Believe it or not, this piece by Kay Hymowitz was published in The Atlantic:
Coates is right that tough-on-crime laws will have a disproportionate effect on blacks since they are more likely to be offenders (and victims for that matter). Still, whites and Hispanics were hardly immune to their effects. Incarceration rates for white and Hispanic men almost tripled between 1960 and 2010. Today, 63 percent of inmates are white and Hispanic. If mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, it somehow manages to get an awful lot—a strong majority, actually—of non-blacks into its clutches.
The Jim Crow theory is on slightly firmer ground when it comes to drug offenses. Blacks and whites appear to use and sell drugs at similar rates, yet blacks are considerably more likely to be arrested and to serve time in prison for drug offenses. The 1986 Anti Drug Abuse Act legislating harsher sentences for crack cocaine also helped to load the penal system with black prisoners.
I say “slightly firmer ground,” because chalking up these policies to racial animus leaves several challenges. For one thing, there is evidence linking the crack epidemic to a rise in violent crime; that is not true for powdered cocaine. Second, though there is a widespread impression the war on drugs explains most of black incarceration, that’s not remotely the case. Drug admissions account for only 20 percent of the rise among the incarcerated since 1980. Almost two-and-a-half times the number of black men are serving sentences for murder, assault, and the like in state and federal prisons as are serving time for using and selling drugs. Today, violent criminals continue to make up by far the largest cohort of the freshman class of prisoners—black, white, and Hispanic. Like most writers on this subject, Coates chastises the U.S. for having among the highest prison rates among advanced nations. The numbers are shocking but it seems worth noting that compared to other advanced nations, the United States also has by far the highest homicide rates even after years of decline.
The hardships suffered by people who have served time, and their families, are real and profound. Relatives, who are typically very poor to begin with, struggle to put together the cash for lawyers and family visits. Ex-offenders find themselves branded for life. Employers tend to throw away job applications from men they consider a risk to their business and maybe even their lives. Prison records may well play a role in the distressingly low black-male employment numbers.
But without considering the counterfactual, these genuine grievances float in ideological thin air. Would black families be better off if violent offenders had been in their homes or on the streets? Would black communities? In one of his follow up comments to his article, Coates urges shorter sentences for violent crimes. In some cases—especially for those reaching “criminal menopause”—that makes sense. But recidivism is extremely high among former prisoners: More than 70 percent of prisoners convicted of a violent crime will be rearrested within 5 years, a third of them for another violent crime. Of course, that means two-thirds will not be, but insofar as prison does have some “incapacitation effect,” that is, it takes criminals off the streets, shorter sentences may mean more crime. How to calculate the potential damage caused by longer prison sentences versus the risk of more street crime is a thorny moral and policy question. Those more inclined to weight the second over the first may well be wrong, especially in these relatively safe times. But does that make them complicit in a Jim Crow system—that is, racists?
What does all of this have to do with the black family? Far more than Coates leads readers to believe. Children suffer when their parents go to prison, he writes. Yet he says nothing about the suffering of black children growing up in chaotic families, though that suffering is itself highly correlated with the scourge of ghetto crime and incarceration. Seventy-two percent of black children are born to unmarried mothers. The majority of those children will see contact with their fathers “drop sharply”; within a few years, about a third of dads will basically just disappear. Children don’t take well to the succession of partners, step- and half-siblings that follow their parents’ breakup. Studies, not just a few, but a slew of them, connect “multi-partner fertility” and father absence to behavior problems, aggression, and later criminality among boys even when controlling for race and income. Doesn’t that suggest black-family disruption could have some bearing on crime and incarceration rates?
Before 1960, when poverty and racism were by all accounts far worse, the black family was considerably more stable. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the large majority of black women were married before they had children. Black children were less likely than whites to grow up in two-parent homes, but only slightly so. It was only after 1960, even as more black men were finding jobs and even as legal discrimination was being dismantled with civil-rights legislation, that the family began to unravel. It was precisely that unexpected disconnect that spurred Daniel Patrick Moynihan to warn that “the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself” in his 1965 report.
Waving all of this away as “respectability politics” ignores this history; it ignores anthropology; and it ignores many decades of research. It also risks neglecting the real suffering of black children and their communities.
There are numerous problems in our black communities, including illiteracy, teen pregnancy rates, welfare dependency, and crime. The Left blames them all on racism. Try to discuss other causes and you will be called a racist.
It all starts with family. Look at men like Thurgood Marshall, Herman Cain, Ben Carson and Colin Powell who rose from modest beginnings to professional success, and you will see that they all credit their strong (although not necessarily intact) families.
Family is not a panacea, and the lack of a strong, stable family is not predestined failure. Bad people can come from good families, and good people can come out of bad families. But there is no single thing you can do that will help your children find the path to personal and financial success more than being a good parent. Good parents are even better than a trust fund.
Good parents make sure their kids get an education. Good parents teach their children morals and values. Good parents lead by example. Good parents instill discipline. Good parents make sacrifices for the good of their children. Good parents don’t abuse alcohol or drugs. Good parents don’t abuse each other or their children.
But good parents aren’t perfect. Good parents need help. Hillary Clinton famously said that it takes a village to raise a child. She’s right, but not as right as she thinks. We all need a support web of family, friends and neighbors.
But we do not need Big Brother and Big Sister raising our children. In fact, too much government is bad for families and children. If government could fix the problems in the black community then why haven’t they done it already?
It all starts with family. Unfortunately the current black leadership has other ideas. They preach MORE government dependency. They demand “reparations”. They reject “white” culture.
There is no financial incentive for black leaders to preach self-reliance and assimilation. All the financial incentives go the other way, so they preach dependency and racial grievance.
But what do I know? That’s probably just my white privilege talking.