Conservative Pundit Criticizes Welfare, Black Culture in Ath Talk


A man in a suit smiles ina posed photo
(Courtesy of the Manhattan Institute)

“The African will starve rather than engage in a regular system of agricultural labor, unless impelled by the stronger will of the white man,” wrote Samuel A. Cartwright in July, 1858, invoking the stereotype of black people as inherently lazy as a defense for slavery.

158 years later, in a Feb. 1 talk at the Marion Miner Cook Athenaeum, Fox News commentator, Wall Street Journal columnist, and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jason Riley bemoaned the fact that “it’s become almost taboo to talk about black cultural problems” and listed “negative attitudes towards work” as an example.

In his talk, “The State Against Blacks,” Riley argued that social welfare efforts that have been in place since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives in the 1960s have been counterproductive.

Riley began by illustrating what he saw as the failure of recent administrations to help black people through welfare policies.

“We can show empirically that things have not been going very well for blacks during the Obama years,” he said. “The track record on the black underclass is appalling.”

He then cited the rapid decrease in black poverty from the 1940s to the 1960s, along with other statistics, as evidence that black people can advance faster in an environment without welfare.

Riley also noted that graduation rates of black students rose after California ended affirmative action at its public universities, which he argued was because black students were then better matched with their college.

Instead of relying on welfare, he proposed that black people must work to change their culture.

“The problem is a black subculture that promotes attitudes that are not conducive to learning and academics,” Riley said.

As an example, he cited an incident in which his young daughter had accused him of “sounding white” after he used academic language with her.

He advocated for the government to adopt the view that different racial groups are going to behave fundamentally differently, and that society should seek to ensure equal opportunity for black people rather than trying to enforce equal outcomes for them. He criticized questioners who operated on “the premise that if we don’t have parity in outcomes, something must be wrong,” arguing that “in a society as diverse as America, you can’t do that.”

“Different groups advance at different rates,” he said.

He also took aim at the belief that there is systemic police violence against black people.

“We don’t even talk about black crime anymore. We talk about black incarceration rates, as though the two are unrelated,” he said. “The idea that trigger-happy cops are gunning down black men is a myth.”

During the question and answer session, some students challenged Riley to provide alternative policies capable of helping black people besides welfare, to which he responded that he was against overambitious government policies in general.

Others accused him of conflating correlation with causation through his use of statistics.

Several times, he got into testy exchanges with students who asked him to defend statements that he felt he had not made.

“I think you’re misunderstanding a large portion of what I’ve said,” he said to one woman.

Despite their opposition to some of his views, many attendees appreciated the opportunity to hear them.

“These discussions are welcome,” said Natan Sebhatleab CM ’17.

Ath Fellow Sarah Sanbar CM ’17 concurred.

“I thought it was very useful, since it wasn’t really a perspective that we hear as often,” she said. “I like it when controversial people come.”

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