Half a Century of Blaming White Racism for Black America's Problems

For half a century, the federal government has pursued a disastrous strategy in addressing the problems of black Americans. They were designated a victim class, and enormous sums of money were expended on incentives to perpetuate that status.

The welfare state has perpetuated multi-generational pathologies, while the encouragement of victimology and the blame placed on white racism have poisoned race relations instead of healing them.

It's fair to say the United States government began its long and catastrophic commitment to this approach fifty years ago today (or yesterday): February 29, 1968.  On that day, the Kerner Commission (officially the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) delivered its report (official summaryfull 400-plus pages), and white racism was officially blamed for the problems of black America.

White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.

In those days, I was already a political junkie who read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and a local paper and watched network news.  I remember well the huge fuss the media made over the Kerner Commission Report.  It kicked off an extended campaign that was often labeled a "national soul-searching."

All the smart people you could find in the media pretty much agreed that we just had to commit ourselves to fighting racism as the solution to the problems of the black community.  White guilt gained momentum as a force in individual and group decisions.

The effects of the report were far-reaching.  The powerful institutions of America were put on notice that consciously or not, they were perpetuating racism:

Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.  What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto.  White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

The report put racism on the agenda of every organization.  It spurred – even forced – discussions that led to commitments to anti-racism programs in the commanding heights of the economic, educational, and cultural establishments and on downward.  Budgets and bureaucracies soon enough followed, and eventually, a permanent civil rights bureaucratic apparatus flourished in every institution of significant size.

The Kerner Commission had been created by an executive order of President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 28 of the previous year, while the five-day Detroit Riot of 1967 was still raging.

Americans had watched on TV in shock as tanks and military vehicles rumbled down the streets of Detroit.  The Motor City's steep decline began with those riots.

Detroit Riot, 1967 (Flickr).

President Johnson's Executive Order 11365 stated the charge:

The Commission shall investigate and make recommendations with respect to:

(1) The origins of the recent major civil disorders in our cities, including the basic causes and factors leading to such disorders and the influence, if any, of organizations or individuals dedicated to the incitement or encouragement of violence;

(2) The development of methods and techniques for averting or controlling such disorders, including the improvement of communications between local authorities and community groups, the training of state and local law enforcement and National Guard personnel in dealing with potential or actual riot situations, and the coordination of efforts of the various law enforcement and governmental units which may become involved in such situations;

(3) The appropriate role of the local, state and Federal authorities in dealing with civil disorders; and

(4) Such other matters as the President may place before the Commission.

It was chaired by Democrat governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, who later, in the grand tradition of that office, spent time in a federal prison after leaving office.  The co-chair was a media darling, liberal Republican New York City mayor John Lindsay.

The other members of the commission were as follows:

In addition to fingering white racism as the problem, they called for a lot of money to be spent on ameliorative programs:

... a commitment to national action – compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth.  From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The commission called on expanding social welfare spending and for the federal government to pick up 90% of the tab.

Three years earlier, in March, 1965 then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan had published a report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, sparking a national reaction and some backlash, for suggesting that changes in family structure among black Americans, not just racial discrimination, were at fault for many of their social ills.

The report did mention family structure in passing, seeing it as derivative of economic factors:

The culture of poverty that results from unemployment and family breakup generates a system of ruthless, exploitative relationships within the ghetto. Prostitution, dope addiction, and crime create an environmental "jungle" characterized by personal insecurity and tension. Children growing up under such conditions are likely participants in civil disorder. ...

As a result of slavery and long periods of unemployment, the Negro family structure had become matriarchal; the males played a secondary and marginal family role--one which offered little compensation for their hard and unrewarding labor. Above all, segregation denied Negroes access to good jobs and the opportunity to leave the ghetto. For them, the future seemed to lead only to a dead end.

And it recommended that incentives to keep families intact be enacted into law.

Require that all states receiving federal welfare contributions participate in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Unemployed Parents program (AFDC-UP) that permits assistance to families with both father and mother in the home, thus aiding the family while it is still intact.

Now, half a century later, the dogma of racism and victimhood has been thoroughly institutionalized, with vast industries of bureaucrats, bean-counters, tort lawyers, activists, community organizers, social service agencies, and nonprofits with government grants.  These make up a lobbying force to be reckoned with.  They have a lot of clout.

But half a century is a long time for a political orthodoxy to reign.

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