Share This Page

Inner-city culture defies getting out of poverty

"The good news," says Washington writer Juan Williams, "is that there is a formula for getting out of poverty today."

It starts with finishing high school (though "finishing college is much better"). Then, taking a job and sticking with it. Then, not getting married -- and most emphatically, not having babies -- until after you've finished school and have a job. Age 21 is about right.

This is common sense, and it's a winner for black people and white people alike, says Williams. In 2004, just 5.4 percent of African Americans who followed it were poor, versus 24.7 percent for blacks overall.

But the inner-city tragedy of our time is how many youths don't follow the path up. Never get exposed to it. In fact, their popular culture defies it. It's not hip. Rap music, sexed-up videos, movies and "the street" tell them it's not authentically black. And civil rights leaders who know better don't set them straight. They'd rather keep open the "tired, failed strategy" of government assistance against racism that just deepens personal dependency feelings of victimhood.

"Enough" is Williams' hard-hitting book on this awful misdirection (Crown Publishers, N.Y, $25, 243 pages.) The subtitle tells much: "The phony leaders, dead-end movements, and culture of failure that are undermining black America -- and what we can do about it."

A correspondent for Fox News and public radio, Williams contends that countless poor blacks could do much better. And -- here's the controversial part -- it's mostly up to them. What's needed are changed habits. Better parenting. More involvement in children's' schooling. Civil rights marches -- against crime.

According to Williams, himself an African American, the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that outlawed school segregation, Brown v. Board of Education, did wonders for "smart, successful black people" with supportive two-parent families.

But the abject needy have missed out. Thank black-on-black crime for that. And absentee fathers. Single mothers who can't cope. And a street culture that, Williams says, perversely "celebrates" failure, anger, and self-defeat. Dope dealers become heroes, good students reviled for "acting white." Neat clothing and clear, unprofane English speech• Forget it. When black youths wear baggy trousers down around mid-thigh, know who they're emulating• Prison inmates (they aren't allowed belts). Some role models, eh• But on any given day they number 10 percent of all black males 25 to 29.

Some of this may sound familiar. In a great 2004 speech, actor-comedian Bill Cosby threw away his script and told a gala civil rights crowd that blacks need no more heavy-handed programs from government. They need to get more good out of the opportunities right in front of them. Juan Williams fleshes out this call to personal action.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.