Blacks Have a Choice to Be, or Not to Be, a 'Victim'

How is it possible that some blacks actually believe that the U.S. government invented AIDS and supplies dangerous drugs to blacks with the intent of killing them?

How is it possible to say that the persecution of blacks by whites in the U.S. today corresponds to the white Europeans (Romans) who killed Jesus (said to be black, not Semitic)?

These dispirited views are obviously disappointing, but how can large numbers of people believe these things? What is the impact of the feelings that others are out to get them on people’s desire to improve themselves?

In a truly courageous act, Larry Elder's book "Stupid Black Men" rips into the festering sore of what passes as discussions these days about race. Elder confronts the "I-am-a-victim" attitude that corrupts people's sense of self-confidence and causes them to interpret the everyday difficulties people face in life through a prism of racial animosity.

People get so wrapped up in past traumas of what they are owed that they can't focus on the opportunities available.

Elder's family did not escape discrimination.

His book has some jaw dropping stories of relatives who were forced to buy clothes in a store if their skin accidentally touched them, a truly weird twist on the old saying if you break it you buy it. His attitude is summarized early in the book: "Work hard, make sacrifices, focus on education, delay gratifications, avoid bad moral mistakes, and maintain optimism."

These days everything from the higher default rates of blacks on mortgages to the supposedly high rate that blacks receive the death penalty are attributed to discrimination. But, Elder seems to be right that "racism provides a convenient way of avoiding serious examination of issues."

The sad thing that Elder discusses is how locked into this cycle of victimhood blacks are.

According to Elder, so many have so much invested in portraying themselves as victims, that they turn on other blacks who don't support this message. If enough blacks reject this view, it makes it difficult for other blacks to make claims of being victims.

Elder has plenty of examples, but I have seen this first hand in academia, where in practice affirmative action represents little more than a proxy for job candidates political views.

When black job candidates don't have the desired sufficiently liberal political views, there is opposition to them counting as minority hires. One of the rare public looks into this bias was shown by the Wall Street Journal in 1995.

When Maria Hylton’s candidacy generated opposition from others at the Northwestern Law School because she’s "mildly conservative by academic standards, centrist-conservative Democrat by political standards" and black students need black teachers who “validate” their experience as blacks. The Faculty Appointments committee had been “unanimous on the merits” of Hylton’s case.

When I was at the Wharton Business School in the 1990s there was a push to hire economist Glenn Loury, but other black professors objected because of his moderate political views meant that he was not a "true black."

Politicians constantly make righting the wrongs of discrimination the central core of their message to black voters. Elder says that Democrats need black people to be angry and constantly feel aggrieved to keep 90 percent of them voting for Democrats.

Republicans are actually more in-sync with black views on issues from vouchers for schooling, crime, abortion, illegal immigration, but many blacks would never vote for Republicans because of their perception of rampant racism by Republicans.

Yet, as Elder shows, the irony is that Republicans are eight percentage points more likely than Democrats to vote for a black or a woman or a Mormon or a 72-year-old for president.

In a book that often seems clairvoyant given the events involving the Obama campaign and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the last couple of weeks, the double standard seems to be everywhere.

For example, Elder points out that Obama was the only presidential candidate last year to call for Don Imus to be fired for his stupid comment about “nappy headed ho's.” To Obama, Imus “didn’t just cross the line. He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America” and that if Imus worked for Obama he would be fired.

There was no discussion that these were just a few off the cuff stupid words in a long career.

Elder’s book helps me understand why Obama would join Wright’s church with its emphasis on black liberation theology to help protect him from blacks who could feel that he would challenge the victimization culture and the view that government is necessary to rescue blacks.

Obama at times is given credit for saying “don’t expect government to solve all their problems,” though it is hard to actually find an issue where that old approach doesn’t apply.

As someone who knew Obama for a little while — we were both at the University of Chicago — it has been hard to recognize the person that I knew from the one portrayed in the campaign. The person that I knew was not one who sought to build bridges with those he disagreed.

Academia is overwhelmingly filled with liberals and many even to the left of that, but most liberal academics enjoy arguing with those whom they disagree with. Debate and discussion over lunch and in the halls is what makes academia a fun place to be.

But Obama was not like that.

Possibly it was his anger over our differences over the gun issue or a broader anger with those with whom he disagreed, but attempts to engage in discussions ended with a stern looks and a turned back. That was true whether I met him at school or someplace else. There was anger there.

Like Larry Elder’s family, many blacks can point to experiences that they could let consume them with anger, real or imagined, but that obsession only harms themselves and those blacks who are trying to make their lives better. Hopefully, Elder’s book can get across the message that the vast majority of people really want them to succeed.

*John Lott, is the author of "Freedomnomics" and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.