This article originally appeared in Eagle Rising.
I was born in 1945 in Los Angeles. Some might say I grew up in a part of the country that was spared racial segregation as it existed in the deep South. That would not be completely accurate. In those days, black people basically resided in South Central LA and some pockets of Venice on the West Side. We were segregated by neighborhood.
My mother was from North Carolina, and I grew up thinking of it as my second home. My mom and dad would take me back there every couple of summers to visit her family. Actually, it was usually just my mom who took me. I remember when I was still a small boy and we were driving past a restaurant that had a sign on the window reading, "Whites only." Even at my tender age, the sign caught my attention. That was the North Carolina of the 1950s. That it existed anywhere in the US said something about the entire country. It is fair to say that America at that time was, indeed, a racist country. It was most severe in the South, but to one degree or another, it was everywhere.
Then came the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement. It was a time of marches, race riots, Martin Luther King, and ultimately reform. It was not just a reform of our laws but a change in the way white people thought of black people. The greatness of Martin Luther King and those who worked with him was that they struck a cord in the psyche of white Americans. One of the things that makes this country great is that when people really see injustice in front of them-true injustice- they will correct it. Thus, in my lifetime, I have seen a transformation in this country that is of historic proportions, a change that few countries and few people would be capable of in a period of a couple of generations.
It is painfully true that many black Americans have been left behind in the inner cities and constitute an economic underclass for lack of a better expression. Does the legacy of slavery and segregation still play a role in this? To some extent, yes. However, I think there are other factors more important.
Larry Elder, a black radio talk show host who is nationally syndicated, believes that the biggest problem facing black America today is the lack of a stable family and the absence of the father. He points out that in the worst days of Jim Crow, the black illegitimate birth rate was about 25%. Today, it is over 70%. White racism, according to Elder, is so far down the list of problems facing blacks today that it is insignificant. I agree though my perception as a white is always going to be different from that of black folks.
But how to explain this odd statistic? There is only one plausible reason I can come up with. Our government leaders in the 1960s, trying to do the right thing, instituted a system of welfare that all but destroyed the incentive to have a stable two-parent family and for people to wait to have children until they could support them. Instead, welfare encouraged the idea of having children early and out of wedlock. The government would take care of the expenses. Sub-standard housing in the inner city? The answer was subsidized housing projects that became urban nightmares.
And where has all of this brought us? Today, we are consumed with Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other young black men who for one reason or another have gotten involved in deadly encounters with cops and died as a result. The black community is angry. The cops are being accused of being racist murderers. The justice system is accused of being unfair to blacks, which results in a disproportionate number of blacks in our prisons. Did they commit the crimes they were convicted of? That seems irrelevant. We have protests, marches, riots and now two dead NYPD officers. Never mind that there is not one shred of evidence that Brown or Garner were singled out by the police because they were black.
Let me come directly to the point: America today is not a racist country. Are there racists walking around? Yes, but they come in all colors. The phenomena that we see in certain cities like Los Angeles where black gang members and Mexican gang members are shooting it out on the streets against each other and continuing that warfare in California prisons, is not because of white racism. Black on black murders and Hispanic on Hispanic murders cannot be blamed on white racism. And shame on all of us when we ignore these murders to focus on the relatively rare cases where minorities are shot by cops almost always in circumstances that are justified as just happened last night in Berkeley, Missouri a St Louis neighborhood. If Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton want to lead marches, they should be marching in Chicago, where black on black murder is at a deadly high. Where are the protests against that?
America is still a country with racial issues and racial divisions. But America today is not a racist country.