In the interview, she claimed that people of color don't use drugs at higher rates than whites. Colbert then asked her, "why didn't David Simon set The Wire in Greenwich, Connecticut?" I'm skeptical of her claim. What kind of drugs are being compared? Surely more crack is smoked in the ghetto than in Greenwich. But regardless, an obvious answer to this question is that the Wire is about the drug trade, and whites must get their drugs from somewhere. I'm also wary of the notion seemingly argued in the book that much of the problems facing the black community have to do with drug laws and biased enforcement. But having not read the book, I'll refrain from comment.
However, a common response to the notion of dysfunction in the black community, mainly coming from the the right, is the idea that "they need to fix their own problems". This rests on the assumption that larger society bears no responsibility - whether structurally or because of explicit bias. Further, many on the right claim that indeed, it is the claim that minorities are in any way victims that actively perpetuates a sense of victim hood, thus driving behavioral dysfunction. If one thinks of oneself as a victim, then a nihilism sets in and hopelessness leads to low self-expectations and lowered standards of behavior. This is quite a theory! But is it true?
In my work
with at-risk, minority teenagers, there is some degree of resentment
and distrust of white people, and it is sometimes vocalized as an
"excuse" of sorts to explain their poor behavior. But the larger
dynamic of dysfunctional community breakdown and lack of societal
capital is far more salient. It isn't as if these kids are sitting
around resenting white people and thinking up a narrative of how their
problems are all white people's fault.
Actually, in my many
conversations with them regarding their poor behavior, they cite the
existence of cultural norms in which they feel they must participate in
order to survive. They fight because they have to prove they are tough.
They misbehave because they don't have a strong family structure at
home supporting them. Their role-models are not academically inclined,
but toughs who have lots of girls and smoke or sell lots of pot.
Now, they do see themselves as victims. But they are! They are
profoundly unlucky, born into such a world. They don't understand who
is to blame. They don't understand how the system works, much less how
white racism might even be an issue. The most cohesive narrative I've
heard has revolved around illuminati conspiracies - their music idols
are frequently thought of as having literally made deals with the devil
to achieve fame and fortune.
No, their sense of victimization
is based on looking around them, at their friends and families. They
began down a negative path when they were in elementary school,
struggling with schoolwork and dealing with chaos at home. Before they
knew it they had developed behaviors and habits that made them rebels.
Success meant failing well.
They say that black America must
take a hard look at itself. Doesn't it already, on a daily basis? People are doing
the best they know how. My students' parents are trying to parent the
best they know how. Yet teen parents and dropouts are going to be at a
severe disadvantage when raising children, not only because of their
lower levels of human capital, but because of social and economic
segregation that places them in neighborhoods, peer groups and apartment
complexes with low levels of societal capital.
My main issue
with what seems to be the thesis of Alexander's book is that it equates the conscious, explicit racism of Jim Crow
with a modern system in which racial bias might exist, but is marginal
to the larger structural problems afflicting poor and minority
communities. I think it is a disservice to individuals to limit the
scope of the inequities they face to racial bias, when they are caught
up in a far larger and more damaging social and economic system that
limits their opportunities from birth.