Let’s keep going. Is institutional racism why poor people can’t get married when they have a child together? I, for one, have little interest in stressing the formality of marriage, but what about simple cohabitation? The standard argument is that black men without college degrees can’t get jobs because the old-time manufacturing economy has eroded. But there are solutions here that aren’t about combating racism: community colleges and vocational training.
These two things are not stressed enough in a race debate that focuses unduly on four-year college degrees, when there are actually plenty of solid-paying jobs available for people without them. Even in a bad economy, we will always need ultrasound technicians, heating and air conditioning installers, and … just think how long that list goes on. So the solution is about education, not taking away racism.
Finally, I’d be interested in hearing how what white people feel about black people, concretely or abstractly, has to do with having kids before the age of 20. Suddenly there’s no more racism — and then everybody starts waiting longer before reproducing? Come on — whatever the conversation about this is, it’s not about racism.
Note: I’m not saying that following the three life tenets is a slam dunk. We need to talk about making schools better, making vocational training affordable and useful, and even about kids making kids and why it’s not the best thing. But Santorum knows this. As quiet as it’s kept, he has supported block grants, Healthy Start and community health centers, all of them institutions dear to the heart of anyone concerned with poor black people in America.
What’s nonsense is the idea that Santorum’s comment was racially insensitive, or an example of race-baiting, or racist. What he’s suggesting that black people do is good advice, and it doesn’t become bad advice just because he’s white, Republican and not precisely polite.
For him, or anyone, to pretend that “institutional racism” makes it unrealistic to suggest three such simple pieces of advice for black America is, in itself, racist. It implies that black people are subhuman beings devoid of resilience or sense.
I refuse to believe that this is the content of our character, and I salute Santorum — this time — for having the guts to know that it’s not and to say so.
John McWhorter is a contributing editor to The Root.