by William Lloyd Stearman, PhD


One insufficiently appreciated feature of our society and body politic is the fact that black people have achieved more in this country than anywhere else in all history. And this was true even before Barack Obama was elected president of the world’s leading power. We have had black governors, mayors of major cities, including our largest cities, Los Angeles and New York, and members of Congress elected even in white majority constituencies. A black heads the Republican National Committee. Herman Cain, already a very successful entrepreneur, has become quite popular as a Republican candidate for his party’s (2012) presidential election nomination. A black general, Colin Powell, once headed our armed forces, the world’s most powerful, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also he and another black official, Condoleezza Rice, both held the most senior cabinet post, Secretary of State. Then we have had black “captains of industry” heading, for example, Merrill Lynch, American Express and Time Warner, the entertainment and internet giant. We have also leading black physicians such as famed neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Not to forget numerous athletic and entertainment stars. TV star Oprah Winfrey is one of the most powerful women in American whom Time Magazine has twice included in its annual list of 100 of the world’s most influential people. An article in the Washington Post (April 5- 2010) states her net wealth to be $2.7 billion. The article notes she was born poor in Mississippi [in 1954] and quotes her as saying, “I’ve never been prevented from doing anything because I was either black or a woman…I never in my life felt oppressed.” By far the most capable and considerate boss I have ever had was Colin Powell. In sixteen years of teaching some of this country’s top university students, the best one I had was a black woman, Audrey Bracey. A black man was another top student. Two of the three best secretaries I have ever had were black. All the above mentioned are especially remarkable achievements considering that blacks in America were slaves for nearly 250 years and were rankly discriminated against for another hundred years.

As I hearken back, I don’t, for example, ever recall ever having heard the expression, ”black crime”, because it simply was not a problem. Why? Mainly, because at least ninety percent of black babies were born into intact families with a mother and a father who were married and stayed married. Black parents, on the whole, disciplined their children and instilled in them the importance of learning, especially important when racism and institutionalized discrimination so limited black opportunities.  Black columnist and editor with the Washington Post, Colbert I. King, described this different world as of the 1950s. “Time was you could leave your doors unlocked. Your mother could walk to church at night without a male escort. A child didn’t have to fear strangers. And no boy would ever, ever think of robbing a helpless old man. Time was we had something called families. When men and women came together and stayed together… Goodness knows, in our community marriage is a dying institution. …Nearly 70 percent of our [African American] children have unmarried moms and an equal percentage [maybe even “80 percent”] will grow up without the presence of their dads.”(Washington Post May 22, 2004) At a 2010 Father’s Day event, President Obama noted,“ We know that children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty…

They’re more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to wind up in prison. They’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol…They’re more likely to become teenage parents themselves.” Growing up without a father, he added, ‘leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill.” (
Washington Post October 17, 2011)The black crime that plagues so many of our cities  today, and claims mostly blacks as victims, is clearly a  product of the breakup of the  black family to a point where today the vast majority of black babies are born out of wedlock and usually have very young mothers with no father around. The saddest aspect of all this is that generations of blacks and whites have now grown up believing that black families, and black society in general, has always been dysfunctional.

These dramatic black advances described above were, in large measure, significantly promoted by the 1964 Civil Rights Act which finally bestowed on our black fellow citizens the same rights enjoyed by whites by banning discrimination in, for example, voting, jobs and public accommodations and thus ending the widespread official de jure segregation in the Southern States. Most importantly, this launched a trend of ultimately greatly reducing racism among whites leading, for example, to their voting for blacks, including, most dramatically, a black President of the United States. They were taking to heart the words so eloquently uttered by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famed August 28, 1963 Washington civil rights appeal, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In 1965, however, a bit of well-intentioned legislation, promoted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, ultimately played a key role in the destruction of much of the former solid black family life and stable society, and in the widespread creation of dysfunctional black families which has severely hindered progress among the large black underclass thus created.  .This legislation was a change in the 1935 New Deal Aid for Families of Dependent Children (AFDC), originally intended to support widows and orphans, but which now extended support to unwed mothers.

Tom Brokaw’s book Boom contains the considerable insight into the AFDC provided by civil rights activist and former aide to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young. “Young blames much of black poverty in America on the well-intentioned but misguided government policies of the Sixties, particularly to the controversial Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC). ‘Young black mothers couldn’t get government help if they lived with their mothers or if there was an employed man in the house. It broke up the old grandmother network that had served the black community for so long, and it discouraged fathers from taking responsibility, and it shackled young mothers.’ Those same policies led to a widespread sense of entitlement in the black community and Young sees this --as a destructive force that is passed along by black parents who had so little they believe their kids are entitled to anything they want. Young says, ‘But no one can help us but us.’”

