Strengthening the Social Pillars of the Black Community

Report Political Process

Strengthening the Social Pillars of the Black Community

March 9, 1990 8 min read Download Report
J. Kenneth

(Archived document, may contain errors)

Reality - the superiority of facts - might be on conservatism's side, but we will not succeed as conservatives in building bridges to America's blacks unti l appearances are also on our side. Unity of a Dream. Let me mention just one example from the early 1980s - conservative opposition to a national holiday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Whether you believe that civil disobedience is ever justified o r not, whether you believe that contemporaries should be honored in the same manner as Founding Fathers or Lincoln, whether you believe-that too-many. holidays cost the economy.too..much in lost productivity isn't the issue. To blacks and to many Americans of many other colors, Dr. King symbolizes the unity of a dream we all embrace: the dream of equal opportunity, a chance to rise to the limits our initiative will take us. When Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lintoln Memorial and told a watching world h e had a dream, he was giving voice to the idealism that makes America a beacon to the world. What he offered were profoundly conservative values in the deepest meaning of the word. Yet in a few weeks of misguided conservative opposition to a holiday commem o rating the ideals he died for, we pulled down a lot of bridges that might have spanned the gulf between us as conservatives and black America. Words of Despair. Let us come to the end of the decade. A senator I admire much for his principled conservatism, Barry Goldwater, pens his memoirs. They are, as he put it in his foreword, "straight from the shoulder." Yet when he comes to a discussion of the future of the Republican Party, in what he calls a major challenge to the party, he minimizes the GOP's oppor t unities with blacks. "Blacks," he writes, "seem rockbound to the Democrats." That will only change, he says, as blacks begin to perceive, in his words, "that their disadvantaged place in society was partly caused by the Big Brother syndrome of the Democra t s." These are the words of one of conservatism's 20th-century spiritual fathers. They are words of despair, written in a passive voice. It is not enough for us as conservatives to sit back and await a black awakening, a disenchantment with the dependency- p roducing policies of the Democrats. Yes, that disenchantment might come. Some would say we've already seen its glimmerings in the work of a new generation of black intellectuals like Glenn Loury, Robert Woodson, Thomas Sowell, and others. But let us not f o rget that although the Democratic social policies intended to foster black economic and social progress have not worked as planned, they nonetheless represented a positive, active agenda for black America. 'Mat is the difference between Goldwater's resign a tion when it comes to Republicans and blacks, and the Democrats' tenacity. We may wait a very long time for disenchantment to result in bridges being built from the black community to conservatism. We will wait far less time if we as conservatives build b ridges to the black community. We suffer some from the sins of our conservative forebears of the 1980s, who first alienated and then wrote off blacks.


That is the past. Now let us look at what can be accomplished by making appearances and reality work together. If we. really want conservatism to have greater appeal to blacks, then we need a conservative agenda for black progress. "The Other America." This is the 26th anniversary of Michael Harrington's landmark study, ffTbe Other-America."L Harrington l ooked at the economic prosperity of the 1950s and asked how so many were left out. It is a fitting question to ask now as we look back on the 1980s - the longest peacetime economic expansion, with record numbers of jobs created, a non-inflationary economy , a general - but uneven - prosperity. According to the Census Bureau, in 1987 10 percent of whites lived in poverty - compared to 33 percent of blacks. And that is only one measure of the other America. We could look at infant mortality rates, intact hous e holds, incarceration rates for males, the likelihood of suffering violence, the incidence of illnesses like cancer or heart disease that could be treated with early diagnosis, and they will tell us the same thing. The other America black America and Hispa n ic America - is hurting. BlackAmerica's political fate has been hitched to the Democratic ship of state, and now black America is sinking. At a time like that, do you wait for the drowning man to swim to you - or do you throw him a lifeline? At the Depart m ent of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp, with whom I am proud to have served, knows that you throw a lifeline. Economic empowerment is one agenda item for black America. And don't fool yourselves about anyone with a good business plan and a good e n trepreneurial spirit being able to find capital. Seeking A Fair Hearing. One of my favorite success stories from the 1980s comes from Dr. Ernest Bates. He's the founder of one of the country's largest leasing firms for medical diagnostic services. Dr. Bat e s was typical of many blacks in the 1950s. He worked hard in school and in the Army to become a neurosurgeon. He developed a successful practice in California, earning $500,000 a year by the 1970s. But he knew that many hospitals couldn't afford to purcha s e expensive new diagnostic technologies like CAT-Scan machinery, so he invested in a business to lease mobile diagnostics to hospitals. Like many start-up companies, his firm ran into difficulty. But Dr. Bates says that one of the greatest difficulties he had was getting a fair hearing when he went to the Small Business Administration, to venture capitalists, and to investment bankers on Wall Street. Once they saw he was black, interest in his business plan simply evaporated; until he met Michael Milken, t h en at Drexel Burnham Lambert, who provided American Diagnostic Services with capital to expand. It's now one of the most successful medical leasing services in America. If a successful, black neurosurgeon can't get a fair hearing when he looks for support for a business proposition at this point in 20th century America, where is an undereducated, twenty-year-old black male supposed to turn?


