Atlanta Compromise

Booker_T_Washington_-_1911

Are black Americans truly integrated into American culture?  If, instead, they are a separate nation within a nation, is America in trouble?

In the debate over illegal immigration,  It is a common complaint that many Mexican immigrants never truly become Americans in the “melting pot” sense.  They never adopt our language and customs and become within a few generations indistinguishable from the rest of America.

History tells me that any nation without a common culture is destined to break apart, so I share these concerns.

But what if there is a problem with the melting pot that is even more longstanding and serious than Mexican immigration, and that is black America?

It is clear that there is a cultural divide between black America and white America.  The differences are most obvious in language and music, but it is easy to think of other examples, such as names blacks give to their children (DeShawn, DeAndre, Demetrius, Jamal, Shanice, Jasmin, Aliyah, and Roshanda)(http://abcn.ws/1CKbMnE) and the separate black dorms one often sees on college campuses.

Booker T. Washington was in favor of social separation.  In his Atlanta Compromise Speech of 1895, he said that “[i]n all things that are purely social we [whites and blacks] can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/39/).”

“Washington asserted that vocational education, which gave blacks an opportunity for economic security, was more valuable to them than social advantages, higher education, or political office….In return for African Americans remaining peaceful and socially separate from whites, the white community needed to accept responsibility for improving the social and economic conditions of all Americans regardless of skin colour (EB).”

However, even with segregation laws abolished in the 1960’s, it seems that blacks have self-segregated, freely choosing to be “separate but equal.”  Is this separation, often in the name of racial pride, really worth it if studies show, for example, that distinctively black names on resumes get fewer callbacks (http://abcn.ws/1CKbMnE)?  (See also this interesting Freakonomics article on distinctively black names http://slate.me/1EokHeX.)

Another thing that struck me was Washington’s warning that blacks “shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third [of] its intelligence and progress,” depending on whether whites chose to hire blacks.  I was really struck by the sad fact that, despite educational and vocational opportunities for blacks that are far greater than those available in 1895, blacks constitute a very large percentage of people incarcerated.  (The reasons for this go far beyond the scope of this article.  Black economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell have discussed this with far better skill and evidence than I could muster, and I highly recommend their writings.  Spoiler alert: It’s not racism, but failed social and economic policies that have done the most damage to black America.)

Washington also warned that blacks should not “permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.”  Unfortunately, I think this is exactly what has happened today.  We have an entire industry based on grievances.   It is run by race hustlers who profit by extorting money from corporations and communities in exchange for promises not to incite boycotts or even riots.

The final thing that struck me was Washington’s comment that “[n]o race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.”  This sounds very similar to the main argument for Western trade with China, wherein it was claimed that capitalism would lead to political freedom for the Chinese people.  Cuba, however, has traded with everyone in the world other than the U.S. and yet remains a Communist slave state.  This makes me wonder if free markets really are the catalyst for political freedom that people claim.  It seems to run the other way, with political freedom a necessary pre-condition for economic freedom.

Photo source: http://bit.ly/1NsBq3D

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