His primary thesis? Following in the footsteps of scholars such as Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell, Riley argues that progressive policies and programs intended to help blacks in America, from LBJ’s Great Society through today’s calls for increasing the minimum wage, have become barriers to progress.
Riley concludes that “black social and economic problems are less about politics than they are about culture,” with there being a strong case to be made that efforts to “help” blacks have had “more pernicious and lasting effects on attitudes and habits than either slavery or segregation.” Moreover:
“The left’s sentimental support has turned underprivileged blacks into playthings for liberal intellectuals and politicians who care more about clearing their conscience or winning votes than advocating behaviors and attitudes that have allowed other groups to get ahead. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement of King has become an industry that does little more than monetize white guilt.”
Riley comes to this conclusion through a close study of black cultural and political trends, and an empirical analysis of the effect of policies and programs created purportedly to help blacks in America improve their lot economically, politically and socially.
Below are 13 of the most politically incorrect quotes from Riley’s book, which reflect his controversial thesis.
1. On “post-racial” America
“Liberals like to complain that, the twice-elected President Obama notwithstanding, we are not a “post-racial” society. The reality is that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Race consciousness helps cohere the political left, and black liberalism’s main agenda is keeping race front and center in our national conversations. That’s why, for example, much more common black-on-black crimes take a back seat to much less common white-on-black crimes. The last thing that organizations like the NAACP want is for America to get “beyond” race. In their view, racial discrimination in one form or another remains a significant barrier to black progress, and government action is the best solution.”
2. Political gains result in slower socioeconomic progress?
“Were [W.E.B] Du Bois and [Dr. Martin Luther] King alive today, they would no doubt be glad to know that between 1970 and 2001 the number of black elected officials in the United States grew from fewer than fifteen hundred to more than nine thousand. But they would also have to acknowledge that this political success had not redounded to the black underclass. Between 1940 and 1960–that is, before the major civil rights victories, and at a time when black political power was nearly nonexistent–the black poverty rate fell from 87 percent to 47 percent. Yet between 1972 and 2011–that is, after major civil rights gains, as well as the implementation of Great Society programs–it barely declined, from 32 percent to 28 percent, and remained three times the white rate, which is about what it was in 1972. By 2013 Mississippi had more black elected officials than any other state, but it also continues to have one of the highest black poverty rates in the nation…While blacks were steadily increasing their numbers in Congress and among elected officials at the state and local levels in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, black welfare dependency rose, as did black teen unemployment, black crime, and black births to single mothers…Thomas Sowell has spent decades researching racial and ethnic groups in the United States and internationally. And his findings show that political activity generally has not been a factor in the rise of groups from poverty to prosperity…economic gains have generally preceded political gains…Moreover, in those instances where the political success of a minority group has come first, the result has often been slower socioeconomic progress.”
3. On “voting rights”: Liberals continue to live in 1965
“We are in the second decade into the twenty-first century, and a black man has twice been elected president in a country where blacks are only 13 percent of the population. Yet liberals continue to pretend that it’s still 1965, and that voters must be segregated in order for blacks to win office…in 2008 Obama not only won the presidency of a majority-white country; he did better among white voters in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia than John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. Yet after the Supreme Court, in its 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder, effectively nullified Section 5′s “preclearance” provisions by ruling that Congress was using an outdated formula to determine which states must have federal oversight of their voting laws, Obama said he was “deeply disappointed,” and complained that the ruling “upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent…”
What do the current data show?…black voter registration is higher in the South than it is in other regions of the country…the racial gap in voter registration and turnout is lower in the states originally covered under Section 5 than it is nationwide…black turnout now exceeds white turnout in five of those six states…it shows tremendous voting-rights progress.
The political left, led by Obama, played down this racial progress and expressed disappointment with the outcome of the case, but their dismay had nothing to do with any fear that black access to balloting was in jeopardy…What really concerns liberals is that the ruling could make it more difficult for them to use the Voting Rights Act to guarantee election results. As Roger Clegg and Joshua Thompson, who filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, explained, ‘the principal use that federal civil-rights officials now make of Section 5 is to require racially gerrymandered and racially segregated voting districts.’”
