THINKING ABOUT RACIAL INEQUALITY IN THE U.S. — A MODEST PROPOSAL
There are, broadly speaking, two distinct narratives available when scholars and political actors discuss the persistent subordinate economic position of African Americans in the US today — what I’ll call the “bias narrative” and the “development narrative”. The first refers to the racially discriminatory treatment of blacks; the second refers to the relative lack of investments into those activities that enhance the productivity of black Americans. (These are not mutually exclusive, of course. I do not suggest that it must be all one or the other.) Presently, the “bias” narrative reigns supreme, as it has done for the last 50 years. I wish here to propose, in all modesty (!), that this way of framing the problem is an anachronism — a hold-over from mid-twentieth century that no longer adequately captures the present-day realities for black people — especially for those who are the most severely disadvantaged.
Nevertheless, many public policies and much public rhetoric insist on framing the problem of persistent racial inequality, and in prescribing remedies for it, as if the mid-twentieth century “bias” narrative adequately captures the main issues. This is a serious error in my view. For, in many areas of our public life — from the schools to the work place to the criminal justice system — the policies most likely to be effective in closing the gaps should be focused on enhancing the development of the human potential of black people, and not on preventing us from being the victims of anti-black bias. (Again, I do not maintain that these are mutually exclusive, or that bias does not exist; I merely claim that it matters a great deal which narrative is emphasized, and when…)
We need a new narrative which, while remaining alert to and mindful of the problem of discriminatory treatment, tones down the “white supremacy done us wrong” mantra, and makes more room for a recognition of and response to the problems of inadequate human development in the African American population. This new way of thinking and talking would, among many other things, emphasize the responsibility which we blacks ourselves have — within our own families and communities — to effectively and wholeheartedly address these developmental roadblocks.
I expand upon this point in the extended interview referenced here: