My Conservative Presentation to a Black, Liberal Class
There is nothing more grovelling and weak than to begin or end a conversation with "I'm not a racist..." So I will pass on the opportunity to preface this post with those words. And I will leave it up to you the reader to decide on my racial views.
Yesterday, I concluded one of the worst classes I've ever taken while at the my university; "Urban Studies." The lectures were as ambiguous as the name of the course. We studied the Progressive movement and the post-50s urban crisis, all in a superficial way. The class was lock-step liberal and I was the only admitted conservative Republican in the class. It was also majority black.
For the final, each student was to submit a public policy briefing to the class, condensed into about 5 minutes. I had been crafting and perfecting mine for months in anticipation. The inspiration for it had come from Walter Williams' fantastic and illuminating book Race and Economics published last year, in which he details the history of black economic participation in the United States and analyzes what effect public policy has had on the current condition of the black community.
My slideshow was blunt and to the point: blacks suffer a number of social ills from higher crime rates, illegitimacy, and unemployment. Much of this is a result of destructive public policy intended to help them that arose out of the 1960s. Each slide had damning statistics, all of which were supplied by black economists like Williams and Thomas Sowell. Even me, with my foregone conclusions, was shocked by the statistics I was reading.
In 1930, black unemeployment was a full percentage point lower than whites, even in a time of more racism. The reason was that blacks were barred from union membership, so could more easily underbid unionized whites for jobs. Even in the post-bellum South, 80% of low-skilled laborers were black. The Davis-Bacon Act, the first federal legislation on minimum wages, was specifically intended by its drafters to restrict blacks from federal construction contracts, which they had previously dominated. The subsequent Wagner Act and other New Deal legislation further shut out blacks from trades. 1930 was the last year that black unemployment was lower than whites. In 2011, twice as many blacks are unemployed as whites, as a percentage of population.
Black youth unemployment hovered at 9% in 1948, again lower than white counterparts. But since then, the federal minimum wage has raised 20 times, not counting state increases. Black youth unemployment is 52% today. Poverty rates for the whole country, including blacks, fell dramatically during the Eisenhower, largely because the government ignored the "problem" rather than address it. So too, the black illegitimacy rate was far lower in 1963, prior to welfare benefits to single mothers was introduced. It stood at just over 20% that year. Today, after nearly half a century after the "Great Society," 72% of black babies are born to a single-parent household. The results are an uptick in crime, higher incarceration, druge abuse, and other ills.
After neatly demonstrating all this with a number of simple graphs, I proposed the following policy recommendations.
1) Reduce time one can stay on welfare
2) Gradually reduce and eliminate welfare benefits to single mothers.
3) Repeal minimum wage laws that disproportionately affect blacks and youths.
The final slide, admittedly, was included for shock value. It contained this solitary quote from 1865...
What shall be done with the negro? The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with them... I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do NOTHING with them! Your doing has already played the mischief with them. Do nothing! If the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ... your interference is doing him positive injury
So what reactionary, white supremacist said this? Jefferson Davis? Alexander Stephenson? George Wallace? Nope. That quote is from Frederick Douglass, when asked what should be done with all the freed slaves after the Civil War. He was against even then any kind of redistributive government assistance to blacks.
The response from the class was actually more hostile than I had expected. Even though the teacher did not intend for these final presentations to have follow-up discussions, mine did, and I spent the next 15 minutes defending my stats and conclusions. I was pilloried for not "factoring in institutional racism," which would seem to have been disproved given how 1930 was not exactly a more racially enlightened time. I was called heartless for wanting to reduce the minimum wage and force people to live off pennies a day, even though I had shown the racist origins of wage laws and their destructive impact on black unemployment. And the epitome of evil for suggesting that welfare for single mothers did more "mischief" than good, even though illegitimacy has more than tripled since the inception of the Great Society.
Interestingly enough, the most hostile reaction was about the minimum wage laws. How could I expect a family of four to survive on less than minimum wage?! It should be raised, not lowered! I argued back that it would be better for the currently unemployed to make 5 dollars an hour than 0. Nearly every hand was up and every face angry. The teacher mercifully cut off the discussion so that more presentations could happen.
I was excited and on my top game, but after reflecting after the class, I felt as though I had failed, not my letter grade, but in my message. Sure, I had provided irrefutable evidence (all from black economists no less), clear graphs, a calm voice, and a persuasive argument, but I had entrenched the mostly black, liberal class even farther into their positions. There was likely very little I could have done to change the outcome. The fact is that a white, conservative mid-Westerner arguing for the abolition of welfare and minimum wage laws to a class of black liberals is a lost cause.
The rest of the presentations were both sad and pitiful. Every single speaker proposed Soviet-scale intervention into the economy, government regulation of the food children eat, a Pol Pot style outsourcing of businesses to the countryside, higher taxes on the rich, and of course reparations. As I fumed silently, I thought of suggesting that thousands of "reparations" were buried in the ground at Gettysburg cemetery.
Curious, how the paternalistic belief that blacks can't fend for themselves and require the beneficence of the state to get ahead is "progressive." While someone who points to Frederick Douglass as a paragon of wisdom and believes blacks are fully capable of economic parity and mobility...is a racist.