But Wall Street Journal pundit and author Jason Riley really does need his own category of impressively wrong on this, as he breaks down recent events involving race in Oklahoma and Missouri.
We don’t have to use our imagination because we can look at black history, which shows the rate at which blacks were entering the skilled professions during periods when labor-market discrimination was open, rampant and legal. Between 1940 and 1970, the percentage of black white-collar workers in the U.S. quadrupled. “There was a substantial black middle-class already in existence by the end of the 1960s,” write Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in their book “America in Black and White.” “In the years since, it has continued to grow, but not at a more rapid pace than in the preceding three decades, despite a common impression to the contrary.”
History shows that faster black progress was occurring at a time when whites were still lynching blacks, not merely singing about it. Liberals want blacks to ignore the lessons of this pre-Civil Rights era, which threaten the current relevance of groups like the NAACP and call into question the Democratic Party’s belief that there is a federal solution to every black problem.
Moreover, this history reveals that what we see today in black America is not lack of progress due to white racism but retrogression due in large part to post-Civil Rights era social pathology and misguided government interventions. The problem isn’t the attitudes and behaviors of the boys on the bus so much as those of the boys in the ’hood.
Black elites are eager to blame bad black outcomes on bigotry and quick to denounce or mock anyone who offers an alternative explanation. But we should be thankful that black leaders of yore didn’t pretend that racism must be vanquished from America before blacks could be held primarily responsible for their socioeconomic circumstances. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too,” Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in St. Louis. “We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
I mentioned that King quote, which comes from a 1961 profile of him in Harper’s Magazine, in a column for this newspaper several years ago. Some readers accused me of fabricating it. In the era of Al Sharpton, apparently it is hard for people to believe that leading civil-rights leaders used to speak so frankly about black self-help and personal responsibility. Which may be all you need to know about the quality of those black leaders today—and the commentators who carry water for them.
Yes, that's his argument: because in the struggles of Jim Crow-era America, black people were more involved in trying to better themselves, we were better off then. In fact, the Civil Rights era was a huge mistake because it made us soft and reliant on the government.
We were better off fighting for rights than securing legislation to actually have those rights. That seems odd until you recall that Riley's overarching theme is that any government action to try to resolve racism is always detrimental.
And Riley's argument about the black middle class would have actually meant something if that didn't include a faltering middle class since 1970 for all Americans, not just African-Americans. Real wages for all workers -- men, women, black, Asian, Latino and everyone else -- have been stagnant in this country since (you guessed it) 1970 or so and for the poorest Americans they have gotten worse.
From WWII to 1972 or so, the time period Riley highlights, black workers were still well behind their white counterparts in wages earned. When the 70's and 80's came around it was the people on the bottom that got burned, and that happened again in the Great Recession in 2008.
Riley's theory only makes sense if you're somehow blaming the Civil Rights era for the decline of the entire economy for all Americans.
Which he is. Nice how that works, eh?