I’ve been re-watching the economist Walter Williams’ 1980 documentary series “The State Against Blacks” (1980) on YouTube, which originally debuted sometime shortly after Williams’ book with that title came out in print. It really is a thorough analysis and critique of the traditional arguments attributed to the causes of black poverty and lack of advancement.
Williams, himself a black man who grew up in a Philadelphia ghetto in the 1940’s and 50’s, discusses many issues surrounding black poverty, but he mainly seeks to answer one burning question: Yes, we know racism exists in America. But how much does racism explain about Black America’s current bleak state of affairs? Williams’ diagnosis is that racism is not the main culprit–government policies that inhibit and limit the economic freedoms and rights of Blacks is. These include policies like minimum wage, monopoly state schooling, the welfare state, and general barriers the government puts up that discourage entrepreneurship and employment.
Williams backs up these claims by bringing forth sound historical evidence that suggests that even in the depths of horrible, violent, malicious white racism against blacks in late 19th, early 20th century America, the relative lack of government involvement in the economy meant that there was almost full employment for blacks and the black family structure was much more intact than even their white counterparts, which allowed for flourishing community and strong bonds with each other. This is not to look on that era with any rose-colored glasses or to minimize in anyway the day-to-day threats blacks faced to their lives, their families, their liberties, and their property, but rather merely to enunciate that there is no evidence to suggest that the amount of chronic unemployment, poverty, and broken homes we see in black communities is written in stone and can’t be undone with sound economic policies that empower rather than discourage.
If you are truly perplexed about why black poverty persists, I highly recommend you watch this documentary, conveniently broken down into several parts provided below, if you want to understand these plaguing problems. The fact that much of what Williams’ discusses is a relevant now as it was then is depressing evidence that ignoring the role of economic freedom, property rights, school choice, and civil society means that these problems will continue to severely limit the freedom and opportunity of blacks, and America will be all the worse off for it as well.