Capitol Ideas

Black Plight: In Conflict With Unions

Why does the black establishment promote policies that hurt blacks?

By From the April 2013 issue

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ONE PARADOX OF THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY is how it has retained the support of young people and minorities despite the damage its policies have done to their economic prospects,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in a February editorial. “In his latest attempt to increase the minority youth jobless rate, President Obama is proposing to raise the minimum wage.”

The Washington Post came back with an article arguing that for those getting by on a minimum wage, “an increase sounds good.” That’s what supply-siders call “static analysis.” What works for those with jobs works far less well for those without them. The entirely predictable E.J. Dionne claimed that coerced wage increases don’t really hurt the unemployed. Not too much anyway.

My concern is a broader one: Why does the black establishment—the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus—promote policies that hurt blacks, poor blacks especially? Many blacks have been persuaded that leftist policies will lift them out of the doldrums. But that’s the last thing they need.

SOME BLACK LEADERS, including those associated with Project 21, a leadership network of black conservatives, know this. First, Deroy Murdock. He is 49 years old, grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in New York City. In the 9th grade he listened to Ronald Reagan on the radio, liked what he heard, and contacted Mike Deaver and Peter Hannaford’s PR agency, which worked closely with the future president. The firm sent him Reagan’s radio scripts. He volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1979 and then went to the GOP convention in Detroit. Today he is a Fox News contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist. He told me that he is not “African American,” but a fully American black man.

His top priorities to help blacks are boosting the economy—the unemployment rate for blacks is double that for whites—and improving schools. Half of black children don’t graduate from high school. He recommends a universal 10 percent flat tax with no deductions. “Put the tax code on one piece of paper, the IRS could have about 100 employees and leave it at that,” he said. You’d have “growth galore,” and he says the unemployment rate would fall to 3 percent. “Black folks will do well when the economy improves and do badly when it contracts.”

He’d also like to see universal school vouchers. The framework of a system already exists right now with Pell Grants, he said. College kids essentially use school vouchers, so why not the local equivalent of “Pell Grants for K-12?” Government can pay for college, so why not school? Individuals would decide where to take their vouchers, and the government wouldn’t pick the curriculum or facilities. “They just give you the money and you figure it out.” Food stamps are the same. The government doesn’t tell you where to spend them or dictate grocery lists (but I don’t want to give Michelle Obama ideas).

Murdock thinks that many in the black establishment are sincere in their adherence to leftist big-government orthodoxy:

But a lot of them feel that they can maintain their positions, their power, their influence, and very often their wealth, by advancing victimology. They want to sustain a sense of grievance, and rely less on independence and more on the government. Black leaders themselves act as brokers between their constituents, whom they portray as basically benighted, and the large and ever-growing state that is there to care for their needs, at tremendous expense.

He added: “If you actually had black folks being more self-reliant, who would need Maxine Waters, Al Sharpton, or the others?”

But that’s just a part of it:

The Democrats also do a good job of screaming racism every five minutes, and the GOP does a disastrous job of not responding. They should say, “Look we’re not racist. You are. You’re the ones keeping blacks out of vouchers and schools. You’re the ones carrying water for the teachers unions, even at the expense of little black boys and girls.” The Democrats are happy to do this because they want to keep their pals in the teachers unions happy, so they continue to give them money, show up, and volunteer for their campaigns. That, to me, is disgusting.

He mentioned the recent episode on Capitol Hill, when senators questioned Susan Rice about Benghazi. They were told, “Oh, that’s racism.” Democrat Marcia Fudge from Ohio, the new head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said: “It is a shame that any time something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities.”

Murdock checked the vote for Rice when she became UN ambassador in 2009. Every Republican voted for her. Why are they bigoted enough to attack Rice today because she’s black, “yet four years earlier they all supported her?” And why didn’t the RNC have this information at its fingertips “and chuck it right back at Marcia Fudge” and the others?

The GOP and the Right need to be as in-your-face as the Democrats and the Left. They come in with crowbars and brass knuckles and baseball bats. And we respond with shrimp forks and feathers, if we are lucky. You don’t win that way.

STACY SWIMP IS ANOTHER BLACK CRITIC of prevailing racial orthodoxies. A spokesman for Project 21 and president of the Frederick Douglass Society, Swimp, 44, lives in Flint, Michigan. At a Tea Party event in Kalamazoo, he was publicly critical of the “socialist policies” of the black establishment and was immediately attacked in a YouTube video titled “A Portrait of Self-Hatred.” It mixes parts of his speech with rap music, images of Uncle Ben’s Rice and Cream of Wheat boxes, and a video of Hitler at a Nazi rally. In other words, hate speech.

