There was a time when certain parts of America were not safe for black people. In some quarters blacks faced not just the reality of discrimination, but the ever-present possibility of physical abuse, including even lynching. But that was decades ago. In today’s society a young black man is more likely to be killed by another black man instead of a bunch of racist rubes in hoods and robes. But even black-on-black crime, as serious as that problem is in America, does not come close to equaling the danger black Americans face from another even more treacherous source: white liberals with an ideological vision Dr. Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institute calls “poetic truth.”
What is “poetic truth”? It is the ideological equivalent of poetic license, the concept writers apply when playing fast and loose with the rules of grammar, spelling, and factual accuracy. Poetic license is applied to enhance the message conveyed by the written word or, at least, that is the theory. “Poetic truth” is a concept liberals apply to enhance and perpetuate a narrative about blacks as victims that is at odds with reality, but—to liberals suffering from white guilt—is more palatable than the truth. In a recent edition of his syndicated column, economist Walter Williams defined “poetic truth” this way: “Liberals have a poetic commitment to black victimization as the explanation for the many problems affecting a large segment of the black community. The truth that blacks have now achieved a level of freedom comparable to that of others has to be seen as a lie. People who accept the truth about that freedom are seen as aligning themselves with America’s terrible history of racism.”
Said another way, regardless of your race or gender, if you do not accept the blacks-as-victims narrative of liberals you are quickly labeled a racist. This destructive attitude has had the ironic effect of seeing black Americans who have succeeded against all odds being labeled racists for extolling the virtues of working hard, working smart, and taking personal responsibility for their lives rather than wallowing forever in the excuse-filled swamp of victimhood and dependency. To those paternalistic liberals who want black Americans to remain forever mired in this pestilential swamp, successful black Americans who scorn government assistance represent a threat that must be stamped out. Heaven forbid that young black Americans figure out that gang violence, drug abuse, crime, low academic achievement, high dropout rates, and through-the ceiling unemployment rates are caused rather than solved by paternalistic government programs.
According to Dr. Williams, liberals must perpetuate their inaccurate but “poetic truth” about victimhood and dependence to absolve themselves of the guilt they feel about past racism. According to Williams, Dr. Shelby Steele, in his forthcoming book Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, makes this claim: “…modern liberalism is grounded in a paradox. It tries to be ‘progressive’ and forward looking by fixing its gaze backward. It looks at the present, but it sees only the past.” Good point. One can certainly understand why purveyors of the victimhood mentality prefer to look back instead of to the future. Looking backward makes it easier to view black Americans as victims, because they were. But that was before the Civil Rights movement achieved the monumental, long-awaited changes it brought about in American society.
The Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, desegregation of schools, Equal Employment Opportunity, and a host of other laws have done what can be done legislatively to ensure equal opportunity for all people, but particularly for minorities. However, just having laws in effect is only half of the battle—and probably the easiest half. The other half of the battle involves black Americans and other minorities taking advantage of their hard won equality of opportunity as a launching pad for building better lives. This is why liberals like to look back instead of to the future. With equal opportunity as close to being a reality as it can be in an imperfect world, the only remaining victims are victims of their own lack of initiative, drive, and determination, not discrimination. The playing field is not perfect, and it never will be. But is fairly level. Further, where it is not perfectly level, the remaining inequities affect poor white people just as much and in the same ways that they affect poor minorities.
These inequities are no longer functions of discrimination but facts of life in a world that isn’t fair and never will be. For example, the children of wealth will always have advantages over the children of poverty. But this is a fact of life not a function of discrimination. However imperfect, the playing field is at least level enough that any person who is willing to take education seriously, work hard, work smart, and take personal responsibility for his life can certainly succeed in America. There are now so many rags-to-riches stories in America of people of all races that bear this fact out liberals have a hard time denying it (although that hardly stops them).
Looking to the future is a more difficult, less satisfying task for liberal excuse makers than looking to the past because in the past the problems of black Americans could legitimately be blamed on discrimination and other nefarious causes. But in many cases today the problems in the black community are caused not by discrimination but by the irresponsibility and bad decisions of blacks themselves. Drug abuse, crime, low academic performance, fatherless families, gang violence, and high dropout rates are functions of personal irresponsibility and bad choices, not discrimination. Further, they can be solved only by individual initiative and personal responsibility, not government programs.
Being human it is always easier to blame one’s problems on others than to look in a mirror and admit “I see the enemy and it is me,” but this is exactly what needs to happen in the black community if black Americans are going to cast off the depredations of poverty and the bonds of government dependence. This is how poor people of all races—including successful black Americans—have made better lives for themselves and their families. If black people in today’s America are victims, the bad guys are no longer members of the KKK and their silent supporters but white liberals who, in the words of Dr. Williams, “…exaggerate inequality and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs. Liberalism undermines the spirit of self-help and individual responsibility.”
As a college professor and business consultant, I am privileged to work with black Americans every day—business students and business leaders—and I can attest to a hard fact that liberals refuse to acknowledge. In the America of 2015, black Americans succeed in the same way that white, Hispanic, and Asian Americans succeed: by working hard, working smart, taking the initiative, refusing to make excuses, taking personal responsibility for their lots in life, and persevering. I have black students who succeed and black students who fail, just as I have white, Hispanic, and Asian students who do both. In every case, it is the students who apply themselves, take education seriously, and accept personal responsibility for their performance who succeed. Those who have an entitlement mentality, make for excuses, fail to put forth adequate effort, play when they should be studying, skip classes, and refuse to apply themselves do poorly—regardless of race. I can also attest to the fact—from personal experience and observation—that the inequities of life in a Democratic society and a free-market economy (or at least a quasi-free market economy) apply to poor people across the board, not just poor black people.
It is high time—make that past time—for liberals to cast aside their blacks-as-victims narrative and start doing the hard work of encouraging personal responsibility, initiative, drive, no-excuses attitudes, intact families, and respect for education, authority, and laws. Black Americans are unshackling themselves from government dependence in increasing numbers and transforming their lives in the process. Right now blacks who do this are being labeled “racists” and “Uncle Toms” by liberals—black and white—who benefit from keeping black Americans dependent on the government. But the day when those types of labels would actually stick is rapidly coming to an end. Soon there will be too many successful black Americans who improved their lives through personal responsibility, initiative, and hard work to allow liberals to sell their government dependence nonsense. When this happens, the political left will crumble as an ideology and a political force because it has based its existence and survival on a lie perpetuated by a false narrative advanced as the “poetic truth.”