The gulf between the real interests of the two groups is huge.
Left radicals always claim to champion African Americans, but the gulf between the real interests of the two groups is huge. What American blacks need is to prosper and move up into the economic and societal mainstream, but left radicals hate that mainstream and want to tear it down. So, if Blacks get what they need, radicals lose; while if radicals get what they want, Blacks lose.
The radicals who call themselves Black Lives Matter illustrate the point. When violent BLM demonstrations destroy Black businesses and neighborhoods and their demonization of police causes a spike in Black deaths,
BLM doesn’t for a moment consider changing course to stop the carnage.
The issue of race certainly matters to radicals supporting BLM, but not in any way that benefits Blacks. It matters chiefly because it gives them both numbers and a respectable issue. By themselves, radicals wouldn’t have the numbers they need to exert any serious influence, and none of their core issues resonate with the public in the way that racial fairness does. Radicals want to remake our society, and to do that they need to persuade the public that its present state needs tearing down. They know that they’ll never be able to get most people to believe that our free-market economy is the heart of society’s evil (though that’s what they are really after), but if they can persuade them that society is full of vile racism, they make progress: the case for radical change advances. But American Blacks don’t advance this way: too many of their neighborhoods, livelihoods, and confidence in progress are destroyed.
Much of this starts on college campuses, so it’s not surprising that higher education illustrates well the complete mismatch between the interests of Black students and left radicals. Radicals have achieved what they want on the campuses: politicized classrooms where activists can preach their ideology without institutional resistance. What Black students, like everyone else, need now is a real education, one that teaches them to think analytically and independently.
But independent thought is the exact opposite of what radicals want. A genuine college education would also bring students up to speed on the present state of knowledge, which means introducing them to what we have inherited from our great predecessors. But respect for those who made our society what it is gets in the way of the radicals’ plans to remake it, so they are denigrated as the White males who dominated the corrupt past — benighted people like Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Homer, Charles Darwin, and William Shakespeare.
Higher education has been a real engine of social change. Large populations of immigrants — Italians, Irish, Jews — began life in America as the downtrodden poor, but excellent public higher education allowed many of them to rise to the top of American society. At any particular historical moment those who have the greatest stake in higher education are the groups looking to move up the social scale. But at this moment excellence in higher education is not available to African Americans just when they need it — and that’s because left radicals have taken it away from them — and from everyone else.
The politicized campuses are now boot-camps for political radicalism that produce graduates who don’t know much and haven’t learned to think productively, but it’s Black students who are disproportionately damaged. A recent study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, p.39) found that in the first two years of college the already large gap (about 1170 vs 1000) between Collegiate Learning Assessment scores of white and black entering students got even larger, so that Blacks fell even further behind. Radicals make a bad racial situation worse.
Worse yet, the radical left does all it can to inculcate a mindset that guarantees Black failure. The psychology of upward social mobility has to involve confidence and determination. Confidence, because to strive for something you must believe both that it’s worthwhile and that your efforts will be rewarded. And determination, because you must believe that you can overcome obstacles if you put your mind to it. Radicals don’t want any of this.
By denigrating our society, radicals undermine belief in the value of seeking a better place in it. By insisting that racism is still ever-present, they undermine confidence that effort will be rewarded. By telling Blacks that they are perpetual victims, they encourage despair and resignation. By telling them that they should be held to a lower standard through preferences, they encourage a lower level of effort.
Radicals use race in their war against their own society because they know that racial discord is their only pathway to the social revolution they want, but they have no conscience about the harm they do to the people they claim to champion. The truth is and always will be that radical left success means black failure, and black success means radical left failure.
Shakespeare gives us the essential shape of the situation: “To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.” Radical leftists are determined to make as much new mischief out of the old as they possibly can. Nobody should help them to do that — least of all those who most suffered from the old mischief, because the new mischief hits them hardest too.
John M. Ellis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz and the author of The Breakdown of Higher Education: How it happened, the Damage it Does, and What Can Be Done (Encounter Books).