Posted on April 4, 2018

Martin Luther King: ‘We Can’t Keep on Blaming the White Man’

Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2018


{snip} If black Americans were still faced with legitimate threats to civil rights — such as legal discrimination or voter disenfranchisement — we would see true successors to the King-era luminaries step forward, not the pretenders in place today who have turned a movement into an industry, if not a racket.

Racial gaps that were steadily narrowing in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s would expand in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, which suggests that the disparities that continue today aren’t being driven by racism, notwithstanding claims to the contrary from liberals and their allies in the media. It also suggests that attitudes toward marriage, education, work and the rule of law play a much larger role than the left wants to acknowledge. More marches won’t address out-of-wedlock childbearing. More sit-ins won’t lower black crime rates or narrow the school achievement gap.

Even electing and appointing more black officials, which has been a major priority for civil-rights leaders over the past half-century, can’t compensate for these cultural deficiencies. Black mayors, police chiefs and school superintendents have been commonplace since the 1970s, including in major cities with large black populations. Racially gerrymandered voting districts have ensured the election of blacks to Congress. Even the election of a black president — twice — failed to close the divide in many key measures. Black-white differences in poverty, homeownership and incomes all grew wider under President Obama.

Discussion of antisocial behavior in poor black communities, let alone the possibility that it plays a significant role in racial inequality, has become another casualty of the post-’60s era. King and other black leaders at the time spoke openly about the need for more-responsible behavior in poor black communities. After remarking on disproportionately high inner-city crime rates, King told a black congregation in St. Louis that “we’ve got to do something about our moral standards.” He added: “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

King’s successors mostly ignore this advice, preferring instead to keep the onus on whites. {snip} Activists who long ago abandoned King’s colorblind standard, which was the basis for the landmark civil-rights laws enacted in the 1960s, tell black youths today that they are victims, first and foremost.


Black activists and liberal politicians stress racism because it serves their own interests, not because it serves the interests of the black underclass. But neglecting or playing down the role that blacks must play in addressing racial disparities can only exacerbate them. Fifty years after King’s death, plenty of people are paying him lip service. Far too few are following his example.