Commentary Magazine


Re: Holder’s Shame

By all means we need a little moral courage when it comes to discussing race — and Eric Holder was in a perfect position to begin that discussion.  But instead, he simply trotted out the well-worn shibboleths about intolerance and racial division.  He might have taken another course.

The elephant in the room in discussions of race isn’t white prejudice; it’s the breakdown of the black family and all the attendant social pathologies that emanate from it.  When 7-out-of-10 black babies are born to single women and more than half of black children spend most of their childhood without a father at home, there are consequences: lower academic performance, more juvenile delinquency and adult crime, more dependence on government assistance, and a greater likelihood to repeat the cycle again by having more children born out of wedlock to the next generation. Yet virtually no one in the black community in any position of authority and responsibility is willing to talk about this issue.

President Obama, whose own African father abandoned him, has talked about it fleetingly, choosing instead to focus mostly on the virtues of the single mom and grandparents who raised him.  In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he has a few lines about “the casualness toward sex and child rearing that renders black children more vulnerable — and for which there is simply no excuse.” But he has never made ending black illegitimacy or restoring the importance of marriage in the black community part of his policy agenda. So it’s no surprise his appointees avoid the subject as well.

It’s too bad.  Instead of lecturing us on cowardice, Eric Holder could have talked about the relationship between family breakdown and crime.  He could have talked about why it is that young black men aged 14-24 represent only 1 percent of the U.S. population but committed almost 28 percent of the nation’s homicides in 2005, according to his own department’s statistics.  He could have talked about what it means to have fatherless teenage boys grow up in neighborhoods where your chances of being killed are greater than they were on the streets of Baghdad at the height of the insurgency.  He could have talked about why it is that schools systems presided over by black superintendents in cities governed by black elected officials produce black high-school graduates who read at the eighth-grade level.  He could have talked about why it is that illegal Mexican immigrants with a sixth grade education are more likely to be employed in a steady job than young black men with a high-school education.

Now that would have taken some courage.