Inner-city culture defies getting out of poverty
By Jack Markowitz
Published: Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007
"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.
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