Black and white facts

JUAN WILLIAMS is a senior correspondent for National Public Radio, a Fox News analyst and author of "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It."

WHY NOT just go ahead and call me an Uncle Tom and a sellout? Why bother with trying to put a new coat of paint on the same old personal attacks by saying that I am “demeaning black people,” that I’m the “black Ann Coulter” and a turncoat against the cause of racial progress for black people in the United States?

That’s a sampling of the nastiness flying at me since I wrote a book that holds today’s civil rights leaders accountable for serious problems inside black America. I’ve suggested that many poor people are capable of helping themselves by graduating high school, keeping a job and having children when they’re married and ready to be parents.

It is easier to attack me than to deal with some hard facts. Here I go again, but let’s look at the facts.

One hard, unforgiving fact is that 70% of black children are born today to single mothers. This is at the heart of the breakdown of the black family, the cornerstone of black life for generations. Some of these children without two parents may turn out just fine, but most add stress to the lives of their grandparents, neighbors, police and teachers who have to take up the slack for absent or bad parents.


It is easier to attack me than to deal with the hard fact of a dropout rate now at about 50% nationwide for black and Latino students. The average black student who gets a high school diploma today is reading and doing math at an eighth-grade level. Even with a diploma, that young person is ill-prepared to compete for entry-level jobs or for a college degree.

In an era of global economic competition -- when it is harder to find a job, pay the rent and afford health insurance -- there is little room to argue with the fact that it is a national crisis to find so many children of any race failing in school. But it is especially disturbing that so many of those children are black and Latino; they have the added burden of being people of color in a society in which race remains a real factor.

And what about the tragic fact of a 25% poverty rate among black Americans? That’s more than twice the 12% national poverty rate and more than triple the poverty rate among whites.

My critics are busy blaming racism for all this poverty. But that tactic is losing its punch because so many people of color, including black people from Africa and the Caribbean, arrive in this country and outperform native-born black people in educational achievement and income. And it is hard to make the old “racism is the whole problem” argument when the other 75% of black America is taking advantage of 50 years of new opportunities -- since Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act -- to create the largest black middle class in history, with unprecedented wealth and political power.

The core group of black people trapped in poverty today is not defined by lack of opportunity as much as by bad choices. Black youth culture is boiling over with nihilism. It embraces failure and frustration, including random crime and jail time, as the authentic expression of black life. “Keeping it real” and “street cred” in that destructive world require gunshot victims, the “N-word” and treating women as “bitches” and “hos.” There is no arguing that this is a sick mind-set.

Here are some more facts: 44% of the nation’s prison population is made up of black people, and blacks account for 37% of violent crimes, although black Americans are only 13% of the population. Who can make the case that this is anything but a social disaster?

Yet I’m condemned for asking why today’s prominent civil rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters, are not dealing with these problems. They prefer to call for more government programs and more white guilt.

And yet a poll done by the Pew Research Center a week after Hurricane Katrina found that two-thirds of black Americans agree with 75% of white Americans who say that too many poor people are overly dependent on government programs. In other words, a clear majority of the nation, including most black people, are saying that the poor need to look in the mirror and halt self-defeating behavior.


Most of all, black people are saying that the poor are not victims but people who are capable of helping themselves.

These are the facts, whether or not you call me a Tom -- and whether or not I write them.