The results of all this were well described in the Washington Post (Nov. 11, 2008) by William Raspberry, black former columnist for the Post. “The schools black children attend don’t work as well as they should – but most often for reasons that have nothing to do white attitudes than with our own. Many black children and too many of their parents -- don’t value education. If they do, they see it as a debt owed rather than a prize to be won. Their resulting undereducation renders them especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the job market. Black communities are beset by crime and violence but, again, less because of racism than because of lack of discipline in those communities. One key reason for this failure of discipline is the dissolution of black families – not because of discrimination but because black Americans lead the nation in fatherlessness having allowed marriage to fall to an all-time low.” (Today in 2009, about seventy percent of all black babies are born to unwed mothers.) The situation described above has resulted in most murders in the U.S. being committed by blacks (less than thirteen percent of the population) with mostly black victims. The dissolution of black families has resulted in clearly burdening the criminal justice, social welfare, health care and education systems in this country, which, as noted before, most certainly was not the case before the turbulent 1960s. Black journalist Keith Richburg, cited below, cogently wrote, “…Many American blacks see government assistance programs as a kind of entitlement of birth.”

Paradoxically, when major steps were being taken in the sixties to eliminate institutionalized racial segregation, and separatism, in the late sixties there arose among blacks, especially the younger ones, an increasingly strong movement towards black nationalism, black power and black separatism. This resulted in a turn to Africa for racial identity. This was the probable result of many, if not most, blacks’ inability to find identity in a white-dominated country and thus feeling somehow left out. This look-to-Africa trend manifested itself in adopting, or bestowing on newborns, African sounding names, wearing kinte caps, dashikis and Afro hairdos and celebrating a made-up “African” holiday, Kwanzaa, created in 1966 by American black activist Ron Karenga, and virtually unknown in Africa. In addition, an increasing number of blacks are calling themselves African-Americans and politically correct whites have been going along with this. As of 2009, about as many blacks in this country prefer African-American as they do black-American. This, of course, makes no more sense than, for example, my calling myself a “British-American.”

This sentimental, if not over-idealized, attachment of blacks to Africa ignores, among other things, one salient fact: Their ancestors were enslaved by African chieftains who either captured or kidnapped them and sold them to Arab and other Muslim slave traders who, in turn, sold them into the Atlantic slave trade. Those slaves who survived to make it to America were no doubt better off than slaves remaining in Africa who, inter alia, on occasion were subject to being sacrificed on religious occasions and who suffered very heavy losses when transported within Africa. This, however, was certainly no excuse for Americans to adopt this baleful institution of slavery which for centuries had been deeply embedded and widespread in Africa and has, in fact, survived well into the Twentieth Century and even exists today in spots. For example, Ethiopia did not abolish slavery until 1946. This African slavery was mostly opposed by white Europeans. Indeed some European imperialistic conquests in Africa were justified as directed against slavery. The notorious Mahdist uprising in the Sudan in the 1880s, which cost British national hero Charles Gordon his life, was in reaction to British anti-slavery efforts in the area. On the other hand, Alex Halley’s 1974 (begun in 1967) enormously popular book and TV miniseries Roots, in describing the life of his putative ancestors in Africa, left a vivid and widespread, if totally false, impression that whites principally enslaved black Africans, including his forefather Kunta Kinte.  It also painted a deceptively benign picture of African slavery.

Keith Richburg is a black Washington Post foreign correspondent who was the paper’s bureau chief in Africa, from 1991 to 1994 during which time he won the National Association of Black Journalists’ Reporting Award and the prestigious George Polk Memorial Award for foreign reporting. In his highly revealing and fascinating 1997 book, Out of America, A Black Man Confronts Africa, (A Harvest Book –Harcourt, Inc. New York, 1978) Richburg tellingly exposes the fallacy of black Americans’ looking to Africa for identification. He writes, “I know that many black Americans feel a sense of alienation in the United States and look longingly to Africa as a mecca of black empowerment. It is a seductive image almost too good to be true… it sounds too good to be true because that’s what it is. It’s a mirage. … In country after country power simply passed from a white colonial dictatorship to an indigenous black one and the result has been more oppression and more brutality.” Later he notes, “Had my ancestor not made it out of here [Africa] I might have ended up in that crowd [described before] smiling gleefully, while a man with a cleaver cuts off the hands of a thief. Or maybe I would have been one of those bodies, arms and legs bound together, washing over the waterfall in Tanzania. Or maybe my son would have been set ablaze by soldiers. Or I would be limping now from the torture I received in some rancid police cell. And maybe I would have been thinking how lucky those American blacks are.”

Here is how Richburg addresses the phrase African American, “’African American.’  Is that what we really are? Is there anything really ‘African’ left in the descendents of those original slaves who made the tortuous journey across the Atlantic? Are white Americans whose ancestors sailed across the same ocean as long ago as the slaves still considered ‘English Americans’ or ‘Dutch Americans?’ And haven’t the centuries on America’s shores erased all those ancient connections….?” So we are all now simply “Americans.” “And for black Americans I think the reaffirmation of some kind of lost African identity is rooted more in fantasy than reality. Why would we, as Americans, want to embrace a continent so riven by tribal, ethnic and religions hatreds….? [Here Richburg rejects black separatism.] No America is home. There’s no point in talking about going ‘back’ to anywhere, in finding some missing ‘roots,’ in finding a homeland. I have lived in Africa and I can tell you that no part of me feels any attachment to this strange place. Far better that we all put our energies into making America work better, into realizing the dream of a multiracial society, than in clinging to the myth that we belong anyplace else.”