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Race and Root Causes

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Columbia Prof. John McWhorter has this review in the New Republic of Amy Wax's book, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century.

The weakness--and sadness--of this fine book is that it has no prescription. Wax makes a series of arguments--stop focusing on the past, think about culture rather than structure, criticize failure and emulate success--but she does not tell us how to accomplish these goals. The task is certainly huge. The focus on culture that Wax champions would be one in which a black family would be deeply ashamed of the man with two "baby mamas" who works only "odd jobs" and largely gets by selling drugs. But the implacable present-day fact is that in his actually existing community today that man is considered less than ideal but still quite normal. Hence as Wax notes, Tavis Smiley could produce a whole volume called The Covenant With Black America, urging blacks to "hold leaders to account" and include a mere two lines about out-of-wedlock child-rearing. The black radical is considered, even if "a little crazy," as "having something to say." Many black church audiences are now eager to get an earful of Jeremiah Wright.
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Wax usefully asks: "Is it possible to pursue an arduous program of self-improvement while simultaneously thinking of oneself as a victim of grievous mistreatment and of one's shortcomings as a product of external forces?" To the extent that our ideology on race is more about studied radicalism than about a healthy brand of what Wax calls an internal locus of control, her book provokes, at least in this reader, a certain hopelessness. If she is right, then the bulk of today's discussion of black America is performance art. Tragically, and for the most part, she is right.

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This is an important book that promotes a message the left doesn't want to hear. It is not a new message-Daniel Patrick Moynihan sounded the same clarion call in the 1960's when the non-marital birth rate in minority communities exploded.

I disagree with McWhorter when he opines the book has no prescriptions. Researchers have identified a simple calculus to avoid poverty-finish high school and keep a job before marriage. The poverty rate among blacks who followed this prescription in 2004 was less than 6%, as opposed to an overall rate of 24.7%.

The issue is cultural.

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