Race in America and the American Church

Part 7: Black Poverty, Social Dysfunction, and the Welfare State

Most American churches today have bought into the world’s perspective that whites are intrinsically racist because of generations of racism and advantages that have proceeded us. And that the poor economic and social circumstances of many blacks are the result of white racism. Thus, their main advice to their members is to examine themselves to uncover and repent of their racial sins.


Read Part 6 here.

Most American churches today have bought into the world’s perspective that whites are intrinsically racist because of generations of racism and advantages that have proceeded us. And that the poor economic and social circumstances of many blacks are the result of white racism. Thus, their main advice to their members is to examine themselves to uncover and repent of their racial sins.

In an article in The Atlantic, “The Source of Black Poverty Isn’t Black Culture, It’s American Culture,” the author expressed this perspective: “Americans don’t want to imagine that our racist history is actually an ongoing, racist reality,” and in examining the causes of black poverty, concludes “racism is the simplest answer and racism, of all theories, is the one with a robust evidentiary trail.”

Blacks do have higher levels of poverty than whites. The official U.S. poverty rate shows that 9.7 percent of whites live in poverty versus 26.7 percent of blacks. The white unemployment rate of 4.3 percent is one-half the 8.6 percent rate for blacks. Eighty-six percent of whites graduate from high school but only 69 percent of blacks do. And whites on average score almost 100 points higher on each portion of the SAT than do blacks. The question is what is the cause of all this.

The Atlantic considered two other possible causes, besides whites, of black poverty: 1) “There is something about black culture that prevents black Americans from escaping poverty,” and 2) “There is something about the culture of being poor that prevents the poor, regardless of race, from escaping poverty.” But it dismissed these factors as stereotypes and placed responsibility for the plight of blacks entirely on white racism. In doing so, it ignored the possibility that black culture and political liberalism—particularly its promotion of the welfare state—could be at fault without racism playing a significant role.

In Part 6 of this series, we discussed the suggestion by Thomas Sowell in his book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, that characteristics of ghetto culture—aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, etc.—might be at the root of many black social and economic challenges today. As Sowell noted, though, these characteristics came from the white Southern “redneck” culture after being imported to the South from parts of England and Scotland. He goes on to say that this transmitted culture “long ago died out where it originated in Britain, while surviving in the American South. Then it largely died out among both white and black Southerners, while still surviving today in the poorest and worst of the urban black ghettos.”

The evidence strongly suggests that the relative poverty of redneck groups, black or white, is explained by these characteristics. It also suggests that the characteristics die out over time in most groups. This being the case, we are left with the question why this culture remains in black ghettos in the United States today 300 years after it came to our shores with white European settlers.

If oppression by white racists is the leading cause of the low economic and educational status of blacks, we would have expected to see improvement in these areas as the government passed civil rights laws to end institutional racism and welfare programs designed to advance blacks economically despite continued racial economic discrimination. Yet just the opposite is true.

Thomas Sowell notes, “The rise of blacks into professional and similar occupations was faster in the five years preceding passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years following its passage.” The number of blacks receiving college degrees increased fivefold from before the First World War to 1935, and in 1947 black colleges in one year granted more college degrees to blacks than had been issued to all blacks before the First World War. Similarly, U.S. Bureau of the Census data show the difference in years of education between white and non-white males in 1940 was four years but by 1960 had shrunk to less than two. While forced, legal segregation was a practice that was rightly brought to an end, forced solutions to break up segregation, such as busing, often had deleterious effects on black education. Many black segregated schools, like Washington D.C.’s Dunbar High, provided an excellent education for its students, many of whom turned out to be leading scholars and statesmen in the mid to latter parts of the 20th century. Sowell explains that Dunbar’s end as a high quality academic educational establishment came when it was forced to turn into a neighborhood school accepting all comers because of the effort to desegregate.

As blacks became more educated in the years before the civil rights and welfare legislation of the 1960s their economic conditions also skyrocketed. Sowell points out the rise of blacks out of poverty was greater during the two decades preceding 1960 than in the decades that followed. He continues, “As of 1940, more than four-fifths of black families—87 percent, in fact—lived below the official poverty level. By 1960, this had fallen to 47 percent. In other words, the poverty rate among blacks had been nearly cut in half before either the civil rights revolution or the Great Society social programs began in the 1960s” (Sowell, Black Rednecks, 241). By 1970, the poverty rate among blacks had further declined to 30 percent. But then, the rise in the economic standing of blacks stalled; in 1980, the poverty rate was only 29 percent.  Today it stands at 24 percent.

One key factor in the halt of black economic progress is a growing subculture among blacks of families with no husband present. While the overall black population in American has increased by 131 percent since 1959, the number of black families without a husband and father has increased by 223 percent. Among this group the poverty rate is almost 36 percent. Today, about three-quarters of all black children are born out of wedlock. The consequences of this are painful to see: black male unemployment from 16-24 is 18.7 percent—double that of white males of the same age. Even worse, almost 59 percent of this group is not working—many having given up the pursuit of employment altogether.

The primary cause of this permanent underclass is the welfare state, born out of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society—also known as the “unconditional [and spectacularly unsuccessful] war on poverty,” which has trapped millions of blacks in poverty, unemployment, and failing public schools. Payments to non-working mothers for having children out of wedlock has helped break down the black family and left millions of black children without fathers. Those children, especially young, black males—usually unskilled, who try to break out of this trap are stymied by minimum wage laws which prohibit for working at a wage that matches their skill level.

The consequences of the welfare state are often fatal for blacks. The FBI reported that 4,906 blacks were murdered other blacks in 2010 and 2011, more than the number of black Americans lynched by whites from 1882 to 1968. Jerome Hudson writes, “In 2012, white males were 38 percent of the population and committed 4,582 murders. That same year, black males were just 6.6 percent of the population but committed a staggering 5,531 murders.” He continues, “DOJ statistics show that between 1980 and 2008, black people committed 52% of homicides. In 2013, black criminals committed 38% of the murders. Whites accounted for just 31 percent.”

The welfare state also proves fatal for many black babies. The Guttmacher Institute shows that in 2014 there were 27.1 abortions per 1,000 black women, compared to 10 for whites and 18.1 for Hispanics. Non-Hispanic black women accounted for 36 percent all abortions that year, only slightly less than 38 percent for white women, even though white women outnumber black women almost six to one (CDC). Abortionists killed almost 235,000 black babies in 2014. Given the number of children conceived out of wedlock, none of these numbers are surprising.

Blacks are not killing other blacks or living in poverty or aborting their babies because of white racism. They are doing these things in large part because political liberalism dominates our culture today. Many white and black Americans, politicians, and members of the evangelical church support the welfare state, racial preferences, and economic regulatory policies that have perpetuated the redneck culture in the permanent black underclass—which would have otherwise died out years ago as it had in multiple white and black cultures before it. The navel-gazing approach to racial reconciliation by many predominantly white American churches of looking within themselves for the causes of black poverty will do nothing to reverse any of this or help blacks find their way out of the ghetto.

Bill Peacock is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Austin, Texas. His writings on religion, culture, and politics can be found at www.excellentthought.net.