"The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick."


Law professor Richard Thompson Ford had a long and very interesting article in yesterday's Boston Globe arguing that the civil rights model is no longer adequate or appropriate to deal with American racial inequality. Here's his pitch:

Today's most serious racial injustices aren't caused by bias and bigotry; instead they stem from racial segregation and the many disadvantages that follow from living in isolated, economically depressed, and crime-ridden neighborhoods. These problems are a legacy of past racism, but not, by and large, the result of ongoing discrimination. Civil rights litigation and activism have hardly made a dent in these formidable obstacles. It's tempting to believe that we just need more of the same—that we've only been too timid in enforcing civil rights laws or too conservative in interpreting them. But the real problem is inherent in the civil rights approach itself: faced with racial inequities that are not caused by discrimination, civil rights law is impotent and civil rights activism too often a distraction from the real work we need to do.

What might this "real work" look like? Ford lists "job creation, more effective schools, better public infrastructure" as three essential reforms, though he turns a little coy when it comes to actual policy recommendations. For instance, he floats various "controversial" proposals—such as charter schools or Harvard sociologist William Julius Williams' idea to create a WPA-style make work agency for inner-city youths—but doesn't actually endorse any of them. It's mostly passive voice at that point: "some insist" on this or "there is fierce opposition" to that.

It's a frustratingly vague way to proceed, but it does help kick off some very important conversations. Take Ford's short passage dealing with the drug war. As he puts it, "Some insist that the war on drugs has become a quagmire and advocate decriminalization of some less dangerous drugs." This comes shortly after Ford correctly notes that many black neighborhoods have been ruined by failed policies. Well, it just so happens that the drug war is a prime example of those failed policies. And while it's a shame that Ford wouldn't say that to his Boston Globe readership, he did at least raise the issue. For a more direct and illuminating take, here's something David Simon, co-creator of The Wire, told Jesse Walker:

Ed Burns and I spoke at one of those [conservative] groups. There came this point where a guy said, "Well, what is the solution? Give me the paragraph; give me the lede. What's the solution, if not drug prohibition?"

I very painstakingly said: "Look. For 35 years, you've systematically deindustrialized these cities. You've rendered them inhospitable to the working class, economically. You have marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you've alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods, and not being able to distinguish between friend or foe and between that which is truly dangerous or that which is just illegal. And you want to sit across the table from me and say 'What's the solution?' and get it in a paragraph? The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don't know, but until you start it's only going to get worse."

NEXT: Howard Davidowitz: Decline and fall, grim and gloomy, delivered good and hard

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  1. It’s mostly passive voice at that point: “some insist” on this or “there is fierce opposition” to that.

    “Some insist” and “there is fierce opposition” are not passive voice. Just sayin’.

  2. If it can’t fit into a nice twenty second sound bite that makes me look all wise, then it’s not a good solution.

  3. Wow, the President is so dumb he can’t even spell is own name right!

  4. Nahhhh… I need those people to stay poor, angry, and dependent. They don’t need to start having a nice life and being well educated and happy. Otherwise, what would happen to me and all my nice, shiny, taxpayer funded programs? It’s not as if you libertarians and independents would vote for me.

  5. No one’s ending the war on drugs. In fact, probably no one’s even going to end the war on pot, the most innocent, harm-free and easily defended of all the illegal recreational drugs.

    The US government has a great deal (billions of dollars, many jobs, corporate futures) invested in the war on your personal liberties (including drug-related liberties), and basically nothing invested in you.

    If you can’t read the tea leaves and persist in political nattering, that’s all to the government’s advantage. They don’t care if you talk; they just don’t want you to do anything.

    And you won’t. The government’s promotion of its ass-rape emporiums as appropriate prisons has taken your manhood wholesale; and the government’s appropriation of the power to do anything it wants to you for any reason at all is a fait accompli that has you trembling in your boots.

  6. It can start by these people coming out of the closet and recognizing and stating that the War on Poverty was a total fucking disaster and the result of do-gooders who fucked things up in the name of helping people.

    It should be stated that government housing projects helped create and intensify ghetto development. There was a problem and do-gooder government solutions made it much worse.

    Until statements like that are made on a consistent basis, don’t expect to see an inch of progress.

  7. Fell for the ol’ drugs are a black thing, didja? Despite the fact that the Anglo majority that’s two-thirds the pop represent four-fifths of users? Well, that’s O.K. Ben’s about got it: the overworld knows that its shambolic stagger to oblivion won’t be impeded by a bunch of wine-swilling lefties, so that pretty much leaves libertarians and the ultra-right:the former too discouraged to lift a finger, the latter too hateful to plan or even think. Anybody else bored?

  8. As soon as I read the words “job creation,” I begin to lose interest in the article. The words are typically uttered by those who have no idea about “creating” jobs, other than throwing money at the problem. Entrepreneurs create jobs, not the government, unless you’re talking about civil servants, and where does the money come from to pay them?

  9. How about examining the real reason that blacks underperform in the economy? IQ. Can’t get around it.

  10. What is this a klan rally.

  11. WTF is with the sudden explosion of posts featuring demented racists?

  12. “Raaaaacist!”

  13. The Boston Globe sucks so bad…when are they really going out of business? please don’t promote those a-holes.

  14. Anyone know if any prominent libertarians got to make commencement addresses this year? We needed hundreds of stemwinding speeches to speak truth to power and shock the little kiddies setting off into the big wide world their parents and grandparents have created for them.

  15. I don’t know how you can say their IQ is low when they’re smart enough to pick the highest profit making product to market…

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