idea.  Also increasing job training programs would help, especially since many of the new jobs being created require more advanced knowledge.  Community Colleges have done a good job of directly addressing career skills, let’s expand on that

Education: School segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the 1950s but up to today education in America is still largely separate and not equal.  We need to figure out how to educate our less fortunate fellow Americans.  The right proposes school choice and charter schools, the left advocates more money.  There is merit in both approaches, and we need to come together without dogma and figure it out.  I believe a big part of the problem is that poor children start out behind and need some extra help – lets figure out how to do that.

High Crime Neighborhoods:  There is much focus on black men as perpetrators of crime – it is true that they commit more crimes in proportion to their percentage in the population.  I don’t know, but that probably correlates to more poverty and less education.  But a number I find more important is that black people are far more likely to be victims of crime.

This brings us to a difficult contradiction.  As I mentioned previously, many black people tend to fear the police and have bad experiences in their interactions.  So blacks need more police protection but need a feeling of security in their interaction with police.  As I said previously, I think systemic racism is a thing of the past, but even a small number of bad actors can create an adversarial atmosphere.  We need to work on ways to create working relationships between the cops and the black community.  One obvious idea that comes to mind is hire more black cops.  I’m not big on quotas, or preferential hiring, but what prevents us from recruitment programs in predominantly black schools and neighborhoods?  We need people who know and understand those neighborhoods, so let’s hire the people that live there.

Black lives matter and all Americans are concerned when some among us need help.  There was a time – actually a large part of our history, when our fellow Americans who were black were considered less than human.  We can be grateful that those days are over, but let’s get to work on the residual problems that are still with us and bring the American dream to everyone.

Happening in America

I Didn’t Do It

I Didn’t Do It.  As a kid we always said that when we were caught in the act, but in the case of racism in America, I didn’t do it, I am not doing it, and do not accept any guilt for it.  Yes, the United States has a long history of racism against blacks and also a long history of struggle to change it.  Including hundreds of thousands who died in a war to abolish slavery (I have in my possession discharge papers of my ancestors who served the cause in that war) and many years of struggle against Jim Crow, de jure discrimination in the South and de facto discrimination in the north.

Does this mean racism is abolished in America?  No.  There are still pockets of it – let’s find them prevent their power to do harm.  I think, more importantly, many of the results of that racism are still with us.  Lack of quality education and jobs for black Americans would be my top two.  Now, as I have said before, I am on the right which means I want less government spending and interference in our daily lives.  But I make exceptions where key elements of public welfare and security are concerned.  Do we need to spend more on schooling?  If so, my answer is show me that the spending will be effective and show me what spending we should cut instead.  Since the Great Society programs started in the 60s trillions have been spent and the poverty rate has stayed about the same.  Surely there is something there that isn’t working that we can replace.

Let’s take spending on education.  Schools in primarily black neighborhoods are inferior to those in largely white neighborhoods.  What do we do about that?  Equalize spending?  Desegregate neighborhoods (yes there are still many segregated neighborhoods)? Set up special tutoring services? More school choice?  I don’t know the answer, but let’s have the dialog.  Burning down grocery stores and pharmacies obviously is not the answer.

If someone wants a one-way shouting match where I get accused of racism, I have better things to do with my time.  But if we want to have rational discussions of real practical solutions, I am ready.

Happening in America

Minneapolis – Look in the Mirror

Minneapolis is known as among the most liberal cities in the country. Their elected officials are diverse and there are many laws, policies, and programs to support the poor and disadvantaged. There is tolerance for cultural diversity. As I have said before, I am on the right, but in these areas, I am with my liberal friends. I want all to participate in the wealth this country has to offer and Minneapolis has more to offer than most cities.

But good intentions are not enough. According to a New York Times article I just read, “disparities in employment, poverty, and education between people of color and white residents are among the worst in the nation.” Black representation in the police force is about half the percentage in the general population. I don’t think any of us in the rest of the country are in a position to cast stones – we have had problems of racial intolerance and inequality everywhere.

While this short article is not the place to come up with the solution to racial inequality that has eluded us for four hundred years, I would like to throw in my support for two of the items mentioned in the Times quote above. Employment and education. We have tried addressing poverty directly through transfer payments (food stamps, welfare, public housing, etc.) and while these have helped address the symptoms, they have not helped solve the core problem.

Education in America is still very unequaal. From the founding of our country we came to a consensus to provide public education to everyone but to this day the difference in quality is dramatic based on the socio-economic make of the neighborhoods. Money is part of the solution but there are many other problems poor neighborhoods have that contribute such as high crime and poor infrastucture. Children learn largely from their parents so the problem is pepetuated from generation to generation. We need special programs with the purpose of raising the educational standard in these neighborhoods.

The first thing to improve employment is to have more jobs. In fact the improved jobs situation of the last few years has decreased the disparity in employment and income between whites and minorities. We can promote this by improving the environment for companies to grow and hire more people such as lowering corporate taxes, especially for small businesses. Improved education can help with employment, but many of the skills needed in today’s economy are not learned in school. Community colleges have become very focused on vocational learning and we might look into other job training programs and apprenticeships. The needs of industry are rapidly changing which means everyone needs more learning, but especially poorer communities.

Ok, the title of this article might not be fair, perhaps it should have been America Look in the Mirror, but I did want to catch your eye.