Last night I attended a debate at UCLA between Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal and Law Professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard University.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal where he is a member of the Editorial Board. He is a commentator for Fox News and has written two books, “Let Them In” which argues for more free-market oriented immigration policy and his most recent, “Please Stop Helping Us”, which is about the efforts of government to help Blacks actually harming them.
Randall Kennedy teaches courses on race relations and freedom of expression at Harvard University. He makes numerous appearances on the lecture circuit and has written six books, including “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and recently “For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law”.
Jason Riley started off the debate, however, I missed the beginning of his remarks wandering around UCLA looking for Rolfe Hall. As I entered he was quoting Martin Luther King, “Do you know that Negroes are 10% of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of the crimes? We’ve got to do something about our moral standards….We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
Riley said the first time he used that quote the media accused him of making it up. They couldn’t believe MLK would say such a thing. He suggested they do their job and google it. He said it’s too easy for Black leaders to blame Black problems on white racism.
Riley spoke of a Black culture that doesn’t value education and produces Black children who fear sounding “White”. He spoke of the importance of self help and self development. As long as Blacks see themselves as victims of White racism nothing will change. He pointed out that Blacks were making greater strides when there was more racism than there is now. Riley said the only poverty program needed is getting married before you have children.
Professor Kennedy began by praising the Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Act. He said Liberal Social Policies were about insurance against catastrophe. He said you buy insurance against floods and other catastrophes so how is insurance against social catastrophes different.
Kennedy said Riley spoke of welfare killing incentive. He said we have social programs that help Veterans and they don’t appear to kill incentive. (My answer to that would be that Veterans are highly trained, highly motivated and willing to put their lives on the line to protect this country. The average welfare recipient is generally not.)
Kennedy said there are 45 million impoverished Americans. What about their children? Yes, he continued, their parents may, very well, be schmucks. Are the children to be blamed for their parents being schmucks?
Very dramatically (he would have put Johnny Cochran to shame), Kennedy said it’s about JOBS. He said he believed the government should provide jobs for everyone who wants one. He said what government should NOT do, is say, “you are on your own.”
Riley rebutted by saying, government providing jobs can’t work. It’s not whether to help, but how to help. He asked if the policies have actually helped the poverty rate, or the crime rate, or the number of single parent families. He said between 1940 and 1960 the Black poverty rate fell 40%. After 1965 it continued to fall but at a much slower rate. He said between 1940 and 1970 the number of Black “white collar” workers quadrupled without Affirmative Action.
Riley said Affirmative Action takes a psychological toll on Blacks. It makes them victims that can’t succeed unless the bar is lowered.
Kennedy admonished Mr. Riley, saying he obscures the achievements made since Civil Rights. He said if Liberal policies harmed Blacks, the Republican Presidents since it was passed, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., would bear some of the responsibility.
He said there was nothing wrong with being a victim. There are victims of rape, victims of natural disasters, and victims of racism. He said racism isn’t responsible for all Black problems but it is one of the causes.
He went on to say he is a champion of Affirmative Action. He is an Affirmative Action baby and he is certainly not embarrassed to be one. At that point I submitted a question (they ran out of time before getting to it) asking if he was admitting, without Affirmative Action, he didn’t have the intellect, grades or talent to become what he has become.
Kennedy said it is not an accident that before Civil Rights there were no Black Cabinet members. Kennedy is forgetting or failing to mention there was a Black Speaker of the House and eight Black Senators in the 1800’s.
The debate ended at this point and they opened it up to Q&A. Riley was asked if he thought “red lining” contributed to Black hopelessness. Riley replied, no, there are no neighborhoods Blacks can’t live in if they can afford to live there. This is true for any race. He said the problem is when government tries to shoehorn people into neighborhoods they can’t afford to live in.
Riley said if you poll Blacks they prefer to live in Black neighborhoods. Kennedy said he had no rebuttal.
The next question was for Kennedy. He was asked when we will know when Affirmative Action is no longer necessary. He said he believes Affirmative Action should be used for any and all disadvantaged groups. He couldn’t say when or if it should ever end……maybe when race is no big deal.
Riley replied that Affirmative Action should end IMMIDIATELY. He pointed out that no Affirmative Action program has come close to the outcomes for Blacks before Affirmative Action. He said in 1996, Proposition 209 ended racial preferences in college admissions. Black graduation rates increased 50% AFTER the preferences ended. Affirmative Action funnels kids into schools and programs they aren’t prepared for. They might be sent to MIT where they can’t keep up, instead of a less competitive school where they would excel. Riley said Kennedy was justifying Affirmative Action instead of talking about the results.
Kennedy replied that the Civil Rights Act of 1988 apologized to the Japanese who were put in interment camps and it gave them reparations. I didn’t understand what that had to do with the debate but then I noticed Kennedy tended to digress quite often. Very dramatically, Kennedy said every American should address racial inequities.
The next question was for Kennedy. He was asked if he didn’t think there was more benefit in rewarding merit than racial identity. Kennedy said he didn’t think merit mattered. Social need was more important. He gave the example of the Russians putting Sputnick in space. He said it inspired us to put more emphasis on math and sciences. He said it was a complicated issue with many trade offs.
Riley said Liberals won’t be satisfied until racial proportioning is achieved. They constantly say there are not enough women, not enough Blacks, not enough of something. But groups are different, they have different priorities. When Blacks are graduating with an 8th grade reading level, Affirmative Action is not going to make up for that.
Riley was asked if he was denying racial bias. He replied that Blacks made more strides between 1940 and 1960 during Jim Crow laws when there was more racism, than they are now with Affirmative Action. Two out of three Black children were raised with two parents. Now, 70% to 90% of Black children are being raised by single parents.
Kennedy then went off on a tangent about criminal justice. He said all communities, especially poor minority communities, need good police forces. But that blatant abuse of the Rule of Law by the guardians of the Rule of Law can’t be tolerated. The blatant abuse of prosecutors and Grand Juries protecting rogue cops can’t be tolerated. They must be held to a higher standard!
Riley reminded Kennedy that our Criminal Justice system is run by a Black man…… who answers to a Black man. He said we can all agree that rogue cops need to be prosecuted but that rogue cops don’t explain Black crime. Pretending our morgues are filled with young Black men shot by police is a false narrative. Police shootings are only 2% of Black violent deaths. Riley said Blacks shoot Blacks. He asked if Blacks valued Black lives.
Riley continued that Black crime and incarceration is higher now than in the 40’s. He said Blacks aren’t killing each other because of White racism or rogue cops. He said fatherless homes, hopelessness and lack of values is what needs to be focused on.
Riley asked if we wanted to reduce the Black body count should we focus on the 2% who are killed by cops or the more than 90% killed by other Blacks? He said if we passed a law tomorrow against cops shooting Blacks for any reason, it wouldn’t make a dent in the Black mortality rate. He said young Black men aren’t walking around being afraid of being shot by cops, they are walking around being afraid of being shot by other young Black men. That is the reality.
The speakers graciously stayed a good 45 minutes to an hour after the debate to speak to members of the audience.