‘Identity’ can’t make success

Sometimes you don’t know when you are lucky. Certainly I did not consider myself lucky when I left home at 17 and discovered the hard way that there was no great demand for a black teenage dropout with no experience and no skill.

In retrospect, those days of struggling left little time or energy for navel-gazing over things like “identity.”

All this came back to me recently when I saw a story about middle-class blacks worrying about their racial identity. There, on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, was a picture of a black teenager whose mother was fixing his bow tie as he was getting dressed in a tuxedo in preparation for a cotillion.

I never had the problem of wearing a tuxedo to a cotillion, so it was hard for me to empathize with their angst.

Apparently there are middle-class blacks who spend a lot of time and energy worrying about losing their roots and losing touch with their black brothers back in the ‘hood.

In one sense, it is good that people think about others less fortunate than themselves. But it can be carried to the point where it is ridiculous and counterproductive.

In a world where a majority of black children are born and raised in fatherless homes, where most black kids never finish high school and where the murder rate among blacks is several times the national average, there must be more urgent priorities than preserving an identity.

During decades of researching racial and ethnic groups, I have yet to find one so preoccupied with tribalistic identity as to want to maintain solidarity with all members of their group, regardless of what they do or how they do it.

Any group that rises has to have norms, and that means repudiating those who violate those norms if you are serious.

There was a time when most blacks, like most of the Irish or the Jews, understood this common sense.

In 19th century America, the Catholic Church took on the task of changing the behavior of the poverty-stricken Irish immigrants to prepare them to rise in American society.

The Jewish community likewise made many efforts to change the behavior of immigrants from Eastern Europe to enable them to better fit in and rise in society.

The Urban League and other groups made similar efforts to prepare their fellow blacks to rise in American society. Those efforts began to pay off in dramatic reductions in poverty among blacks, even before the civil rights laws of the 1960s.

The unanswered question is why an approach with a proven track record has been superseded by a philosophy of tribal identity overriding behavior and performance.

Romantic self-indulgence and self-deception are things that some people can afford when they reach the point where they can afford identity angst. But millions of other people will remain mired in poverty if they believe such notions.

Contact Stanford University Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Sowell at www.tsowell.com.
(Tags: Black, Diversity, Ethnicity)


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