Jewish World Review July 4, 2002/ 24 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "The soft bigotry of low expectations."
President George W. Bush once used this expression to chastise America's education establishment for the underperformance of minorities, specifically blacks and Latinos. Bush urged teachers and administrators to apply high standards, ensuring -- as he put it -- that "no child be left behind."
The "homeownership gap" alarms the president. Bush notes that the homeownership rate for whites stands at nearly 75 percent compared to less than 50 percent for blacks and Latinos. But in tackling this "problem," the president commits the same sin of which he accuses the education establishment -- condescension, lower expectations and excuses.
"There is a homeownership gap in America," said the president. "The difference between Anglo-American and African-American and Hispanic homeownership is too big." The president proposed a combination of tax credits and grants, "to close this homeownership gap by dismantling the barriers that prevent minorities from owning a piece of the American dream." "Barriers"?
Consider the case of Chinese immigrants. The 1990 Census examined the homeownership rate of Chinese immigrants. It found Chinese immigrants approximately 20 percent more likely than whites to own their own home in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
And what about the "barriers" for Latinos? Frank D. Bean, with the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine, notes that the Census data -- on which the president relied -- fails to distinguish between homeownership rates of foreign-born and that of non-foreign-born Latinos. He says that, after separating the two, the "homeownership gap" between whites and native-born Hispanics shrinks to 5 percent.
What about the alleged black "barriers" to homeownership? The University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate found minority-owned banks more likely to turn down a black borrower than a non-minority-owned bank! "The study shows," said USC's Raphael W. Bostic, "that either white-owned banks don't have racial biases, or that minority-owned banks share the same biases as everyone else."
Bush failed to address the primary reason that some blacks fail to qualify for homes -- poor credit records. U.S. News and World Report found that the Fed's own Freddie Mac released a report in 1999 showing that 48 percent of blacks are likely to have bad credit histories -- almost twice the 27 percent rate of whites. That same year, the Washington Post found that the credit rating for blacks earning between $65,000 and $75,000 stood lower than that of whites earning $25,000 a year or less. Even National Urban League president Hugh Price said, "If people have bad credit, they'll be denied loans, end of story."
What, exactly, is the appropriate "homeownership gap"? When does the gap become "acceptable," and who makes that decision? Former President Clinton once announced a desire to field a Cabinet that "looks like America." This suggests an "appropriate" outcome consisting of 50 percent female, 12 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, and so on. But life does not necessarily work that way. Jews "disproportionately" enroll at Ivy League schools. Major league baseball consists of nearly 30 percent black and Latin ballplayers. Female teachers dominate at the elementary school level. Should Congress create programs and tax incentives to encourage men to go into elementary school teaching? Males mostly fill professions like ditch digging, garbage collecting, plumbing and firefighting.
Bush treads on dangerous ground when, because of an alleged inappropriate "gap" in homeownership, he calls for government assistance. Is this any different from Jesse Jackson going to Toyota or Quaker Oats and accusing them of a "management gap" -- that the percentage of minorities in the workforce is smaller than the percentage of minorities at the management level? As to homeownership and financing businesses, Jackson often accuses banks of denying minorities "access to capital." As exhibit A, Jackson points to the net worth "gap" disparity between blacks and whites. Doesn't Bush's concern about the ominous "gap in homeownership" simply provide additional ammunition for the-numbers-don't-look-right-therefore-racism practitioners like Jackson?
The philosophy the president calls "compassionate conservatism" doubtlessly fuels his concern about this "homeownership gap." But why not simply urge minorities to follow the same formula for homeownership used by most everybody else -- hard work, saving money and living below one's means? This Republican "outreach" to blacks and Latinos can succeed only when the party looks them in the eye and says, "Look, low taxes, low regulation and competitive schools benefit everybody -- even you." But Bush condescends and panders by saying, "We don't expect blacks and Hispanics to live responsible, prudent, frugal lives. So, to your fellow taxpayers, I say to them, 'Pass the hat.'"
A "soft bigotry of low expectations"?
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