Black Lawyers, Slavery, And Inutterable Weariness

Maybe Some Things Aren't Somebody Else's Fault

I discovered recently in the Washington Post that a group of black lawyers, to include with the predictability of gravitation Johnny Cochran, is planning to sue for reparations for, sigh, slavery. Blacks want more money (I could stop the sentence here) from me and my children. Sometimes I feel like an udder.

The case for reparations relies on acceptance of what has become the public bedrock of American politics: That blacks have been terribly damaged by slavery, which has led to their generally sorry state, and that I did it. Therefore I should give them money.

Permit me a revisionist view of slavery.

I suggest that blacks ought to be grateful that their faster ancestors caught their slower ancestors -- which is exactly what happened -- and sold them to the slavers. American blacks would otherwise be somewhere on the Slave Coast of Africa, barefoot, illiterate, blankly ignorant, wearing loincloths, living in stick huts that would give Eeyore the willies, and shuddering with malaria. That's what Africa is: primitive, hopeless, godawful. I've been in Masai hutments, spent time in the outback of Cuando Cubango. It's not Stone Age. It's more like Stick Age. No country in Africa today comes close, or ever has, to the culture of Fifth Century Athens, 2500 years ago.

Yes, slavery was brutal and ugly. It was, however, hard on the slaves, not on today's blacks. Slavery brought our blacks into contact with a vastly superior civilization from which they benefit enormously, and without the slightest gratitude. Everything blacks enjoy in this country today -- air-conditioning, writing, automobiles, television, medicine, welfare, medicine, everything -- they enjoy only because they were brought here. Further, they have contributed almost nothing to the industrial and technological flowering that has provided the benefits they enjoy.

I begrudge them none of this. I am, however, tired of endlessly being blamed for their problems.

Whites, it seems to me, and not blacks, suffer the deleterious effects of slavery. The crime, AFDC, Section Eight housing, the other costs of supporting illegitimate children, the burned cities, the enormous hidden cost of affirmative action, the constant lowering of standards for blacks, the cost of police forces: Whites bear this burden. It is not light.

And there is the unmentioned cost of fear. Something seldom explicitly stated is that whites are afraid of blacks. Racial watchfulness circumscribes our lives. Whites cannot just take a convenient exit from an urban freeway to find a hamburger: If it goes into the ghetto, we may not get back out. A white woman (and FBI figures bear this out) has good reason not to get into an elevator after hours with a black man, unless he is clearly of the middle class. Always, whites make the calculation: Where are the blacks, can I walk here, live there, have an apartment on the ground floor? And what happens when the children reach the age to go to school?

I wish things weren't this way. If I could cause blacks to prosper and become middle-class wage wonks with Volvos, I'd do it. I don't want them to be unhappy. I don't want it partly because I don't like seeing people miserable, as blacks in the ghetto seem to be, and partly because I don't like living in . . . not quite fear, but alertness. Thing is, there's nothing I can do for blacks.

However, if they are going to accuse me of racism and oppression and worse, in defense I will suggest another explanation. Maybe the problem isn't whites. What if blacks don't succeed because they can't succeed? On every known test of intellectual capacity, blacks score about a standard deviation below whites. While they can't be blamed for this, as neither can whites, in a technoindustrial society those fifteen IQ points are a killer, absolute death. The difference is altogether enough to account for the inability of blacks to progress despite almost frantic efforts by whites to jump-start them.

Putting it otherwise, is there any reason to believe that blacks now in this country would be materially better off if slavery hadn't occurred? That if they had arrived as free citizens they wouldn't be exactly where they are today?

The zeitgeist notwithstanding, differences of intelligence exist between both individuals and groups. The differences are real. They've been carefully studied at great length by very smart people who are perfectly aware of the pitfalls of testing. For example, Jews score a standard deviation above other whites. That is, their advantage over other whites almost exactly equals the advantage of whites over blacks. In any physics laboratory with a statistically significant number of physicists, a (very) disproportionate number will be Jews. Why? Because physics requires a high level of analytical intelligence. They've got it.

Permit me to enunciate a principle, the recognition of which would transform sociology: Brains have consequences. This luminous thought explains why affirmative action doesn't work, why Head Start doesn't work, why efforts to compensate for the effects of slavery don't work, why black students perform badly in school systems controlled by blacks, why blacks stubbornly remain almost nonexistent in fields such as high-energy physics. It also seems to explain (the differences are smaller and the evidence scantier) why certain Asians are so prominent in the mathematical professions.

Now, if blacks can't succeed, the moral landscape shifts. The usual basis for racial policy is that, the debilities of blacks being the result of oppression by whites, whites must therefore be punished and blacks compensated. Here is the guilt model, endlessly purveyed in politics. But if the problem is inherent, the moral element vanishes, and so does any hope that remedial programs will ever work. Then what?

I wish I knew. So far, we have established, without talking about it too explicitly, what amounts to a custodial state, in which blacks of the ghetto are supported by a patchwork of public assistance with no expectation that they will ever achieve civic responsibility. Affirmative action, a form of charity, provides jobs and artificial entry into the economic middle class for the more advantaged who nonetheless could not have been hired on their merits. (If they could be, they wouldn't need affirmative action.) Will this go on forever, with its concomitant resentments and hostility on both sides? Probably.

Meanwhile, I for one weary of being blamed for the inadequacies of others.