Programs That Work Economic empowerment has to begin in the black community. Strengthening the black middle class is important but broadening the black middle class is more important. And that will only come about as we determinedly seek new ways to lift people from poverty. It's not enough to say the Democrats' programs have failed. It's incumbent on us to develop p rograms that will work. And that requires a little soul-searching on our part. I don't know whether you consider Thomas Hobbes to'be' a 'conservative, but his concepf 6f human" 'nature -'life as "nasty, brutish, and short," - is, I think, a sordid view of humanity. Yet too many seem to share that view when it comes to analyzing poverty. We look for the disincentive that keeps the recipients of poverty aid from working, instead of the incentive we could provide to help them work. The myth of rugged individu a lism often blinds us to the reality of social support that has always been so vital in our history. Whether we're talking about barn raisings, field clearings, or quilting bees, Americans have banded together to help one another since frontier days. "We h a ve to recognize that a welfare mother struggling to earn her G.E.D. needs a network of support. We have to recognize that there is no stigma in that need. In much conservative discussion of the welfare class, we seem to want to make villains out of povert y programs' victims. For every welfare cheat, there are dozens who themselves have been cheated by misspent, misconceived, and mal-administered poverty programs. These people deserve our help in devising better alternatives - not the additional burden of b e ing blamed by us for the disincentive effects of programs they didn't create, don't control, and can't get away from. In short, we as conservatives need to decide we are more interested in lifting people from poverty instead of blaming them for their circ u mstances. Capacity-Building. Conservatism has to move away from anecdotes about welfare chiselers and toward alternatives so we can create entrepreneurs. Ixt's get that "certain meanness" out of our rhetoric, and put our facts up front. Capacity-building, helping black Americans develop the skills to take advantage of opportunity, is critical. As conservatives, we need to be fiscal realists. We must acknowledge that an agenda for black progress is going to cost money. In addition to empowerment through cap a city building, there are things we can do now to increase economic empowerment and limit dependency. Tenant management in public housing is one such action item for our agenda. So also is expanding the equity stake through home ownership of public housing . It is time for the second great civil rights movement. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights, but not equal results. If we wish, as conservatives, to build inroads into black America, we can do so by delivering results. By concentrating on business de velopment, business ownership, and home ownership, we can help build black America. The question for us today is whether we wish to be relevant to black America. It is a question we must answer soon.


Time is running out on us. Not because black America will explode, but because we may soon become irrelevant to it. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, America is on its way to a work force crisis. In a study last year, a commission chartered by Se c retary Ann McLaughlin to explore America's preparedness for economic competition in the coming decade confirmed that due to demographic trends we are on the way to a labor shortage and a skill shortage in our work force. Such a skill and worker shortage w i ll force a response. Business and employers will demand it, and government will provide it. But will it be a conservative, Republican response? Or will it be another Democratic response? If we choose the way of Senator Goldwater, with all respect, I submi t we'll be waiting for the awakening while the Democrats lay some pontoon bridges and race right past us as we stare across the gulf separating us from black Americans and wonder what happened. -I'd like to conclude with some thoughts provoked by a recent i nterview with James Fallows. Fallows was President Carter's senior speechwriter. He recently returned from living several years in Asia, including Japan, and was interviewed by Ken Adelman for the Washingtonian. What struck me in Fallows's words were his r emarks about the naive uniqueness of the American social vision - the concept that many different peoples from all over the world can come together in one country and build a vigorous, successful society. Alien Idea. Fallows notes how alien that idea is t o most of the world, especially to Asia. He says that racism in many other societies blinds them to the concept that we take for granted, the notion that men are equal, that people of different heritages can not only live together harmoniously, productivel y , but in fact with greater accumulated energies and vibrancy of spirit than would be conceivable in a homogenous society. Fallows has returned to America worried about the fragility of this unique vision. And, befitting a speechwriter who worked for a Pre s ident who delivered the "Malaise" speech, he is worried about our ability to live up to that unique promise that is America. Ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret that some in Japan believe their racial homogeneity to be a virtue, and our diversity to be a hindrance. Japanese leaders have said, and apologized for, as much. The fact is the rest of the world does look on the state of black America with bewilderment about what that says about the soul of this great county, which promises so much, but leaves o u t so many. Essential Premise. We as conservatives must put at risk our national prestige, our national heritage, and our national competitiveness. With an agenda for black progress, we can not only build bridges that will be to our own political benefit, but we can restore to the world the essential premise of America: That free people, with economic freedom and limited government, will always thrive;


That the human spirit breathes with the same yearning no matter what one's skin color; That ability an d talent deserve nurturing wherever they are found, and not just in the privileged classes, whether defined by party label as with Djilas, or social and economic power.




J. Kenneth