“…you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” Thus spake former Secretary of Education William Bennett on his radio talk show, Bill Bennett’s Morning in America, on September 28, 2005.
Much outrage has been expressed about his comment, but the mainstream media has done an abominable job of explaining why people are outraged. As usual, nuance has been lost. Some people are “outraged” by his comment, some by the fact the it was “taken out of context.”
Also as usual, some of the alternative news outlets have done a good job of filling in the gaps in the mainstream coverage. See, for example, this Media Matters article.
Bennett could have said, “you could abort every poor baby” or “inner city baby” or “baby with an addict for a mother” or even “baby with a single mother.” All these are factually accurate, as is, quite frankly, the statement he made. What makes his comment racist is that when he spontaneously chose a characteristic indicating unborn children likely to commit crime, the characteristic he chose was race.
Why does this matter? Because if “blacks are criminals,” then the rest of us can simply shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s not our fault. There’s nothing we can do.” But if, in fact, what causes so much black crime is all the blights on the typical inner-city landscape, combined with the fact that so many blacks are stuck in the inner city, then there is something we can and must do. We must work, and pressure our governments to work, to improve conditions for all people mired in poverty and despairing of any hope of escape. We have a moral obligation to help.
For those of you who don’t recognize that moral obligation, there’s also a pragmatic reason why you should help. Like it or not, what happens in the inner city impacts you both directly (e.g., increased crime means increased crime everywhere, not just in the inner city) and indirectly (e.g., increased crime means more police, jails, courthouses, judges, public defenders, etc., all of which you pay for with your taxes).
Blacks commit more crime in America, per capita, than whites. That much is undeniable.
Blacks are also subject in much greater proportions to the influences which foster crime (poverty, proximity to drugs and drug dealers, teen-aged mothers, lack of male role models, high-crime neighborhoods, etc.). That, too, is undeniable.
If you control for these influences, then blacks are no more likely to become criminals than whites are. It’s the influences which cause the high rate of crime, not the race of the people who are influenced. This is, incidentally, quite clearly documented in Freakonomics, the book to which Bennett inaccurately attributed a link between race and crime. The authors of that book in fact specifically denounce any effort to make such a link.
The “outrage,” as you put it, is over the fact that Bill Bennett, and now you, used race as a determining factor for something that has nothing to do with race.
As I said above, blaming high crime on race is nothing more than an attempt to disavow any responsibility for solving the problem by blaming its victims for it.
The typical conservative reaction to this chain of reasoning is, “Welll, it’s their own fault that they’re subject to all of those influences. They could escape from them if they really wanted to.” You, yourself, use this argument here. This, too, is nothing more than a facile attempt to blame the victims. The odds are so stacked against people who grow up under these conditions that the vast majority of them can’t escape. You can acknowledge that this is because the conditions are simply too overwhelming, or you can claim that black people are lazy. Somehow I suspect I know which you’d choose.
You and I both know that crime is epidemic in the black community, so what is all of this outrage really about?