In the wake of the apparent murder of George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis who suffocated under the knee of a white policeman, we have witnessed a paroxysm of rioting, looting, vandalism, and arson not simply in the United States but across the world. Pope Francis has condemned both the racism that is held to be a contributing cause of the murder, and the ensuing violence.
Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles has gone further, citing another cleric from a different era, Martin Luther King Jr, to the effect that “riots are the language of the unheard,” saying that they “reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the colour of their skin.”
Gomez has made an assertion of evil, the evil of racism, as if it were endemic in America and self-evident. I do not deny that relations between blacks and whites in the United States are bad. I also do not deny that human beings will use race as a cause for enmity; anything will be ready to hand when you want to hate. The question is whether the nation deserves Gomez’s condemnation.
When Reverend King, who did not lead riots, said those words, interracial marriage was illegal in most of the southern states, and a large majority of Americans disapproved of it. The television program Star Trek broke the taboo in one episode by featuring an interracial kiss.
But now, interracial marriage is common: more than 15 percent of all new marriages in 2010, if you count “Hispanic” as a race. Americans overwhelmingly approve. Indeed, if you attend an evangelical church in the south, you will see interracial couples all the time, and no one thinks twice about it.
When Reverend King said those words, it had only been 20 years since the colour barrier had been broken in major league baseball, and there had still been no black manager or, to my knowledge, any black coach. But by now we have had Dusty Baker and his 1,863 managerial wins, leading his teams to seven divisional titles and one league pennant, winning the Manager of the Year award three times.
In the National Football League, we have had Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers for 13 years without a losing season, going to two Super Bowls and winning one. No one thinks twice.
When Reverend King said those words, many state universities in the South were lily-white. That is far from the case now, and it marked for many people a real change of heart. I recall an incident involving Jerry Falwell, the host of The Old Time Gospel Hour, who had founded a new and deeply conservative Christian college, Liberty University. Reverend Falwell was invited to Duke University to speak, and the first question thrown at him had to do with the percentage of blacks at Liberty. Falwell said he had more work to do in that line, but – and here he silenced the crowd – he was proud to say that the percentage in question at Liberty was double that at Duke.
When Reverend King said those words, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had just been established (1965), and there was no such thing as Affirmative Action. Now, however one may judge the merits of that arm of government, or of affirmative action policies for every workplace in the public sector and for almost every large employer in the private sector, no one can deny that recruiters are rewarded for seeking out black candidates for positions.
Black high school graduates receive a bonus of 200 or more points on their SAT scores, ostensibly so that colleges can pick up gems in the rough, students lacking the polish of their richer white counterparts. Why the same bonus is not given to poor whites in Appalachia and for many of the same reasons, no one can explain.
When Reverend King said those words, the liberal sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a report called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (1965). Moynihan did not deny the problems of racism, injustice, inequality of opportunity, and economic hardship, and their interrelations. But he noted that the black family was unravelling. Almost a third of black children were born out of wedlock. That ratio is now somewhere between 70 and 80 percent.
Having observed the social pathologies of the Irish in the Southey ghetto of Boston, he warned that the breakdown of the family would result in a wide variety of bad things. Chief among them, for his purposes, was the failure of children to learn those self-denying natural virtues that subordinate present pleasure to a distant future good, or personal happiness to duty. For the family is that natural society that binds the generations in the blood, and that holds its members to their promises.
Had white Americans in the first half of the 20th century made even a half-hearted effort to be just to blacks, Moynihan might never have had to write that report, or if he had, it might have been heeded. As it was, it came at the worst time. Feminists and the rest of the Pelvic Left sent blacks to the back of the Bus for Social Change, where they have remained ever since, treated as stalking-horses or mascots, while Christians who decry both racism and family breakdown cannot be heard above the noise.
Often, it must be admitted, they do not cry loud enough, because it is sure to get almost everybody to dislike you. Also, the mere suggestion that you might be motivated by racial animus and not by the truth, or by care for blacks and for everybody else who has been dragged down by that collapse in moral expectations, is sufficient to make you hold your peace.
Archbishop Gomez seems to believe that we still live in the world of To Kill a Mockingbird. We do not. We are both better and worse than that. It stirs our hearts to applaud the heroism of the white lawyer in the story, and of the black man innocently accused and convicted. We are ashamed to recall the thousand small-minded and hardhearted indignities of Jim Crow.
No one in major league baseball will wear as his own the number 42, because that was Jackie Robinson’s number, and every April 15, the anniversary of his first game in 1947, every ballplayer, of every race and nationality, wears that number, to express their solidarity with him and his cause.
And yet, in those same days of Atticus Finch, most black children grew up with a married mother and father; and it was not true that black men, who make up seven percent of the population, were responsible for more than 40 percent of all homicides.
This is nature taking her revenge on us for ignoring what everyone knows: children need the haven of a stable family, founded in marriage, and boys especially need the strong arms of their fathers to raise them up to be responsible and manly leaders. Go among the white working class in England and learn the lesson there, if you will not learn it here.
“You have missed the point, professor,” someone may say. “Police are the problem. They single out blacks for bad treatment, and people die for it.” The evidence says otherwise.
We have no rash of policemen killing unarmed people. In a nation of 330 million, with 800,000 officers, there were but 30 such killings last year (12 of the victims were black), and most of those killings were justified. But even if every single one was not, the twelve murders of black men by cops would be less than half of one percent of all the murders of black men by other black men. Of course, no one at all should be murdered. But the heart of man is wicked from his youth, says the Lord. Do not those other lives matter?
It is not true that a black suspect of a felony crime is more likely to be shot at than a white suspect of a felony crime. The difference in probability is modest, but it points in the other direction. It is not true that interracial violence is likelier to be white on black than black on white. Here the difference is enormous: five to one, and it too points in the other direction.
But suppose that racism in the United States is endemic. As the archbishop knows, one crime does not justify another. Bad treatment may lead a man to drink, and the drink may ruin his family. What then? Do we wait till all men are gentle before we tell him he must stop his drinking? He needs the support of the moral law most urgently. Bad people who have money and power can afford their debaucheries for a while. The poor cannot.
Why do we not preach the family-building virtues especially because of what has happened to blacks? Is it impossible that oppressed people should steel themselves for resistance by building strong families? The Jews have always done so. The Poles did so when they no longer had a country. The Irish did so under English domination. Blacks did so, before our moral apostasy.
The conversation we need to have is one that nobody wants to have, because it will involve everybody’s favourite field of sin. It’s a lot easier to blame other people – some of whom may be worthy of blame – or to call upon the mysterious ether of systemic racism than to look in the mirror and say, to the only person whose sins you have the power to check, “You there, what you are doing is fun. Too bad. It harms the common good. It hurts you and your people worst of all. Grow up.”
We need, in other words, a national moral revival. We are not likely to get it.