Columnist: Thoughts on race in America

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial.

Racism, prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, along with sexism, chauvinism and xenophobia remain part of the American scene 52 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed and 153 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. In a nation of 320 million, it should come as no surprise that a small minority harbor such feelings.

Nevertheless, we have come a long way since the days of Jim Crow laws that effectively mandated segregation for almost 100 years following the Civil War, and from groups like the Ku Klux Clan that murdered and terrorized African-Americans and their communities.

In the 1950s things began to change. In 1954, the last black U.S. Army unit was deactivated. That same year the Supreme Court decided, in Brown versus Board of Education, that the concept of “separate but equal” schools was unconstitutional.

The following year Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Two years later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was established in Atlanta, Georgia. That gave birth to the Civil Rights movement and the many bloody marches that ensued.

Success finally came in 1964 with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. However, cultural habits are hard to change and, as a society, we will never be fully rid of latent biases. My grandmother, who was born in 1875, once said to me, in the late 1950s, that racial prejudices would likely persist until we were all of one color.

And, in fact, we are becoming, gradually, a mixed-race society. According to a Pew Survey last year, 7 percent of Americans view themselves as multiracial. I suspect the real number is much higher.

In my own family, a two-greats grandfather fathered an African-American child around 1830. That child’s descendants, who are cousins of mine, have multiplied and added to the melting pot.

I suspect most African-Americans are of mixed heritage, something on which we should all reflect. Most of us are related, perhaps distantly, but related. Real assimilation demands mutual respect, irrespective of one’s race, color or sex, and an understanding that civil society can only function when its laws are obeyed.

Yet 60 percent of Americans say that race relations are growing worse, and 69 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll, claim that that race relations are “generally bad.”

A survey quoted in last Thursday’s The New York Times: “Asked whether the police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person, three-quarters of African-Americans answered yes.”

That answer was disputed in another survey — quoted in the Times a day earlier — conducted by Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard professor of economics and an African-American. He found no racial bias when it came to police shootings; though he did find bias in nonlethal confrontations.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 43 percent of African-Americans are in such despair they are doubtful that the country will ever make the changes necessary for blacks to have equal rights.

When Barack Obama took the office in early 2009 it was expected by many, including me, that his election would usher in an age of improved race relations. That has not happened.

From his calling the police “stupid” in the Henry Lewis “Skip” Gates incident in 2009 to the shootings last week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Mr. Obama has chastised police and blamed guns before all the evidence is in. He accepted the myth of “Hands up, don’t shoot” that emerged from the killing of Michael Brown, and which was promoted by his friend Al Sharpton, even though Attorney General Erik Holder later found that the police officer Darren Wilson was not in the wrong.

Political correctness blinds us from obvious truths. When asked at the first Democratic presidential debate to choose between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders chose, correctly, the latter. He was harangued, so back-tracked his answer.

Why did the election of Barack Obama not ease tensions? I am not sure that anyone knows the answer.

Being a visible minority is difficult. South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott has said that as a black he must adhere to a higher standard. Also, there is no doubt that a latent prejudice does exist among elements of our society, and there are those on the right who exploit such biases.

But why have things become worse over the past eight years? Why have violent crimes increased? Why have black-on-black crimes become so ubiquitous?

Homicides in the nation’s 50 largest cities were up 17 percent in 2015 over 2014. Thus far this year, the number of police shot is up 44 percent versus the same time in 2015.

Was it the financial crisis and the ensuing economic downturn, with their effects on the black community? Perhaps.

President Obama came to office determined to promote “fairness” and to fight “inequality.” But that has not been the result.

Despite promises to the contrary, minorities are worse off. Income and wealth gaps have widened. Before the recent reinstatement of work requirement by 40 states, food stamp rolls increased to more than 45 million Americans.

Unemployment among blacks remains higher than for whites, Hispanics and Asians. Most of the violence is taking place in cities where gun laws are the strictest and social welfare programs the most generous — all cities run by Democrats.

My cynicism tells me that rising tensions have to do with leftist policies that create dependency; and which divide the electorate, so as to make it easier to address differing demands, creating victims whose needs can be assuaged. Both parties play to their bases, generating anger and fear, based on the principal that fearful and angry people are more likely to vote. The situation is made worse by a media that thrives on conflict and polarization.

The answers lie in responsible parenting, in education and in reforming a culture that glorifies bad behavior and encourages conduct that is antisocial, and which is antithetical for those near the bottom of our socio-economic ladders.

One consequence has been a decline in personal responsibility and a rise in out-of-wedlock births, especially among African-American families. In 2012, 72.2 percent of all black children were born to fatherless homes.

This is a problem that Daniel Patrick Moynihan described and warned about 50 years ago. He also argued that affirmative action programs should be aimed at economic minorities, not ethnic groups.

While we should be respective of gays, government should encourage family formations — and the importance of two parents to young children. Mr. Obama’s family sets a good example.

Education should help children, not support teachers’ unions. Chicago is illustrative of the terrible price being paid by the black community, due to ill-conceived liberal policies.

In 2015 there were 468 homicides in the city. Of those murders, blacks accounted for 75 percent of the victims and 71 percent of the killers.

The problem has worsened in 2016. Through the first week of July, there have been 340 killings in the city.

The problem is not the police. It is a political, social and educational culture that has made it difficult for blacks to climb out of a life in which they feel trapped.

They need jobs. They need them to eat and to live, but they also need them for the sense of pride and self-respect that work and self-sufficiency bring. They do not need clichés, like “fight inequality,” or Black Lives Matter.

As we all know, all lives matter. Youth needs heroes who have overcome odds to succeed. Whether those heroes emerge on the right or the left should make no difference.

The black community should not be a puppet in this “Game of Thrones” played by craven politicians. The answer lies in providing the means for success, so that all Americans can better themselves. That along with mutual and self-respect are needed to realize Martin Luther King’s dream.

By Sydney M. Williams

Contributing columnist

Sydney Williams, a retired stock broker, writes about politics, the economy, global affairs, education and climate, among other topics. He may be reached at