Woke Liberalism Is a Dead End for African Americans

by James A. Bacon

Earlier this month the Isle of Wight School Board passed a resolution declaring, “There is no systemic racism or bigotry perpetuated by the United States or any governmental entity.”

Timothy Sullivan, a former president of William & Mary, James W. Dyke, a former state Secretary of Education, and Alvin J. Schexnider, president of Thomas Nelson Community College, took exception to the statement. In a column published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, they noted that Isle of Wight was a leader in the 1950s-era Massive Resistance to school desegregation, and proceeded to draw a straight line to Virginia schools that are “racially isolated and underserved” today.

Part of the remedy to segregation, the authors argue, is teaching about slavery, segregation, and racism in Virginia schools.

We believe the entirety of Virginia’s history must finally be addressed in our curriculum so that our children understand that intentional racism and discrimination have detrimentally affected all aspects of Virginia life, from opportunities for education, advancement and the concomitant accumulation of wealth resulting in the average Black family’s wealth being one-eighth the average white family’s, to the physical and mental health of generations of children, both Black and white.

A proper teaching of racism, they argue, will “[prepare] our students and our future workforce to function effectively in a global economy that is multiethnic and multicultural.”

The op-ed is dismaying in so many ways.

To start with, it assumes that the  history/civics standards newly adopted by the state Board of Education are deficient in teaching about slavery, Jim Crow and racism. The column offers not one scintilla of evidence to support that proposition. The new standards may not make racism the dominant theme that the authors would like, and the standards may not frame the issues so as to draw the same conclusions the authors would like, but it is misleading to suggest that Virginia school children will not learn about the sordid aspects of Virginia’s past.

But there’s a bigger problem with the piece. Like so much of the rhetoric we hear these days, it leaps from slavery and Jim Crow to the current day, drawing a straight line connection between the past evils of racism to the condition of African-Americans today. It’s as if the raft of Civil Rights laws were never enacted… as if the U.S. never erected a massive welfare state that has transferred trillions of dollars in wealth to poor African-Americans… as if African Americans hadn’t gained enormous political power, especially in inner city localities… as if governments never put into place racial set-asides for minority contractors and never practiced affirmative action… as if universities never engaged in preferential admissions policies… as if the federal government hadn’t funneled hundreds of billions of dollars into “urban renewal” for African-American communities… as if there hasn’t been an upheaval in the attitudes of Whites towards Blacks, as evidenced by the exponential increase in interracial marriages… as if American society has not been trying for the past half century to redress past wrongs.

Sullivan, Dyke and Shexnider fail to acknowledge that the “war on poverty” prescribed by Great Society liberalism put dollars into the pockets of the poor, raising their material standard of living, but created an entirely new set of ills unrelated to slavery, segregation or racism — ills arising from dependency and  social breakdown. Slavery and Jim Crow did not drive down the percentage of African-Americans born into intact two-parent families from roughly 75% after World War II to 25% today. Slavery and Jim Crow didn’t cause the surge in Black-0n-Black crime in the 1960s that persists today. Slavery and Jim Crow did not cause the widening educational achievement between African Americans and Whites/Asians in the past five years.

Yes, racism persists today in much diminished form. But as African-American author and columnist Wilfred Reilly observed in Commentary, the anti-Black bias revealed in Gallup polling is comparable to the 8% of Americans who would never vote for a Catholic, the 9% who would never vote for a Hispanic, or the 20% who would never vote for a practicing Mormon. White supremacists do exist, but they are pathetic losers huddling on the margins of American society. They hold no political or economic power. If biases persist in society at large, they are so subtle that the definition of “racism” has to be continually redefined to encompass ever-more -nuanced offenses perceived by people with ever-more- delicate sensibilities.

Sullivan, Dyke and Shexnider — and woke liberalism generally — fail to offer evidence that such bias has any impact upon African-American upward mobility. Such bias as still exists has had negligible impact on Blacks of Caribbean or African origin who, having not lived in the U.S. long enough to absorb the social pathologies of American culture, enjoy average incomes comparable to or greater than Whites.

The greatest danger to African-American prosperity today is woke liberalism, which invites Blacks to see themselves as victims who can better their lives only through political struggle, not self improvement. Even more odious is woke liberalism’s rejection of the traditional bourgeois virtues, so necessary for material and moral thriving, as attributes of “whiteness” that “people of color” should reject.

Sullivan, Dyke and Shexnider may or may not subscribe to such dogmas, but their fixation on systemic racism distracts from the manifest failure of critical institutions, most notably K-12 public schools, to equip African-Americans to prosper in the 21st-century knowledge economy. It is no coincidence that public schools are the most thoroughly woke of all American institutions. The bigotry holding back African-Americans today is the bigotry of low expectations.

James A. Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council. The views expressed here are entirely his own.