4. “The black underclass continues to face many challenges, but they have to do with values and habits, not oppression from a manifestly unjust society”
“The sober truth is that the most important civil rights battles were fought and won four decades before the Obama presidency. The black underclass continues to face many challenges, but they have to do with values and habits, not oppression from a manifestly unjust society. Blacks have become their own worst enemy, and liberal leaders do not help matters by blaming self-inflicted wounds on whites or “society.” The notion that racism is holding back blacks as a group, or that better black outcomes cannot be expected until racism has been vanquished, is a dodge. And encouraging blacks to look to politicians to solve their problems does them a disservice. As the next chapter explains, one lesson of the Obama presidency–maybe the most important one for blacks–is that having a black man in the Oval Office is less important than having one in the home.”
5. Black cultural attitudes are a primary driver of lack of progress
Title: Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed
Author: Jason L. Riley
“Education is not the only area where an oppositional black mindset has been detrimental to social and economic progress. Black cultural attitudes toward work, authority, dress, sex and violence have also proven counterproductive, inhibiting the development of the kind of human capital that has lead to socioeconomic advancement for other groups. But it’s hard to see how blacks will improve their lot without changing their attitudes toward school. A culture that takes pride in ignorance and mocks learnedness has a dim future. And those who attempt to make excuses for black social pathology rather than condemning these behaviors in in uncertain terms are part of the problem. “The middle-class values by which we [middle-class blacks] were raised–the work ethic, the importance of education, the value of property ownership, of respectability, of ‘getting ahead,’ of stable family life, of initiative, of self-reliance, et cetera–are, in themselves, raceless and even assimilationist,” wrote race scholar Shelby Steele. ‘But the particular pattern of racial identification that emerged in the sixties and that still prevails today urges middle-class blacks (and all blacks) in the opposite direction. This pattern asks us to see ourselves as an embattled minority.’”
6. Bill Cosby was right
“In 2004 the comedian Bill Cosby was the featured speaker at the NAACP awards ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Cosby used the occasion to offer a stinging critique of contemporary black culture. He said that blacks today are squandering the gains of the civil rights movement, and white racism is to blame…Liberals want to blame the “legacy” of slavery and racism for the breakdown of the black family and subsequent pathologies. But the empirical data support Bill Cosby.
There is a much stronger case to be made that efforts to help blacks have had more pernicious and lasting effects on attitudes and habits than either slavery or segregation. Social welfare programs that were initiated or greatly expanded during the 1960s resulted in the government effectively displacing black fathers as breadwinners, and made work less attractive.”
7. Riley on criminality
“The black inmate population reflects black criminality, not a racist criminal justice system, which currently is being run by one black man (Attorney General Holder) who reports to another (the president). Black crime rates are vastly higher than white crime rates. And it’s hard to see how wishing away this reality, inventing conspiracy theories to explain it, or calling those who point it out “racist” will help improve the situation.
Perceptions of black criminality aren’t likely to change until black behavior changes. Rather than address that challenge, however, too many liberal policy makers change the subject. Instead of talking about black behavior, they want to talk about racism or poverty or unemployment or gun control. The poverty argument is especially weak. In the 1950s, when segregation was legal, overt racism was rampant, and black poverty was much higher than today, black crime raters were lower and blacks comprised a smaller percentage of the prison population. And then there is the experience of other groups who endured rampant poverty, racial discrimination, and high unemployment without becoming overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”
8. The education establishment is no ally either
Unions have a stake in keeping kids in schools…they control, and…politicians want to get elected
“Unions insist that the differences in outcomes between black and white students mainly reflect income disparities, which are outside the control of teachers and schools. In fact, if the education establishment is to be believed, all of the problems within public education are caused by factors outside of public education. As [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten put it, “Jason, don’t talk to me about an achievement gap until we solve poverty in this country.” Yet there is overwhelming evidence that the underprivileged black children that traditional public schools have failed so miserably are not unteachable. There have long been schools willing and able to educate the hardest cases. But many (though not all) of these schools operate outside of the traditional public-school system, so teachers’ unions and their political allies work to undermine them. Again, what drives Weingarten and the politicians who carry her water is not racial animus. The simple fact is that unions have a stake in keeping kids in schools that they control, and the politicians want to get elected, which is more difficult when you cross the teachers’ unions.”
