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Debunking Big Lie to Justify Black Poverty PDF Print E-mail
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Articles | Living
Written by Morphus on Monday, 08 August 2011 01:26   

Economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of "black culture," explain African Americans' relatively poorer economic outcomes

 

In April, the Oklahoma legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would do away with affirmative action policies in the Sooner State. Sally Kern, a state rep vying for the coveted title of Most Extreme Lawmaker in America, explained her rationale for supporting the amendment, saying (among a slew of nutty things) that “it's character that ought to count, not whether you're white or black... it should be your willingness to say, 'I'm going to become everything I can become.'"

 

Kern suggested that blacks simply don't work as hard as whites. “I’ve taught school,” she said, “and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

 

Kern was simply advancing one of the most enduring and pernicious untruths in America's political economy. It holds that poverty – in general, but especially within communities of color – doesn't result from purely economic factors. Rather, the poor are where they find themselves as a consequence of some deep-seated cultural flaws that keep them from achieving success. They're held back, the story goes, by what is known alternatively as a “culture of poverty,” or a “culture of dependence.” It's a popular fable for the right, as it absolves the political establishment for public policies that harm the working class and the poor. 

 

It's also thoroughly and demonstrably untrue, flying in the face of decades of serious research findings.

 

It's a myth that should be put to rest by the economic experience of the African American community over the past 20 years. Because what Kern and other adherents of the “culture of poverty” thesis can't explain is why blacks' economic fortunes advanced so dramatically during the 1990s, retreated again during the Bush years and then were completely devastated in the financial crash of 2008.

 

In order to buy the cultural story, one would have to believe that African Americans adopted a “culture of success” during the Clinton years, mysteriously abandoned it for a “culture of failure” under Bush and finally settled on a “culture of poverty” shortly after Lehman Brothers crashed.

 

That's obviously nonsense. It was exogenous economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of “black culture,” that resulted in those widely varied outcomes.

 

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