Re: Communitas: Race, Culture, and Government (Adam Serwer & Amy Wax)
I think a big part of Ms. Wax's problem is this whole initial framing device of "remedies" law. I don't know if she is the one who came up with this, but it doesn't seem like she really believes in it. I haven't read her book but Mr. Serwar's introduction was an attempt to present her approach as an attempt to get beyond the old arguments of who's fault it is and to focus on what the actual solution is, which is something anyone with a sincere concern for the plight of poor Blackamericans should be focused on. Although she plays along with this at a couple of points, as many commenters have pointed out Ms. Wax seems more interested throughout the diavlog in basically saying it is the fault of poor Black people themselves for the situation they are in and that attempts to do anything about it (by the government certainly but by anyone else as well) are foolish. She also seems determined to point out that racism is not a problem in society today.
Becasue of this she comes across, as brucds has pointed out, as far from someone with a new approach but instead as a supremely typical right wing idealogue.
I think it is interesting to think of something like the Nation of Islam approach in this context. (Admitting at the outset that while I admire certain aspects and certain individuals within the NOI's history and even currently I have major critiques of its theology and it has not proven to be successful on a wide scale although it is successful in many individual cases). The NOI accepts that the only people who can (or will) change the condition of Black people are Black people themselves (as many others do as has been pointed out repeatedly) while at the same time setting up bourgeois cultural values as something to embrace. The genius of the NOI is that these values were embraced as a rejection of white supremacy in contrast to the problem that can sometimes result where adopting such values are seen as selling out to the wishes of others (See the whole acting white debate.)
You know honestly, I don't believe the solution to the problem will come from the government, which is one of the reasons I said before that I am not really a liberal anymore. But one cannot ignore or downplay, as Ms. Wax does here, the effects government obviously has in areas where it already plays a major role in the lives of the people we are talking about (public school systems and criminal justice system). Ms. Wax's story about the Judge who she basically quoted as saying Oh, these people are just worthless anyway so it doesn't matter if the laws are messed up, was particularly jarring and the way she seemed to find it funny particularly disturbing.
So, government desperately needs to address at least those two areas. But the real change may indeed need to come from beyond government. So, one needs to figure out why if as so many of us have pointed out these messages about behavior feature so prominently in institutions like the Black Church, why have the actual effects on people's behavior not been as great as we would like. That's a good question.
Finally, I think maybe we should pay a little more attention to Mr. Serwar's points about how he made some mistakes as a kid but was able to turn his life around. Most kids make mistakes, I can say from my experience that the mistakes middle class white kids make as compared to the mistakes inner city Black kids make may not be the same mistakes but they are often just as, if not often more "irrational" in the context of their respective environments. But people with more resources or people with more supportive family structures are able to bounce back from those mistakes. Of course, this is one of the reasons why its probably so helpful to have those good structures in the first place. But it is also the reason why once these phenomenon start to take place they are kind of self perpetuating -- people who are the product of single parent homes are more likely to become single parents -- people whose parents didn't go to college are more likely not to go to college, etc. Also either becasue of the way humans are in general or because of the segregated nature of American society people from these backgrounds are much more likely to socialize with and live around and have children with and marry (or not marry) others with those same backgrounds which again multiplies the effect of these issues.
I agree with Ms. Wax that government cannot attempt to replace the family, but I also agree with brucds that her ridiculing of things like Harlem Children's Zone without really explaining what she finds so problematic about them specifically as attempts to break these cycles and improve people's lives makes her seem unserious about addressing these issues.
Last edited by Abu Noor Al-Irlandee; 10-12-2010 at 05:36 PM..