This morning's editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel capping the paper's interesting retrospective on the 1967 riots in Milwaukee leaves something to be desired. As the paper notes, there are many ways in which the residents of those parts of the city in which the disturbances took place are worse off than they were 40 years ago. The paper has not much more to say about that then it's a bad thing and there is "much to do."
Given that the editorial board is more than prepared to declare the Iraq war a lost cause and to oppose more of the same in Baghdad, it's inability to see failure here is astounding.
We have fought a war on poverty using all the tools that "progressive" opinion thought would work. We have spent untold billions and billions on schools, job training, welfare and community development. We have created an affirmative action industry and tried to racially balance the schools. We have fought a war on poverty.
Just as in Iraq, the war is too important to surrender. Just as in Iraq, however, we ought to recognize that more of the same is highly unlikely to be successful.
Putting no new ideas on offer, the editorial board visits both of its blind spots on inner city poverty - one intentionally and the other inadvertently - in the same paragraph. Comparing the open housing marches led by Father James Groppi to the riots, it writes:
The two forms of protest, organized and disorganized, led to more opportunities for African-Americans. They became lawyers, doctors, bankers, engineers, police officers, journalists, professors, elected officials and social workers in numbers not seen before. But the plight of other African-Americans worsened, in large part because of the downturn in manufacturing.
The loss of manufacturing jobs has been a fairly automatic mantra for the paper, but it places too much emphasis on something that cannot be changed. Inner city residents were not the only folks employed in manufacturing (indeed, I suspect that there was as much discrimination in manufacturing employment as elsewhere) and the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy has not proved to be insurmountable for other groups affected by it. (In fact, I wonder whether, if one tracked black families that were headed by someone employed in a well paid manufacturing job in 1967, it has proved insurmountable for them either.)In any event, those jobs will not return.
But the paragraph also illustrates something that the paper consistently refuses to see. One might see the "two forms of protest" not as complementary but as contrasting. One might see them as emblematic of two forms of response to our racial past - one emphasizing cultural assimilation and the other emphasizing cultural opposition.
Only one of those responses "led to more opportunities for African-Americans." It is not astonishing that there is continued despair in the areas affected by the riots. The riots and the misanthropic cultural response that they represent - and not the "downturn in manufacturing" - is, "in large part," what has devastated and continues to devastate the areas in question.
Assuming the moral throne is unhelpful in dealing to this. I readily agree that historical white racism played a substantial role in creating these circumstances, but, just as you can't cure active lung cancer by stopping your smoking, the solution here has less to do with combatting white racism than addressing the deracinated culture that,to be fair, it has helped to create.