The tragic racial violence of the last week—from the police killings of Alton Sterling and Orlando Castile to the vicious murders of five Dallas police officers at a peaceful demonstration—forces us to reckon, once again, with some of the most painful aspects of our national history.
The internet, true to form, is teeming with instant reactions and hot takes—which side is to blame, whose pre-existing biases are confirmed, and how these events affect the electoral horse race. We at TAI are going to withhold specific commentary until more facts are known. Until then, we want to offer our readers three of our most thoughtful essays on race, class, and justice in America—first published in 2012, but as relevant as ever today, as families mourn in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Texas:
In Black and White No Longer, Stanford Law Professor Richard Thompson Ford assesses the bifurcation of the black community into a thriving upper-middle class that has come close to achieving the full promise of American freedom and an urban underclass facing conditions arguably worse than Jim Crow:
This divergence in experiences and life chances now divides the black community as sharply as the color line once divided Americans. The fracturing of the black community is a challenge to conventional ways of thinking about race, identity and social justice, even as it opens some new possibilities for human flourishing and for a more just society. Although we still typically think in terms of a single black experience, a unified black community and a common black identity, these assumptions ever more starkly spite the facts of daily life. Our failure to come to grips with the new realities of race in America has distorted our analysis of social problems and undermined our efforts to find viable solutions. Increasingly desperate attempts to cling to outdated ideas of racial identity and solidarity have bred a fundamentally dishonest racial conversation that warps individual psychological development and confounds cross-racial understanding.
In The Last Compromise, TAI editor-at-large Walter Russell Mead traces the series of historical compromises that have undergirded America’s uneasy racial settlement, and highlights reasons to be concerned that the latest compromise is starting to break down:
The election of President Obama marked both the definitive triumph of the 1977 racial settlement and the beginning of its end. A generation of national struggle against the spirit of race prejudice had created the closest thing to a color-blind electorate American politics had ever known. A generation of opening doors to talented blacks provided the opportunity for not just Barack Obama but a galaxy of African-American leaders in business, politics and culture to reach the summit of national life. But the financial crisis that helped Obama win election in time devastated the black middle class and demonstrated the extent to which the core economic assumptions that shaped the new era in race relations were under threat.
And in Down to The Wire, TAI chairman Francis Fukuyama reflects on a critically acclaimed TV-show that illustrates the way dysfunctional politics, institutional failures, ethnic resentments, and personal choices combine to shape life in inner-city Baltimore:
While the world of The Wire is populated by individuals who make moral choices for themselves, the actual outcomes they arrive at are in the end sharply bracketed by the twisted institutions that surround them. The black mayor of Baltimore, his black police commissioner and white deputy chief of operations don’t actually care much about quality of life in the inner city; they focus instead on getting homicide numbers down so that crime can’t be used against them or their bosses in the next election. The white voters in the suburbs think the solution to the problem is more police, more jails and tougher punishments. The schools have teachers who vary from careerists to dedicated individuals who want to do the right thing, but they don’t have the resources they need to operate effectively in a culture shaped by the drug gangs. The white stevedores would like to maintain their traditions of union solidarity, but they can’t prevail in the face of the relentless job loss that is undercutting their way of life. Above all, very few of the politicians have incentives to pay attention to either group.
Take a few minutes away from this horrific news cycle to read one or more of these insightful and original meditations on one of the central and enduring conflicts of American history.