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Spring 2001
 
City Journal Spring 2001.
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  L etters

 

You’re Right, But . . .

To the editor:
Although I agree with the argument that victimology is a problem for large portions of the black community, I believe the point can be made without the vehemence of John H. McWhorter's "What's Holding Blacks Back?" [Winter 2001]. The anger apparent in his accusations is more likely to alienate people and exacerbate the problem than illuminate and produce positive change.

My background, experience, and outlook on life are different from McWhorter's. I grew up in the projects of Cleveland during the 1950s. My black parents grew up in the South and neither graduated from high school. But they didn't share the negativism McWhorter describes as characteristic among the blacks today.

They never discussed race: they talked about "good people" and "bad people." So I never went looking for racism; I went looking for good people—and what I saw transcended race. My parents talked about "blocks to achievement," but not about one group of people maliciously blocking the achievement of another. Life is full of obstacles—and yes, some obstacles may come in the form of other people—but if I tried hard enough, they taught, I could succeed. And in spite of the surrounding poverty—both material and spiritual—I believed them.

Because I obtained an M.S. degree and was enrolled in a Ph.D. program in neuroscience before the advent of affirmative action, I've seen the behavior of blacks and whites on both historical sides of the issue. And personally, I experienced more prejudice after affirmative action than before—from both blacks and whites.

McWhorter would be far more effective in making his point if he used the Yes, but technique: Yes, racism exists, but that's no excuse for a lack of striving to achieve. Explicitly argue that "most blacks are too dumb to see that they are shooting themselves in the foot," and most people will not get past the word "dumb" (or words that suggest that) without shutting down their ability to hear.

Louis H. Porter
West Chester, PA

John H. McWhorter responds:
The writer is representative of the problem I mention at the end of my article: he agrees with my position, but is uncomfortable seeing it argued exhaustively in public. At no point do I write "most blacks are too dumb to see that they are shooting themselves in the foot," and I emphasize that victimology is an unwitting product of white leftism combined with blacks' naturally injured self-esteem. Mr. Porter was fortunate to come of age before the 1960s, when the media, the academy, and popular culture began to teach young black people that America was set against them.

Few blacks—even those moderately inclined—criticize black writers who cry racism as being too "vehement." The sidetracking of blacks' path upward is as urgent and distressing a problem as many believe racism to be. Too many black writers pad every criticism of the black community with two items of praise. In 2001, American blacks are strong enough to grapple with more honest—even "vehement"—analysis.
 

Section 8

To the editor:
I generally—though not always—fit into the old-style liberal mold, but I found Howard Husock's insights on the Section 8 program compelling ["Let's End Housing Vouchers," Autumn 2000].

I grew up in a heavily white-ethnic, working-class South Philadelphia neighborhood—just the kind of place Section 8 targets because of its reasonably priced housing. The area was safe and clean when I was growing up, with both a Catholic school and a public school within walking distance of our row houses.

Recently, my father-in-law discovered that one of his Section 8 neighbors was operating a brothel out of her taxpayer-financed home—with her husband as pimp. My father-in-law was incensed. I think it's just sad.

Larraine L. Formica
Abingdon, MD

To the editor:
Howard Husock's criticism of the Section 8 program is thoroughly original, hard-hitting journalism. While it doesn't offer hard statistical evidence for the problems mentioned, the testimony from local officials is highly credible. Husock reports that 84 percent of Section 8 families are headed by single females. Low-income families of this type often have problems other than housing—and that's a problem for housing.

Husock's recommendation to switch back to time-limited public housing is consistent with this analysis. I doubt it would be politic. Still, programs that combine housing with supervision and oversight might achieve something.

Lawrence Mead
New York University
 

Is Marriage Good for You?

To the editor:
It is common sense that marriages tend to succeed when the partners are prosperous, healthy, sexy, monogamous, sane, and non-violent. Maggie Gallagher's statistics bear this out ["Marriage Is Good for You," Autumn 2000]. But for her to conclude that successful marriages cause these things, rather than the other way around, defies common sense—or speaking scientifically, utterly confuses correlation and causation. It's like thinking that playing basketball makes you tall.

Robert Rosenkranz
New York, NY

Maggie Gallagher responds:
When people hear that marriage makes adults better off, they respond in two ways: "DUH!"; and "How can a piece of paper matter? Obviously, this is just a selection effect." Mr. Rosenkranz belongs to the latter, skeptical camp.

The Case for Marriage is the result of an analysis of hundreds of studies, and it attempts to control for selection effects in two ways. First, it statistically "accounts for" confounding characteristics (e.g., race, income, family background, education). These studies tend to show that the selection effects in marriage cannot explain the large "marriage gap" in adult well-being. Second, it takes into account a smaller—but even more convincing—body of evidence consisting of longitudinal studies that measure the initial mental-health status of singles, and then tracks what happens to their indicators as they stay single, marry, stay married, divorce, and stay divorced over five- to seven-year periods. This body of research shows clearly that getting and staying married improves mental health and other outcomes.

How does marriage have these powerful effects on health, emotional well-being, life expectancy, and wealth? The mechanisms are not unlike those that economists use to explain why business partners produce more and are better off than sole proprietors-but because marriage is a whole-life partnership, it produces returns across a variety of life dimensions.

 

 


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