disparities

If Ibram X. Kendi did not exist, it would be necessary for a certain kind of conservative to invent him. But because he does exist, whenever someone wants to talk about the actual sufferings of black people in America, then a certain kind of conservative can reply, “Look, I don’t claim that America is perfect, but did you see this crazy thing Ibram X. Kendi said??”

I was going to write a longer post about this, but today’s David French newsletter says it for me:

On the right it often seems that if we can effectively rebut the radicals, we act as if our rhetorical work is done. Debunk critical theory, reject various definitions of systemic racism, and then move along. Back to business as usual (with the conventional and obligatory “to be sure” paragraphs noting that a few racists still haunt American life)….

Broken and breaking systems can still leave powerful, enduring legacies. If you take any population of human beings, treat them as property for 245 years, actively, legally, and violently discriminate against them for 99 more, and only give them the necessary legal tools to effectively fight back 56 years ago, then you’re going to still see significant consequences — and those consequences are going to be very hard to ameliorate.

I was interested to see that a number of readers commented on my Sunday newsletter about the disparities between the disproportionately white, rich private school I advised and the nearby much-poorer, disproportionately black public school down the road and said that the relevant difference was wealth, not race. But when you’re talking about a community that was afflicted by all the systems of 1619 (including within the lifetimes of thousands of residents), why would anyone think that wealth disparities would vanish by 2020 — or that the racial history that created the initial disadvantage would no longer be relevant?

If your economic starter pistol goes off after your neighbor’s — and they’re also running as fast as they can to achieve prosperity — doesn’t it stand to reason that even as you run as hard as you can, the gap might persist? And isn’t that largely the tale of the tape in black/white income and wealth disparities?

French provides an intelligent critique of the left also, but I was especially encouraged to see him acknowledge that certain racial disparities in income, and social success more generally, are deeply embedded in our social order. It would be helpful if the people talking most loudly about race, on the right and left alike, spent less time making empty symbolic statements and more time thinking about practical solutions to this enormously challenging and indeed tragic affliction in American life.