9. Liberals are relegating blacks to the worst performing schools
“Liberals who claim to care so much about underprivileged blacks not only relegate them to the worst performing schools, but also the most violent schools. The Obama administration has chastised schools for disciplining black kids at higher rates than white kids, as if racial parity in disciplinary outcomes is more important than safety. Such thinking also assumes that the suspensions reflect racial animus rather than simply which kids are acting out. But if statistical outcomes prove discrimination, what explains the fact that Asians are disciplined at lower rates than whites? Are the schools also anti-white? Liberals do no favors for black kids who are in school to learn by sympathizing with black kids who are in school to make trouble.”
10. “The civil rights industry”
“Equal outcomes may be a noble objective, but nothing in human history suggests that they are realistic. Different groups have different backgrounds and interests and skills and sensibilities. Success and failure is not randomly distributed. By moving the public-policy emphasis away from equal opportunity, where it belonged, and toward some fanciful notion of racially proportionate results, Johnson was laying the groundwork for a civil rights industry that to this day insists that racially disparate policy outcomes are proof of discrimination, regardless of the policy’s intentions.”
11. “Blacks as a group, and poor blacks in particular, have performed better in the absence of government schemes”
There are limits to social engineering that arrogant politicians and public-policy makers…ignore
“In 1940 the black poverty rate was 87 percent. By 1960 it had fallen to 47 percent, a 40-point drop that predated not only affirmative action but the passage of landmark civil rights bills that liberals would later credit with the steep decline in black poverty. Did affirmative action play a role in reducing the percentage of poor blacks? If so, it wasn’t much of one. In 1970, 33.5 percent of blacks would be living below the official poverty line. In 1990, two full decades of affirmative action later, it would be 31.9 percent. Affirmative action deserves about as much credit for the decline in black poverty as it deserves for the rise of the black middle class. In both cases, racial preferences at best continued a trend that had already begun. And in both cases the trend was considerably stronger in the decades immediately following their implementation. If, as the NAACP claims every time someone spots a Confederate flag at a parade, white racism is a major barrier to group progress, how can it be that black people were rising out of poverty and into the middle class at a faster clip when racism in the United States was legal, socially acceptable, and rampant–none of which is the case today?
Blacks as a group, and poor blacks in particular, have performed better in the absence of government schemes like affirmative action. That’s not an argument for returning to Jim Crow; civil rights are fundamental to a free society, and it was wrong to deny them to blacks. But it does suggest that there are limits to social engineering that arrogant politicians and public-policy makers continue to ignore.”
12. On affirmative action
“Affirmative action in higher education initially meant greater outreach. Until the early 1970s the goal was to seek out minorities in areas–such as the black inner city–that college recruiters at elite institutions had previously ignored. But it soon became clear that these schools couldn’t possibly find a critical mass of blacks who were qualified, so they began lowering the admissions requirements for black applicants. The history of affirmative action in academia since the 1970s is a history of trying to justify holding blacks to lower standards in the name of helping them.
It’s no great shock that top schools would have trouble finding blacks with the same qualifications as Asian and white applicants. Black children are more likely to attend the nation’s lowest-performing elementary schools. They leave high school with the reading and math skills of an eighth grader. And anti-intellectualism permeates black culture…Obviously there is nothing wrong with top schools wanting to attract students from different backgrounds, but how they pursue that goal is important…what if these efforts to color-code campuses at any cost are not so benign? Putting aside the constitutionality of race-based college admissions, a separate question is whether black students are helped or harmed when they are admitted to a school with lower qualifications than those required of other students at the same institution.”
13. The left’s sentimental support has turned underprivileged blacks into playthings for liberal intellectuals and politicians
“After George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama explained the black response to the verdict in this way: “They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent pas in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.” Obama was doing exactly what liberals have been conditioning blacks to do since the 1960s, which is to blame black pathology on the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. And the president is conditioning the next generation of blacks to do the same.
But this is a dodge. Those legacies are not holding down blacks half as much as the legacy of efforts to help them “overcome.” The left’s sentimental support has turned underprivileged blacks into playthings for liberal intellectuals and politicians who care more about clearing their conscience or winning votes than advocating behaviors and attitudes that have allowed other groups to get ahead. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement of King has become an industry that does little more than monetize white guilt. King and his contemporaries demanded black self-improvement despite the abundant and overt racism of his day. King’s successors, living in an era when public policy bends over backward to accommodate blacks, nevertheless insist that blacks cannot be held responsible for their plight so long as someone somewhere in white America is still using the n-word.”