After weeks of national angst generated when a white police officer shot an unarmed black man on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., perhaps it is time we have an honest discussion about race in America. But if we do so, the voices should not be restricted to those who carry a sense of racial grievance and blame racism as the root cause of all the problems that afflict the black community.
Jason Riley, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member and author of "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks To Succeed," is certainly one man who should be listened to.
Riley is not oblivious to police bias. He recounts, in what is a very personal book, several incidents in which, as a young black man, police pulled him over when he was driving through white neighborhoods or high-crime areas, suspecting he might be up to no good, based solely on demographics.
In the early 1990s, while driving home from work as a sportswriter late one night through Washington, D.C., he got a harsh taste of what it sometimes means to be a young black man.
"I was sitting at a red light when no fewer than four squad cars converged on me, lights flashing and sirens screaming," he writes. "Seconds later police officers were pointing guns at me as I sat cowering."
The police ordered him out of the vehicle, pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him, while two officers kept their guns pointed at him. A few minutes later they let him go, explaining he fit the description of a suspected gunrunner from New York (his license plates were from the Empire State).
The incident, far more traumatic than the one Attorney General Eric Holder recounted in the wake of the Ferguson shooting about being stopped by the police while running to a movie in Georgetown, didn't leave Riley embittered and angry, however. Nor did a series of other slights and suspicions, such as being followed in stores and while driving around white neighborhoods when visiting friends.
Why? Because he recognized that the behavior of all too many young black men makes many people — including other blacks — fearful. Riley recounts the statistics on crimes committed by blacks, most importantly young black men, from a variety of sources.
But one needn't take Riley's word for it. According to statistics compiled by Holder's own Department of Justice, black men commit a hugely disproportionate share of violent crimes. In 2012, blacks made up 38.5 percent of all persons arrested for violent crimes and 51.5 percent of those under 18 arrested for such crimes, but they constituted only 13 percent of the population. And even accounting for the possibility or likelihood of bias in arrests, the conviction rates are similarly stark. One Bureau of Justice Statistics study from 2002 concluded that when the race of the person committing homicide was known, blacks committed 51 percent of homicides.
Riley's book discusses why these depressing statistics stem not simply from poverty or prejudice, but from cultural changes that have occurred in the black community and the unintended consequences of liberal efforts to blame everything on poverty and prejudice. Much of Riley's discussion has to do with what has happened to black culture. He describes the pernicious effect of even middle-class black youngsters eschewing proper diction and devotion to schoolwork. In one study of fairly affluent kids in an Ohio suburb, Riley reports that researcher John Ogbu, a Nigerian-born anthropologist and Berkeley professor before his death in 2003, found that "black kids readily admitted that they didn't work as hard as whites, took easier classes, watched more TV and read fewer books."
But, of course, the major problem in the black community that accounts for so much of the disparity in achievement and criminal behavior is that more than seven in 10 black children are born to single women and will spend much of their lives with no father present.
If we want to have an honest conversation about race, we need to begin here. Riley is not afraid to confront this issue or any other. As the conversation on race in America continues, let's hope his voice gets a hearing.