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An enormous but seldom acknowledged paradox exists in American race relations. On the one hand, white America has gone to extraordinary lengths to help blacks: billions spent on anti-poverty programs and education; enacting countless anti-discrimination laws; interpreting laws and legal doctrines to give African Americans every possible advantage, obsessing over diversity and if these measures were insufficient, there’s the self-flagellation of whites confessing to bigotry, white privilege and, most recently, micro-aggressions. And let’s not forget the plague of Political Correctness—speech codes, covering up black-on-white crime, taboos topics galore—and similar measures designed to insulate blacks from hate.
Nevertheless, the vitriol that blacks direct toward whites seems only to grow stronger. This animus, moreover, emanates from all segments of black society, from the most advantaged Ivy League students to poorly educated, inarticulate rioters. Think Ta-Nehisi Coats, Cornell West and similar “intellectuals” who earn handsome livelihoods excoriating whites. This message is remarkably uniform: America is a repressive, racist society that continuously kills innocent blacks and refuses to let up despite superficial gestures to the contrary. How else can you explain the demands for “safe spaces”? A visiting Martian would surmise that contemporary American blacks live under a government far worse than what existed in apartheid South Africa.
Tellingly, no amount of effort by whites to convince blacks of their good fortune and amazing progress, e.g., a black President, a black Attorney General etc. etc. cools the anger. One can only be reminded of British Prime Minister William Gladstone sitting in his Club reading The Times and being informed that a man was going about London telling the most awful lies about him. “I don’t understand it,” he said, “I never once did the man a favor.”
As per Gladstone’s quip, let me try to explain this paradox. It is “The Moon and the Ghetto” phenomenon and while it drew some attention in the late 1960s and early 70s, it is worth reviving. Its gist is a question: how can a society capable of astonishing technical accomplishment fail to achieve far simpler and less costly tasks? The contradiction applies broadly but put in terms of American race relations, the question is why a government can send a man to the moon but is unable to teach every black youngster in Detroit’s public schools to read? After all, moon shots required genuine rocket scientists and the investment of billions, while past successful efforts at imparting literacy only needed school teachers working for a pittance.
The “Moon and Ghetto” explanation rests on three implicit assumptions. First and foremost, all the problems that bedevil blacks are caused by whites and given white domination of American society, whites are responsible for curing these tribulations. Only whites can figure out how to educate black children, uplift blacks from poverty or any other item on the black agenda. Like some god, whites are all-powerful and doubters need only observe awe-inspiring white accomplishments.
The corollary of this dependency is that blacks must use coercion, especially political pressure, to galvanize whites to act. Predictably, blacks have embraced elections as the key weapon to achieve racial equality and that anything that conceivably undermines this tactic, e.g., requiring a government issued ID to vote, is met with passionate opposition. This pressure whitey mentality can also produce seemingly illogical behavior, for example, Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists disrupting upscale white holiday shoppers in downtown Chicago so as to hobble the police from cracking down on black-on-black violence. The mentality is so ingrained that nobody would possibly suggest that BLM activists direct their ire at the black gangs who actually commit this intra-racial violence. How these shoppers, many of whom live outside of Chicago, or the disrupted merchants, could produce the desired outcome is never discussed. Put as a slogan, these black activists are the most fervent believers in “White Power.”
Second, what whites accomplish for fellow whites can likewise be accomplished for blacks given that both whites and blacks, outside of superficial differences like skin color, are identical in intelligence, motivation, personal habits and all else that determines success. In the case of education, that whites have long demonstrated an ability to educate disadvantaged whites surely demonstrates that they can educate similarly disadvantage black children. Moreover, this white knack is far reaching—whites know how to get their offspring to score high on the SAT, gain admittance to elite colleges, graduate with degrees in cognitively demanding fields and become lawyers and doctors. Yes, blacks may be unaware of the mechanics of this accomplishment, but it is axiomatic that whites know how to do it.
Third, the argument that white accomplishments are often beyond reach for blacks is just a ruse offered by evil whites to hinder black advancement. This mendacity is the very essence of white racism–whites want to monopolize well-paying jobs for themselves so they invent explanations such as biological differences in intelligence or the pathologies of black families. “White privilege” perfectly captures this belief as if whites possess secret codes to unlock the cornucopia of benefits and with sufficient pressure from African Americans, can share this advantage.
The Moon and the Ghetto vision artfully helps explain growing black frustration despite all signs of seemingly helpful white efforts to promote racial equality. And compounding this frustration, the repertoire of pressuring tactics is nearly exhausted. Surely, if the election of a black president (and black mayors, governments and other officials) cannot get whites to grant equality, what remains? Will yet more riots, protest marches and the like do the trick? Probably not. No doubt, it is this exasperation that drives the resentment of people like well-paid ($114 million over six years) San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (and several other professional football players) who sincerely protest the oppression daily suffered by American blacks. At least from Colin’s vantage point, if a half-century of black activism, including notable electoral successes, can barely close innumerable race-related gaps, it surely follows that the force of white resistance must be truly immense though, like gravity, invisible to see.
Thus understood, future US race relations will grow even more contentious as government uplift efforts yet again fail: a black affirmative action admittee will try majoring in a STEM field and if he survives those hurdles (unlikely) and graduates, he continue as a diversity hire until he can go no further, so voilà this gift will be scored “a failure” undoubtedly attributed to white racism, discrimination and similar white acts of racism. So get ready for yet more Ta-Nehisi Coates to condemn whites for holding them down. Eventually the “Moon and the Ghetto” will be updated to “Mars and the Ghetto” in recognition that white Americans can send astronauts Mars but is still unable to close the racial gap in education, jobs, crime, and whatever else is on the civil rights agenda.