“It’s par for the course,” Swimp told me. “When I first got involved with conservative policies and standing for the Constitution, I lost everything I had.” He was working for a nonprofit, Wolverine Human Services, which helps juvenile gang members, when:

Just like that, they terminated any relationship with me because of my politics. I had won the Frederick Douglass Award from a local black organization, but that didn’t make any difference. They maligned me and my life was threatened. This is the cost of being black and refusing to toe the socialist Democrat line.

Two black conservative women I interviewed also have had their lives threatened. One, who lived in D.C., has now moved away but doesn’t want me to say where. She told me:

You can’t imagine the things that people have said to me. I can’t have people showing up at my house. I need to protect my children. My bills and credit cards all go to a business address. Have you heard of swatting? That’s when someone fake-calls 911 and says, ‘I have just killed my wife and I’m at this address.’ Then SWAT and police show up at your house thinking you killed your wife. It has happened to several conservatives I know.

The threats come from “white liberal men,” she says, not blacks.

Like Murdock, Stacy Swimp emphasizes economic policies. He also stressed their harmful effects on family formation. Right off, if given the power, he would “repeal LBJ’s so-called War on Poverty.”

Those policies—and I want you to quote this—did what Jim Crow in the South never did or intended. They decimated urban black families. Look at their impact on dependency. In 1965, about 12 percent of black women were single mothers. Now in the inner cities we are looking at 70 percent. What is the number-one indicator of poverty, my friend? Single mothers. The first thing we want to do is get rid of policies that encourage young people to have children without commitment to each other. It would also restore initiative. Because people would not have the safety net which they know is going to be there whether they earn it or not.

Deroy Murdock agrees that family formation is a huge problem. The number of children born out of wedlock is soaring both for blacks and whites; marriage is unraveling, and liberals say nothing about it.

“Some people say it’s the gay marriage problem,” Murdock said, but he disputes that. “I don’t think that black kids in Oakland are being born out of wedlock because Bob and Steve are married in Pacific Heights.”

I also talked to Deneen Borelli, the director of outreach for FreedomWorks, who lives in New York State. As to family formation, she said, “Sadly, for too many black single mothers, the government is a more dependable financial partner than black men.”

She added that big-government policies harm all Americans, “but especially those in the black community.” For the Black Caucus “it’s all about control.” She mentioned Obama’s “war on fossil fuels, which is a war against hardworking Americans,” and is “driving up the cost of gasoline and people’s utility bills.”

Borelli went on:


The black liberal establishment is doing a significant disservice to blacks, especially when it comes to energy and education. The problem is that they are more beholden to the union leaders than to the needs of the black community.

For Stacy Swimp, another imperative is the repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act. It specifically impacts black people because it “was created for one purpose only: to marginalize black Americans in the building trades,” he said.

After World War I, in the Great Migration, blacks headed north and started to compete for jobs, especially with white-only unions “under-bidding them for construction contracts that were being funded by the federal government.” The unions’ response, in Swimp’s words:

“These Negroes are under-bidding us. Let’s raise the cap on bids. Let’s get them out of here.” That’s essentially what happened in 1931. And today, 82 years later, it still has the same consequence, whether intended or not. So any time you have a big-labor policy or a regulation that marginalizes a minority group like black Americans, we need to repeal it. We need a national repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act.

Another issue, addressed by Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the very high abortion rate among blacks—about four times the white rate. The Black Caucus is “pro-choice,” and has gone out of its way to attack pro-lifers.

LeBon, the national co-chair of Project 21, mentioned Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a eugenics supporter. “This is not a good situation for black people,” she said, “and I find it unfortunate that the NAACP doesn’t come out strongly against this alliance.” Since 1973, about 16 million black babies have been aborted.

MURDOCK, SWIMP, AND BORELLI agree on a point that is rarely voiced by the news media or the liberal establishment: Influential members of the Black Caucus consistently subordinate the interests of blacks to those of labor unions. Helping the poor—black or white—will tend to reduce wages. The unions will object, and given that conflict, the Democrat likes of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Sen. James Clyburn of South Carolina will side with the unions without acknowledging the conflict. All they do is keep on calling for more income redistribution to achieve equality of outcome (a fantasy), and crying racism whenever it seems plausible—and even sometimes when it is not.

Obama shows no sign of having grasped the issue. He is so convinced that the system is riddled with injustice anyway that the ways in which unions hurt blacks is a minor detail. Besides, the unions pour money into the Democratic Party coffers, don’t they? And year after year, blacks keep voting Democrat. So what’s the problem?

For many blacks, it’s a big problem. 

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).